Monday, 16 January 2012

Tasmania: can a spiritual desert yet be revived?

Richmond, Australia's oldest surviving catholic church
 Continuing my look at the state of the Church in Australia diocese by diocese, I want to look this week, if I can, at the rest of those dioceses that are either currently vacant or likely soon to be.

So if anyone else wants to pass me suggestions on things to highlight in Sandhurst or Ballarat, or on the recently filled Armidale that would be great. 

And a big thank you to those who have contributed one way or another to this piece, as well as commented on or offline on other dioceses.  I'm particularly grateful to the person who provided me with some material on Wilcannia-Forbes that suggests I'm not too far off the mark on that one!

So today, to Tasmania.

The archdiocese of Hobart, which takes in all of Tasmania, is one of these:  Archbishop Adrian Doyle of Hobart turned 75 last November, and his resignation has apparently been accepted, so one can expect to see some change soon.

A spiritual desert ready to spring back to life?

Physically, Tasmania is the least desert-like of any Australian state, enjoying a temperate maritime climate with four distinct seasons. 

Spiritually, however, is a whole other matter.

The patrimony is still there, carefully preserved in many cases, in some of Australia's oldest, most beautiful, and amazingly, least wreckovated churches, such as Colebrook.  But the people, mostly, are not.

It has spiritual oases, like the small but valiant Latin Mass Community, and the vibrant Carmel in Launceston that has had several solemn professions in recent years.

An early start on spirit of Vatican IIism!

Tasmania, however, has long been one of the most liberal dioceses in Australia, and that has had dire consequences for priestly vocations and the spiritual life of the laity.

The number of priests has consistently fallen since Vatican II, from a peak of 119 priests, including 70 diocesan in 1966, to 53 in 2006, and further since then.

More than a few of its clergy have signed up to dissenting petitions on church matters in the recent past.

Overall, the diocese has 1.7% of Australia's nominal Catholics - but only 1% of those who actually attend Mass.

Perhaps the most telling story is the explanation given a few years back on why four churches in central Tasmania needed to be closed and sold.  The then parish priest pointed out that Central Tasmania parish notionally had around 4,500 catholics within its bounds.  Only 100 of them, however, were actually practising catholics.  That same parish  - which covers around a third of the State geographically - now has no priest whatsoever, following the failure to renew the contract of a Nigerian missionary priest.

Tasmania has, perhaps, suffered the ravages of 'spirit of Vatican IIism' longer than most dioceses in Australia, since Archbishop Guilford Young, appointed Archbishop in 1955, prided himself on introducing the new theology in the form of Rahner, and reforms to the liturgy, even before he attended Vatican II.

About the archdiocese

Hobart is an archdiocese for historical reasons: it has the two oldest catholic churches in Australia, St. John's, Richmond (1837) and St. Joseph's, Hobart (1841).  The diocese established in 1842, and was raised to the status of an Archdiocese by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, the plan being to make Launceston a separate diocese.  Popular protest, however, resulted in the plan being dropped.

As noted above, it also has a number of other architectural gems, many of which have escaped at least the worst of wreckovations, with many churches retaining the Tabernacle in the centre, as well as kneelers (though my mother is still angry whenever reminded of the removal of the roodscreen and altar rails from St Joseph's, where I was baptised!).

St Joseph's, Hobart
Hobart is the sixteenth ranked geographical diocese in terms of Catholic population, with 87,691 souls in 2006.  The apple isle has a relatively low proportion of catholics in the population however, only 18.4%  by 2010 (compared to 26% nationally), and is relatively homogeneous, with most people still of British descent.

Geographically, the diocese takes in the whole of Tasmania plus some of the outlying islands, amounting to some 67, 914 sq kms.  In practice, around half the population live in the Hobart metropolitan area, while Launceston accounts for another 106,000 of the State's total population of 507,626 in 2010.


Source: Archdiocesan website
Archbishop Doyle was appointed Coadjutor in 1997, and succeeded in 1999.

 In that time, the number of diocesan priests has fallen from 41 to 34, and the overall number of priests to 53.

A few years ago Archbishop Doyle recruited three Nigerian priests to work in the diocese.  Their experience was chronicled in a Compass Program entitled The Mission, which is well worth watching for a picture of the clash between cultures, and most especially between orthodoxy and Australian liberalism!  Two of the three are still in Australia. 

There have also been at least some trying their vocation in recent years - the diocese has three seminarians at Melbourne's Corpus Christi Seminary, and now has two permanent deacons.


The current bishop, Archbishop Adrian Doyle, has reportedly steadfastly refused to allow a weekly traditional Latin Mass there, despite the existence of a committed band of Tas traddies, who nonetheless manage to have a monthly sung Mass at  St Canice Church in Sandy Bay, said by Fr Gerald Quinn CP. 

I'm told that liturgical abuses of various kinds are a regular feature in this diocese, including in the cathedral.  And you can read about some of the (good and bad) kinds of things that happen, focusing mainly on Launceston, over at Psallite Sapienter

Lay-led communion services are positively encouraged.

That said, there have been some promising signs in recent years. 

St. Joseph's Church, Hobart (run by the Passionists), for example, now has an annual Eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi, at the request of parishioners, going around the Church building, in the public streets, and even past the local abortion chamber.  It also has Exposition on weekday mornings from after the 8am Mass until noon, and an excellent variety of confession times (after the daily 12.10 and 1.10 weekday Mass, as well as times on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon).

There is also a strong following for the Divine Mercy devotion, with over two hundred attending Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations including Rosary, Confessions, Exposition and more.

Promotion of a catholic culture?

This is a diocese that appears committed to tolerance and diversity rather than promotion of catholic culture and doctrine as such! 

Its 'mission and vision' statements stress that all are loved unconditionally by God.

The 'about us' page on website says:

"Within the greater collective of Catholic agencies, the Church is the largest non-government employer in the State, employing around 5000 people of all faiths, cultures, religions and backgrounds while delivering services in the areas of welfare, training, employment, aged care, education, health care, affordable housing, childcare, charitable works, disability employment, laundry services and retail centres to approximately 70,000 Tasmanians annually.

Working within the Church environment, irrespective of faith or background, sees many people brought together into a communion of life as part of a relationship with others, especially the marginalised and disadvantaged."

New age spiritualities such as enneagram, Jungian' befriending your shadow', (so-called) 'christian meditation' using 'a mantra or prayer word' are widely promoted in the diocese, including by the Emmanuel Spiritual Centre, established by the Josephites at the diocese's request.

And from what I'm told, the level of catechesis is just what you would expect, with children being fed terrible distortions of the faith.

Can a new bishop lead a spiritual revival?

Just as desert sand suddenly turns green and sprouts new life when watered, so too can a diocese spring back to life if allowed to do so.  It will not of course be an easy task.  Still, those oases do exist as a starting point!

Let's pray for a courageous priest to say yes when asked to take on this task: flumen Dei repletum est aquis...rivos eius inebria, multiplica genimina eius, in stillicidiis eius laetabitur germinans (Ps 64: The river of God is filled with water...Fill up plentifully the streams thereof, multiply its fruits; it shall spring up and rejoice in its showers)!

Can I say a big thank you to those who have provided me with input to this post, and pointed me to useful material.  Comments on it, critical or otherwise, will be much appreciated!


Bill White said...

Your mention of the removal of the roodscreen and altar rails from St Joseph's brought to mind the horrors visited on the church in which I was baptised, now a vile nest of pagan "marriages":

PM said...

The sobering thing about Hobart is that even a decade of someone as personally sound as Eric D'Arcy as archbishop didn't seem to make much difference. Did everyone just defer to him in his presence and ignore him behind his back?

Paolo said...

Hi there,

Thanks for this run-down. Josh (Psallite Sapienter) asked me to forward some numbers from Tasmania. I think I posted them as a comment a year or two ago, but in case I didn't here they are again.

I used a document from the diocese (Diocesan Assemby Working Papers, Webb 2008) for general data, and then the National Church Life Survey research (2006) for the parish I attend (which is small, but representative of mass goers in Tasmania, from my attendance at many parishes in the state) for a demographic breakdown, by age of mass attenders. Using these, I made some educated (I hope) guesses.

The Webb document compared data from 2001 and 2006. I extrapolated from this to generate estimates for 2009. Mass attendance and Catholic population (both for the whole state) are given, with the latter figure in brackets:
2001 - 8,700 (87, 700)
2006 - 7,100 (87, 800)
2009 - 6,140 (87, 860)[estimates]
So mass attendance was probably down to around 7% of the Catholic population of Tasmania in 2009. I suspect that the increase in the Catholic population was due to baptisms (the Catholic schools here are well attended) and people moving here, the decrease in mass attendance due mainly to the elderly passing on (see below).

Factoring the age of mass attenders is the most worrying thing. In 2006 the total percentage of mass attendees in Tasmania who were under 50 years of age was likely to have been less than 25% (based on information from the NCLS). More than 30% were over 70 years of age. Hence the rapid drop in the number of mass goers between 2001 and 2006 (and by extension, 2009).

As such, in 2009 the estimated number of mass attendees who were under 50 would have been around 1500 people for the whole state. This gives a clue to where we are headed - what is mass attendence likely to be in 30 years time, based on these figures? I wish I could present a more positive picture, but...

Kate said...

Thanks for posting these figures Paolo - terrifying stuff indeed!

Joshua said...

As another friend of mine said to me, going to Mass in Tasmania you observe the "cottonfields effect" - the sea of white hair!

D'Arcy, God rest him, was a pious and orthodox man, but not so blessed as an administrator. He also suffered the gross indignity, toward the end of his tenure, of having a statewide conference of his presbyterate pass a vote of no confidence in him - a vote held in his presence!

Unfortunately, he also brought into the state the Renew Program, some American thing for having everyone sit about in little groups and discuss things, which, people tell me, did much to vitiate faith and practice in the Archdiocese - there being no catechesis or sound doctrine imparted by such a process, only a complete sense of relativism, with people discovering how lax and wide-ranging were the self-interpretations of being Catholic on offer, and then going and doing likewise!

In any case, the rot set in long before under Abp Young, who was notoriously opposed to Humanæ vitæ (hence his being left in Tasmania and never translated elsewhere). Some of his own priests delated him to Rome over it in the late sixties.

Louise said...

Did everyone just defer to him in his presence and ignore him behind his back?


By the way, our bishop's name is Adrian.

I hadn't realised that Guilford was so gliberal! No wonder our priests loved him so much.

But yes I believe the spiritual desert can be revived. And I believe it will be.

Louise said...

He also suffered the gross indignity, toward the end of his tenure, of having a statewide conference of his presbyterate pass a vote of no confidence in him - a vote held in his presence!

Good Lord! I never knew that. How heart-breaking for him.

Kate said...

Oops, got it rihgt the first time then something happened...

On AB D'Arcy, some of the material I've read suggests that there was more than a litle of a clash of cultures between the old Irish anti-intellectual priests of the diocese and the English educated academic...

Louise said...

the old Irish anti-intellectual priests of the diocese

I could be wrong, but I don't think that was the profile of the priests in Hobart at the time.

Most of our priests are Australian born (I think) and most of them wouldn't qualify as anti-intellectual. At least, that's my impression.

Kate said...

I'm not sure what it was like by the time D'Arcy took over in 1988, but it certainly had been pretty heavily Irish and in many ways anti-intellectual earlier.

I don't think it is quite the one that I recall, but there is an interesting article you can download from the Sale diocese site on him, which talks about him pushing the need for transiton from the old Irish missionary model which dominated in a number of diocese (there are some in whcih there were no ordinations for decades, all imports from the old country!) to a more multicultural perspective:

Louise said...

I'm not sure what it was like by the time D'Arcy took over in 1988, but it certainly had been pretty heavily Irish and in many ways anti-intellectual earlier.

That is quite possible. I was a child until 1987 and really have no idea what the Archdiocesan clergy were like before that.