In February 2009, St Mary’s church in Brisbane was at the centre of one of the biggest rifts in the history of the Australian Catholic Church. In the eyes of Rome, 72 year old, Parish Priest Father Peter Kennedy is a heretic, out of step with the Vatican on the most fundamental tenets of Catholicism. Kennedy’s transgressions include questioning the Virgin Birth, the infallibility of the Pope and even that Jesus was the literal Son of God. In practice, Peter Kennedy rejects wearing vestments, allows all members of the church, including women, to recite the Eucharist, and changes the wording of the baptism.
In the view of the Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, Peter Kennedy has put himself “out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church”. Peter Kennedy, however, passionately believes that the church is undemocratic and in desperate need of reform. Under his leadership St Mary’s has become known for its social activism. Programs such as MICAH have helped the homeless and victims of abuse from institutions, including the Catholic Church. When Father Kennedy is finally sacked by the Catholic Church for unorthodox practices, the decree issued by Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby not only removes him from the Church, but also effectively exiles over 1,000 members of his community, who have followed him for almost thirty years.
The Trouble with St Mary’s provides unprecedented access into this community and its leader as they attempt to find a new way of being spiritual outside of the Catholic Church. After 45 years as a Catholic, Father Kennedy now wants to start his own Church and for that he faces possible excommunication. Despite the very real threats by the Catholic Church, Kennedy continues to perform unorthodox rituals. He even begins to introduce new controversial spiritual ideas to his flock. Will they survive their struggle with the authority of a two thousand year old establishment and can they remain a united community under a common spirituality?