On 19 July 2013, Pope Francis appointed 64-year-old Sydney-born Bishop Julian Porteous as the 11th Archbishop of Hobart, succeeding Archbishop Adrian Doyle who reached retirement age two years ago. The new archbishop is due to be installed on 17 September in St Mary's Cathedral, Hobart.
The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, responded to the announcement on behalf of the bishops: "I warmly welcome the appointment by Pope Francis of Bishop Julian Porteous as Archbishop of Hobart. Since his priestly ordination Bishop Julian has shown great zeal for the spread of the faith, outreach to youth and fostering of vocations through rallies, seminars and constant teaching.
"Since his ordination as a bishop in 2003 he has fostered evangelisation and renewal in Sydney and beyond. His infectious enthusiasm and use of his gifts will be offered most generously in Hobart."
As auxiliary bishop and a close associate of Cardinal George Pell for the past decade, Bishop Porteous is well equipped to meet Tasmania's challenges: re-evangelising the Catholic population, monitoring religion programs in schools, bringing the Christian message on marriage, family and life issues to the public square, and inspiring more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
In regard to the latter, the challenge is enormous, with Corpus Christi College, Melbourne, the regional seminary for Victoria and Tasmania, currently listing not one person for the Hobart Archdiocese among its seven year levels of seminarians.
Bishop Porteous, following his ordination in 1974, served in seven Sydney parishes before his appointment as Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Sydney, in January 2002, a position he held until the end of 2008.
During that period, with the appointment of Archbishop George Pell to Sydney in 2001 and his subsequent reforms to seminary formation, Bishop Porteous oversaw a significant increase in vocations.
He has also been actively involved for many years in evangelisation and with a number of ecclesial movements and has written extensively about these: The New Evangelisation, Developing Evangelical Preaching (2008); After the Heart of God: the Life and Ministry of Priests at the Beginning of the Third Millennium (2009); A New Wine & Fresh Skins: Ecclesial Movements in the Church (2010); Streams of Grace: Spiritual Movements that Shaped the Church (2011); and Become What You Are: Growing in Christian Character (2012).
During an interview about A New Wine & Fresh Skins, Bishop Porteous discussed the pivotal role of ecclesial movements in reinvigorating the Church:
"At the present moment the Catholic Church in a country like Australia is struggling to come to grips with changes in society mainly influenced by the rise of secularism. Or another way of putting it would be to say that there has been significant loss of faith. We can point to the next generation of young people who are not drawn to or attracted to the Church, but even a lot of older Catholics who are traditionally Catholics have developed a slightly jaundiced view of the Church and have taken on board a bit of the secular mindset. They may be tribally Catholic but a lot of their thoughts about the Church are formed by their society rather than by their Catholic faith. This is a particular challenge and a lot of the institutions and structures that exist within the Church (the local parish, schools, and so on) are not effectively able to address this.
"I think movements are key because they are actually touching individual Catholics and bringing about a significant revitalisation of their faith and drawing them back into the heart of the Church. And so I would see that the movements are really a pretty good presence for the Church in this moment of our history because there aren't a lot of other things that are terribly effective in being able to address the challenges that are facing the Church, especially secularisation."
World Youth Day
At the time of his appointment to Hobart, Bishop Porteous was attending World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro with 450 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Sydney. The Australian pilgrims cheered him when they heard the news and pilgrimage co-ordinator Cheryl Fernandez congratulated the bishop as she shared the news with her group. "We are very fortunate to be the last pilgrimage Bishop Julian leads in Sydney," she said. "He will make a great archbishop but it is sad that Sydney will lose such a wonderful bishop."
Hours before his new role was announced, the bishop addressed hundreds of young Catholics during a catechesis session at the Halleluya festival in Fortaleza. His topic was "Does God exist?" "In special moments in life, in times of difficulty and darkness we find that God shows himself to us," he said. "Ultimately we believe that God exists because we have faith. It's faith that we can see a host and know it's not just bread, that it is Jesus, that is the body of Christ.
"Or we are in a moment of darkness and difficulty in our lives, and we turn to God and we sense the peace and love of God coming to us."
Bishop Porteous later led a contingent of Australian pilgrims to a favela in north-eastern Brazil as part of Mission Week with the Shalom Catholic Community.
The responsibilities of today's bishops are as demanding as they have ever been in the Church's history. Leading the Church in Tasmania is no exception, but Bishop Porteous is well equipped to meet the challenges ahead.