How Catholicism is viewed in Australia

There is no doubt that the status of Catholicism in Australia is currently at a nadir, partly as a result of the bad publicity associated with the case and conviction of Cardinal Pell, the Vatican’s most senior official.

Many non-Catholics in Australia look on the Catholic Church as a monolithic structure which tends to evade national laws in its striving to conform with Canon Law, which is perceived as allegiance to a foreign power, Rome.

Without implying any agreement with any of these issues, the following themes have been raised by commentators on the situation.

Celibacy: they think that this is an outdated concept and is, in their opinion, correlated with abnormal personal develop-ment and increased tendency to child molestation.

Women in the Church: they believe that women have been relegated to an inferior status within the Church and they do not see why such rules should still exist. It is only fair to say that this view is not limited to non-Catholics but is also widespread among educated, practising Catholics.

Secrecy of the Confession: It is now law in Australia that Catholic priests must divulge any knowledge about paedophiles that they obtain during confession, omission of which is punishable by imprisonment. The requirement to divulge such information, thus breaking the seal of confession, obliges such priests to either break Canon Law or national law.

It is the fervent hope of the faithful that attempts will be made by the Catholic Church to emphasise basic Catholic values and return to the original Christian ethos as proclaimed by Christ the founder

Church hierarchy: Many believe that clericalism, defined as an excessive deference by the lay public to clerics and an assumption of their moral superiority, is at the root of the problem. The over-riding influence of the Catholic clergy on domestic life has resulted in unquestioning attitudes towards priests, resulting in reluctance to report misbehaviour. Children used to be disciplined rather than supported for reporting such unthinkable acts.

More recently, there has been considerable concern expressed at the lack of obvious progress made, at least publicly, following the much touted meeting of cardinals and bishops in Rome. Much was expected and little seems to have transpired that would help staunch abuse and its consequences, including the obvious haemorrhage of Catholics from the Church.

It is obviously not up to the Australian (or other purely national authority) to change the Catholic rules. It is only to be hoped that common sense will prevail, and some attempts made to meet the increasing demands by moderate Catholics worldwide.

Attempts have been made by resolute Catholics to distinguish between the rules and obligations under Canon Law, and the private practice of their religion. Many still hope that they can carry on practising their religious faith irrespective of the tsunami of criticism that has all but engulfed the Catholic Church in Australia.

From the point of view of Maltese living in Australia, while the views of the older persons are unlikely to be drastically affected by these developments, there is no doubt that obvious markers of Catholic practice, like church attendance on Sundays, has been dwindling over the past decades, a phenomenon which has now affected the younger generations in Malta itself.

It is the fervent hope of many of the faithful that attempts will be made by the Catholic Church to emphasise their basic Catholic values and return to the original Christian ethos as proclaimed by Christ the founder, and review the many aspects Catholic religion that are considered secondary add-ons of little relevance to modern-day life.

[First published in on 7 April 2019]

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