|Richmond, Australia's oldest surviving catholic church|
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|
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|
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!