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The Church in crisis (Australia).

In November 1998 the Cardinals of six Roman Congregations met with seven archbishops and eight bishops from Australia. The 27-page report of their meeting is available by e-mail from the website of the Australian hierarchy. Its object is to point Out some weaknesses in the Church in Australia; it does not claim to deal with all of them. The following are highlights.

Crisis of faith

After crediting Catholics of earlier days for many great achievements, those at the meeting agreed that there is a crisis of faith in Australia and, indeed, throughout the world. Evidence for this is

(1) the large number of people who profess no religion and the number of Catholics who do not go to church;

(2) widespread doubt about whether human beings can know the truth about God and the next life;

(3) an extreme individualism, in which people consider their conscience to be supreme, with nothing above it;

(4) the common opinion that Jesus is not God but a prophet, and not the saviour of the whole world, and that, since he did not found the Church, what it teaches does not demand our obedience;

(5) the renaming of the Holy Trinity (or its rejection) by radical feminists;

(6) the spreading moral evils which have arisen, such as abortion and homosexual activity, and the threat of mercy killing.

What is needed to remedy these evils is education based on the Scriptures, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church (#9). "The People of God ... have a right to receive authentic and clear Catholic teaching from those who represent the Church in its various institutions. ... The bishops may not tolerate error in matters of doctrine and morals or Church discipline, and true unity must never be at the expense of truth" (from Section 11).

For bishops

1. "In choosing their collaborators in the diocesan administration, in the seminary, and in parishes, bishops need to make appointments with a careful eye and with great attention, always giving emphasis to sanctity of life, orthodoxy, and pastoral competence" (15).

2. Concerning the language of the liturgy, bishops should realize that "it is essential that the translation of the texts not be so much a work of 'creativity' as of a faithful and exact vernacular rendering of the original text."

3. "Many bishops in Australia and elsewhere have noted a decline in the sense of sin, stemming from the deeper reality of a crisis of faith." This has "grave repercussions for the sacrament of Penance" (44).

Individual confession and absolution remains the "sole ordinary means by which one of the faithful who is conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and with the Church" (Code of Canon Law, #960). ... Unfortunately, communal celebrations have not infrequently occasioned an illegitimate use of general absolution. This illegitimate use, like other abuses in the administration of the sacrament of Penance, is to be eliminated."

The Code says that "a sufficient necessity is not... considered to exist when confessors cannot be available merely because of a great gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feastday or pilgrimage" (#961). Therefore, "the bishops will exercise renewed vigilance on these matters for the future, aware that departures from the authentic tradition do great wrong to the Church and to individual Catholics" (45).

4. Concerning the Catholic universities in Australia, "the university itself and the bishops should be attentive to safeguarding the university's Catholic identity" (56). In particular, the bishops should "follow with understanding and with active concern the question of the doctrinal soundness of the theological formation given either in departments of theology in Catholic universities or in other theological centres" (58).

5. As for elementary and high schools, "evangelization programs must take account of the increasing secularization of students, who no longer receive the basic faith formation at home as in the past, and of the increasing number of non-Catholic students. Care is needed to ensure that a desire to be welcoming to all does not compromise the Catholic identity of the school" (60). "The lay teachers ... must be properly formed in the Faith, especially principals and those who teach religion.. .. A significant proportion of the staff should be practising Catholics, who look upon themselves as educators in the Faith as well as teachers of their specific subjects" (61).

For priests

Priests act in the person of Christ (19), and priestly spirituality is part of their identity (20).

They should not let compassion contradict truth; indeed such compassion is not compassion at all: "No pastoral solution can be so called that is not flowing from God's revelation as this is interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church. Thus a practice in pastoral life which is contrary to the teachings of Christ and his Church is not an act of compassion, but rather is one that radically disorders pastoral charity and has long-term negative consequences for the faithful and for the unity and identity of the priesthood and the Faith" (22).

While collaborating with laity, priests must be in ultimate charge of the catechesis in their parish. "The matter of catechesis cannot be left solely in the hands of others, no matter how skilled they be. The transmission of the Faith is to be actively attended to by priests as this is an essential part of their ministry" (24).

"The celebration of the liturgy is never a private action of the celebrant or of the community gathered in a particular place, but an act of the Church as such" (39).

"Practices foreign to the tradition of the Roman Rite are not to be introduced on the private initiative of priests, who are ministers rather than masters of the sacred Rites. Any unauthorized changes, while perhaps well-intentioned, are nevertheless seriously misguided" (42).

For those in consecrated life

"The very purpose of consecrated life is conformity to the Lord Jesus in his total self-giving.

The authenticity and transparency of community life are a striking expression in our time of the fact that living together in grace, with one mind and one heart, is not merely a possibility but a reality. The whole Church greatly depends on the witness of communities filled 'with joy and with the Holy Spirit' (Acts 13:52)" (27).

"Consecrated persons must be in communion with their Pastors, and this at the level of both the particular church and the universal Church" (28).

"A number of religious have, with permission of their superiors, opted to leave communities in order to live in apartments or privately. Such an option, however, fragments the life and witness of an Institute" (29).

"Religious, by reason of their public state in the Church, are prominent in the eyes of the faithful and of the secular media. This prominence requires a more evident fidelity to the Magisterium than is required of ordinary faithful" (35).

In particular, bishops should dialogue with major superiors of religious regarding "assent to the Magisterium regarding such areas as the non-ordination of women to the priesthood" (36).


The members of the meeting rejoiced over their communion in faith. Canadians and Americans can benefit from the publication of their concerns because the crisis of faith in Australia is also in North America.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Previous Article:"Bright Seraphs, Cherubim and Thrones".
Next Article:New American Lectionary (United States).

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