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Dignitaries from both universities join Archbishop Fisher at the Lecture: Prof Zlatko Skrbis, VC and President of ACU, left, NAME????, Prof Selma Alliex, Pro Vice Chancellor, Student Experience, UNDA, ACU Chancellor Martin Daubney AM KC, and UNDA VC Prof Francis Campbell. Photo: courtesy ACU
Dignitaries from both universities join Archbishop Fisher at the Lecture: Prof Zlatko Skrbis, VC and President of ACU, left, Michael L’Estrange AO, Deputy Chancellor, UNDA, Prof Selma Alliex, Pro Vice Chancellor, Student Experience, UNDA, ACU Chancellor Martin Daubney AM KC, and UNDA VC Prof Francis Campbell. Photo: courtesy ACU

Saint would recognise social hostility to faith of our own time, says Archbishop

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP says Australian Catholics have much to learn from the inspirational 19th century Englishman, Cardinal St John Henry Newman, in attempting to make sense of some of the current and future challenges Christians are facing in an increasingly hostile, secular age.

Archbishop Fisher was delivering the first annual St John Henry Newman lecture, a new joint initiative led by the Australian Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame Australia, aimed at celebrating the life and legacy of the great English cardinal, Catholic convert, historian, poet and educationalist.

Archbishop Fisher said Cardinal Newman was well ahead of his time in acknowledging that Catholics could no longer presume others will share much of their faith and morals.

“Newman would be unsurprised that a top businessman was sacked as CEO of a football club and demonised by that state’s Premier for belonging to an Anglican church …”

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“Catholics of the future would no longer be camouflaged by Protestant orthodoxy, protected by public institutions, or carried by the culture. Indeed a rise in anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiment might be expected”, Archbishop Fisher said.

He said the recent controversy surrounding the sacking of Essendon AFL club CEO and former National Australia Bank CEO Andrew Thorburn because he was a member of a church where a pastor had written sermons a decade ago, rejecting abortion and homosexual activity is a prime example of the challenges which Cardinal Newman had foreseen over a century ago.

“Newman would be unsurprised that a top businessman was sacked as CEO of a football club and demonised by that state’s Premier for belonging to an Anglican church which takes traditional positions on life and sexuality issues”, Archbishop Fisher said.

“Rather than being judged on his own record as CEO of a major bank and his own statements, he was ‘cancelled’ because a pastor of his church had used inflammatory rhetoric a decade before. Christianity is fast becoming the faith that dare not speak its name”, he added.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP delivers the first annual St John Henry Newman Lecture, a joint initiative of ACU and UNDA, on 7 October 2022. Photo: Courtesy of ACU
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP delivers the first annual St John Henry Newman Lecture, a joint initiative of ACU and UNDA, on 7 October 2022. Photo: Courtesy of ACU

Archbishop Fisher said Cardinal St John Henry Newman had rightly predicted the Catholic Church would experience declining affiliation and practice; families, schools and parishes becoming less effective in transmitting the faith, a remorseless media critique and the march of secularism through its institutions – all of which we are experiencing in the Australian context.

“Recent data and commentary suggest Australia is becoming the great south land of unbelief. Yet this may mask enduring religious attachment,” he said.

“Some may in fact be believers, but are uncomfortable saying so on government forms. The census now offers ‘No Religion’ as the first option for ‘donkey voters’. But most still say they are believers and, whatever they write on a form, many are still searching for the spiritual, and still pray or attend church from time to time”, he said.

“Billions participated in the broadcasts of the Queen’s funeral and for many this was more than entertaining pageant. Many still prefer Church schools, health or aged care, welfare and pastoral care. And those who still identify with a particular faith at census time are probably more intentional about it than in the past: It is their faith that they are recording, not that of parents or tribe, and they do so swimming against the tide”.

“It will serve the evangelical mission of the Church, providing an alternative to the wisdom of this world- the Gospel of Jesus Christ …”

Archbishop Fisher emphasised that Cardinal Newman also recognised the pivotal role that Catholic institutions of higher learning have to play in presenting an authentic faith, “cultivating excellent minds and courageous wills to fertilise Church and society”.

“The Church today looks to its institutions of higher learning to be a sympathetic environment where faith and reason are reverenced and integrated, where spiritual matters are explored with openness, patience and nuance, and where an educated missionary discipleship is cultivated”, he said.

“It will correct truncated views of faith and reason and offer modernity a more full cream Catholicism. And it will serve the evangelical mission of the Church, providing an alternative to the wisdom of this world- the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, crucified and risen, our pattern and salvation”.

“The prospect is exciting and daunting. So we ask John Henry Newman to intercede for our Church and its institutions of higher learning that they might fulfil their mission with courage and grace”.

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