Only 6% of Catholics in Tasmania attend Sunday Mass. Within the next decade, the total number at Mass on a given Sunday will be only 1,500 - in a State with a population of half a million, of whom slightly less than a fifth are nominally Catholic. I do hope this will be taken into account when the See of Hobart is soon vacated...
Who to blame? The system has failed: while I disagree profoundly with the aCatholic brigade (such as that insulting Coyne creature), at least they have the wit to admit that the grim statistics are shocking and prove that things have gone badly wrong. They believe in a hermeneutic of rupture, they believe that the Church must change or die (to quote Spong), and have their own conspiracy theory - that Popes since Vatican II have put the brakes on instead of "pedal to the metal, foot to the floor, hold on tight I'm a-comin', Lord!", that the noble intentions of the Council Fathers, nay, the Spirit of the Council itself has been subverted: they consider that only vastly more change, and of course a complete volte-face regarding sexual morality et al. can make the Gospel believable and meaningful. In the meanwhile, they rejoice in the sensus (in)fidelium expressed in adhesion to secular values and rejection of all Roman teaching, either on the quiet or with loud laughter: they are glad when priests wink at all manner of dissent, since they regard such men as prophets and harbingers of the new age.
The problem with this diagnosis is that its reductio ad absurdum is a complete rejection of all revealed religion (which is at base Modernism in the theological sense), with various half-way houses along the way, such as the "St Mary's in Exile" crowd, and the many clergy, religious and laity who have made all manner of compromises and private changes in their faith and practice. Frankly, I have more respect for those who in 1968 left the Church and abandoned all religion, than those who have lingered under the lintel, half-in and half-out of communion ever since. Such types have white-anted the Church from within, and their baleful influence continues to the present. If a presbyterate fall under the sway of what von Balthasar called der antirömischer Affekt, the priests of that diocese influence each other, via peer pressure (since priests form a tight bond, set apart as they are), not to look outward in communion with the universal Church, but to look inward in communion with none but themselves. In Australia, this manifests in philistine behaviour as well as in bad theology. Since what they teach and practise logically leads to atheism, most people have taken the hint!
Talk about a vicious circle; in private, priests in Hobart were mocking and groaning, rolling their eyes in disbelief of the piety of the faithful when the relics - relics! - of St Thérèse were coming to town: they told each other it had been a bad idea to allow it; one (who's since left the priesthood) stated the bones would be best boiled to make soup; and within a few days of this, as a server at the Cathedral I witnessed the Archbishop and clergy bemoaning the whole show, while standing in the Cathedral sacristy about to come out and mouth pious platitudes to welcome the very relics. It was a stunning glimpse into a complacent, mediocre clerical world that set its own standards, and lived down to its doctrines.
Worldwide, will the Pope's Year for Priests have been greeted by many with derision? The phenomenon of the self-hating priest, who has an abortifacient mentality to priestly vocations, is well-known: better no priests than any who believe what the Church teaches! Privately, it is assumed by too many that sooner or later women's ordination, contraception and all other currently prohibited things will be allowed, and that the certainties of yesterday's Faith will become - what? As I say, logic teaches that this leads ineluctably to atheism (or Anglicanism of the fuzzy-minded variety - in which case, go join the C. of E.). People give up the Faith because it appears not challenging because true, but pathetic because confused, fit only for old women of both sexes.
Notoriously seminaries from the late sixties through to the nineties fell into the hands of priests who were themselves dissenters, surely with the connivance of bishops: the year in which they suffered rupture varied, as more recently has the date of their reform and at least partial restoration to orthodoxy; whatever of the seminaries themselves, typically, theological faculties continue to contain many mediocre types who both dissemble and - "wink wink, nudge nudge" - display their degree of divergence from Catholic truth. A priest told me how his lecturer in theology taught that the Eucharistic presence ceased when the Mass ended (classic Lutheranism, that) - and that when he and other students protested to the seminary rector, with proof of what had been taught, they were forced to apologize to the lecturer, virtually on pain of expulsion: this happened in Melbourne, not many years before the then-new Archbishop Pell reformed the seminary.
These jolly thoughts are the product of much exposure to the facts on the ground - gasp in amazement, I was once a precocious dissenter myself, before I got over it and accepted Truth, ironically while at University ("I was a teenage Modernist"!) - remembering from this experience that it is the allegedly mad, bad, mean, nasty conservatives who are rational, kind, prayerful and generous, while it is the supposedly loving and hard-done-by liberals who are rude, arrogant, irrational and lacking in sanctity. "Scratch a liberal, find a fascist." I often think of a certain pestilent person in holy orders, who I'm told was angelic when first ordained, but having gone liberal is quite detestable, as well as boring and foulmouthed: what an advertisement for the joys dissent brings. (High Church Anglicans of the sort striving to be authentically Catholic tell even worse horror stories about the dreadful people they have to contend with: but for the Pope, Catholics would be even worse.)
To be Catholic is to think with the whole - with the whole Church through time, to adhere to the Vincentian Canon of what has always been believed by all everywhere, and as a corollary to apply the hermeneutic of continuity; dogmas and doctrines, practices and pieties may develop in a living, organic process, as the Holy Ghost guides the Church into all truth (and never out of any!), as St Vincent himself noted in his Commonitorium, and as about-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman explained further. There can be no irruption of destructive cancer or return to Year Zero: attempts to return the tree to the acorn by chopping its grand growth down (as Tolkein put it) are metaphyiscally impossible, killing the tree and making its fruiting impossible: as was said in another circumstance of liberals, "they have no seed". The Council can only be read in continuity with all the others - else the whole is a nonsense and a sham: its either Catholicism or atheism, these are the options.
Many of the unintended consequences of Vatican II have been so damaging because they assailed the faith of the little ones of Christ, of whom Truth said it would be better for those who did so to be cast into the sea with a millstone round their necks. Whether innocently or maliciously, in the time since the Council, the years of confusion, of wandering in desert wastes, the seeds of doubt having been planted, every vile weed has come up in the garden! Irreverence is never separable from impiety (as Trent taught); orthopraxis cannot be divorced from orthodoxy (as the East well knows, and the West has unhappily now learnt). There must be a return to what is tried and tested and true, and a rejection of fruitless attempts at producing a counterfeit "adult" faith that is but compromise with the world and evasion of truth, as Pope Benedict so bitingly said the other day at Vespers of the Holy Apostles.
Here in prosperous, comfortable, safe Australia, practical atheism is the de facto position of this "bastard child of the Enlightenment": so what can stand against this, but a confident, combative, aggressive Catholicism, secure in its radically God-centred, believing, sacramentalist worldview. This is what worked in the past in Australia. Alas, in Malcolm Muggeridge's words, just when all the enemies of the Church seemed to have been thrown back from the assault - the white flag was raised! Having by great works overcome sectarian bigotry, the Church in Australia raised up a middle class just in time for the achievements to be squandered: material wealth replaced spiritual yearnings, and the postconciliar crisis allowed catechesis to slip, much nonsense and abuses (spiritual and moral) to proliferate, and the sheep to wander off, being let loose by (as Chaucer put it) "shitten shepherds". Even where bishops attempt to restore order, so many priests form a disloyal opposition that the attempts for the moment have not effected much real restoration. I am tempted to say that it will take the current generation to pass away before, as the Supreme Pontiff formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger opined in his earlier days, "The Church of the future will be smaller, but it will be more fervent."
So - with this in mind, to-morrow I'm off to Hobart for the Extraordinary Form of Mass (I mean, the more self-evidently transcendent experience of worship): the 11.30 am Missa Cantata at St Canice. If I leave at 8 am I should have plenty of time: its only a 400 km round trip, which if the Mass were weekly rather than monthly I'd gladly do every Sunday.
It's a pity the dog-in-the-manger attitude of this archdiocese has prevented the F.S.S.P. coming to work in Tasmania to succour the needy Catholics here: they've applied at least twice that I know of. For the moment, all eyes are on the Ecclesia Dei Commission: "Come over and help us" (cf. Acts xvi, 9). Ecclesia Dei adflicta indeed!