DON’T call me Father, says Peter Kennedy.
And it soon becomes clear why the man, who was a serving priest for 45 years before the Catholic Church evicted him from his parish in Brisbane, no longer wants the title.
He doesn’t believe in the priesthood anymore, nor the virgin birth, nor the infallibility of the Pope. In fact, he doubts that Jesus ever existed and although he is the spiritual leader of a 500-strong Christian community, he says he no longer prays because there’s “no one to pray to.”
“We have made God in our own image. I can’t believe in a God that grants some people miracles but punishes others, but I do think there is something more, but what it is, I have no idea.”
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The controversial and charismatic ex-priest, who made headlines last year when he refused to leave St Mary’s as instructed by his Bishop, will preach tomorrow at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Simpson Street, North Rockhampton.
Last night he launched his book – Peter Kennedy. The Man Who Threatened Rome – at the same venue, as part of a nationwide promotional tour which will include Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne later this month.
Although he has not been excommunicated, he finds himself at odds with virtually every attitude and teaching of the Catholic hierarchy.
He was ousted, he said, not so much for his progressive and increasingly challenging beliefs, but for straying from the straitjacket of conformity in the Catholic Mass.
His services at St Mary’s attracted huge congregations by today’s standards and he celebrated Mass with women preachers and former priests who had left to get married.
“We welcomed the homeless and alcoholics and I preached about social justice. I welcomed non-Catholics and gay and lesbian worshipers who were shunned by other churches. It was just too unorthodox for the hierarchy,” he said
And while his congregation flourished, others dwindled, leading him to conclude that the Catholic Church was finished in Australia.
“Today only 13% of people who call themselves Catholics go to Mass on Sunday. Church is becoming more and more irrelevant to modern society because it is still medieval in its doctrines while the real world had changed so much.”
He said he could not believe in the divinity of Christ and it was no longer tenable to believe in the virgin birth.
“Modern science has changed all that. We know that man evolved and was not created separately.”
But questioning the pillars of organised religion does not make him any less spiritual, he argues.
“I don’t think what you believe is important. It’s what you do that matters.”
He says he stopped wearing a priest’s vestments when he realised that members of his congregation had been sexually abused as children by priests and they were traumatised by the robes.
“There are still elements in the church who think what happened to those children was a sin – and can be absolved in confession – but not a crime,” he says.
“Celibacy is madness for priests. Of course they should be allowed to marry and have children and normal relationships. Celibacy is not normal, although there are, of course, many who choose to be chaste.”
Perhaps most controversially of all for a man who served Christ for more than four decades, he says he doubts Jesus ever existed.
“There is not much corroborative evidence,” he says. “I don’t wear a crucifix because it’s just a symbol of Roman oppression. There were many men crucified for their beliefs and daring to challenge the authority of Rome.”