In 1972, I took part in a Christian panel addressing senior students at a government high school in rural Australia. Afterward, a student approached me to discuss our Catholic claims. He was an unbeliever who was also seeking answers from a small Protestant group. I lost out when I explained that the Catholic Church did not teach that he would go to hell if he refused to become a Catholic. His Protestant sect was quite clear that damnation would follow if they were rejected.
During my recent troubles with the law, this ex-student wrote to console me. He also thanked me for having respected his autonomy. I neither reject nor regret the advice I gave him in 1972. But I do regret that I didn’t convey a greater urgency about the importance of his search and decision.
This student was unusual in thinking of becoming a Catholic, as most traffic has been in the opposite direction. Since the Second Vatican Council, every Western society has seen an exodus of Church members and diminished practice. The Catholic communities in Belgium and Holland, for instance, have almost disappeared.