Monday, March 30, 2009

Rebel priest to form 'church in exile' in hall down the road

SACKED Catholic priest Peter Kennedy will lead a breakaway congregation in a union building after being forced out of St Mary's church in south Brisbane.

Just days after the Brisbane diocese secured Father Kennedy's agreement to leave St Mary's, the rebel priest announced yesterday he would form a "church in exile" just a few hundred metres away at the Trades and Labour Council building.

The splinter group is being formed in defiance of Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby, whose office yesterday warned that any sacraments - such as baptism and marriage - performed by Father Kennedy would not be recognised by the wider Catholic community.

Father Kennedy was sacked in February from his position as administrator of St Mary's, and threatened with excommunication on the grounds of "causing harm to ecclesiastical communion".

Dr Bathersby issued a decree to remove Father Kennedy after a dispute over the use of lay people and politically correct language in services as well as blessing same sex unions, an issue that has divided the Brisbane archdiocese for years.

Under the terms of the agreement reached last week in arbitration talks overseen by former High Court judge Ian Callinan, Father Kennedy will say his last mass on April 19, before handing the keys of St Mary's over to the new administrator, Ken Howell.

After announcing his plans at Sunday mass, Father Kennedy said he believed most of his congregation would follow him. "I think 95 per cent of the people we have now will come to the new place," he said.

"We do not know how long we will be in this facility, but we are looking for a more permanent space to rent. For now, nothing has changed in my position, except I can't now come to St Mary's."

Father Kennedy said he felt liberated the year-long dispute with Dr Bathersby was over and that he was free to lead the congregation how he liked.

"All these years, we kept under the radar and then we were outed ... I am happy," he said.

Father Kennedy said while he was not sure if Dr Bathersby was aware of his plans, there was nothing to stop him from forming another congregation. He said any sacraments would be recognised, because he was still a Catholic priest.

While Dr Bathersby was not available yesterday, his spokesman referred The Australian to a letter the Archbishop sent to Father Kennedy last year about the mooted plans for a splinter congregation.

"I cannot stop you from doing so," he said. "However those who follow you should realise they will not be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church or the Archdiocese of Brisbane."

Longtime parishioner Simon Pincus said he would be disappointed if the sacraments at the new church would not be recognised by the diocese.

"I think the whole process has been poorly run - there hasn't been enough consultation, it's been a hierarchical model that has been followed.

"The congregation should be embraced by the church."

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(Source: CCN)

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