"Archbishop [John] Bathersby must have solved all Brisbane problems of homelessness, of abuse, of refugees ... if he wants to focus on such idiotic matters", a St Mary's parishioner told a 500-strong packed gathering at the South Brisbane church on August 25 in response to the archbishop's threat to shut the popular, progressive parish down.
The meeting followed Bathersby declaring, in a letter to parish priest Father Peter Kennedy, that St Mary's was operating outside acceptable Catholic Church practices and policies — complaining of "unorthodox masses" and that "the hierarchical authority of the Church" was not being respected.
St Mary's is enormously popular for its pro-social justice stances: homosexual couples are blessed; women can preach; prayers are read in a manner that tries to remove gendered language; and services occur with parishioners forming a circle around the priest, creating a more inclusive, less hierarchical atmosphere.
St Mary's regularly displays banners supporting progressive campaigns and is a meeting space for many campaign groups. The church has also been the rallying point for recent anti-war and "free Burma" rallies and often gives shelter to the homeless.
St Mary's works closely with the local Aboriginal community, and Aboriginal activist Sam Watson condemned the threats against the church in a letter published in the Courier Mail.
Many speakers at the August 25 meeting said they could only stay involved in the church because of St Mary's inclusive practices, and spoke passionately of what inspired them to join the church — many several decades ago.
The meeting resolved to write to the archbishop stating that St Mary's sees itself as part of the Catholic Church and to set up working groups to address the specific complaints made by the Archbishop.