Fr Peter Kennedy of St Mary's South Brisbane defends his use of invalid baptismal formulae

It is interesting to try to imagine what must be going on inside the head of Fr Peter Kennedy, the priest of St Mary’s South Brisbane who performed that invalid baptism in the video posted on YouTube.

Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine, because we have his own words from an article published in the (now defunct) “Online Catholic” e-journal back in “Issue 36, 26 January 2005” titled: ““The Brisbane Baptism Bunfight”. In what follows, my own comments appear as [bold italics]:

Is a baptism invalid if the words are changed? No, say the priests at St Mary’s, South Brisbane. And the Pope agrees! [is that so? Which pope? And would he really have agreed with Fr Kennedy’s practice?]

In the pontificate of Pope Zachary (741-752)[Ah. So already it becomes clear that we are not talking about “THE” Pope, then, but “a” pope. Now to see if what he said agrees with Fr Kennedy’s practice], an Archbishop by the name of Boniface wrote to the Pope about a problem that two of his brother bishops had raised with him. It concerned the liturgical practice of a priest who, having a limited knowledge of Latin, had unwittingly [note this: “limited knowledge” and “unwittingly”]breached the accepted scriptural formula for baptism ie “Ego te baptizo in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti,” translated into English as: “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Unfortunately the priest used the words “Ego te baptizo in nomine patria, et filia, et spiritus sancti.” In other words “I baptise you in the name of the Fatherland, and in the name of the Daughter and of the Holy Spirit.” The Bishop wanted a ruling from the Pope as to whether the Priest needed to re-baptise. The Pope’s response was “I direct that there should be no re-baptism unless you are certain that he advanced some error leading to heresy. Ignorance of the Latin language does not invalidate his ministry of baptism.” [Precisely. The poor priest would have been mortified if he had known his error. The issue here is not a mechanical notion of the formula as a set of magical words, but compliance with the teaching, practice and intention of the Church to follow the institution of Christ himself.]

In other words, as Dr Paul Collins said in The Courier Mail on 4th December 2004 and I quote, “The sacrament of baptism goes on the intention which is as important, if not more important, than the use of the traditional formula.” [The intention is important – but not MORE important than the formula. How can one have the “intention” of doing what the Church does when one intentionally uses a form contrary to the Church’s practice? The way Kennedy chooses to apply Collins statement one would conclude that ANY formula could be used (“In the Name of the Cat, the Dog and the Guinea Pig”?) as long as the “intention” was there.]

As I understand it, the official Church position is that the scriptural formulation of Father, Son and Spirit, in its relational language, is simply too universal across the entire christian spectrum [“too universal” for what?] – an argued [does he mean “agreed”?]formula that is uncompromisingly Trinitarian. I note however that Hans Kung (P58 of the Catholic Church) [what authority does this opinion have in the Church? Zilch.] makes the comment that both Catholic and Protestant theologians of the west “hardly seem to be aware that they are interpreting the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit not so much in the light of the New Testament, as in the light of Augustine.” [I would strongly challenge both Fr Kennedy and Fr Kung to do some proper study on the Trinitarian formulae used in the New Testament. In any case, the later theology of Trinity is neither here nor there, but the fact that this is according to the institution of Christ himself in Matthew’s Gospel.]

For centuries all those who made rulings on the Trinitarian formula, Father, Son and Holy Sprit, for the universal church were men [here we go]. Although women outnumber men in the church, it is they who have to bear with this exclusive formula at the heart of all liturgies, and who are prevented officially from exploring alternative formula such as “Creator, Redeemer (Liberator) and Sustainer of Life.” This is an injustice [Deary me]. And this injustice is set aside in favour of doctrinal purity. [Deary deary me.]

It is in Matthew’s gospel where we find the baptismal formula “Make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [Ah – he’s read it then.] It is a statement given to [“by”?] the RISEN Jesus- the closing paragraph of Matthew’s gospel. Hence, it probably is referring to one of the emerging liturgical practices in the Matthean church [and not to Jesus’ own institution? Undoubtedly the formulae reflects the practice of the apostolic Church, but that is because the Apostles did what Jesus commanded them to do “baptising them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.]. Given the tensions in the Matthean community around a number of issues, there may have been [!!!] tension around this formula as a new and emerging one in the community; to put it on the lips of the departing risen Jesus would have been to give it an authority in what may have been competing baptismal formula (baptising for the forgiveness of sins for example). [You see how this is done?]

In the Acts of the Apostles- we are now talking about the Lucan communities – St Luke being the author of Acts of the Apostles – the imagery associated with baptism is similar, but the formula seems to be different. “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2/38.) [this is often cited against the requirement of the traditional Trinitarian formula. In fact, many pentecostal churches do baptise with this formula (as they base their practice on the Book of Acts). However, we have no evidence that “I baptise you in the name of Jesus” was ever used in the liturgies of the apostolic or early church or ever since up until our own day in the aforementioned sectarian groups. That one is “baptised in the name of Jesus” is a theological statement – all of us who have been baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” have been “baptised in the name of Jesus”.]

(Acts 8/14-16) “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them and they went down there and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

(Acts 10/48) “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Sprit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to those people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?”
He then gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.

is Lucan formula is most likely to have been an earlier one than the Matthean Formula [as I have pointed out, there never was a “Lucan formula” which was used in the liturgy of the Church as an alternative to the “Matthean formula”; rather it is a theological statement about the nature of Christian baptism]. The question is why choose one over the other now and say that only one can be used. [the reason is because the Church does not employ the same skepticism with regard to the historical veracity of the Gospels as does Fr Kennedy – Christ himself commanded us to baptise “in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Fr Kennedy needs to study the theological importance of the DOMINICAL INSTITUTION of the sacraments.]

Is the Matthean formula more effective? More holy? More? [Not more anything. Just what Jesus commanded us to do. We are not authorised to make it up as we go along.]

What we see here is the dynamic of developing theology and practice. Jesus never links baptism with one set unchangeable formula [???Que??? didn’t he do that in Matthew 28? Oh, but that is the “emerging Matthean Community” isn’t it, not Jesus. So what evidence will Fr Kennedy accept as to what Jesus did or didn’t do?], which is important in the current debate. A church which wants to mould itself so rigidly rather than make creative responses to new and engaging issues and circumstances seems to be a church that is acting quite contrary at least to the spirit and actions of the churches of the gospel. [Since the Church springs from and is sustained by the sacraments, she has for 2000 years preserved these rites in the purity of the Christ’s original institution. This is her sacred duty. Not “creativity” and “engaging issues”.] Only well into the second century does the tradition of the right creed and right code and right cult begin to develop in the churches of the pastoral letters and they are not core or dominant in the New Testament. [O dear. The Jesus Seminar people would welcome Fr Kennedy with open arms. Perhaps he should go and talk to Francis McNab… Such skepticism about the canonical authority of the whole New Testament, when just a few paragraphs earlier he was citing Hans Kung’s preference for the NT over Augustine… For the record, this 2nd Century concern over “the right creed and right code and right cult” arose in the face of the challenge of the Gnostic heresies – among whom it appears Fr Kennedy might have felt right at home.]

Another piece of history prior to the Reformation in England and long after it, as attested by the Douay Ritual of 1610, the formula used was, “I christen thee (Tom) in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The Douay Ritual was intended for Seminary Priests going to England, at great peril to themselves, to keep the Catholic faith alive in Protestant England.

Note the words “I christen thee” rather than “I baptise thee”. Not the words of washing but of christening ie incorporating them with Christ. And they are certainly not the words that Jesus used. [Lord help us. At this point, Fr Kennedy shows up his liturgical ignorance. The words “I baptise/christen thee” are not essential to the rite. In fact, the Orthodox Church uses the following formula: “You are Baptised; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh; you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. The crucial thing is that washing is done (“Baptising them…”) with the Trinitarian formula (“…in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”).]

To sum up, the first thing that characterises the New Testament in relation to baptism as with many other areas of exploration is that there is wide diversity [but we have no firm liturgical evidence of any diversion from the use of the formula “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The only significant diversity in regard to this which might be mentioned is the occasionally attested practice of phrasing the formula in question form (like the creedal examination) and immersing after each answer: eg. “Do you believe in God the Father?” “I do.” Immerse once etc. There was never any diversion from naming God in the act of baptism as “the Father” and “the Son” and “the Holy Spirit”.]. Because the documents were written over a period of extraordinary development in early and emerging Christianity, and because they came from different places, DIVERSITY both in practice and theology is evident. This is not only characteristic of early Christianity but throughout its history also. Baptism has changed very significantly from the early adult catechumenate over a period of three years, to infant baptism, links with confirmation and then separation from confirmation.[This is, of course, quite true. But the essential form of baptism – washing with water with the use of the Trinitarian name of “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” has never varied.]

Change and adaptation could be said to characterise each period of the Church’s history of baptism and the present is no exception. Communities which are seeking justice, especially in relation to exclusive and tired metaphors [You see? What is really at stake is not the question of the formula for baptism, but how God is named in the liturgy of the Church. Fr Kennedy makes the common modern mistake of confusing a “name” and a “metaphor”. Peter Kennedy is the “name” of the author of this article – it is not a “metaphor” for the priest of St Mary’s South Brisbane. The whole “Yahweh” issue hangs on this point too.] that characterise the formula for baptism, are contributing to the diversity which will ensure that the tradition is continually living.

The community of faith needs a richness of metaphors for God [to be sure – but we don’t make up “names” for God – we use only those he has revealed to us], for Trinity, in order to expand our religious imagination and enliven our faith. This is clearly a key issue in this debate. [He’s got that right.] And if we need a richness of metaphors, the way we [who? you? the liturgy belongs to the whole church, not just you] develop those is in the liturgy [Why pick on the liturgy? Develop the “metaphors” in preaching, theology, private prayer, poetry, song – but not in the liturgy, ta very much], as that is where the community will encounter them.

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17 Responses to Fr Peter Kennedy of St Mary's South Brisbane defends his use of invalid baptismal formulae


    I want to highly recommend Praxis Obnoxia for all to get and read. It is very scholarly, scholastic, concise, and very revealing concerning the Invalid Vatican II Rite of Baptism. From the discussions I am having, certain Bishops and Priests re-baptize Protestants and Novus Ordo converts alike to join them to the communion of their churches because of the defective practices performed by the sectarian ministers who allegedly baptized them. While other clergy are Indifferent or do not have a precise praxis. I hear various stories that lack uniformity of ritual. So, I feel this book is something Catholics should consider. I even met certain Orthodox and Uniate Catholic clergy who consider this a very hot topic between Old Calendar/New Calendar and New Ritual/Old Ritual persuasions. Some groups re-baptize, some only use chrismation, some also are unsure. Baptism is necessary by a necessity of means, and the validity of the other sacraments rely on its valid reception, so this is a most important topic.

    Here’s a summary of the book and how you can get a copy:

    Praxis Obnoxia: A Moral-Theological Conclusion On The New Modernist Rite of Baptism.

    Praxis Obnoxia: A Moral-Theological Conclusion On The New Modernist Rite of Baptism, investigates the Novus Ordo “Praxis” of baptism as very questionable and positively doubtful for validity. The book provides ample documentation and a bibliography with sources from the Apostolic See, theologians, rubricians, and canonists, original liturgical texts in Latin and English, and lots of photographic illustrations. This book is strongly recommended for all who truly desire to be a good Catholic. For since the importance of receiving a doubtless valid baptism is so great, we felt it necessary to publish this work to be instrumental in the salvation of countless souls. We ask that after reading this book, to inform your neighbor, family, friends, and clergy about this book, lest all is lost.

  2. Schütz says:

    Well, thanks for that bit of self promotion, Obnoxia.

    All that demonstrates is that the rule in physics is repeated in theology: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Or over reaction.

  3. Sharon says:

    Everything which Fr Kennedy says may be true but the Church of which he is a member has determined the formula to be used for Baptism. Case closed, Rome has spoken.

    Abp Bathesby didn’t set a date by which the parish had to return to observing the rubrics according to the GIRM (I wonder why?) and so Fr Kennedy can drag this mess out as long as he wishes.

  4. Schütz says:

    Yes, I agree, Sharon, but very little of what Fr Kennedy says is true in any case.

    Someone said to me recently that even when people do bad things they often have (what seems to them) good reasons for doing so. This is obviously the case with Fr Kennedy. His reasons for disagreeing with the Church, though, are null and void.

    As for how long Arch. B.’s patience will last… what can we say?

  5. Past Elder says:


    Rome has absolutely no objection whatever to creative reponses, developing theology, liturgical not only diversity but innovation sold as living tradition, richness of metaphors, on and on.

    The only objection Rome has is to anyone else doing it.

    It’s always about the great god Rome, first, last, and always.

  6. Tony says:

    Yes indeed PE, a clash of the ‘centrists’ and those who prefer a more autonomous creative church.

    Sharon kinda captures it: ‘Case closed, Rome has spoken’ and then follows with a veiled criticism of the local Bishop. The local bishop has chosen a more patient, more moderate approach. In that sense the local bishop has ‘spoken’, case ‘ongoing’.

    The local bishop, as far as I understand it, represents ‘Rome’ in the dio.

  7. Schütz says:

    PE – we missed you there for a while (where you on holidays?), but I don’t think I like the PE that has come home. Go for another holiday (or at least have a little lie down) until you feel better.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Father Kennedy just keeps on attracting attention. First allegations of breaking Church Law now allegations of breaking Criminal Law. The Archbishop must be pleased – not.

    The assault is apparently disputed but the fact that the parishioner got tossed out for trying to take a photo of the baptism is not. The moral is that if you want to film something being done wrong at St Mary’s you need to do it covertly.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I need to admit that I chose that link rather than the Australian or Courier Mail because the picture they chose was so funny when put together with the story.



  10. Veronica says:

    Jesus was very unorthodox in His time, raising the ire of the church elders. He was run out of town, criticised for doing illegal things on the sabbath and eventually killed. I wonder what words John the Baptist used when he baptised Jesus.

  11. Andrew Smith says:

    Just a correction on the reference to the Orthodox formula (to use similar wordings): the text quoted above is said in the Baptismal service /after/ the baptism itself. The baptisand is actually baptised with the words “The servant of God (name) is baptised in the name of the Father *immerse* and of the Son *immerse* and of the Holy Spirit *immerse*”.
    Not that the correction invalidates your point; quite the reverse, in fact.

  12. De Profundis says:

    I mean, statistically speaking, surely 2000 years of organic tradition guided by the holy spirit is the safer bet for Kennedy and his followers? What’s so attractive about a couple of years of theological hack work when the risk of being wrong is so great, and the price to pay (severing communion with the church instituted by Christ) is so high?

    The mind boggles. I mean, aside from the glaring errors highlighted by our Blogger, I’d be willing to listen to his ideas as food for thought. But to dive into them and practice them while leading so many astray just beggars belief.

  13. Anonymous says:

    INTELLEGENCE AND THE RELIGIOUS DOGMA OF ANY CHURCH IS A HEAP OF CRAP.the founders of religions are not the ones who are followed but so called “theologians” who think they know who GOD IS. and no human being on earth can know that!The teachings of the prophets like Jesus can be THE ACTIONS not the WORDS. lOVE IS THE WORD the only word! All else is crap!

  14. Ian Marcovitch says:

    I used to call myself a catholic.
    I now am constantly embarassed by the men in robes pontificating on points of dogma or canon law while the lamb is lost in the wilderness as the shepherd is busy selecting the legitimate staff for the rescue. Jesus would not have approved of the Roman model of empire.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m a severely lapsed Catholic, yet I cannot help but feel disgust at this Father Peter Kennedy person. To break the rules of an established system – one that you joined of your own accord – to attempt to alter its fundamental precepts, to try and change the world, is utter idiocy. The system stands. It can never be defeated because when it is, a new one will rise to replace it. The Catholic Church is the authority on everything that has to do with Catholicism. To try and subvert its doctrines and laws without being, oh, say, the POPE, is ignorance, nothing more than a vain exercise in futility. The Church is law when it comes to Church doctrine: If you’re not cool with that, start your own church.

    And to that other “Anonymous” fellow who posted before me:

    You don’t know God. Presume not to know the heart of God. Presume not to know the will of God. Presume not to know the mind of God.


  16. Anonymous says:

    I once worked in Sydney near King’s Cross with a Dominican and a Presentation Sister. They provided a place for the unwanted from the street, and on Sunday I went to Mass in Redfern where another father Kennedy, (similar to the Peter Kennedy of Brisbane) and Mum Shirl provided the kind of Catholic worship that few could. The Church was packed. Although windowless, and a place where God’s homeless did occasionally sleep, the Church contained a real and tangible warmth and presence. It was always open, always available to God’s poor and searching. When Mum Shirl and Father Ted Kennedy passed on and went to Heaven, Cardinal Pell, in his wisdom, sent two neo catecuminate missionaries to take their place. That Redfern Church died. The blackfella stopped attending as did the previous congregation. What Brisbane’s father Peter Kennedy offers the world is hope, that not even all the self-serving, self-appointed conservatives of Rome can silence. Keep up the good work Peter; the survival of our Catholic faith depends on people like you to show our faith is relevant and real in the world TODAY.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hey Raphael, when the cardinals elected our present pope did you note how the wind outside blew the hats off the heads of the bishops… The spirit of God was outside with the people, not inside with the cardinals. That they would elect cardinal Ratzinger was always to be the case, they had no other option. The previous pope’s “RIGHT-HAND MAN” had personally chosen many of the conservative cardinals that elected him. God was outside with the people that day. He too was waiting on what the conservatives would decide.

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