During the recent five-yearly visit of Australian bishops to Rome, Archbishop Phillip Wilson of Adelaide shared his impressions with ZENIT about the pastoral challenges in his country. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: Do you think that the institution of the family is weakened in Australia?
Archbishop Wilson: I think that in the whole of Western culture the reality of the family has been weakened.
It's strange because while the press and the media keep indicating that the family is dying, given all the pressures that are on people, people actually fight very hard to maintain their families.
We hear that statistic that so many marriages and families break up. That's true, but at the same time, the others don't. And there are lots of people who really are doing the best they can, especially during difficult times, to love one another as spouses and to love their kids and look after them.
I'm sure that a lot of them feel overwhelmed because they see their kids grow up and become teen-agers and then another world opens up and they are then very influenced by forces outside the family. And parents really do want to do the best they can.
They just feel at times that they are helpless to do that, so I think that we can help them in that way. But the main point that I'd make is that the family is a pretty tough nut -- it's hard to crack. Although there are lots of pressures on it, I think that people see the importance of it. And even where it's lacking, we really should have something like this operating.
Q: To change topics a bit: I am quite interested in your visits here to the Roman Rota. I would like to know what the specific issues at stake were.
Archbishop Wilson: We did have a very interesting discussion about the kinds of marriage cases that the Rota is dealing with now, and talking about that in relationship to our responsibilities as bishops about preparing people for marriage, to ask questions about how people form for marriage so that when they enter into that they really understand what they're doing -- to have a clear idea of what Catholic marriage is about.
There are a lot of pressures on people when they think about marriage today. You might find people who think that marriage is the wedding. You know, all that ceremony. But there's no thought about what happens after.
Or, people could go into marriage making conditions about the marriage, such as, "This is OK for the moment, however, if things don't turn out down the track, I'll be leaving this and looking to marry somebody else."
So, I think that those sorts of conditions in the culture around us do have an effect on people in general, but also on Catholic young people getting married as well.
Q: Regarding the status of the homosexual lobby in Australia: Is there currently a push to have legally recognized marriages?
Archbishop Wilson: As you can see, in the Western world, there is this worldwide linkage by these communities. And obviously, this big issue that they are pushing is the establishment of what they call "gay marriage."
In Australia, it's been made very clear by the governments that the laws aren't changing to establish gay marriage.
So, I believe that what's happened is that some homosexual couples have gone to America and gone through a form of marriage over there which they are then going to test in the courts in Australia with the hopes of moving those ideas forward.
The present federal government has said that this ideal is not acceptable, as was put by the prime minister; that marriage is between man and woman. And whatever the other relationships are, are not marriages, due to the elements missing from them.
What I'd like them to reflect on are the values that these homosexual couples are looking for. What is it that they are after?
And maybe there is another pathway through dialogue that people can be helped to have their lives and their rights protected, but in such a way that doesn't take up this false view that you must have a marriage in order to achieve those results.
People talk about issues like access to a partner in times of death or sickness, etc. Well, in order to develop that, and protect those rights, if they want them protected, you don't have to go down that track to look into taking a form of marriage.
So I would hope that people might look at that. So at the same time that we stand very strong in defending the reality of marriage and pointing out that the reality of marriage involves a man and woman entering into a covenant relationship which is open to the transmission of life -- we would go to the death over that.
At the same time it doesn't really then cut across what we are trying do, if somehow or other we can work through dialogue some other way to protect the values that these people are seeking. But at the same time doing it in such a way that we protect and preserve marriage.
Q: So, then do you think that the Church will stick to its orthodoxy in this teaching on marriage?
Archbishop Wilson: As you know, in the Church, so much of what we're preserving is given. It's not something that we've created, nor is it something that we have the capacity to change.
We believe that in the issue of marriage that we are dealing with part of the reality that is part of God's providence for the world.
Marriage between a man and a woman, which is for their own relationship, but also a relationship which is open to the transmission of new life, is a definition of marriage that we can't amend.
So, yes, our commitment to that will remain and I think that our commitment, like lots of other things at present, is an attempt to preserve these values that are really the center of our experience of faith.
This reality of marriage is reinforced by the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, that you have a primary reality of creation which then advances in terms of the old covenant in the Old Testament and then Jesus raises it to a completely new level of experience. And the Church discovers a reality out of what the Lord has said and done, and that in fact this is a sacrament.
And out of that, the reality of what happens between husband and wife is a dynamic of the presence of God in the world, through them, for each other, for their children, but for the world and for the Church.
This is so beautiful and wonderful that you'd want to do everything that you could to preserve it. It's so exciting and it's one of the most wonderful elements of our faith. ...
During the period after the [Second Vatican] Council, one of the things that has been a real dynamic for us has been to look at the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives, and the changes to the Mass to the vernacular language and so on has allowed people to make the Eucharist much more engaging in their lives.
The irony is that at the same time, what happens, lots of people elect not to go.
But what I think that one of the next phases of our life in the Church is that family life, the sacrament of marriage, is going to become much more the central piece of our whole experience of faith. Because I think that the rediscovery of the sacramentality of marriage, and the reality that is in the life of the Church, will be the most important part of the way that we actually evangelize the world.
I think that one of the great tools of evangelization, to convince people of the value of the Gospel, is that we have to form and sustain really good marriages and families and so on. So that people see just by looking at it, what a beauty it is and how wonderful it is.
Those who criticize us now, keep saying that we have a bad track record as far as sex is concerned and that there have been problems there. But what we have now [is] what the Holy Father has been doing, taking up all those considerations of the "theology of the body," and such have given us a new platform for moving forward, I think. That will be really, really dynamic.
Q: What will be the first thing that you do when you get home? What message are you bearing in your heart that you will have to spread?
Archbishop Wilson: I think that what I'm taking back is nothing really dramatic. It's just a reaffirmation of what we believe and how precious this faith that we have really is and how important it is for us to do all that we can to hold on to it and allow it to develop and grow.
I certainly take back certain messages and experiences coming from what we've been able to do together here and the solidarity that we have with one another; which is in a sense created by the Pope.
You know the Petrine thing of confirming the brothers in the faith. This is exactly what happens. ... It has an effect on you -- because it's something that happens at a very deep level. So the emotions of all these experiences will really have a great influence on people.
Q: In view of the World Youth Day in 2007, too ...
Archbishop Wilson: Yes, a lot of people are talking about WYD coming to Australia. A lot of people are working very hard on it. I hope that it will be so.
I know that there are problems with it and so on, but I think it would be great for the world. It would be great for those who don't live down there to see how wonderful Australia really is. But it would be great for our young people, a moment of focus and renewal of faith as well.
But in the meantime, we need to get ourselves to Cologne first, so that's part of our concern now, how we can prepare our young people and send a good-sized delegation to Cologne. I now that the bishops are very enthusiastic and committed to doing that. So, I wouldn't be surprised if a large number of bishops themselves went, as they did to Paris and to Canada.
And we can see now in our diocese the effect of these WYD's with Paris, Rome and Canada; that [with] each one of those, we've seen large groups affected by it. And leaders among our young people are people who have taken up other commitments in the life of the Church. And, even those more active in local parishes, have all come out of that sort of experience. So, we'd hope to multiply that strength over and over.