Dorothy Cummings McLean

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Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia Lisa Bourne/LifeSite

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Fewer Australians practice their faith, but archbishop sees no reason to ‘panic’

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

BRISBANE, Australia, July 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Australia’s latest five-year census has revealed that adherence to the Christian faith in that country is sharply decreasing, but one Catholic archbishop has stated that his “task” may be to discover how this is “no cause for panic.”

In contrast to a mere 0.8 percent in 1966, 29.6 percent of Australians now claim to have no religion.

Anglicans, once the largest religious group in Australia, now make up only 13 percent of the population. Catholics, now the largest group at 22.6 percent of Australia’s 23.4 million people, have no reason to feel smug, however. This figure is a drop from 25 percent in 2011. Moreover, of the more than 5.2 Australians who still consider themselves Catholic, only 12.2 percent go to Mass.  

In an interview with diocesan newspaper The Catholic Leader, Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge was sanguine about the census findings:

“There’s nothing very surprising about the new census figures, which tend to confirm what we already knew,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that people, young or old, are less religious than they were, but it does mean that they’re religious in very different ways than in the past. And the Church needs to look carefully at that, lest the communication gap between believers and non-believers grow even wider.”

The Catholic Leader did not ask the archbishop what part of “No Religion” suggested to him that Australians might not be less religious than they had been in the past. Nor did they ask what he meant by a communication gap, or how he was going to look at the “different ways” Australians are now religious.

Archbishop Coleridge’s interest in a purported communication gap was revealed at the Family Synod in 2015 when he explained why he felt the Church’s doctrine on the insolubility of sacramental marriage was inadequate:

“The Church has traditionally spoken that the second union is adulterous and I understand why,” he said. “I understand the teaching and what lies behind it, including the biblical background. But at the same time, not every case is the same and that’s where a pastoral approach needs to take account of the different situations. For instance, just to say that every second marriage or second union whatever you want to call it is adulterous, is perhaps too sweeping. For instance, a second marriage that is enduring and stable and loving and where there are children who are cared for is not the same as a couple skulking off to a hotel room for a wicked weekend. So the rubric, adultery, in one sense, it’s important but in another sense it doesn’t say enough and I think what a pastoral approach requires is that we actually enter into what the synod is calling a genuine pastoral dialogue or discernment with these couples and the start of that is for people like me to actually listen to their story, not just swamp them with doctrine or Church teaching.”

Archbishop Coleridge inadvertently revealed another communication gap in February 2017 when he told the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sex Abuse that he didn’t feel he could ask Australian priests about their chastity. “The relationship between a bishop and a priest, or a bishop and any other human being is a very delicate one,” he said. “There are certain things that I am not entitled to know. I’m just trying to even imagine how that would work out practically, how would I discover the details of a priest’s sexual life?”

When the Royal Commission’s chair Peter McClellan asked Coleridge if he, as a bishop, shouldn’t know if his priests were chaste or not, Coleridge replied,  “Your honor, I can’t know the details of the sexual behavior of the clergy with which I work, how can I know that?”

Yet another communication gap was revealed between Archbishop Coleridge and the people, believing and unbelieving, of Brisbane in December 2016 when a profane fashion show and obscene ballet took place in Saint Patrick’s Church in Fortitude Valley. Asked why the archbishop had allowed such an outrage to take place in an archdiocesan church, his spokesman told LifeSiteNews that “proper precautions” had been taken, i.e. the Blessed Sacrament and the altar had been removed for the church for the duration of the event.

That there is a communication gap between Archbishop Coleridge and Australians, believers and nonbelievers, is certain. What is less certain is that he truly wishes to fill it. Take, for example, his dismay that four Cardinals sent the dubia about Amoris Laetitia, requesting clarity. Contrasting them with those who prefer “shades of gray,” he told America magazine that “there are still people who are more comfortable, for various reasons, with a more static way of thinking and speaking," he said. "And there are people who are perhaps more comfortable in a world of black and white and who find the process of discernment, which deals in shades of gray, messy and unnerving."  

Nevertheless, there are no shades of gray in the reports of the latest Census. The numbers are there in black and white.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report.  Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013).  Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband. 

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