An extraordinary 'battery' of overseas speakers - priests, nuns and a few lay theologians (a classification of uncertain definition) - have left their mark on Australian Catholicism during the past few months. A handful, like Frs Jaki, Marx and Dubay have been orthodox Catholics. Several of the others have not.
Typical of the latter group was the American Dominican nun, Sr Maria Riley. Describing the development of the self-styled Catholic "women's movement" in the USA - to which, it is safe to say, less than 10 percent would belong - Sr. Riley offered an interesting observation on the woman-priest campaign. To have a mere handful of women ordained into "the existing hierarchical/patriarchal structure", she said, would ultimately prove of little significance. The real purpose of the "women's movement" was "the transformation of the Church."
One aspect of that "transformation" was described by a second Catholic feminist, Sr Sandra Schneiders, in her book Beyond Patching, as a "program of action aimed at destroying patriarchy." Patriarchy in turn is described as "the basic dominative system, the root of all hierarchical relationships". In short, the only way of dealing with traditional Catholic beliefs, institutions and practices is to turn them inside out.
Among the means by which this was to be achieved was "re-discovering" - or perhaps inventing? - facts which are recorded neither in the Scriptures, nor by Tradition. Witness the essentially ratbag proposal to modernise Da Vinci's "Last Supper" by introducing women participants for whose presence there is no historical warrant whatsoever.
But as Fr Derek Jenkins, Catholic Chaplain to London University, points out (see p.20) Catholicism is a revealed, not an invented, religion. The source of the revelation is Jesus Christ, through the agency of the Scriptures and Tradition interpreted by a Church which He - not human beings - founded. If Jesus was not God, he was no more than one of thousands of itinerant holy men who have lived throughout the course of history, some Christian, some Muslim, some Buddhist, some anything. You might listen to him if you liked what he said. One way or another, it did not ultimately matter. But if He was God, then it is impossible radically to change, or otherwise to transform, the religion He established and still call it Catholicism.
The formerly Christian author, A. N. Wilson, asks himself the critical question in his recent work Jesus in order to explain his self-admitted loss of faith. The question is one which seems to have escaped the modernist 'transformers' of Catholicism.
"I suppose that one of my justifications (for writing) was hat I was trying to work something out for myself: and that was how far I could, honourably and truthfully, continue to call myself a Christian when I had gradually ceased to believe the traditional Christian teachings about Jesus."
What we have today is two Churches, not one, believing different things. One is militant (and therefore active), the other more or less passive. Since the active will always gain on the passive, the modernisers seem destined to win: although not in the sense of a visible triumph for their beliefs, which are simply old-fashioned Gnosticism, which few other than themselves are likely to follow. Their victory will lie in eroding the foundations of Christian faith and thus creating a spiritual desert for present and, particularly, future generations.
Every successful acceptance of "inclusive language"; every endorsement of proposals to down play the parish; every "communion service" offered where, with a little effort or ingenuity, the Mass might otherwise be supplied: each is a small but extremely practical sign of the fact that the foundations of Catholicism are being successfully eroded.
The rapid decline in the number of priests, with the consequent ageing of the parochial clergy, is the basic argument on which their case for dismantling the hierarchical and parochial structures of the Church ultimately rests. The phenomenon is now clearly evident even in such erstwhile bastions as Poland and Ireland.
From this it is automatically deduced that the parishes cannot be serviced without pastoral workers. The pastoral worker gradually assumes many, if not most, of the functions of the priest. Pastoral workers inevitably become sufficiently numerous as to constitute a profession with professional interests to protect. It will, however, be a profession of a special kind. It will not only develop its own professional organisation to safeguard salaries and working conditions. It will develop its own theology and ecclesiology to provide it with a satisfying sense of purpose. The concept of "ministry" will come to over-ride that of "priesthood", with the concomitant claim that what the ordained "priest" can do the unordained "minister" (as representative of the "community") can also do. Thus both "priesthood" and "ordination" will gradually merge into an undifferentiated mish-mash. The way has been prepared for decades by theological writers like Schillebeeckx whose theories are cheerfully taught in seminaries as if they were an accepted part of Catholic tradition.
As a consequence of this evolution, both the external structure of a Church based on the hierarchy, as well as critical points of Catholic doctrine have, by apparently imperceptible steps, already been transformed. The process continues without interruption other than occasional, sporadic acts of intervention by authority.
What is remarkable is that in discussing proposed remedies for the shortage of priests and religious, there is little, if any, time devoted to an analysis of the actual causes of the phenomenon. To the modernisers the shortage of priests denotes not a crisis but an opportunity.
However powerful, these causes are not invincible.
The fact is that religious orders and associations which have been faithful to the Church, to Catholic doctrine and discipline - for example, Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ - have been able to maintain a very high level of vocations and of ordinations. Why?
The fundamental reasons are clear:
1. They believe what the Church believes - in toto - and do not accept candidates who disbelieve the essentials of the faith.
2. They insist that those who staff seminaries shall be orthodox, hard-working, and, above all, that they shall say their prayers.
3. Wherever they conduct Catholic schools and educational systems, they do not compromise on the teaching of the Catholic faith as "knowledge", not merely as "experience".
4. When these principles are disobeyed, they remove those who disobey them.
At the heart of the entire enterprise there is belief, prayer and discipline.
Since the fruits of the alternative 'economy' - the dissolution of belief, the disappearance of the priesthood, the loss of believers - are equally visible, what is the point of compromising with its proponents?