As progress reports in this edition of AD2000 indicate, there are encouraging pockets of solid, committed Catholicism that continue to bring spiritual renewal to the Church in Australia.
The Sydney seminary, like other Australian seminaries where much-needed reforms have taken place in recent years, continues to attract highly qualified aspirants to the priesthood. Likewise, Campion College, Australia's first Catholic liberal arts college, is producing top quality graduates and future leaders for society.
While the term 'remnant' may seem an overly pessimistic description of the present situation, the reality is that the number of Catholics continuing to believe and practise their Church's teachings on faith and morals is a small and declining minority. The majority might be described as 'cultural' or nominal Catholics, who occasionally connect with the Church for weddings, funerals, or affordable private schooling, but little else of religious significance.
Many of today's Catholic families, on which the Faith's continued survival largely depends, are struggling to function effectively and while the Church rightly regards parents as the primary educators of their children, few in practice are up to the task. The secular media, internet and pop culture are vastly more influential in determining the values and attitudes of most young people.
In light of these factors, even the best Catholic schools face an uphill battle to have a lasting religious impact on their pupils.
Realistically, how do the Church's leaders address this challenging scenario if the spiritual erosion is to be slowed, if not reversed?
Perhaps the Church's best hope is to concentrate on the more committed sections of the Catholic population and build these up. Encouraging and facilitating networking among like-minded practising Catholics would strengthen morale. Likewise a solid core of younger clergy, religious and lay leaders needs to be empowered to serve as a leaven within the Catholic and wider Australian community.
In this regard, a centrally located Church website might gather details of successful strategies and make these available for wider implementation.
Michael Gilchrist, editor, email address available on request.