Titled Lost! Australian Catholics Today (hardback, 200 pages), Michael Gilchrist's new book on the state of the Catholic Church in Australia comes almost exactly 20 years after the launch of his Rome or the Bush at the time of Pope John Paul II's visit to Australia in 1986.
Famed media personality Mike Willesee has agreed to launch Michael Gilchrist's new book on 23 October at the Thomas More Centre, 582 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, at 7.30pm.
The book is titled Lost! as the author argues that much of the Church in Australia is already lost, in the sense that at least 85 percent of Catholics are unchurched, according to the 2001 National Church Life Survey and Mass count figures.
Also, statistics on the belief and practice of Catholic school students indicate a low and declining knowledge or acceptance of Church teachings.
Many of those who still practise the faith are like "lost sheep" since they are confused or uninformed about the doctrines and disciplines of the Church and lack clear guidance from their bishops and priests.
Some members of the larger religious orders are also lost, having become attracted to New Age, neo-pagan spiritualities.
The book explores other senses in which Australian Catholics are lost.
Given the downward trend in belief and practice shown by all the statistics, it is clear that if nothing effective is done soon the Church in Australia will be lost, aside from a few faithful remnants.
Lost! devotes its first chapters to case studies of nonsense and dissent dressed up as "renewal"; what John Paul II called "shadows" in the liturgy; and the spiritual shortcomings of most Catholic schools, as well as Australian Catholic University.
The book includes chapters on how the impact of John Paul II was weakened by the lack of co- operation or active dissent of individuals and organisations within the Church, and on the Statement of Conclusions. This document, calling on bishops to implement wide-ranging reforms, has been largely ignored by sections of the Church.
On a more positive note, Lost! then examines the leadership of several bishops who have made serious efforts to address the crisis of faith, including Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Barry Hickey.
This is followed by a chapter on the state of the seminaries, noting the growth in numbers that has accompanied reforms and orthodox leadership.
The final chapter suggests strategies for arresting the decline, including radical reforms to the Catholic education system and review of the selection process of bishops.
The book concludes:
"The time for denial, compromise, half-measures, diplomacy, distractions and pious hope is over. If the Church in Australia is to have any long term future with its integrity intact, bishops have to give maximim support to orthodoxy everywhere in practical ways without fear or favour ... The 'signs of the times' today call for consolidation of a Catholic identity and sifting the wheat from the chaff. This will require particularly strong leadership."
Advance orders for Lost! will get a discount. The recommended retail price is $32.95, but those who order copies from Freedom Publishing (www.freedompublishing. com.au, see p.19) before the 23 October launch, or buy copies at the launch, will pay only $25.95 each.