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PERTH, Australia (LifeSiteNews) — A thriving Latin Mass community in Australia needs help to defray heavy legal costs incurred during a fight to save their church and prevent its community from becoming “homeless.”

Fr. Michael Rowe, rector of the Latin Mass community in St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Perth, is battling to prevent his church property from being repurposed to build a brand-new presbytery for Cloverdale parish priests to live in. Cloverdale parish has acted on the belief that is has owned St. Anne’s property since the parishes were merged in 2018, although this is disputed by the community of St. Anne’s.

Fr. Rowe told LifeSiteNews he was informed by the Archdiocese of Perth that there is no new location for his Latin Mass community to move to and that he must “negotiate with other priests for shared use of a church facility.”

Meanwhile, he has lived in constant fear that he will one day suddenly receive a notice that St. Anne’s has been sold and that he and his congregation have a month or less to move out.

Help defray Fr. Rowe’s legal costs by donating to his LifeFunder.

“I have pleaded with Archbishop Timothy Costelloe in writing at least six times all throughout the calendar year 2019 to visit our community and meet with us to discuss this, or … to at least meet with me in his office to discuss the matter,” Fr. Rowe told LifeSiteNews.

All letters were ignored except for one informing Fr. Rowe that Bishop Don Sproxton had been asked to look into the issue and that Costelloe would respond once he reported back. About two years and several follow-ups later, there still has been no response.

Because the Archbishop has repeatedly failed to communicate with Fr. Rowe, the TLM rector felt forced to file action in Court in 2019 so that his Latin Mass community can stay at St. Anne’s and “legitimately enjoy exclusive use” of the land, in the words of Fr. Rowe, who pointed out that they would be forced off even if only part of the land was repurposed.

“If a suitable alternative location were provided for the Latin Mass Community to continue its worship in the Traditional Latin Rite, we would not have to proceed down this path,” he added.

After legally fighting for the use of St. Anne’s for several years, Fr. Rowe received news in 2022 that the courts had rejected his final challenge to the archbishop’s attempt to take St. Anne’s away from the congregation.

Thus, the future of St. Anne’s is in the hands of the archdiocese, with Fr. Rowe having no indication yet as to when and how their plans will play out.

Fr. Rowe must now pay $150,000 in legal fees, with $55,000 due on June 8, 2023, and another $55,000 due on September 8, 2023. The remaining $41,000 are Fr. Rowe’s own outstanding court and legal fees.

He told LifeSiteNews that if his legal fees aren’t paid in time, he will likely be sued for costs, and he said there is a possibility that canonical penalties could be imposed on him as well.

Help defray Fr. Rowe’s legal costs by donating to his LifeFunder.

Flourishing community, model pastor

The remarkable success of St. Anne’s Latin Mass community under Fr. Rowe raises questions about the motives of the archdiocese in its plans to convert the property into a presbytery. 

St. Anne’s attendee Jan Hurleigh-Craig called the church “perhaps the largest and healthiest community in all of the Perth Archdiocese” in remarks to LifeSiteNews.

The church holds five Latin Masses each Sunday, “filled to the rafters” and usually overflowing outside during High Mass, so much so that the church bulletin reminds attendees to make visible any extra pew room so that as few people are left standing as possible. 

The community is also highly active beyond Masses, with multiple prayer groups and clubs, and frequent community meals and social events. 

It is also noteworthy that Fr. Rowe is highly esteemed by those who know him, with two attendees of the Chartres pilgrimage independently testifying that he was “best priest they had ever met,” and Latin Mass Society’s president, Dr. Joseph Shaw, describing him as a “model chaplain.”

History of St. Anne’s Latin Mass community

In 2008, Archbishop Barry Hickey allocated the unused church of St. Anne’s to the Latin Mass community in Perth, stating in writing that it would be the “permanent location” for the Latin Mass. Appointing Fr. Rowe as the parish priest of the “quasi-parish” of St. Anne’s in 2008, Hickey then formally appointed him in writing as rector of the church in 2009, granting him full faculties of a parish priest.

The Latin Mass community subsequently moved to the church in 2009 and since then, according to a church fundraiser, “has paid virtually all bills and expenses associated with the land and property at St Anne’s and its ongoing use and maintenance.”

They have also paid for improvements to the property amounting to nearly $1 million, which have included the installation of “an historic pipe organ, a pulpit, installation of the high altar, stations of the cross, air conditioning in the church, extensions to the church hall, installation of a new kitchen area,” to a total of nearly $1 million.

“The Latin Mass Community did this because they believed the Archdiocese had given St. Anne’s and its associated land to them for their exclusive use as their permanent home,” Fr. Rowe’s fundraiser noted.

In 2018, Archbishop Costelloe held a meeting at St. Anne’s with the archdiocesan vicar general, along with various archdiocesan employees and the parish priest of Cloverdale in 2018, but Fr. Rowe was not even informed about the meeting.

In October 2018, Costelloe then merged three former territorial parishes by a formal decree, including St. Anne’s, and in January 2019 he wrote to Fr. Rowe saying that the merger had led to Cloverdale parish owning both St. Anne’s land and property.

Fr. Rowe was then informed that Cloverdale parish planned to “sell either part or all of the property at St Anne’s to build a new presbytery for the clergy of the Cloverdale parish to live in,” despite the Latin Mass community having invested nearly $1 million in the property.

After being met with a “wall of silence” in the face of letters to the archbishop, Fr. Rowe made a canonical appeal to Costelloe and was denied. He subsequently appealed to the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy but was too late, as he had gone over a 10-day time limit for the appeal.

Fr. Rowe then took his fight to the civil courts, filing a caveat with the Land Registry in the state of WA (Landgate) in 2019 to stop the land from being sold by the archdiocese before they worked out an agreement that would consider the needs of Fr. Rowe and his community.

In January 2021, the Supreme Court of Australia decided that the dispute was an internal church matter, since despite the parishioners’ considerable investments into the church, St. Anne’s still belonged to the archdiocese. The Supreme Court thus dismissed any entitlement by Fr. Rowe to the caveat.

Fr Rowe appealed to the Western Australian Court of Appeal but was dismissed in March 2022, with the court reaffirming the Supreme Court’s judgment.  

He finally appealed to the High Court of Australia in the hope it would overturn the earlier rulings, but to no avail. 

In September 2022, Archbishop Costelloe issued new directives to accord with Pope Francis’ restrictive 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes. The measures limit the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass to just two churches: St. Anne’s and the former parochial church at Kelmscott, Good Shepherd Church, which has one Traditional Latin Mass on Sundays.

Fr. Rowe is asking for prayers for St. Anne’s Latin Mass parish and for help in sharing his Lifefunder.