Inclusive Catholics “Down Under”

Junia's Journal
September 22, 2022

This month, inclusive Catholic communities in the Pacific Northwest and beyond are enjoying an in-person visit with Louise Shanly, co-foundress of Be the Change Aotearoa, an inclusive Catholic community based in Auckland, New Zealand. Louise visited Olympia for the ordination of Donna Smith, flew to Ohio to visit Roman Catholic Womanpriest Paula Hoeffer, then returned to Seattle for a visit with SICC before a trip to Portland to attend the ordination of Vieda Baker and Denise Bernt. To be fair, Louise also came to visit her daughter, who lives in south Seattle!

Louise co-founded Be the Change with three other women in Auckland, where she lives. They are the coordinating group for the inclusive group, created as a “safe, supportive, nourishing, hope-filled space” for people “journeying towards a radical, new, inclusive model of Catholic Church that reflects our faithfulness to the Gospel message and God’s wondrous wholeness.”

Junia’s Journal sat down with Louise to ask about the community vision which she describes as “expansive, creative, inclusive.” Be the Change has no “ordained” priest because members want to highlight the priesthood of the baptized. Their monthly eucharistic liturgy is designed and led by different people each month and is “very participative,” according to Louise. There is a leader of gathering and sending, who offers welcoming prayers and then introduces the leader of the Word, who is not necessarily the lector but offers a one or two minute “take” on the readings to open the shared homily, and then there is the leader of the eucharist, who coordinates the readers of those prayers. The monthly readings may come from the lectionary, or from other sources, such as the words of Chief Sitting Bull.

Be the Change also organizes events to highlight the injustices in the institutional church. Their latest endeavor, “Pink Shoes Into the Vatican,” will highlight discrimination against women by creating an eye-catching work of art – a trail of women’s shoes along streets leading to both St. Pat’s Cathedral in Auckland and Sacred Heart Cathedral in Wellington. This artwork will be accompanied by petitions and stories about women’s journies in the church.

Louise is enthusiastic and energetic about her work. “We’ve all got gifts. We ARE the church. We all contribute liturgically and sacramentally,” she told us. “It’s a journey of discovery; it’s about walking the road together.”

Be the Change Aotearoa can be found here and all are welcome to join in their hybrid/online liturgies.

New Zealand is not the only country “Down Under” to have experienced an inclusive Catholic revolution. Recently, Junia’s Journal heard of a remarkable priest named Peter Kennedy in Brisbane, Australia, who was fired from the Archdiocese in February 2009 for changing wording in liturgies, celebrating same-sex unions, and inviting women to preach at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. An extraordinary documentary by Peter Hegedus of Soul Vision Films chronicles The Trouble With St. Mary’s, a story of a “rebel priest” and the community of over five hundred who walked out of the church in protest and formed Saint Mary’s in Exile, the largest inclusive Catholic community in Australia.

“The Catholic Church has hijacked the message of the Gospel: loving God and loving people and not excluding people,” says Father Peter, who blesses and baptizes in the name of God “Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer.” Peter’s assistant, Father Terry Fitzpatrick, asserts that “the Catholic Church’s big mistake is claiming that they have a monopoly on God.” St. Mary’s holds regular commnunity meetings to discuss their hopes, dreams, and plans, in order to create a new way of being Church. “God is among us, not looking down on us from the clouds,” says one parishioner. Another community member adds, “The priests are not our shepherds and we are not their sheep. We are equals.”

The St. Mary’s community was committed to serving the poor and marginalized; they founded the Micah Projects, which today are the largest network of support services in the city.

In February 2009, Archbishop John Bathersby terminated Kennedy’s appointment. At first, Kennedy refused to leave and the community stood by him, but ultimately they decided it would be too stressful to risk arrest so they planned to leave in a peaceful protest and “go into exile.” They celebrated one final liturgy on Good Friday, then on 19 April 2009, celebrated their first eucharist on Easter at the nearby Trade Union building – it was a symbolic resurrection of the community.

In a move reminiscent of Spiritus Christi in Rochester, hundreds of people made the move. “There are many, many thousands of people who feel excluded from the church,” said Father Kennedy. “maybe we could be a sign of hope to them.” Today, more than ten years later, St. Mary’s in Exile is still going strong. They still have the cross they created out of sticks on the first Good Friday, “a symbol of our shared brokenness, rich diversity, and unity.”

Both groups of Inclusive Catholics Down Under operate under a new model of shared leadership and a new purpose, to be of service to those on the margins. “The building isn’t the church; the people are,” concludes Kennedy. “Being thrown out of the Catholic Church was the best thing that could happen to me.”

The Trouble With St. Mary’s can be viewed on Beamafilm.