Yesterday, parishioners were handed a letter from Bishop Anthony Fisher, the Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney; warning them he had directed the parish priests to seek police help in the event of any further disruptions.
Having to resort to police intervention was very disappointing, Bishop Fisher said.
“For a small inner city parish it’s a very distressing step to have to take but I wouldn’t imagine it’s unprecedented, ” he said.
“It is rare, very sad and very disturbing for most of the parishioners.”
The policy was put into force after yesterday’s morning service, when Father Gerry Prendiville spoke with police and passed on the bishop’s letter.
The conflict began in 2003 when Father ‘Ted stepped down. The first priest who replaced him withdrew from the parish: the second, Father Prendiville, a member of the conservative grouping, Neocatechumenal Way, has sought to take the church in a new direction.
The current conflict centres on a small wooden table, topped by a red, black and gold wooden cross. Bishop Fisher said he had been told the table had been used as an “additional altar” by disgruntled parishioners who he acknowledged remained profoundly upset over Father Kennedy’s death last month.
“They have been pretending to say Mass at the same time as the priest is saying Mass. It is a very divisive thing to do.
“They have also been calling out loudly through the homily and prayers,” he said.
However, Peter Manning, a parishioner and friend of Father Kennedy; said the situation was most extraordinary.
While his friend had opened the church up to the lives of the community it served, experiencing their suffering and poverty, the “current lot want to turn them into God-fearing Catholics”, Mr Manning said.
The table, which stands only 50 centimetres high, had been smashed inside the church a week ago, Mr Manning said, but was returned, bandaged, to a position beside the altar yesterday. The parishioners who returned the table did not wish to speak to the Herald yesterday.
“It seems pathetic that such a symbolic item should be bringing the wrath of the Sydney Diocese . down on a small church,” Mr Manning said.
Sydney Morning Herald Mon Jun 6 2005 P3
See also Catholic News article: Police involved in subduing recalcitrant parishioners