Australian Priest Promises Exodus If Forced to Leave Church

Maverick priest Fr. Peter Kennedy says he will lead a breakaway congregation if Brisbane's catholic Archbishop forces him to leave St. Mary's Church.

There are fears that exclusion from the historic South Brisbane property will be the final act in a long-running dispute that has reached as far as the Vatican.

The dispute has attracted national and international attention because it represents the battle between conservative and less traditional forces within the Catholic Church.

In a rare and exclusive interview, Kennedy said he was determined to carry on.

"The reality is that, if we are excluded from this church, the Trades and Labor Council have already offered us their place just down the road," he said. "I will continue. Our community will continue down there. We get 800 to 900 people coming every week. It's a vibrant, alive mass with people from all over the city."

St. Mary's is known for its unconventional Catholic practices, like allowing women to preach, blessing homosexual couples and recognizing the sovereignty of the indigenous people of the area.

The latest round in the battle was sparked by a complaint directed to the Vatican in August from an angry church-goer.

Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby accused the parish of operating outside the accepted practices of the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged Kennedy to fall in line or face closure.

The parishioners responded to the accusations but — in a follow-up letter to Kennedy, dated Dec. 22 — Archbishop Bathersby said: "St. Mary's has not yet adequately given proof of its communion with the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Roman Catholic Church."

Asked what Jesus Christ would make of the controversy, Kennedy said: "Jesus always stood with the poor, the broken and the oppressed. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. And he certainly wasn't a Catholic and he didn't start the Catholic Church. He didn't start any church."

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