The appointment of a conservative Catholic archbishop, George Pell, to the archdiocese of Sydney, has been greeted with a passionate but mixed response, with some clerics and laity predicting an exodus from the church and others claiming Pell will lead a major revival.

Sydney is capital of New South Wales and Australia's most populous city, with about 3.9 million residents. Pell is currently Archbishop of Melbourne, capital of the state of Victoria, with a strong Catholic community making it the country's biggest Catholic archdiocese. The appointment by the Vatican, which will take effect in about two months, is, however, considered both a promotion and a clear indication of the direction in which Pope John Paul II would like the Australian church to move. Archbishop Pell will succeed Cardinal Archbishop Edward Clancy, who is soon to retire.

Archbishop Pell's appointment last week came as a surprise both to him—he told the media that the Pope had informed him only 10 days before—and to most Australian Catholics. There is now strong speculation that Archbishop Pell will be the nation's next cardinal as, traditionally, the archbishop of Sydney is given that rank.

An apparent factor in Archbishop Pell's appointment was the historic Oceania synod, involving all of Australia's Catholic bishops and called by Pope John Paul II two years ago. The result was a scathing Vatican document on the state of the church in Australia, in which the Pope blamed Australia's sense of egalitarianism for contributing to the decline of the authority of the parish priest.

The bishops were told by Rome that Australia was undergoing a "crisis of faith," that they should crack down on errors "in matters of doctrine and morals" and guard against innovations ...

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