Written by Kathy Clubb
19th October 2023
Readers will have read with alarm the many reports of priests, and even bishops, who have been ‘cancelled’ by the authorities in Rome, often for nothing other than proclaiming the Faith as it has always been taught. Now a parish in Western Australia may have the tragic honour of becoming our first ‘cancelled’ parish. For those familiar with the parish of St. Anne’s, the common phenomenon of shrinking congregations must seem like an anomaly. A look at the parish bulletin reveals a growing congregation – standing room only at Sunday Masses – with several active Apostolates and a large number of very involved families.
The story began back in 2008, when the church of St. Anne’s, Belmont was given into the care of Fr Michael Rowe by then Archbishop of Perth, Barry Hickey. The parish of Cloverdale, in which the building is situated, had previously handed its responsibility for running St. Anne’s back to the Archdiocese. At the time, Archbishop Hickey made it clear that he desired St. Anne’s to operate as a ‘quasi-parish’ to care for the needs of the faithful who were attached to the traditional rite of the Mass.
From 2009, Fr Rowe took responsibility for the costs and maintenance of operating St. Anne’s. Later that year, the Archdiocese paid for some alterations which made the building suitable for the Traditional Latin Mass, and the first TLM was offered there in December of that same year. In 2010, a letter from Archbishop Hickey formally acknowledged his appointment of Fr Rowe as rector of St. Anne’s as well as the establishment of St. Annes as a ‘quasi-parish’ which he intended would eventually become a non-territorial parish.
In late 2018, things took a turn for the worse. The first sign of trouble was when the Archbishop held a meeting at St. Anne’s involving his Vicar General, some Archdiocesan employees and the parish priest of the Cloverdale parish. Father Rowe was not invited nor was he made aware of it at the time. This was extraordinary considering that he is the rector of the church where the meeting took place.
A few months later, in January of 2019, a bombshell dropped: the St. Anne’s community was informed that their parish was to be part of an amalgamation back to Cloverdale and that the Amalgamation Decree had been in effect since October of the previous year! The letter from the Archbishop which had advised Fr Rowe of the amalgamation also stated that the parish priest of Cloverdale now had canonical responsibility for St Anne’s and as such would be able to control decisions surrounding the property. Priests and parishioners were flabbergasted at the scope of the Archbishop’s new decree, and outraged that they had not been involved in the decision-making process in any way whatsoever. The situation was made more bizarre by Cloverdale’s reversal of its decision to cede rights to St. Anne’s to the TLM community some ten years before.
Requests by Fr Rowe to meet with the Archbishop fell on deaf ears. An Archdiocesan employee who eventually agreed to meet with Fr Rowe and another priest from St Anne’s, Fr Limbourn, explained that St. Anne’s was being sold to fund a new presbytery for the parish at Cloverdale. At a subsequent meeting, Fr Rowe voiced his regret that he had been passed over in the decision making about his own parish. Fr Rowe stated that he would be willing to move his parish if a suitable location was found, but he asked that no changes be made without consulting him and the entire community and invited the Archbishop to discuss the situation with the St Anne’s parishioners in person.
Archbishop Costelloe continued to ignore invitations to meet in person and instead sent a statement to Fr Rowe via his delegate, Bishop Sproxton. This statement said that Bishop Sproxton had been put in charge of the situation. Bishop Sproxton also mentioned that the parish priest of Cloverdale had requested the sale of the Belmont property, apart from the church. This would have led to the parishioners losing access to the carpark, toilet block and hall, without any alternative provision for these being offered by the Archbishop.
When Fr Rowe wrote to Bishop Sproxton to seek clarification about the future of his parish, he was accused in a letter by Archbishop Costelloe of being “combative” and “aggressive.” The Archbishop also wrote that he intended to engage an external canon lawyer to advise him on the matter.
A month later, the Archdiocesan office contacted Fr Rowe to tell him that a further inconvenience was being planned. An easement used by parishioners to access the church carpark was being closed off so that works planned for an adjoining property owned by Catholic Homes Inc. could move forward. Although Fr Rowe attempted a dialogue with Catholic Homes over the matter, he was ignored then advised by the Archdiocese that his parish was definitely going to lose their carpark access.
By this time, it was October of 2019. Fr Rowe, finding that he was being continually ignored by the Archdiocese and that he had no recourse to canon law, had a caveat placed over the Belmont property. This was intended to ensure that the property could not be sold from under him before an alternative parish was found for the St. Anne’s community. His next course of action was to file a petition at the Vatican, with the Congregation for Clergy, for recourse against the Amalgamation Decree. After further legal advice, Fr Rowe began proceedings in the Supreme Court as an additional measure to ensure that the parish land could not be sold without his consent.
Bad news came when the Vatican denied Father Rowe’s petition, apparently because he had missed a deadline for his appeal to the Vatican; there is a timeframe of 15 days for recourse to the Vatican and since Fr Rowe had not been informed of the transfer to Cloverdale in the first place, the deadline had expired. Around this time, Fr Rowe contacted members of the Catholic Homes board in an effort to solve the dispute over the easement out of court. Instead of improving the situation, the letter to board members led to yet another court case: the solicitor for the Archbishop claimed that he was defamed in Fr Rowe’s letter. Not only that, but having received no helpful replies from the Board, Fr Rowe was forced to file a new case in the Supreme Court to have the matter of the easement settled.
Shortly thereafter, Father Rowe and Father Limbourn, met again with Bishop Sproxton, hoping to gain some clarity around the future of St. Anne’s.
The bishop informed the priests that there were no other locations available for the St. Anne’s Latin Mass community and that the Cloverdale parish priest had been given permission by the Archbishop to sell at least part of St. Anne’s land to fund his new presbytery – land that included the hall, toilets and carpark. Given that the St. Anne’s parish had invested over $600,000 of their own funds in the property, in addition to the funds put forward by the Archdiocese, the priests were stunned by this news.
The Archbishop’s inconsistent position was reaffirmed in July when his legal team wrote to Father Rowe saying that “the Archbishop has no desire to destroy the community which worships according to the Extraordinary Form of the Liturgy …..” yet although the land was to be potentially sold, he also did not plan to move the parish elsewhere. The letter also suggested that the Archdiocese was going to take over St. Anne’s bank accounts.
A mediation session held that month yielded no fruit. The Archbishop refused to attend – he has always declined meeting with the St. Anne’s community despite being given many invitations. A couple of months later, at a meeting held to discuss plans for the easement, representatives of Catholic Homes explained that they did not wish to speak to Fr Rowe about how the development would affect the St Anne’s parishioners.
The Archdiocese intervened to try to end Father Rowe’s caveat on St. Anne’s, which led to another appearance in the Supreme Court for a determination. This took place in January 2021, leading to the judge deciding in favour of the Archdiocese. It was found that Fr Rowe’s case had no standing in the civil courts and that he had no right to maintain the caveat, nor any right to try to stop the sale of the land.
Six months went by, and Fr Rowe decided to appeal the Supreme Court decision, but this was dismissed. Although the Court of Appeal acknowledged that St. Anne’s had been used by the Traditional Latin Mass community for more than ten years and that this community had maintained the church, it found that the Archdiocese was ultimately responsible for the property.
In the midst of months of legal to-ing and fro-ing, Archbishop Costelloe released his pastoral letter announcing the reinstatement of the Sunday obligation which had been suspended due to the pandemic. In the same letter, he dealt the parish of St. Anne’s another heavy blow. Referring to the Pope’s motu proprio on the Latin Mass, Traditiones Custodes. Archbishop Costelloe claimed that restricting the celebration of the Mass of the Ages is “what the Holy Father has discerned to be the will of God for his Church.” He then explained that a decree outlining his plans to severely limit the TLM in Perth in accordance with Traditiones Custodes would be released in the near future. Finally, Archbishop Costelloe lamented the decline in numbers attending Sunday Mass!
The blows did not stop coming, with the Supreme Court dismissing both of Fr Rowe’s proceedings and awarding costs in favour of the Archdiocese and also rejecting Fr Rowe’s most recent claim – seeking to establish a charitable trust over the St. Anne’s premises for the benefit of the St. Anne’s TLM community. Only days afterwards, the Archbishop released the details of his plan to implement Traditiones Custodes in his Archdiocese, which included limiting Latin Masses to Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. An appeal against the decree by Fr Rowe was rejected by Archbishop Costelloe.
At this point, some very concerning behaviour was observed in certain members of the clergy involved with Archbishop Costelloe. After Monsignor Keating and Father Vincent Glynn attended Mass at St. Anne’s one Sunday in October, several parishioners told Father Rowe that the visiting priests had accused Fr Rowe of lying about the parish land being sold off. Soon afterwards, the Archbishop accused Fr Rowe of failing to contact his delegate for permission to continue to celebrate the Latin Mass. This was despite several months of attempts by Fr Rowe to establish a meeting with the Archbishop’s delegate, Monsignor Keating. Fr Rowe’s attempts to set reasonable criteria for the meeting had not been accepted, nor could a suitable time be arranged.
As 2023 began, the Archdiocese of Perth and Catholic Homes went ahead with blocking access to the parish carpark for parishioners. The Catholic Homes representative refused to speak with parishioners and even cancelled a meeting with Fr Rowe once he knew that parishioners would be present.
Fr. Rowe also had to deal with the onerous court costs of his unsuccessful legal battles. The costs awarded against Fr Rowe were negotiated by both parties until a final total of $136,400 was agreed upon. Despite an appeal from Fr Rowe, the Archbishop confirmed that the fence blocking parishioners from accessing their carpark would go ahead and then asked Fr Rowe to cease and desist from contacting Catholic Homes.
All in all, it appears that the saga of St Anne’s is a sad tale of an iron-fisted Church bureaucracy wielding power over a thriving parish deemed unnecessary for one reason only: because of its adherence to traditional Catholicism.
Donations to help with the final legal costs can be made here through Life Funder or directly to the following account:
Traditional Latin Rite Community Account
BSB 086 006
Account No. 58883 5171
(Please specify “Save St Anne’s”, add name (or anonymous) and please send an email to email@example.com for bookkeeping.)
In the meantime, please keep St Anne’s and the Latin Mass parish in your prayers. For further details about the history of the dispute at St Anne’s, please visit the Life Funder link to read the explanation. https://www.lifefunder.com/4n1qgt3