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A comment received via this site: Attached is a comment about the parishioners of St Anne’s Bondi Beach in Sydney who were inspired by reading Death of a Catholic Parish at a time when they were going through a very similar situation as described in the book. I hope it’s not too long but the battle for the Faith went on for 10 years and I have condensed it considerably. Thank you for this website. I wish it had been in existence when we were trying to save our beautiful parish church at Bondi Beach.

Beginning in 1996, the parishioners of St Anne’s Catholic Church, Bondi Beach, had an almost identical experience as the parishioners of St Joseph’s Benalla.  At the 1996 parish AGM, the new Parish Priest flagged unpopular alterations to St Anne’s Church, winner of the Sulman Prize for Architecture in 1935.  St Anne’s was described by a previous parish priest as being “The gem of the Eastern Suburbs”.

Encouraged by reading Death of a Catholic Parish: the Benalla Experiment, a small group of parishioners formed a committee to galvanize opposition to the proposed changes.  A few copies were purchased and passed around amongst parishioners.  We were inspired by the courage of the Benalla parishioners and determined to do as they had done.  The alterations to our church were clearly a waste of parish funds for works not required by Vatican Council II, as claimed by the Parish Priest.

St Anne’s parishioners opposing the alterations grew in number and strength.  Seventy-six parishioners signed a petition respectfully requesting their Parish Priest not to extend the sanctuary further into the nave of the church on a raised podium; not to remove the altar rails; not to introduce tea making facilities at the back of the church; not to remove the kneelers; and not to make changes to the side altar dedicated to St Anne.

The above petition was soon followed by another petition containing well in excess of the required number of signatures to call an extra-ordinary general meeting of the parish, in accordance with the Parish Constitution.  No such meeting to vote on the changes was ever allowed.

As with Benalla, it was not just about the building. There were also liturgical abuses, in particular the Third Rite of Reconciliation which continued over 5 years at Christmas and Easter with parishioners receiving a General Absolution from the Parish Priest without confessing their sins.  After this abuse was reported to the then Cardinal Archbishop, the ritual changed to parishioners being asked to write their sins on a piece of paper and then burning the paper in a small fire.  On these occasions, there continued to be no confession of sins before Absolution was given.

There were numerous other liturgical abuses, including singing of Waltzing Matilda and I am Australian at Mass on secular national holidays.

Intimidation and ridicule from the pulpit and in the Parish Bulletin resulted in a drop in the number of people who were willing to voice their opposition to the alterations.

However, spurred on by the story of the people of Benalla in Death of a Catholic Parish”, the battle against the St Anne’s alterations continued over 10 years, often without the required approval of the local Council.  When the altar rails were secretly removed in 2003, the local Council acted swiftly by issuing a “show cause” letter requiring the Trustees of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney to explain “why the works [had] been carried out without Council approval” and threatening legal action. The Parish Priest responded by submitting a Development Application seeking to legitimise the unauthorised alterations.

Another liturgically wrong alteration was the removal of the only remaining traditional confessional in St Anne’s in order to build a vesting sacristry at the rear of the church.  As a result, future parish priests will not have the option to “lawfully decide that a sacramental confession be heard in a confession equipped with a fixed grille.  (Decision by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Texts, ordered by Pope John Paul II to be published (L’Osservatore Romano, 22/7/98).

The priest responsible for the alterations has since retired and we continue to pray for him.

We were partly successful in our opposition, thanks to St Anne. The proposal to extend the sanctuary into the nave of the church did not proceed. Also, St Anne’s altar which houses a first class relic of St Anne’s wrist bone, was left in tact.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage this website to continue fighting to restore the faith in the parish of Benalla and everywhere these alterations and liturgical abuses occur.

In a submission to the then Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, we wrote the following quote from Blessed Mother Mary of the Cross who had cause to write about her painful disagreements with the founder of her order. She wrote of Father Tennyson Woods:

“We have our own dear Father both with us and against us.  He is with us in affection and against us in opinion.  Our hearts would lead us to him and what would please him, but our wills and sense of duty must lead us to displease or pain him, so that we may do right in the sight of God and the Church.”  (Paul Gardiner, SJ (1994) An Extraordinary Australian Mary MacKillop p219).

St Anne's - communion rail Max Dupain St Anne's interior columns in sanctuary-Max Dupain Miscellaneous #10 - altar rails St Anne's Bondi Beach OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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As we have said many times before, this site, book and story is not all about just about what happened at Benalla. This story about St Anne’s proves this point. This book and story is all about spreading an awareness of what could happen anywhere, anytime.

It gives a before and after analysis that clearly shows what damage is done when our churches and forms of worship are reduced to just ordinary community gatherings.

Take a look around your own parish. What is the average age of your parishioners? We can guess that they are mainly all retirees, 60 – 80 year olds which make up about 80% of the typical parish. Give it 20 years and they will not be there.

We all need to understand and accept the crisis that the church is in and pull out all stops to do something about it. WE ALL NEED TO GET INVOLVED. It is not just up to the Pope to fix it, or even your Bishop or Parish priest. We need to start with ourselves and spread out to others that these things do matter. Altar rails do matter. Beautiful churches do matter. The way we worship does matter.

At the very least you can email this website to people you know. It is just a click of your mouse. Help us spread the word.

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