My own view is that we need a radical commitment to genuine renewal, not just more of the same, and this is a good time to consider just what we need to change individually and collectively.
Some of the reactions to Archbishop Coleridge's Brisbane appointment, as well as the discussion in various places over Sunday's Compass program, really draw out once again the competing narratives on the likely future trajectory of the Australian Church. Let me attempt to distill for you what I think they are.
1. All hail cultural Catholicism!
This is the school of thought that argues that Catholicism in this country is still strong, because large numbers of people continue to identify themselves as Catholics in the census and enrol their children in Catholic schools. The Adelaide Archdiocesan website for example has a history of the diocese paper on it that concludes:
The problem of course is that most of these cultural catholics never actually darken the door of a Church; never actually know, support or comply with actual Church teachings.
Some in this camp have realised that if the coherency of cultural Catholicism is to be maintained, at least some minimal measures to promote a sense of catholic identity do need to be taken. Thus they will encourage things like putting holy pictures back in the house, and the Angelus - but twice a week, not thrice daily...
Whether our leaders want to acknowledge it or not, this has, in my view, been the dominant paradigm in the Australian Church over the last few decades.
It is the paradigm that has allowed dissent to flourish, because taking it on would draw attention to the disunity amongst Catholics. It is the paradigm that implicitly at least questions whether the institutional Church is really necessary, because really being a Catholic is about advancing social justice and helping the poor, and perhaps reading the Bible, you don't really need priests for that anyway do you?
Of course, inspiring people to become priests, put money on the collection plate and more all becomes problematic so long as this paradigm rules.
Worse, as bishops in both the US and Australia are suddenly finding, that you can't allow confusion and dissent to flourish then suddenly expect your flock to follow you when it comes to political crunchtime. And you can't expect politicians to care a great deal about what you have to say if you can't command the support of your flock.
Continued acceptance of cultural Catholicism is, in my view, ultimately a recipe for the death of the Church in this country.
2. The reading the signs of the times school of liberals
While some in the mainstream seem focused on the development and maintenance of outward unity, others view what is happening as a providential 'signs of the times'.
The ultra-Liberal version of this narrative sees the decline in priestly vocations as a good thing, because it will facilitate a new age of lay leadership in the Church, just as the collapse of religious life forced the lay takeover of schools, hospitals and other social services.
The fact that the destruction of this traditional role of religious has resulted in the loss of a genuine catholic identity and sense of mission in most of these institutions is quickly glossed over - but on this problem see the interesting discussion over at the ABC religion and ethics website.
3. The reading the 'signs of the times' school of conservatives
The conservative version of this second storyline has best perhaps been articulated for Australia by George Weigel. Weigel points to a number of actions to advance the cause of orthodoxy on the part of Cardinal Pell, and on that basis declares him the saviour of the Australian Church.
The problem for this storyline is the lack of any real evidence that the Australian Church has actually been saved!
Some would also add to the Cardinal's role things like the positive effects of the Sydney WYD (which does seem to have had some impact at least at the margin in terms of the current revival being experienced in many dioceses in terms of vocations), initiatives such as Theology on the Tap in reviving youth interest in the Church, and assorted 'New Evangelization' initiatives. They point to the strong migrant communities. And perhaps are hoping for some effect from the new Missal translation.
The problem for those still hoping for the 'New Springtime' is that it all seems too little too late.
Yes there are a some positive signs, in the form of the odd ordination here and there in dioceses they have been absent from for decades.
But the numbers aren't nearly enough, and the momentum doesn't seem to be building fast enough to counter the ageing demographic of our existing base of priests.
And rumour is that the latest Mass attendance figures suggest that only 10% of Catholics went to Mass regularly in the 2011 survey. And given the known rapidly ageing demographic of Mass goers...
4. The Remnant School
This school of thought accepts that the mainstream Australian Church is basically dead. Its solution is to set up protective enclaves, bastions which will safeguard the faith of themselves and their children through the coming darkness.
There are assorted versions of this paradigm of Pentecostal, conservative (think US Ave Maria community), migrant community and other colours.
But of course I'm most familiar with the traditionalists in this camp: so numbers at Extraordinary Form Masses don't grow much? Who cares, we have a beautiful Mass to say/go to, so we're alright!
It is not that I'm opposed to building up walls and protecting ourselves: that is after all what St Benedict did with his monasteries through the dark ages. Yet though the inner enclave of the enclosure was always protected against unwanted intrusion, the monastery gates were always wide open to anyone genuinely seeking; indeed the monasteries were magnets for pilgrimages, and towns quickly grew up around them.
5. Radical renewal: a genuine new mission push!
This school includes both 'conservatives' of the Fr Barron type, who point to the type of mass movements that arose in part eras of decline in the Church, and as well as at least some traditionalists (including, at least in principle, myself!).
This is the group who looks for us all to accept the call to be saints, and step up to push for fundamental, radical change within the Church in order to generate the Mass movements necessary if Catholicism is necessary to survive in this country.
This is the school that argues that we can't afford half-baked, tokenistic reforms but need a comprehensive effort launched on many fronts at once.
It is the school that argues that we need to create a Catholicism in this country whose practice is genuinely in continuity with the broader tradition and patrimony of the Church and entirely orthodox in content. But also one that engages in active discernment of developments within the Church and the world as it is now, seeking to incorporate and respond to the positive developments and insights of recent decades, even while rejecting and resisting those that do not past the tests of consistency with truth.
And on this topic there was an interesting post on Rorate Caeli recently (surprisingly in view of the content) from an SSPX priest who pointed to the failure of the TLM liturgy in itself to evangelise, and called for a new push to ditch those offputting traditionalist trappings (you know, the Amish look in dress, the weird conspiracy theories, and the sour, unwelcoming faces in some places) and genuinely try to get out from the ghetto and engage and convert those around us. Let's just say that the responses to the Rorate post certainly sorted out the remnant faction from those who actually want to engage in re-evangelization!
And of course, actually doing this, actually stepping up to the plate is no simple thing to do. But Easter and the time up to Pentecost is the perfect time to pray for the necessary grace and guidance.
And on that note, I'll be taking a short posting break for Easter.
But please do keep commenting and tell me if you think I'm being too hard on some, or have otherwise got it wrong.
In the meantime I'll leave you with some eye candy pictures relating to the Gospel of each day for the season to enjoy...
May you have a holy and happy Easter.