Recently published, The Catholic Community in Australia provides considerable food for thought (see review page 18) with its detailed, up-to-date statistics on the state of the Church in Australia. These statistics indicate that while the Catholic Church remains the largest denomination and still strong - at least superficially - it has been in overall decline where it really counts, according to most indicators of spiritual integrity.
One is reminded of Our Lord's words (Matt 5:13): "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?"
If Catholic "salt" is to flavour our secular culture, it needs to be true to its distinctive identity and roots. The Church's leaders and membership need to have the courage of their convictions.
With the fruits of the 1960s cultural revolution starkly evident around us in family breakdown, anti-life policies and rampant pornography, the time is indeed ripe for a more confident, assertive Christian presence in the shaping of public opinion and political decision-making.
As Archbishop Chaput (page 7) made clear in his recent address in Washington, DC, in the presence of President George W. Bush, Catholics and other Christians have every right in democracies to make their convictions felt in the formation of public policy, however much well-positioned anti-religious elements might wish to exclude them from the public square.
In Europe, as Peter Westmore's article shows (page 3), a test of strength has been underway in Italy between Christian and secular forces on bioethical issues, as well as in the wider European Union over its new constitution.
Meanwhile, recent history in Australia has shown that the decent majority are open to well-reasoned arguments on issues such as marriage, euthanasia and abortion.
If the Church is to avail itself of on-going opportunities to help build a more humane, enlightened society, illuminated by religious principles, it needs to ensure first that it is true to its own spiritual identity.
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (Email - firstname.lastname@example.org)