Even though he has no formal authority over the issue, comments yesterday by Cardinal George Pell must surely sound the death knell for the rebel Catholic parish in Brisbane that is under the threat of excommunication from the church.

The future of St Mary’s parish in South Brisbane has become a very personal, and public, brawl between the parish and Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop, John Bathersby.

Yesterday Cardinal Pell, while claiming to not be commenting on the dispute with over St Mary’s parish, gave a ringing endorsement of Archbishop Bathersby, during a visit to the Gold Coast to address the Australian Workers Union National Conference.

Any hope that an appeal to the Vatican, through its man in Australia, Cardinal Pell, against the looming excommunication of the parish has now been dashed.

The issue was never going to end up just as a personal battle between the majority of St Mary’s congregation and the Archbishop. Not only is the Vatican going to back its Archbishop, there is every indication it has been the architect of his tough stance in recent months.

The parish is expecting the formal notification from Archbishop Bathersby of its excommunication any day — possibly before this weekend.

That is when the position will get even more messy.

The parish — one of the largest as well as most radical in the Brisbane Diocese — has threatened legal action to try and stop the clergy and congregation being evicted from the rambling church and other premises on a prime site, located within a couple of blocks of Brisbane’s Southbank and cultural centres.

It is likely that the congregation will end up ensuring it is forcibly “evicted” — and what a delight that will be for the media who have given the long running dispute between the Archbishop and the parish extensive coverage.

The issue has already been a PR disaster for the Diocese — and that is about to get a whole lot worse!

Peter Fray

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