The polarisation of Australian Catholicism into two radically different churches - as the late B.A. Santamaria long recognised - has been dramatically illustrated by two recent events.
On the one hand, the Sydney Pastoral Plan (page 3), with the aim of strengthening the faith in key areas of church life has been finalised and is due to be implemented in 2008; on the other, the publication of a book by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a former auxiliary bishop of Sydney. This book questions the very foundations of the faith in the name of responding to the evil of sexual abuse in the Church (see pages 6-7).
For decades since the late 1960s, the faith of Australian Catholics has been eroding, in part as a result of new church 'modernisation' policies, not unlike those espoused in Bishop Robinson's book.
The seriousness of the situation has prompted a comprehensive response from Cardinal George Pell and his co-workers with the aim of re- evangelising the Archdiocese of Sydney through a series of radical reforms.
The success or failure of the Pastoral Plan over the next few years will have implications for the rest of the Church in Australia which faces similar problems.
Meanwhile, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's book has been publicly supported by some religious organisations and individuals in Sydney, including the Aquinas Academy, Catalyst for Renewal and assorted academics and educators, as well as the secular media.
Indeed some regarded Bishop Robinson as a front-runner to succeed Cardinal Clancy as archbishop of Sydney in 2001, while Bishop Robinson suggests in his book that 'many' Australian bishops would agree with at least some of what he has written. One of them, Bishop Pat Power of Canberra-Goulburn, has already offered public encouragement.
The forces lined up against any effort to strengthen orthodox Catholicism in Australia, in union with the Pope and universal Church, remain well-entrenched and as keen as ever to impose more of their failed medicine, if given half a chance.
Michael Gilchrist (Editor)