Saturday, February 7, 2009

St Mary's Brisbane And Some Thoughts On Healing

Margaret Wenham
February 06, 2009 11:00pm

THE ecclesiastical career of Father Peter Kennedy, popular rebel priest at St Mary's South Brisbane, may be over.

Late yesterday The Courier-Mail learned Father Kennedy had received a letter from Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby.

It is likely to contain the rationale and time frame for his excommunication from the Catholic Church, following six months of negotiation between the Archbishop, Father Kennedy and the church community.

A spokesman for Archbishop Bathersby confirmed the letter.
"At this stage the Archbishop doesn't wish to make any further comment about the letter. If Father Kennedy chooses to reveal the contents of the letter the Archbishop will respond accordingly," he said.

St Mary's spokeswoman, Karyn Walsh, said the letter's contents would not be made public until a joint public meeting and press conference at 10.30am tomorrow.

"There'll be no public disclosure of what the letter contains until Sunday morning after Peter has consulted with key people in the community and there has been an opportunity to tell as many people as possible in the congregation at the Saturday evening and Sunday morning Mass that a letter has been received," she said.

"No one is feeling overly optimistic."

The death knell was sounded for Father Kennedy in August, when Archbishop Bathersby warned St Mary's to toe the Vatican line or close. He told Father Kennedy, who has presided for 28 years over the 800-member church community, that St Mary's was operating outside practices and policies of the Catholic Church.

He cited a number of issues including allegedly unorthodox Masses being practised and the hierarchical authority of the church not being respected.

The Archbishop's intervention was sparked by complaints to the Vatican by a parishioner who, among other issues, complained about a Buddhist statue in the church.

In a letter in November responding to Archbishop Bathersby's charges, Father Kennedy and members of the congregation denied they were out-of-step with the Church and Rome.
After a further letter from the Archbishop to the priest in December, the St Mary's community has been awaiting the primate's final decision.
This week the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, gave his tacit blessing for the possible excommunication of Father Kennedy.


Readers of this blog know I have been following this story with a great deal of interest. For me the story of Fr. Kennedy and St. Mary's has been as intriguing, actually more so, than the story of St. Stanislaus Kostka in St. Louis.

I feel for Fr. Kennedy in much the same way I feel for the priests of the Legion, but for entirely different reasons. Fr. Kennedy in many ways represents the exact opposite of the understanding of Catholicism the average Legion priest does, but their passion for the Church is identical. They just happen to have passion for two different concepts of Church.

Fr. Kennedy believes Catholic Christianity is based on right relationships, on how one relates to those around them. In his Church, outreach to the poor and disenfranchised is mandated by faith in Christ. Relating as Christ did takes priority over right ecclesiastical actions. Sacramental power is grounded in relationship, not ritual action. In his thinking, our primary relationship is in

how we relate to others and this validates our participation in the sacraments.
The Legion would flip that around and seem to say that right ritual action is the ground on which one builds proper relationship. In other words, one's first relationship is to the sacraments and the Church, and it's that primary relationship which drives the rightness of all other forms of relating. In this sense, it makes perfect spiritual sense to deny communion to pro choice politicians or rid the pews of gays and adulterers because by their very status they demonstrate they don't have their relationships in the proper order.

Benedict most certainly is in the Legion camp when it comes to the proper ordering of relationships. It's not surprising then that one traditionalist's direct appeal to Rome has put Bishop Bathersby in the position of probably excommunicating a priest who has been a friend of his for a long time. Bishop Bathersby is now forced to validate right sacramental action over a personal relationship. I bet deep down inside Bishop Bathersby wants to either cry or puke.

In my own long and winding spiritual road, I can look back and see quite clearly that I have been guided to Fr. Kennedy's position that right relating invigorates spirituality and sacramental reception. Most of the priests who have been a huge influence in my spiritual life were men with whom I had a personal friendship and knew them first as friends with all their warts, and because of that, found their Masses incredibly spiritually positive.

(By the way, one was as traditional as you could get, and had to be dragged by the diocese to accept the Novus Ordo, which in principle he never did. He was also a personal friend of JPII and spent three years in the Dachau concentration camp. Benedict's recent actions regarding the SSPX sickened me for very personal reasons.)

This has also been true with the spiritual leaders I've known from other traditions. They hold their spiritual authority by how they relate to those around them, not how correctly they do ceremony. There is however, one thing Native healers consistently do that we Catholics don't ever seem to think about. I have never participated in any healing ceremony in which the first thing the ceremonial leader requests is that those present who have some reason for being unable to fully commit to the ceremony leave the grounds. It doesn't matter if it's skepticism or animosity or curiosity. If a person can't get fully with the ceremony they are asked to leave.

I've rarely seen anyone actually leave, but I have seen people do some serious evaluation as to just why they are present. The belief is that successful healing needs everybody relating on the same wave length, and if this basic attitude is compromised, so will the healing be compromised.

I can remember one healing in particular where the woman had metastasized stage 4 breast cancer. The medical establishment had basically given her their best shot and then sent her on her way. This particular ceremony was unique in that there were a lot of medical personnel present and they were more or less uncomfortable with this whole notion of 'pagan' healing. The best attitude they could come up with was "what the hell, she's gonna die anyway, this mumbo jumbo can't hurt her any worse, dead is dead." Although not a positively engaged attitude, it wasn't overtly hostile, and in the final analysis they really cared about this person. It was the caring which counted.

The woman is still with us four years later and free of cancer. She has become one of the most compassionate persons one could ever meet. That's kind of understandable. The real healing for me was in her husband. His light is so bright he doesn't even look the same. He looks a lot younger. This is what makes healing ceremonies so intriguing, you never know just who is going to be healed.

Fr. Kennedy also works with Indigenous healers. Their understanding of the importance of relationship is a powerful testimony about Jesus Himself. Indigenous healers see Jesus as one of their own. One man pointed out to me how Jesus almost always directly engaged with those he healed, even the woman who just touched his robe, he instantly and directly engaged. It's about relating not right ritual.

Some folks like to call this emphasis on relationship the airy fairy innocuous kumbaya 'Spirit of Vatican II". It's not, it's a quantum truth and universally recognized by healers. Benedict is a theologian and a cleric, a believer in right ritual over right relating. It is not surprising then, that he is not a healer. The energy in the Church is swirling and when it gets done swirling hopefully we will have chosen right relating over right ritual. At that point real healing and real unity will begin.


  1. This is the saddest post i have read or yours Colleen,it tears the heart. . .

    "Jesus wept" the shortest sentence in the Bible, surely Jesus is weeping. Such a double bind for these priest. The Church ordains them as Jesus with skin, they are to be the living vessels and embodiment of Christ to the church, but Pope forbid if they truly walk as Christ walked???

    Once again it is sad to see the slight of hands and the double binds where the cards are stacked ideologically, this is an all too normal happening in our world of control religions. Power uses the light to express predicate its darkness, and darkness cloaks itself in light.

    In Native America we have a name for that phenomena.

  2. River, every culture has a word for it ... it is called hate.

    This action is sad, but not unexpected. This was predictable and expected. It is part of the seperation of light and notlight that is occuring right now. Expect to see more persecution of those who are "truly faithful to Christ" bu the RCC in the future.

    No doubt the faithful orthodox will be screaming like steeler fans during the last 35 min of the superbowl, screaming, giving vent to the hate that is the core of their belief. The hate that has formed the core of the "faithful orthodox" of the catholic church and RCC leadership for far too long is now being revealed for the world to see. It is ugly. It is festering. It is a boil on the face of the RCC, a boil that everyone who looks can see.

  3. Back in South Africa in the dark days of apartheid, one of the key features of the church for me was the emphasis on the mission of 'Justice & Peace'. And every J & P workshop I ever attended began with a lengthy exposition of the importance of 'right relationships.' Once again, it seems, the hierarchical church is promoting one set of principles for justice outside the church, but working to an entirely different set of standards (one can hardly call them 'principles' internally.

    I feel for Fr Kennedy, but am conscious that the church is bigger than the hierarchy. John McNeill and J.S O'Leary have both written of a present 'Kairos Moment' in which the Holy Spirit is working to transform the power balance within the church. I have no doubt that the Spirit will find a way to turn around this setback for Fr Kennedy and St Mary's, to the benefit of the wider church.

  4. I feel for Fr. Kennedy too and the entire parish that will be affected. It's not just Fr Kennedy that is getting the boot or the axe. or that will feel this death of relationship.

    I composed a very somber piece last night and it's either a Requiem or a funeral march and it seems that the news from the Vatican is getting more deadly spiritually for the entire Church with all the excommunications and threats. I wish they would put their axes away and learn to be in right relationships with people and priests who are serving God.

    I'm so tempted to entitle the piece Requiem for the Excommunicators or Funeral March for its becoming ever so evident that they have spiritually died in their stubborn refusal to "love one another" and refusal to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    I am thinking about Terence's comment now and that the Holy Spirit will find a way to turn this setback around.

  5. This is a Kairos moment for the Church, but it's not just the Church. The days of business as usual are coming to a close.

    Right relationships are absolutely critical to any more forward progress in the consciousness of humanity. I look at Obama's attempts to engage in right relationships with the republicans and am not surprised that only three republican senators get it.

    I don't think it's surprising that two of the three are women. The era of right relationships is about women and women's knowing. It's a very big indication of the changing global energy. Right along with the fact nothing can be kept secret any longer--especially deep dark secrets.

  6. I often wonder what is happening in these situations after the initial news coverage. What is happening with:

    Sr. Leah
    Fr. Bozak
    St Stanislas

    They splash the news headlines for a moment, then they disappear into history. Do we know what has and is happening with each of these?

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