Over at Eureka Street they are marking the run-up to Fr Peter Kennedy's departure from St Mary's Brisbane this weekend with a piece by Alan Austin, arguing that it was all inevitable really, because anyone who works with the marginalized will inevitably come into conflict with the hierarchy.
It is a pretty sad view of the Church!
So let's be clear. In my view this dispute has always been more about the sacraments (and doctrine), not social justice.
All about power?
Austin - correctly I think - points out that the affair 'has been depicted as a dispute over blessing gay couples and allowing women to preach', when really it isn't. Those things are the symptoms rather than the disease.
His hypothesis however is that it is really all about the inevitable conflict of power:
"Why this pattern of insolence towards hierarchies among workers with the disadvantaged? Is it because all powerful institutions — government, corporate and ecclesiastical — inevitably hurt poor people? Is it that those who identify with outcasts have seen that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (to paraphrase Lord Acton — writing, incidentally, to a bishop)? And hence all institutions are inherently to be resisted?"
Well, actually I think the answer to most of these questions is an unequivocal no! As commentators on other posts on this topic on Eureka Street have pointed out, there are plenty of saints, blesseds, and worthy men and women who have managed to combine a commitment to social action with orthodox faith and practice!
Human institutions, of course, are subject to the effects of original sin as much as individuals are. And even though we have a guarantee that the Church, divinely instituted, will not fail, we know that it's ministers can often fall short of what they should be. But that doesn't mean that and kind of institution, ecclesiastical or otherwise, must inevitably be a force for evil! Austin's argument is marxism pure and simple...
What the dispute was really about
There is, moreover, one particular protection that the Church has that other institutions do not, and that is its institution by Christ, and the sources of grace and holiness he conferred on it, most particularly in relation to the sacraments. And in my view, that is what this whole fight has really been about.
The most important problems at St Mary's are not its attempts at 'outreach' to homosexuals, its 'inclusiveness' in relation to women, or its social justice agenda (not that there aren't very problematic elements to all of those as they are practiced at St Mary's!). The most important issue is the refusal of its priests to sanctify through the sacraments.
We know that thousands of the 'baptisms' conducted at St Mary's were invalid.
And everything that has come out on Fr Kennedy's views on the divinity of Christ and practices in relation to mass - including the incident of the buddha placed in front of the tabernacle - suggest that his masses are almost certainly invalid as well, for want of the proper intention (and probably form as well).
He has also said 'we' don't do confession any more.
All of the other problems of St Mary's flow from these basics....
So no, it didn't have to happen. If the problems with the liturgy had been addressed early on and firmly, St Mary's might have stayed within the Church, or at least the scope of the damage limited to a few.
As it is, how much damage has being done to the reputation of the Church? And more importantly, how many souls are being led to perdition?