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Sydney priest defies heritage listing on parish church

Bondi Beach parish priest Fr Paul Foley has made changes including the removal of altar rails in defiance of state planning rules.

The heritage-listed St Anne's Church, which was built in 1934, won the 1935 Sulman architecture prize.

Fr Foley closed the church so workers could take out the altar rails. He said a range of changes were needed, such as for air vents that had not worked for 50 years, covered by boxes that were breaking up.

Fr Foley said altar rails are no longer of use because priests now step down from the sanctuary to give Communion. He has also put in a glassed section at the back of the church as a "crying room" for babies.

He does not believe that council planning rules should intrude into such matters.

But 10 parishioners of the "committee for the preservation of St Anne's Shrine" sent a letter to the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, earlier this month calling on him to intervene.

They said that Fr Foley continued to "disobey the lawful, civil authorities so blatantly" and had "carried out unapproved works four times in the last five years".

The parishioners said their "legitimate complaints have been treated with contempt and that Fr Foley has been allowed repeatedly to disregard proper procedures and approvals".

Last week, Arif Faruqi, a planner for Waverley Council, wrote to the archdiocese trustees about the removal of the rails and erection of the glass panelling without permission.

Mr Faruqi warned that unless an explanation was received within two weeks, "council will be forced to take further legal action". Father Foley says he has contacted the council and there will be a meeting this week.

Meanwhile in Melbourne, a row has erupted over a plan to expand a little-known Catholic community on the fringe of the suburbs.

Maryknoll, 15 km east of Pakenham, was set up in the 1950s as an ideal Catholic settlement. A plan to allow development has sparked a bitter battle with a councillor who owns some of the land.

If approved, property surrounding Maryknoll could be carved into 35 rural lifestyle blocks.

Original resident Des O'Connell, 88, said development would rob the settlement of its unique identity. Maryknoll, the vision of Catholic priest Wilfred Pooley, was established as a rural village of families on 0.8ha blocks.

"This has grown up over 50 careful years. The growth has been incremental, in little bits," Mr O'Connell said.

It's no longer exclusively Catholic, but the locals claim the strong sense of community remains.

Why some of the congregation hate this priest (Sydney Morning Herald)
Maryknoll residents fight land carve-up (Herald-Sun)

Archdiocese of Sydney | St Anne's Church
Waverley Council | Heritage Listings
NSW Heritage Office
[Maryknoll] Community in bitter council planning battle (ABC TV Stateline)

27 Oct 2003