There is a splendid irony in the National Catholic Reporter's latest headline about Toowoomba and after, Morale falters in Australia coming from the 'We are Church lobby'.
Because the report on the alleged collapse in morale in Australia discussed in the article by Chris McGillion, in a classic piece of clericalism, in fact is all about priests. The laity do crack a mention - but only through the (rather jaundiced in this case) eyes of disgruntled priests!
A classic NCR beat-up
The story as a whole is of course a typical Fishwrap beat up - the implication of course is that morale has collapsed in the wake of the Morris dismissal. But the study it draws on was in fact undertaken by McGillion long beforehand.
And it runs the classic liberal line - nasty traditionalist/conservatives are more concerned about irrelevant things like orthodoxy and the threat posed by secularism and are obstructing our heroes efforts to implement "fundamental reform" and the birth of "new" ways of "being church".
What I find truly fascinating is the stubborn refusal to accept that in fact for the last forty years, the 'fundamental reform' crowd have actually had pretty much free reign, as has been only too evident in dioceses like Toowoomba and Maitland-Newcastle. And what have been the results? A dearth of vocations, fewer and fewer priests, a collapse in Mass attendance, and the rabid heresy regularly showcased over at Cath News (take a look at the comments on the Islamic billboard story for example - filled with denials of the divinity of Christ, his institution of the Church and much more)!
The NCR story claims that Bishop Morris was a popular bishop. Popular with whom exactly? Yep, clericalism reigns - the article clearly means popular with a majority of his few remaining priests. Certainly not with Catholics at large - because Mass attendance rates in his diocese according to the official figures, show exactly the same collapse as the Australian average.
The real causes of poor morale
The reality is that there has indeed been a collapse in morale in the Australian Church.
And its roots lie not in the new conservatism, but the failed liberal paradigm.
This collapse in morale is not a recent thing, but something that has occurred over a very long period indeed. It can be directly attributed to the banal and lacklustre liturgies, heretical sermons, priestly and communal narcissism, and general subversion of the sacraments, particularly confession, that has characterised Australian Catholicism for far too long.
If the people are disgruntled, the blame has to go to first and foremost to those charged with leading them, teaching them, and sanctifying them, namely our bishops and priests.
Voting with their feet
I have friends and family members that were once practising catholics. Every now and then I succeed in dragging them along to Mass, or persuading them to try some Scripture study or catechetical group. Almost invariably they go once and say never again. Why?
Trite hymns badly sung, touchy feely rubbish that substitutes for actual intellectual content, the lack of a friendly, genuinely welcoming community, and the utter lack of any sense of the sacred do not encourage people to think that going to Mass is worth the effort.
Lapsed catholics are typically confused, uncertain of quite what they really want, what they really believe - all that they know is that what is on offer at their local parish is not it!
Unfortunately, there aren't much by way of attractive alternatives out there either, but I'll save my rant on that subject for another post...
So what do we need to do?
The Ascension Thursday/Sunday's reading from Acts features the angels telling the disciples to stop standing around gazing at heaven.
It is a reminder that this should be a time of mission of the Church, a time when, aided by the Holy Spirit, we actually seek to make converts and build up the Church.
To do that we need not to find some new way of 'being church' but to rediscover and recover the actual one we already have, the one instituted by Christ, and handed down to us by the Apostles and their successors, guided always by Peter, confirming his brethren in the faith.
It is a Church that does not just consist of jaded liberal priests and their fellow travellers.
So as we enjoy the original novena period of the Church in the lead up to Pentecost, let's pray for recovery, and for the conversion of Australia. But let's also consider what we can personally do, what God is asking us to do, to contribute to that process.