No subscriptions under false pretences

No subscriptions under false pretences

B.A. Santamaria

When AD2000 was established some fifteen months ago, its future was conjectural. It remains so. That future depended on its capacity to respond to two challenges. The first was mechanical - involving production, distribution, circulation, finance. It was openly stated that the result would be measured by whether it could build up an initial circulation of 5000, consolidate that base, preliminary to doubling its numbers, and thus becoming a journal which exerted real influence.

As a result of hard work on the part of one or two individuals, the circulation has reached 5200. Temporarily, at least, the first hurdle has been successfully negotiated, but that does not mean that there is any guarantee after the relative novelty wears off.

By far the greater challenge, however, lay in determining whether, according to the terms of its own self-definition, AD2000 had something to say, and whether that "something" could be expressed within a framework of journalistic integrity,

AD2000 defined itself as a "journal of religious opinion." Magazines of opinion - whether religious, political, economic or artistic - exist in profusion in Europe, barely at all in Australia A journal of opinion does not set out to be a journal of record, as the daily press is supposed to be - and is not. Nor does a journal of religious opinion set out to be a diocesan magazine representing or claiming to represent the official viewpoint of bishops or the "official church" generally. These exist already.

A "journal of opinion" exists to express the opinions which brought it into being. Otherwise it has no purpose at all. What journalistic integrity demands of a "journal of opinion" is that it will, on occasion, publish articles - of sufficient intellectual standard - containing views opposed to its own; that it will have sufficiently extensive correspondence columns; that these will be open to contrary opinion; and that the "contrary" letters published are free of editorial comment, so that writers have a fair chance of expressing their critical viewpoints, without the sharp putdown of an editorial note. The correspondence pages, thus interpreted, are a journal of opinion's offering to integrity.

AD2000 gives two out of the twenty pages of each issue to its correspondence: in this issue, three. No letter has ever been excluded if it had something substantial to say, expressed in language which was not abrasive or insulting.

It is also important that such a journal should "write about the good things which are happening" as some of our more critical correspondents so frequently enjoin. It would be unnecessarily defensive on our part to point out that we do. The agnostic philosopher, Leo Moulin, discovers the beginnings of democracy within the most ancient religious orders (April 1989). Bishop Olivera Neto of Brazil works hard to realise a greater degree of justice for his oppressed peasants (March 1989). The story of Fr Van Straaten, who over the years, has fed millions of starving victims of war, persecution and famine (June 1989). An Australian priest-surgeon, Fr Flynn, approaches the evening of life (June 1989).

These are some of AD2000's responses to its obligations to respect the whole truth, and not merely one aspect of it.

But, of course, there is only one fundamental purpose in AD2000's rather desperate endeavour to ensure its own continued existence. It is its presentation of the central issue, as it sees it, which is all that any person or writer can claim.

Nevertheless, the "truth as it sees it" to which AD2000 seeks to give expression, is based on its belief that the fundamental crisis within Christianity, which Newman so frequently prophesied, has now spread to the Catholic Church, and that its future existence, at least in the Western world, other than as a small community of believers with little capacity to influence the world in which they live, is seriously in question.

Those who advise us "to concentrate on the good things" quite possibly do not believe that there is such a crisis; or believe that it will go away; or that to mention it does more harm than good; or that to write about it is dispiriting. There could be a hundred such reasons,

Those who produce AD2000 may be wrong in their claim that Christianity, and, in a particular sense, Catholicism, are undergoing such a crisis. But emphatically they do assert that there is such a crisis; that the vast majority of still practising Catholics in this country - who will never be reached by AD2000 or any other journal of opinion - are unaware of it; and that the Church which is allegedly constantly being "renewed" is disappearing largely because at the 'coal-face' -where religion meets people - it is visibly undergoing a process of "Protestantisation". The stage which the process of "Protestantisation" has reached may be debatable, the existence of the process is not.

Does this amount to a crisis?

  • We have "lost" one million people. No business in the secular world could experience such losses and survive.
  • In the field of doctrine, theologians denying the Resurrection, the Divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth and similar teachings fundamental to any recognisable description of Catholicism, are not merely closeted in universities writing learned tomes which few will read, but being permitted to educate our future priests and teachers.
  • For nearly 20 years little if any transmission of basic religious teaching has taken place in our secondary system, from which our vocations to the priesthood and lay leadership used to come.
  • There is a liturgical crisis. You cannot just write off a Dietrich von Hildebrand when he says: "truly, if one of the devils. in C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the Liturgy, he could not have done it better."

Almost the only opportunity a young Catholic has of hearing a list of the uncompromisable doctrines of the Church is in the recitation of the Nicene Creed at Mass. To see the Nicene Creed replaced, in some Masses, by "Creeds" to which a "Greenie" or a "Hare Krishna" - but not a Catholic - could subscribe only proves that the situation is deteriorating.

If one combines the crises of doctrine, liturgy, education into one, that, one suggests, amounts to a general crisis.

Those who are critical of this general analysis, routinely condemn such a view of the condition of the Catholic Church as "negative" or "pessimistic" or "conservative".

Those are only "swear words", used in an endeavour to prevent the relatively few thinking Catholics from asking the only question which really matters. Is it true or false? If it is true - at least substantially - what is to be done about it?

A good deal may be happening. But there is no evidence of it.

All of the above has no purpose other than to explain what AD2000 is all about. Its readers, and others, are free to make up their own minds about the central point. We do not wish to take any person's subscription under false pretences.

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