There was a time, not so long ago, when the moral values and religious beliefs of most Australians, their civic leaders, the media and other opinion makers, were broadly compatible with the nation's Judeo-Christian foundations. In recent decades, however, that scenario has changed dramatically with the drivers of the 1960s 'cultural revolution' and their successors gradually entrenching themselves in the sectors of power and influence.
It now takes considerable courage for Christians in public life to articulate what today are counter-cultural views on human life, family and sexuality. Where once there was a settled consensus on these, today to publicly oppose abortion or "gay marriage" is to invite strident abuse or ridicule.
In this regard the challenge for the Catholic Church is most acutely felt in school classrooms where the large majority of students come from non-practising homes and are constantly exposed to a diet of cultural relativism and "in your face" violence and sex via TV, Internet, movies and pop music.
Even the most committed and enthusiastic of religion teachers face a daunting struggle if they are to impart the full range of Catholic teachings in a manner that engages their students at the appropriate age levels.
Cardinal Pell's latest book, the recently launched Test Everything (see page 7), is a bracing tonic for those tempted to throw in the towel. He acknowledges that Christianity involves "tough love" but rejects any thought of watering down the faith — whatever the apathy or opposition.
As Bishop Serratelli reminds us (page 20), the Church over her long history has faced different kinds of challenges in spreading Christ's message. And while Catholics in Third World countries are generally more receptive to religious messages, much of the West, including Australia, has become a miss-ion territory urgently needing to be re-evangelised.
The challenge for those responsible for Catholic education is to develop fresh strategies to engage young secularised minds with religious truths. This will require a combination of improved RE texts, a strong prayer life, development of regular reception of the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Penance, and committed teachers. A pooling of success stories would seem to be the way to go.
Michael Gilchrist, Editor, email address available on request.