April 1998, the tenth anniversary of the formation of AD2000, is an occasion for both pride and sadness - following immediately after the death of our founder, B.A. (Bob) Santamaria - and provides an opportunity for reflection on the role of this magazine, at a time when religious belief and practice in Australia continue to erode.
To have reached the 10-year milestone is itself an achievement, as the past decade has seen the closure of a number of religious magazines, including the Anglican Church Scene and The Advocate.
In the editorial of the first issue of AD2000, Bob Santamaria wrote perceptively, "The establishment of a new monthly magazine of religious opinion, centring on the most critical religious issue of the day – the struggle around issues of doctrinal and moral orthodoxy understood primarily in Christian terms – would seem to be either an act of faith or an act of folly.
"The perceptible decline in practice within all Christian religious denominations has led to an equally rapid decline in the circulation of ordinary diocesan newspapers and to the extinction of some. It would seem that the time has come to close down existing religious magazines and newspapers rather than to begin a new one.
"In that view – especially as it has no capital behind it – the publication of AD2000 would appear to be an act of folly.
"If, however, the case of religious orthodoxy is, in Australia, going largely by default, and if religious orthodoxy is both defensible and deserving of defence, then the challenge transforms an act of folly into an act of faith – faith that there are sufficient competent writers of Christian persuasion within Australia with the ability to produce a magazine of adequate intellectual standard, and a larger group, sufficient in number, to ensure its financial stability," he wrote.
That "act of faith" has been vindicated by the fact that AD2000 has published contributions from some of the best religious writers in the world, as well as articles by Australian priests, religious, bishops and archbishops. Every major doctrinal controversy has been the subject of informed analysis, as have the major statements of Pope John Paul II, without doubt the greatest Christian apologist of the age.
As Mr Santamaria intended, AD2000 has come to be regarded as a beacon of orthodoxy by many Catholics. Issues which some sections of the Catholic Church in Australia would prefer were swept under the carpet have been given a thorough airing in AD2000, e.g., the recent Vatican Instruction on the role of the laity in the ministry of the ordained priesthood. Awkward, but necessary questions, which many diocesan papers prefer not to ask, are posed regularly in AD2000 – on liturgical abuses, the quality of religious education in Catholic schools, the credentials of overseas speakers, or proposals for "priestless parishes."
Such questions have been raised, not for the sake of causing difficulties or embarrassment, but to support the cause of orthodoxy where this seemed to be at risk. If we did not raise them, perhaps no-one else would. This was especially urgent, given that many Catholics in the pews seemed unaware of any struggle taking place for orthodoxy and were not inclined to read Catholic literature.
Over the past ten years, AD2000 has contributed, along with other like-minded bodies, to the building of an orthodox constituency, possessed of accurate, reliable and up-to-date information on Church teachings and disciplines, and prepared to make its views known whenever necessary.
The letters section has become one of the journal’s most favoured features, attracting contributors from all over Australia and from overseas. This section has remained open to those critical of AD2000 or of some article or report. Both sides of contentious questions – such as the Galileo case or the relative merits of the old or new Masses – have been given space to put their cases.
These and other aspects of AD2000’s first ten years of operation have been consistent with Bob Santamaria’s original vision for a "journal of religious opinion" that would assist the cause of orthodoxy.
It was gratifying, and significant, that Melbourne’s Archbishop George Pell should devote the latter part of his tribute to Mr Santamaria (see full text on pages 10-11) to a strong endorsement of what he had achieved through AD2000.
"Some would believe," said Dr Pell, "that his greatest religious contribution has been during the last ten or fifteen years as different forces contended for the soul of Catholicism. Here B.A. stood squarely with the Holy Father."
"No other person had the intellectual skills or organisational ability nation-wide to inform Australian Catholics of the nature of the challenge they faced. It was his last great struggle and the issue is far from settled," the Archbishop added.
The struggle, Archbishop Pell noted, included attacks on papal authority and teachings and on the ministerial priesthood. Christianity as a revealed religion, including the divinity of Christ and the Trinity, has been thrown open to question, while it was "increasingly hard work to convince our youngsters of the evils of abortion and euthanasia, let alone contraception." It was "thanks to Bob Santamaria" that "much of this struggle is now in the open, with the issues available to public scrutiny."
Since, as Archbishop Pell acknowledged, the "struggle" over such questions continues, there is clearly much still to be done by AD2000, along the lines envisaged by Mr Santamaria in his first 1988 editorial, until the cause of religious orthodoxy is finally won.