Exiled church still thriving
THREE years down the track after being unceremoniously ejected from the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, the community of St. Mary’s in Exile (SMX) has more than survived. It continues to attract people who are disillusioned by the doctrines and dogmas and liturgical practices of institutional religion. Indeed, each week up to a thousand attend SMX.
Fathers Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick took most of their community with them, just down the road from St Mary’s Church to the Trades and Labour Council building in South Brisbane. Kennedy doubts that, without such generosity from the TLC, the community would have survived.
In the meantime there has been a change at the helm in the Roman Catholic Church in Brisbane. Archbishop John Bathersby, who made the decision to cast them out of the Catholic Church on the grounds that they were not Catholic enough, has retired.
He has been replaced by Archbishop Mark Coleridge, formerly the Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn.
At the time of the dumping of Kennedy and Fitzpatrick, Coleridge was somewhat dismissive of St Mary’s community and its leadership in the Canberra-Goulburn paper Catholic Voice.
Archbishop Coleridge wrote that ”communities like St Mary’s and those who support them, fail to recognise the difference between a bandwagon and a hearse. With the best of good intentions – and no-one is attributing any of this to malice – they jump gleefully on the bandwagon of a certain relevance and inclusiveness without realising that what looks like a bandwagon into the brave new world of the future is in fact a hearse leading to a dead end that they do not see coming”.
Strong words from an Archbishop who ironically is now the new Archbishop of Brisbane. Kennedy admits that St Mary’s in Exile may only have a limited life span – but that is the nature of most communities, religious or otherwise. In the meantime he says people, maybe even surprisingly, find nourishment at SMX in the living out of their daily lives. He maintains that any community of faith that enables people to grapple with the ”big” questions – for there are no certainties – fulfils its reason for existence.
Both Kennedy and his radical side-kick Fitzpatrick make the comment that it would appear ”to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear” that institutional religion appears to be at a loss to stem the exodus from the pews. Meanwhile the people who make up SMX have embraced the inclusion of women participating fully in the liturgy – in fact leading the liturgy of the Eucharist. Women regularly give the homily and everyone participates in the Eucharist prayer. Married priests, of whom there are quite a few, sometimes lead the celebration of the Eucharist.
These very changes that SMX has implemented were some of the issues that Bishop Bill Morris raised with his people of the diocese of Toowoomba some years ago – and for simply raising them found himself dismissed by the Pope.
Kennedy believes that the Roman Catholic Church is imprisoned in its doctrines and dogmas, which when taken literally are nonsensical to most people in Australia and elsewhere in the 21st century. He argues that bishops continue to defend these outmoded doctrines on the basis of what they call ”apostolic authority”. As he puts it: ”The bishops claim to be the successors of the twelve apostles with the bishop of Rome claiming to be the successor of the apostle Peter. The authority supposedly given to them by Jesus has seamlessly passed down to them through ordination to the present day. This is the stuff of gobblegook – utter nonsense!
Kennedy and Fitzpatrick explain that in the fourth century of the Common Era (or if you prefer the fourth century AD), the pagan emperor Constantine used the fledging literalist Christian community in Rome to unify his empire. In order to bolster their claims to authority, the church leaders invented the fiction of Apostolic Succession which is still the basis of governance in the Roman Catholic Church today.
As Harvey Cox, Emeritus Professor at Harvard writes in his book The Future of Faith – ”as the empire became notionally Christian, the church that had been from its beginning fiercely anti-empirical became its fawning imitators, blurring the essence of Christianity almost beyond recognition”(my emphasis) In October this year Archbishop Coleridge is leading a pilgrimage to Rome – to receive the pallium from the Pope. As reported last month in the Catholic Leader, the Brisbane archdiocesan paper, ”the reception of the pallium is a 1700 year old tradition with historical roots in the attire of Roman emperors”. Kennedy says: ”Nothing more needs to be said! The paradox is that when the Roman Empire collapsed, up bobbed a pseudo-religious empire – the Roman Catholic Church.” To put it another way, as the great 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote: ”The church, the papacy became nothing other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting on the grave thereof” .
Quoting The Catholic Leader, Kennedy says: ”The pallium, made of lambs wool and resting on the archbishop’s shoulders, draws our attention to one of his most significant roles – the great responsibility for the pastoral care of the priests, religious and people of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, in imitation of Jesus the Good Shepherd. It is a constant reminder too of the archbishop’s special pastoral responsibility for those who are lost or disconnected from the community of faith.”
Kennedy says that both he and Fitzpatrick and the St Mary’s in Exile Board would welcome any initiative on the part of the Archbishop to come and dialogue with the community. The Archbishop would, he claims, be respectfully received by the people. ”But he would have to expect a robust debate”, says Kennedy, ”they are a theologically educated lot.”
Also, SMX regularly do good works.
Because a commitment to social justice is an essential element in the community at St Marys in Exile, it continues to be deeply involved with Micah Projects, a not-for-profit organisation that not only provides for the homeless but for all those who are marginalised and alienated from society.
Brisbane Common Ground, which is just about to be opened, is situated in Hope Street South Brisbane not far from the TLC building. It will provide low cost housing for those people who have been homeless and for people on low incomes. Close to 150 will be accommodated. Micah Projects is the service provider for Brisbane Common and SMX is deeply involved in this ground-breaking project.
Just before they left the church at St Marys in South Brisbane, the community entered into a treaty with Aboriginal people. SMX remains faithful to that treaty and aligns itself on a local level with the First Peoples of Australia in their constant struggle for justice, recognition, and the implementation of human rights.
Professor Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 35 books, most recently his memoir My Name is Ross and the political satire Fools’ Paradise.
Canberra Times, June 4, 2012