Do I have any regrets about becoming a Catholic? The simple answer is no. As for whether I regret not discovering the Church sooner, the simple answer is that in the mystery of grace I discovered and entered the Church at the right time for me. The gift of divine grace that enabled me to discover the Church is something for which I shall be eternally grateful.
However, the Church I entered has undergone some developments. At the time I entered, the Church was seemingly in the doldrums. While Mass attendance rates were higher than today's, among many Catholics there was a sense that their once proudly-worn religious iden- tity had slipped away.
In the wake of Vatican II it was apparently no longer acceptable to defend aspects of belief that separated Catholics from other Christians. Articles by Catholics in secular and even religious papers studiously avoided celebrating and affirming aspects of belief and practice that were too explicitly Catholic. Apologetics had become a taboo word.
This situation, at least in many Catholic circles, seems to be changing. The numbers of Catholics, notably people younger than myself, who are prepared to stand up for their faith appears to be on the increase. This is probably due to a number of factors, including better leadership and the public witness of prominent lay people and clergy.
In a Church with an episcopal structure in which a bishop has extensive authority, the choice of bishops is crucial. Fortunately, in more recent years some excellent bishops have been appointed who have implemented or encouraged the implementation of sound pastoral policies.
However, the leadership of some other members of the Australian hierarchy has been less encouraging. While Archbishop Bathersby is to be commended for taking decisive action to rein in the feral parish of South Brisbane, one wonders why he allowed this situation to develop for so long?
We can but hope and pray that episcopal appointments to currently vacant dioceses mirror the calibre of men such as Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Hickey, and Bishops Fisher, Jarrett and Elliott, to name a few.
Many of the reforms implemented by some of our bishops have borne fruit. In 1989, virtually every seminary was controlled by liberal elements. However, commencing with the establishment of a seminary in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, there has come a pattern of reform around the country which dispelled the liberal myth that young men were unwilling to become priests because of the celibacy requirement or other unpalatable demands.
As more seminaries introduced reforms the number of candidates has steadily risen. It is a positive sign that most young priests I meet are not afraid to identify themselves as priests via their clerical attire, nor do they hesitate to defend the Church's teachings.
Many bishops are also to be commended for inviting priests from overseas to serve in their dioceses to ensure their faithful have access to the sacraments.
A growing trend has been the widening gap in seminary numbers between reforming and non- reforming dioceses. In the case of the latter, a priestless future seems to be looming for some.
In addition, several bishops have introduced reforms to their religious education programs, with textbooks such as the Archdiocese of Melbourne series that contain a more comprehensive doctrinal content than those used by many of my peers who attended Catholic schools.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the picture is a mixed one; nevertheless, Year 12 externally assessed religion-based courses in states such as Victoria demand a certain level of religious literacy for candi- dates to achieve good grades.
However, we have now entered the second generation of students who were not catechised as thoroughly as in the past. The result has been not only ignorance of many core faith teachings but a widespread attitude that one can pick and choose which aspects of Church teaching to accept or reject.
Interest in religion
Nevertheless, as World Youth Day demonstrated, it is not that there is a lack of interest in religion among young people; nor do they fail to respond to authentic presentations of the faith. At the same time, with the continuing decline in Mass attendances, especially among the younger age categories, the short or medium term future is not promising.
For those involved in faith formation, or seeking to deepen their understanding, resources are far more comprehensive than 20 years ago. I often wonder how different the steps to my conversion would have been had I had access to the Internet.
Typing in 'www.catholic. com' would have brought up the Catholic Answers website, one of the best apologetics sites available. And with the advent of cheaper satellites, I have easy access to EWTN and while walking to and from work often listen to MP3 sound files downloaded from the EWTN website.
The Internet has also brought what friends and myself describe as the 'youTube' phenomenon. Hard evidence of feral religious activities by groups and individuals, such as St Mary's, South Brisbane, can now be easily uploaded for all to see, thereby providing the Church's relevant authorities with accurate information upon which they can act.
In this regard, special thanks must go to the ABC for uploading a video of the episode of Q&A dated 19 March 2009 involving Father Peter Kennedy. Anyone at Rome or abroad who doubts whether his doctrinal position departs from Church teaching should log on and watch.
Despite my theological differences with the Anglican Church, I have fond memories of, and no regrets about, my Anglican upbringing. I also accept that for many of my Anglican friends participation in parish life and worship continues to sustain their faith.
It is therefore sad to note more recent developments in the Anglican Church which further negate her claims to catholicity that I once believed. The ordination of women has now extended to bishops, causing further divisions - within dioceses, and between dioceses and provinces - as illustrated by the refusal of a number of Anglican bishops to attend the last Lambeth Conference. These divisions are now endemic and threaten to formalise what is fast becoming a de facto schism within Anglicanism.
Michael E. Daniel teaches at a Melbourne secondary school.