By Margaret Wenham
August 25, 2008 12:00am
THE death knell has sounded for St Mary's South Brisbane after Archbishop John Bathersby warned the church to toe the Vatican line or shut down.
In a three-page letter delivered to parish priest Father Peter Kennedy on the weekend, Archbishop Bathersby said St Mary's was operating outside practices and policies acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church.
Matters came to a head after a parishioner claimed the church contained a small statue of a Buddhist monk praying.
The church - where women can preach, homosexual couples can be blessed and social justice is championed - has a congregation of about 700 that would be the envy of many parishes.
About 300 church members at Sunday morning's Mass listened stunned as Fr Kennedy read out excerpts from Archbishop Bathersby's ultimatum.
"The question for me," the Archbishop wrote, "is not so much whether St Mary's should be closed down, but whether St Mary's will close itself down by practices that separate it from communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
He cited a number of issues including allegedly unorthodox masses being practised and the hierarchical authority of the Church not being respected.
If the church were forced to close by the Brisbane Archdiocese it would be a first for the Catholic Church in Australia.
"In reality St Mary's South Brisbane has taken a Roman Catholic parish and established its own brand of religion," he said. "Undoubtedly it does good, it promotes a strong sense of community, opens its doors to all who wish to come, but its own style of worship and sacramental practice can hardly be described as Roman Catholic."
In 2004 St Mary's incurred the Archbishop's ire after a disaffected person reported baptismal liturgies were being changed slightly.
The Archbishop's intervention this time was sparked by complaints made directly to The Vatican by a conservative parishioner who raised several issues, including the Buddhist monk statue.
The little figure - which has since been stolen from the church and smashed - was provided for a Buddhist meditation group which meets weekly in St Mary's.
Fr Kennedy said the first meeting of the church community to discuss the church's future would be held tonight.
Asked whether he was hopeful St Mary's could resolve the issues to the Archbishop's satisfaction, he said: "I'm not particularly hopeful myself, but it's up to the community ... they will find the right solution."
Archbishop Bathersby has not set a deadline for the church. He told The Courier-Mail he not only needed to tell Rome what action had been taken, but also wanted time for personal reflection and prayer on the matter.
Having only just communicated his views to the St Mary's congregation, he expected they would need "a bit of time to seriously consider the situation".