It is our pleasure today to bring you a comprehensive update to, The Wilkinson Report, examining the serious crisis the Catholic Church is facing in Australia in providing the sacraments and pastoral care to its core constituency of baptised Catholics. We present both the update in full, an overview and summary directly on this page, as well as our own editorial comment on what we believe needs to happen if the crisis in Australian Catholicism is to be addressed effectively.
The looming disaster of not enough priests...
On 1st March last year we published a report commissioned by Catholics for Ministry, funded by Women and the Australian Church, and compiled by Peter J Wilkinson that provided one of the most comprehensive statistical analyses of the staffing and participation crisis facing the Catholic Church in Australia that has ever been undertaken. It drew a large amount of interest and ended up in our top ten most read commentaries last year.
Today it is our pleasure to be able to bring to you Dr Peter Wilkinson's update to that report. This update not only contains updated statistics collected in the last twelve months but a number of sections providing data, analysis and commentary have been significantly expanded (the section on Catholic education in particular) and a new section has been added on the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans. These are the section headings:
The Wilkinson Report Update Conclusion...
The Report finishes with the following Conclusion which we present here in full:
The official data for the year to July 2011 indicates that little progress was made in dealing with the parish ministry crisis confronting the Catholic Church in Australia. Rather, the evidence suggests that the crisis has deepened.
However, in other areas there was significant slippage. The forced removal of Bishop William Morris from the Toowoomba Diocese dealt a serious blow to the credibility and reputation of church leadership, both within Australia and worldwide. The failure of the canonical system to afford him natural justice and due process revealed a church out of touch with contemporary Western standards of justice, and at odds with the best of Australian values. The underlying injustice of this affair will remain a running sore every bit as disastrous as the way church authorities handled the crimes of clerical sexual abuse. Both have impinged directly and adversely on parish ministry.
Catholica editorial response...
The real impediment to the Catholic Church redressing its "crisis" in Austalia...
This update from Dr Wilkinson is a hugely valuable study and commentary on the crisis — or crises — facing institutional Catholicism in Australia. The irony, and tragedy, is that Australia is one of the few countries in the world where Catholicism ought not be in any crisis, let alone a series of crises. Thanks to far-sighted leadership by a previous generation of bishops combined with Lady Luck, fortuitous good fortune in earlier political developments and the goodwill of the wider Australian community in welcoming the contribution the Catholic Church makes to the welfare of this nation and contributing billions of public funds to endeavours like Catholic education, Catholic healthcare and Catholic aged care as well as Catholic social welfare services. Probably no other national Church in the democratic world enjoys what we now have here in Australia. The Church in our country no longer depends for the vast bulk of its income on the Sunday collection plate, the vast bulk of its income comes from the public purse.
Yet it is in "crisis". Over 86% of the baptised have ceased participating, and if you include the cohort now larger than those who actually attend Sunday Mass who no longer even call themselves "Catholic"* the figure is now over 90%. [*This is a new figure Peter Wilkinson has included in his research. The cohort who, although baptised, no longer identify as "Catholic" is now larger than the cohort who regularly attend Mass on Sunday in this country.] The Catholic Church in this country should not be in crisis. It has more money than it has ever had access to in its entire two centuries of existence in Australia. It has a larger, more highly paid, more professionally qualified, more theologically qualified workforce than it has ever had in its entire existence — and yet the ordinary people still stream out the exit doors. What has gone wrong?
The bishops of Australia when they returned from the Oceania Synod in 1999 were told that it was because of a "crisis of faith" in this country. What utter balderdash. Or maybe there is a half-truth in that. While many may have not lost faith in God many do seem to have lost faith in their episcopal leadership.
We do not have a "crisis of faith" in the Australian Catholic Church. We certainly have a profound "crisis in leadership". Even our bishops themselves have been divided.
If the institution is to rejuvenate itself it needs to drop all these "make out you are busy endeavours in case Jesus pops down to the factory floor" — like the Year of New Evangelization and the Year of Grace — and sort out the rot at the top. We need an eccelesial leader in this country who can genuinely unite all the bishops and unite all the people. Someone who can articulate a vision that will be embraced by all the faithful not just some remnant elements in the faithful who believe they alone know the mind of God.
The re-evangelization of the Catholic people of Australia cannot begin until that happens. George Pell has to go — and urgently. Rome has to find him some position as Apostolic Nuncio to the penguins and rabbits of Macquarie Island, or somewhere similarly remote, such as Nuncio to the refugees on Christmas Island, or to the people of the Islands of the Pacific threatened with drowning by the melting of the arctic ice caps.
The Holy See, and we ourselves, need to embark on a "job search" to find a leader who is truly embraced by all of the baptised — one who can re-unite all the bishops and priests, and the baptized at large. A man who can re-articulate the vision of Jesus Christ so that it truly does bring joy and hope into the lives of all not just the self-electing few.
Does Rome have the courage to embrace such a radical course as this?
The instruction Jesus Christ gave his disciples at the end of his earthly journey was not to go out and build a "smaller, purer Church" but to go out and "bring the 'Good News' to all people". Catholicism is not a religion for some self-electing elite or remnant who believe they alone are "the saved" or "the favoured". It has to embrace the hopes, aspirations, joys and sorrows of all of God's people!
Brian Coyne, Editor and Publisher, 04 Apr 2012