05 July 2019
"Ad limina" visit

Australia: starting anew from Christ with humility

Discussing the Church’s situation today in Australia, the Bishops from that area, on an “ad limina” visit at the Dicastery yesterday, identified creeping secularization as one of the main causes of the overall decline in the Country’s religious experience. Day by day, Australia  “is putting God to one side”, as Pope Benedict XVI often said. In fact, today, one in three Australians does not recognize any religion at all.

But even if we attribute to secularization a conspicuous part of the responsibility for the disaffection of many lay faithful towards the Catholic Church in particular,  in a frank examination, the Bishops– received on 27th June last – did not avoid the matter of the Church’s blame.  Over two decades of accusations of abuse against high-up members of the Australian Church have left their mark. With numbers at hand, the Bishops admitted the clear relationship between these crimes and the vertiginous drop in religious practice among the Catholic lay faithful:  the rate of attendance at the sacraments is in freefall, as is the number of sacramental marriages. Vocations are in short supply.

How can we climb back up? How can we start announcing Christ again with credibility?  The Bishops replied to these unavoidable questions in chorus: “We must start anew from Christ if we want to regain credibility. We must go back to the Kerygma, and do it with great humility”. We will need time to rebuild the trust we have lost  and all the members of the Church are called upon to participate in this effort: clerics, lay faithful, young people, women, men…

Then talking precisely about the contribution that the lay faithful are called upon to provide, the picture drawn by the Bishops restored to us the image of a Church in which traditionally the lay faithful enjoy great autonomy in their initiatives. In fact, the Australian laity is very well organized and firmly inserted into the catechistic, pastoral and missionary activities. It is to make this participation even more significant and match today’s challenges, that in 2018 the Episcopal Conference adopted a document with the eloquent title: “Faithful Stewards of God’s Grace: Lay Pastoral Ministers in the Church in Australia”. This text contains the guidelines on the lay faithful that all the dioceses in the Country are trying to implement.  Among other things, the document reaffirms the centrality of the priesthood common to all the lay faithful founded on baptism and on the uniqueness and unrepeatability of the specific contribution of the single Body of Christ that is the Church. Still on the subject of how to increase the qualitative participation of all the components of the People of God in the mission, the Bishops have shared an effort of reflection still in progress today to valorize even more the presence of women in the Church. In fact, they expressed the wish that  we pass quickly from the now consolidated presence of women in the management of the Church to a Church in which more women have a role of governance. Catholic families too, threatened as they are by the unprecedented marriage crisis, must also be accompanied so they can also become a party to the mission of the Church.  And in this sense, many dioceses are experimenting with a marriage catechumenate, but also with the idea of entrusting every young couple just formed and educated to a “godmother” couple with consolidated and proven Christian calibre. This changed idea of pastoral ministry in the Nigerian Church has thus restored to the families themselves  the principal responsibility of accompanying other families.

The Australian Church is also counting on young people for its rebirth.  Over the years, the memorable World Youth Day held in Sydney in 2008, continues to bear fruit.  In fact, since then, youth pastoral care has become deeply rooted in the various dioceses.  In particular, the Bishops recalled three initiatives dedicated to them: the international World Youth Days; The Australian Catholic Youth Festival and the platform dedicated to the training of those responsible for the youth pastoral mission.

On this latter theme of young people, Cardinal Farrell strongly encouraged the Australian Bishops to continue along the path undertaken to wager on the young generations.   Indeed, said the Prefect, we need to begin by investing our utmost energy in the very young in order to avoid the risk of arriving too late, when the surrounding culture, with its imprinting, has already shaped them in an irreversible manner.

Ad Limina Visit - Australian Catholic Bishops Conference