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from Bob Dixon - Director, Pastoral Projects Office, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

In response to "Martin" in your dialogue section: Well, the Bishops Conference is doing social research, and plenty of it at present, either through its own agencies or in collaboration with other research organisations and universities. Here are a few projects, together with a note or two about each:

The National Catholic Census Project

  • Involves purchase of Census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Provides demographic data on Catholic and total population to inform planning and decision-making in Catholic Education, pastoral planning, social services and many other areas of the Church's work
  • Provides every parish and Catholic school in Australia with a comprehensive profile of the local population.

    National Church Life Survey

  • The Bishops Conference is a partner with the Uniting Church Board of Mission (NSW) and ANGLICARE (NSW) in this project.
  • The survey was conducted in association with 19 Christian denominations across Australia, and involved over 130,000 Mass attenders in more than 400 Catholic parishes.
  • NCLS reports show how well parishes are doing in terms of twelve core qualities of church life.
  • Diocesan reports provide bishops with comprehensive information that can assist them in their decision-making.
  • Comparisons have been made with Catholics in the US and New Zealand, where parallel surveys were conducted in 2001.
  • Builds on the Catholic Church Life Survey of 1996, which involved 160,000 Mass attenders in just under 400 parishes.

    National Attendance Count

  • The first-ever national count of people attending Mass (and Sunday assemblies in the absence of a priest) was carried out in May 2001.
  • Church attendance is one of the most basic (but not the only) measures of participation in church life.

    Australian Community Survey (1998) and Well-Being and Security Survey (2003)

  • Through its association with NLCS, the Bishops Conference shares in the findings from these two surveys of people in the general Australian community.
  • In particular, surveys like these enable the bishops to listen to the views Catholics who are not involved in the life of the Church.

    The Spirit of Generation Y Project

  • The Bishops Conference, throught its research connections with Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association, is involved in this major new research project looking at the spirituality of Australians aged 13 to 29.
  • Monash University is also involved in this project.

    Participation of Women in the Church Project

  • The Bishops Conference carried out this massive research project between 1996 and 1998.
  • Thousands of Australian Catholics, both men and women, took part.
  • The project led to the publication of 'Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus: Report on the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia.

    This is in fact a very large amount of research. The findings have been published in numerous journals and several books. And it's not over yet -- there's still much more analysis and publication to be done, and future projects to be carried out. Whether Martin will consider this research to be 'adequate' only he can say. But all the research carried out by the Bishops Conference and its research associates has been academically rigorous and its quantity and quality has been applauded by senior researchers in sociology and social psychology in Australian and overseas.

    bob.dixon@ppo.catholic.org.au

    from Jean Ker Walsh via email 1 June

    It was exciting to read in the mass media of your imminent arrival and I've enjoyed your work over these past couple of evenings. Thank goodness you've given us something to laugh about (folding, super sermon sleuth) and the vision prayer was a clever use of the technology. Might I hope you can include some music in future editions? A publication like this has been sorely needed. The opportunities offered to engage with the issues you raise (Vatican III) are encouraging. Thanks so much for your creative effort. I'm subscribing with a donation today and wish you online life everlasting.

    from Dr Avril Keely, via email 1 June

    Congratulations on your initiative. It is good to have an Australian Catholic presence on line which promises to air progressive and conserviative views. However there is one aspect of the journal which disturbs me and that is the Sermon Supersleuth. I object to it on principle, irrespective of whether the 'report' is positive or negative. Firstly, it treats the celebration of the Eucharist as a commodity, a commodity to be evaluated as one would a restaurant - indeed the style so far confirms that view. Secondly, the idea shows little respect for the parish community which is celebrating the Eucharist. Why should they have their Eucharistic celebration judged against somebody's arbitrary set of standards? I do hope you will give serious consideration to removing this '' feature" from your journal.

    from Syd Proctor, via email 2 June

    Third rite of reconciliation. Banned in South Australia. Number availing themselves to this Sacrament continue to decline. How about much more promotion of the First rite on the basis Priests hearing reconciliation will be rotated to nearby parishes at least once a calendar month to ensure peninent remains anonymous and voice is not recognised. Practical in Cities and Suburbs and some country areas. Local Bishop should be given authority to institute in His See as appropriate. Third rite is too simple to achieve desired reconciliation. Try a trial for say 6 months with promotion and feed back.

    from Tom Donnellan, via email 4 June

    I have been wondering for some time whether the Catholic Church still actually exists - ever since Vatican II, efforts have been made by those in power in Rome to convince us that it never happened, and that its suggested reforms are all a figment of our imagination. The open community of believers envisaged by John XXIII has, because of official resistance, not developed, and in its place we have a them-and-us thing in which rule is absolute and consultation is non-existent.

    With a handful of exceptions, our beloved Australian Bishops seem to hold us lay people in contempt - lay people have been betrayed (in the words of a friend of mine) "by that bunch of ratbags in the Vatican".

    Has anyone any ideas about what we can do about this, before we engage St Jude as a consultant?

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