|Diocesan Map of Australia In most cases the geographical size|
is in inverse proportion to the population
As we have noted on several occasions, the Australian Episcopate is in dramatic transition. Within two years, almost half of the Archdioceses and Dioceses will either have new Ordinaries, or be vacant. The number could actually be higher if some existing Ordinaries are appointed to Sees due for a new Ordinary, as for example, the much-discussed possibility of Archbishop Mark Coleridge being moved from Canberra-Goulburn to Brisbane vice Archbishop Bathersby, or Archbishop Wilson being moved from Adelaide to Perth vice Archbishop Barry Hickey.
The Ad Limina Visit for which the Australian Bishops are gathering in Rome, is therefore exceptionally timed. No, I did not leave the word "well"out! The visit was originally due in 2008 but the Holy Father's presence in Australia for WYD in Sydney, seemed to make adherence to the normal timetable inappropriate. Various factors arose in the following years and it seemed this year was a must if the embarrassment of a 2013 Visit(the original timetable ) was to be avoided, completely skipping one visit (that due in 2008).
The Ad Limina visit of 1998 still looms large in the historical context. OOn that occasion, the Holy See's Dicastery Prefects had met with the Australian Catholic Bishops and developed a jointly signe "STATEMENT OF CONCLUSIONS"which contrasted the parlous condition of the Church in Australia in most Dioceses with what ought to be. There is no doubt that the majority of those Catholic Bishops were happy to put the episode behind them. The 2003 Ad Limina passed without any exceptional events.
Now, in 2011, several of the Bishops who figured in the 1998 visit have left the scene - not least Edward Cardinal Clancy, then Archbishop of Sydney, but also the infamous Bishop Morris (ex ToowoombaQld), Bishop Michael Malone ( ex Maitland Newcastle), Bishop Kevin Manning (ex Parramatta), Bishop Barry Collins (ex Wilcannia - Forbes),Bishop Jeremiah Coffey ( ex Sale Vic).
Given that almost half of those now in place , or where Sees are vacant, are about to be replaced, it is plain to see that the dramatis personae are rather different from those in 1998, and will be radically different in say, two years time. This should be almost totally good news.
Various elements of the media have commissioned special pieces on the subject , usually written by some New Church advocate and/or Morris sympathiser.
The timing of the present Visit is judged from particular viewpoints. It will certainly provide the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Oullet with an opportunity to assess in person any candidates (who are already Ordinaries) for appointment to vacancies. And at the same time both he and the Holy Father will have the opportunity to survey the field and make an assessment of the current state of play in the Australian Church. On the other hand, it would have been very valuable to have had the new appointments made already, thus giving the newly appointed men the best opportunity for inspiration, direction and counselling in the course of the Visit. That was not to be, and it seems that the decision has been taken to concentrate on the selection of the right men. We can only agree and pray that the choices ultimately made will be the very best.