Pope John Paul II's naming of Fathers Anthony Fisher OP and Julian Porteous to fill two vacancies in Australia's senior Archdiocese of Sydney - with their episcopal ordinations due on September 3 - is of particular significance.
The priests concerned are noteworthy for their strong orthodoxy, academic qualifications, practical experiences and personal qualities. They have also demonstrated in different ways a readiness to courageously and publicly defend Catholic teachings. In short, they are ideally equipped for positions of Church leadership.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the left-liberal Fairfax newspapers, the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald - who have not been slow in the past to criticise the Catholic Church - managed to find space for their religious affairs writers to quote nameless experts and commentators: "senior church sources", "nervous insiders", "some Sydney clergy", "one leading Sydney Catholic" and "a Melbourne theologian."
Auxiliary Bishop Pat Power of Canberra "criticised the secrecy of the process", according to The Age report (26 July), adding: "It stretches my imagination to know how [Fr Fisher] would have come out of the consultation process in Sydney because he is not known there."
The typical complaint - as with past "conservative" appointments - has been an alleged "lack of consultation." In truth, had the appointments been of left-liberals or radicals, the issue of consultation would not have arisen.
In a sense, the predictable sour grapes greeting the present appointments are a positive sign that some of those who enjoyed past influence in running the Church - often to its detriment - now recognise that this influence is becoming a thing of the past.
By any yardstick, the new auxiliary bishops are excellent choices and can only bring great benefits to the Church in Sydney and throughout Australia.
Bishop-Elect Anthony Fisher OP, who, like Bishop-Elect Julian Porteous, hails originally from Sydney, will become at 43 the youngest bishop in Australia. A graduate of the University of Sydney, with an honours degree in History and Law, he practised law for a time in a city firm. During this time he became involved in various pro-life groups.
In 1985 he entered the Dominican Order and studied for the priesthood in Melbourne, receiving an honours degree in theology. He was ordained a priest in Sydney in 1991, later undertaking doctoral studies in bioethics at Oxford University. He prepared submissions for the prestigious Linacre Centre to the British House of Lords on genetic engineering, IVF and related bioethics issues. On returning to Melbourne, he took up a lectureship at the Australian Catholic University.
For the past three years Dr Fisher has been the foundation director and a Professor of Bioethics and Moral Theology in the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family - a post-graduate pontifical institute with ten campuses around the world.
In the Dominican Order Bishop Fisher has been the Master of Students (seminarians) and Socius (deputy) to the Provincial. In the Melbourne Archdiocese he has been the Episcopal Vicar for Healthcare, spokesman for the Church on matters of bioethics, visiting lecturer at the Catholic Theological College, and secretary to the Senate of Priests.
In the wider Church, Bishop Fisher has been an adviser to the Australian and British bishops' conferences and is a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
News of his appointment was warmly welcomed in London by the chairman of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Robin Haig, who congratulated Fr Fisher (himself a former president of SPUC): "Bishop-elect Anthony Fisher is undisputedly one of the world's leading bioethicists ... Both the Church and the world sorely need such dynamic advocates for the culture of life and his appointment will be a tremendous encouragement to all pro-lifers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike."
Bishop-Elect Julian Porteous, who is 54, studied at the Sydney seminary and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese in 1974. He has served as assistant and parish priest in several Sydney parishes, while working in youth evangelisation for many years and developing programs of formation of youth for the New Evangelisation.
He has been involved actively with the development of Ecclesial Movements in Australia, principally the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community, and also with the Emmanuel Community.
In January 2002 he was appointed by Archbishop Pell as Rector of Sydney's Seminary of the Good Shepherd. In the short period since then, there has already been an encouraging upturn in the number of seminarians, and inquiries, with the portents for the future promising.
That Bishop Porteous is to continue as seminary Rector after his episcopal ordination is another positive development.
It is significant that Archbishop Pell, following his five-year period as Archbishop of Melbourne - that saw an upturn in numbers of applicants to the diocesan priesthood - has embarked on a similar course in Sydney. The status and effectiveness of his seminary Rector will be no doubt enhanced by his episcopal promotion.
The appointment of these two bishops further underlines the impact Archbishop Pell has had in Australia's two largest archdioceses in a relatively short period of time (since his appointment to Melbourne in 1996).