As we now know, the Roman Empire did not "fall"; rather, it disintegrated. The loyalties, administrative systems, communication networks and discipline holding its parts together gradually broke down; and, both as cause and effect, the immediate interests of provincial elements came to prevail over the interests of the Empire as a whole.
Something very similar has occurred within the Catholic Church in the West over the past quarter-century. However, whereas the decline of the Roman Empire was gradual, the Body of Christ in less than a generation has plunged from vibrant health into critical dysfunctioning.
Today we see orthodox authority publicly scorned at all levels within the Church. We find the traditional synthesis of Catholic belief, and the streams of Christian humanism fed by that synthesis, quarantined out of the centres of Catholic thought and education and their place occupied by the fashionable secularist cults of our era: behaviourism, feminism, Marxoid social- engineering and libertarian sex-worship.
However, the most appalling feature of this situation is the fact that the disintegration has proceeded so far, and that it serves the interests of so many in the Catholic bureaucratic "new class", that the very concept of Catholic integrity is being leeched from the collective Catholic consciousness.
An entity's integrity is its proper inner ordering - it is that arrangement of its integral elements which is necessary to the entity's wholesomeness. A Catholic respects his Catholic integrity when he seeks to act consistently with Catholic belief and with the proper interests of the Church and her mission.
A few examples will serve to highlight the consolidation of disintegrity in key areas of the Australian Church.
Recently I encountered for the first time the Melbourne Catholic Education Office Guidelines for Religious Education. They are apparently being adopted by the Canberra Catholic primary schools in substitution for the Canberra diocesan guidelines which the late Archbishop Cahill instituted, about fifteen years ago, precisely in order to keep out the type of "catechetics" represented by the Melbourne CEO Guidelines.
The subliminal message throughout the Melbourne Guidelines is, "Believe this, and behave thus, because it is the Christian way and it feels good." That message is fine, as far as it goes; however, nowhere do the Guidelines give any hint to children that they should believe anything because it is authoritatively guaranteed - by Christ, by the Bible, by the Church - to be true.
By contrast, "traditional" Catholic education addressed unambiguously the child's sense of intellectual integrity. From early in primary school we were brought to understand that the principal reason we should believe and act as Catholics was that the Church taught with the authority and under the inspiration of God, as evidenced by the Bible.
The "old" appeal was to integrity; the "new" appeal is to taste.
Needless to say, the Melbourne CEO Guidelines are by no means the only or the worst indications of the loss of a consciousness of Catholic integrity in the Catholic schools.
Since the early 1970s every passing secular educational fad seems to have found an immediate welcome in Catholic education. Dewey, Piaget, Kohlberg, Transactional Analysis, Values Clarification, "non-directive" sex education, misinformative anti-AIDS education, "Protective Behaviours" programs, have strutted and fretted their hour (or their year, or their decade) upon the stages of the Catholic schools. Yet one looks in vain through Catholic educational periodicals, or to CEO courses, for critical analyses of any of these fads or their gurus.
In effect, Catholic belief is constantIy being filtered through prevailing secular educational fashions, instead of the fashions being filtered through Catholic belief, before reaching our classrooms.
My other example of Catholic disintegrity is the late, unlamented Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
The formulation of principles of social justice goes well back into Church history; however, it was the Pontificate of Leo XIII which first saw a coherent body of Catholic social thought promulgated throughout the Church. The conceptual framework of Catholic social thought is Thomistic natural law philosophy; and the century since the death of Leo XIII has seen further impressive elaborations of the Catholic social synthesis.
The assumption underlying the development of Catholic social thought was that Catholic integrity requires allegiance to certain principles of social organisation. Some such principles are: that the family is the basic social unit; that it is via the medium of each citizen's God-implanted familial instincts that any government acquires its moral right to govern; that "higher" social units are not morally entitled to appropriate to themselves powers which can as effectively be exercised by subsidiary social units. Every employee is entitled to a just wage, and to organise in trade unions to protect his economic interests. Every person has the right to private property, although not to the ungoverned use of his property.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) at no stage sought to promote the systematic study of Catholic social philosophy, and displayed minimal acquaintance with or interest in that philosophy. Indeed, it treated Catholic social thought as a kind of "disused doctrines repository" from which it could occasionally scavenge a quotation to support its propaganda. With rare exceptions, the subject-agenda for the CCJP's constant stream of poorly argued, poorly written pontifications was the policy-agenda of the Marxoid "broad left".
Yet, while we are well rid of the CCJP, there is no sign that a revival of interest in the study of Catholic social thought has occurred in this country.
How can anyone develop a distinctively Catholic perspective on social justice issues without having a grounding in, or at least guidance by those grounded in, Catholic social philosophy? Australian Catholics are, in effect, being disqualified by invincible ignorance from acting with full Catholic integrity in the area of social thought.
Behind and accompanying the loss of consciousness of Catholic integrity is a diminution of belief in the nature of the Church as traditionally understood by the Church.
We have heard much over the past generation of the Church as "the people of God"; and there is, of course, an important sense in which this characteristic holds true. However, under the influence of fashionable hermeneutical and sociological theories, many have come to understand this phrase in an altogether different sense, seeing the Church as being essentially nothing more than a non- territorial tribe - a large international fellowship of seekers after God and goodness.
Viewed thus, the Church's beliefs reflect no Divine revelation or inspiration, but simply the mythology which its membership developed over time to express allegorically its sense of what God or Christ meant to them.
Obviously, if the Church exists not by the will of God but only by the will of its adherents, then any of its beliefs are not only changeable but can legitimately be changed by any faction which achieves dominance or substantial influence.
Clearly, this is the way in which many Catholics - often unconsciously - have come to regard the Church. For such people, changing Catholic teaching on contraception, women priests, divorce, abortion or any other matter poses no more of a problem of integrity than changing zoning laws by lobbying Parliament. Catholic beliefs are simply prevailing but tractable group policies.
The above instances should suffice to indicate that the Australian Catholic Church cannot hope for a revival of health unless a Church- wide drive is initiated to restore among all Catholics a recognition of, and commitment to, the integrity of the Catholic faith.
Any branch of the universal Church which loses its sense of its own integrity is doomed to terminal disintegration.
Colin Jory is a Canberra-based secondary school teacher, a regular contributor to Catholic publications and author of a history of the 1930s Campion Society, 'The Campion Society and Catholic Social Militancy, 1929-1939', published in 1986. He was a student of Professor Manning Clark at the Australian National University, has worked in private enterprise and taught in Catholic and government schools.