The Plenary Council Assemblies have now concluded.
Why are we having a Plenary Council?
The last Plenary Council held was in 1937… 85 years ago. There are many reasons for having a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia: Pope Francis has invited the local Church to dialogue; the contemporary society of Australia has changed significantly; and the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse has been a significant and influential event that requires deep consideration and response.
When the Australian Catholic Bishops announced the decision to hold a Plenary Council, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said that “the Church is not the presence in our society it once was. We need to take a measure of that and make decisions accordingly. The culture in which we have to proclaim the Gospel is very different to what it was even 20 or 30 years ago.”
The journey is taking place over several years in order to give the Catholic community in Australia time to listen, dialogue and discern with one another and, guided by the Holy Spirit, about the future, the role and relevance of the Catholic Church in Australia.
A Plenary Council is a formal meeting of the bishops and other representatives of all the dioceses and eparchies of the Catholic Church in Australia. Its purpose is to discern what God is asking of us in Australia at this present time. While the church should be asking that question continually, a Plenary Council is a particularly graced instrument for seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And it has the authority to make church laws on the results of its discernment.
Although in the end it will be the bishops who will vote on any future directions for the church in Australia, they will be making those decisions in the light of a long listening to the Holy Spirit speaking through the voices of any of the faithful who wish to speak around Australia. This makes the Plenary Council 2021/22 different from the last one in 1937. Everyone has a chance to participate and to express whatever the Spirit is saying to them in their heart.
Vatican II spoke of how God, who spoke in the past, “continues to converse” with the church (Dei Verbum, 8). Through our Plenary Council 2021, the Catholic Church hopes to enter more intensely into that divine-human dialogue.
It wasn’t necessarily planned this way, but as the PlenaryPost publishes our 50th edition, we also bring down the curtain on this particular project for the Plenary Council.
Over the past four years, almost 10,000 different people have received this newsletter, which has been one vehicle among many for the sharing of the work of the Plenary Council. Thank you for your prayers and support through these years and for participating in the life of the Council in your local contexts. Just as the Council began at the local level, its ongoing legacy will be lived out largely at the local level, invigorating the lives of individuals and communities.
We have made ‘a true pilgrimage of faith’ over these four years
by Marion Gambin rsj
We have arrived at the 50th and final edition of the PlenaryPost!
As the Facilitation Team ends its role in this four-year journey of the Plenary Council, we are so mindful that we have made this journey supported by the prayer and interest of each of you through this monthly newsletter and we are so grateful.
While the PlenaryPost will not be sent out each month, the Plenary Council website will continue to be a wonderful source of communication, with all the resources accumulated over the past four years still available and a vehicle also to communicate news of the implementation phase. This week you will find on the website more reflections from the Members of the Plenary Council, as they share their personal experience of the second assembly.
This week Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has written a letter to all those who were Members of the Plenary Council. He says that this journey has been a “true pilgrimage of faith”. It seems to me that this is a message for all of us in whatever way we have been involved.
As the implementation phase takes shape over the next few months, I invite you to reflect on how you will continue to make this pilgrimage of faith in your local community, your parish, your diocese, your place of work and ministry.
Thank you again for your contribution to the journey of the Plenary Council.
Wishing you an abundance of blessings of peace and hope for all the future holds for you.
Plenary Council can inspire Church decision-making
Bishops Conference president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has challenged leaders from Catholic health and aged care services to use the example of the Plenary Council as a “Christ-centred” way to operate in the future.
Decision-making at the Plenary Council was based on “synodality”, which is often defined as “journeying together as the People of God”.
“… [W]e should be making our decisions not just as a corporate body, or something like that, but also as a group of disciples,” Archbishop Costelloe told delegates at the Catholic Health Australia national conference this week.
Catholic Health Australia’s network makes up about 10 percent of hospital-based healthcare in Australia, 12 percent of aged care facilities and 20 per cent of home care and support for the elderly.
Archbishop Costelloe said it was fundamental that decisions be made that are “Christ-centred”, conceding this was “not the normal way of making decisions that most of us experience in many other settings”.
He said the Plenary Council’s second assembly had demonstrated “the complexity, the challenge and the treasure of synodality”.
Archbishop Costelloe: Work of discernment must continue
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, when those first disciples encountered Jesus on the mountain, “they fell down before him, though some hesitated”. For some that hesitation might well have been born of their continuing struggle to grasp the overwhelming mystery of the resurrection. For others it might have been the still raw pain of their own desertion of Jesus in the last hours of his life. Whatever the explanation, Matthew offers no hint that the commission to go out and make disciples was withheld from those whose faith was weak or faltering. Indeed, how could it have been otherwise?
Across the Gospel tradition it was only the beloved disciple who remained faithful as the horror of the passion and death of Jesus unfolded. The other disciples all deserted the Lord. What Saint Paul once said of himself seems to be the Lord’s preferred way of acting: “God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). At times this week we, like the first disciples, have experienced what it means to struggle with the reality and the call of the Gospel. As we gather together this morning we recognise that the struggle must continue, that we must continue on the path of discernment, and that there is still more to discover about where the Holy Spirit seeks to lead us.
We, the holy people of God, may well be foolish or seem so to others, but if we are genuinely committed to following the way of the Lord we will be living and effective signs of the wisdom of God, revealed in the suffering and dying Christ. We, the holy people of God, may well be weak or seem so to others, but if we are genuinely trying, even if not always successfully, to live the values of the Gospel and to have in ourselves the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, we will be witnesses to the strength that comes not from ourselves but from the Christ who, we believe, lives in us.
In the end this is what the Plenary Council has been about. We know that we are called and sent as witnesses to the love and mercy of God. We know that we are called to recognise the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel. We know that we are chosen and empowered by God’s Spirit to be, in Christ, a living and effective sign of communion with God and of unity among all people.
The Plenary Council has been an important step along the way and we have discerned together some particular pathways along which we are called to walk at this time. We have tried, and at times struggled, and perhaps occasionally failed, to listen carefully to each other. The Lord never promised that discipleship would be without its challenges. What he did promise is that he would be with us always — and the gift of his Spirit is the enduring fulfilment of that promise. As we now prepare to return home the question remains: what was and what is the Spirit saying to us as we have lived and worked with each other, spoken and listened to each other, grappled with each other, and glimpsed each other’s giftedness and frailty?
This is the work of discernment and it must continue. We have made some decisions, opened up some possibilities, and experienced the depth and complexity of some of the challenges we face. All of this is the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have much still to do if we are to be in practice what we understand ourselves to be by vocation. As we now entrust the work we have done together to the discernment of the Bishop of Rome, so that he might strengthen us in our faith (Lk 22:32), the invitation is there for us to re-commit ourselves to this task of communion and unity so that the world might believe that it was God who sent Jesus among us (cf. John 17:23), and that we are witnesses to that.
The First Plenary Council Session may be over, however, you can still catch-up with the discussions held each night.
Plenary Tracker #2 July 2022
Plenary Tracker #2 – a daily Zoom with exclusive news, insights, and panel discussions hosted by respected former ABC presenter Genevieve Jacobs AM and Walkley Award-winning journalist Paul Bongiorno AM. Every night from Sunday July 3 to July 8 at 7.30 AEST, Plenary members and insiders summarised, highlighted, and discussed the day’s events from the second Australian Plenary Council. A variety of guests appeared. Click here to view their biographies.
Recording of all episodes of Plenary Tracker #2 are available to view below.
Plenary Tracker #2 was brought to you by Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn in partnership with the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and with the support of Garratt Publishing.
GENEVIEVE JACOBS AM
Genevieve is the Group Editor for Region Media, Australia’s fastest growing digital news platform.
Genevieve chairs the ACT arts minister’s Creative Advisory Council and co-chairs the ACT Reconciliation Council.
She sits on the boards of the Cultural Facilities Corporation, the National Folk Festival and is deputy chair of the Canberra International Music Festival. She is also a director of the Conflict Resolution Service and the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.
Synod of Bishops 2021 – 2023
Our local Church in Melbourne has brought together a Report in response to Pope Francis’ invitation for the universal Church to reflect upon: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission; the theme of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will take place on October 2023.
The Report will now take its part in a combined national report, which will be sent to the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops to be considered alongside contributions from other parts of the Church around the world.
Please be encouraged to read the voices from our people, and the introductory message from Archbishop Peter.
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has encouraged Council Members to continue relying upon the Holy Spirit as they move into the future.
Archbishop Costelloe was the principal celebrant and homilist at the closing Mass of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia celebrated in St Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday, July 9.
Citing the words of St John the Baptist, he urged the Members to take to heart that “He – Jesus – must grow greater, and I must grow smaller”.
As Members look towards the “re-enlivening” of the Church, Archbishop Costelloe said they must remember: “There will be no renewal of the Church if we put ourselves above Christ or in some perverse way push him to the margins.”
The experience of the early Church at Pentecost is one that needs to be taken up by the Church each day, he said.
“The enlivening of the infant Church, gathered in prayer in the upper room, was not a ‘once-only’ event. It is the daily reality of the Church and the enduring foundation of the Church’s identity.”
The Plenary Council was a new experience in many ways, Archbishop Costelloe said, lived in a “tentative and incomplete fashion” as the Members tried to “reimagine the Church in Australia through a missionary lens”.
“We have tried, and at times struggled, and perhaps occasionally failed, to listen carefully to each other,” he said.
“The Lord never promised that discipleship would be without its challenges.”
The final wording of all motions that achieved a qualified majority in the deliberative vote — two-thirds of such members — have been captured in the decrees of the Plenary Council. After the November 2022 meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the decrees will be sent to the Apostolic See. In accordance with canon 446 of the Code of Canon Law, decrees are not to be promulgated until they have been reviewed by the Apostolic See. They will be promulgated in the Australasian Catholic Record and the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in accordance with its usual practice. The decrees will oblige six months after promulgation.
Click here to access the decrees of the Council and also to access the outcomes of votes taken during the second assembly. The introduction from the Motions and Amendments document, as amended by the Members, is also accessible there.
Fr Richard Lennan, Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College, addressed the First Assembly of the Plenary Council as one of its expert advisors. He explained that we need an ‘integral ecclesiology’ to parallel Pope Francis’ ‘integral ecology’.
An integral ecclesiology, or theology of the Church, will mean taking into account how as many factors as possible fit in with our relationship with God, and with who we are as a people of faith. Fr Lennan urged Catholics to ‘sniff out the presence of God in the world and to celebrate that presence when we find it’.
By going to ‘the peripheries’ as Pope Francis constantly encourages us to do, and listening to people pushed to the edges, we can hear the cry of the poor. This cry must be paired with the cry of the earth in an integral ecology. Both integral ecology and integral ecclesiology must inform mission.
Integrating Indigenous Spirituality, a focus of the Plenary Council
During the first General Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, where around 300 members from across the nation gathered online between 3-10 October, a small group of members are focusing on the important agenda questions:
How might the Church in Australia open in new ways to Indigenous ways of being Christian in spirituality, theology, liturgy, and missionary discipleship? And how might we learn from the First Nations peoples?
A joint initiative
After the St Kevin’s parish submission was made to the Plenary Council on 6 March 2019, representatives of the St Kevin’s began working towards a joint parish statement to represent 20-30 parishes in Melbourne. Following a meeting of over 60 people from 22 parishes on 13 April 2019, a drafting group prepared a joint statement which has been sent into the Plenary Council committee for consideration as part of a further submission. This statement is consistent with our original parish submission, and is intended to show that there is strong support for the themes of that submission across parishes.
The profound misogyny in the Catholic Church, embedded in both its culture and practice, is a sexual scandal of another kind. It is a main reason for an underlying despair among many of Christ’s faithful and the cause of widespread and declining participation.
The ‘specialness’ and ‘feminine genius’ often emphasized by popes (EG, 103-104), while appearing as an acknowledgement, can, in fact, be a strategy to differentiate women as ‘other’. There can be no doubt that women within the Catholic Church are not fully acknowledged for who they are, and even diminished: when they speak they are not listened to, and when they act their work is considered merely ancillary to the great projects of the ordained. Catholic women may serve, but they only lead to the degree permitted by the male hierarchy.
An examination of the top ten issues raised by some 200,000 Catholic respondents to the question What do you think God is asking of us in Australia today? (see Editorial above) shows that 5 of the top 6 issues relate to women, and 3 directly call for women to have a greater role in church ministry and governance. Christ’s faithful in Australia have expressed an emphatic view that the way female members of the Catholic Church have been and continue to be regarded and treated is misogynistic. Men alone determine the nature and doctrine of the Church.
A clear ‘sign of the times’ which the Council must address is the chasm that has opened up between the expectations of many lay men and women and the mindset of the Church’s clerical leaders on ‘Women and Ministry’. We refer readers to our Summary document on Women and Ministry
Catholics for Renewal calls on all those called as participants to the Plenary Council to courageously challenge the ‘business as usual’ mindset on women and ministry, with its fixed restrictions, limitations, and structures, and dare to launch out (Duc in altum) into the ecclesial deep.
Image: From the cover of Getting Back on Mission, He Qi’s painting ‘After Resurrection’ depicts women who were first to see and be empowered by Jesus at Easter dawn.
Incremental set of 2020/2021 Plenary issue summary documents
1) Sensus fidelium (sense of faith of Christ’s faithful) [Dec. 2019] document
2) Synodal governance for a pastoral church [Jan. 2020] document
3) Co-responsibility: sharing in church governance [Feb. 2020] document
4) Clericalism [March 2020] document
5) Women and Ministry [April 2020] document
Here at St Kevin’s Parish, we are having our say. A group of parishioners have come together, constructed and sent a letter to Archbishop Peter Comensoli to voice our thoughts, worries and hopes regarding the upcoming Plenary Council in 2020.
On behalf of St Kevin’s Parish in Templestowe, concern about the structure of the Plenary Council has initiated an insightful proposition in the format of ‘some discussion notes’. This short, powerful document opens our thoughts to perhaps another way for everyday concerned Christians to have their voices be heard. It explores Canon Law 443- which has perhaps allowed a loophole to possibly opening the Plenary Council to others… not just the Bishops. A very interesting read indeed….
The Participation of Women in the 2020 Plenary Council
A paper was prepared by the Council for Australian Catholic Women as a basis for a discussion with Archbishop Mark Coleridge June 2017.
The Social Justice Sunday Statement in 2000, the Bishops’ response to the Woman and Man, included nine decisions of national significance and 31 proposals for implementation at local diocesan level. Decision number 8 recommended that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) establish a Commission for Australian Catholic Women to facilitate the implementation of the decisions and recommendations of the ACBC in response to Woman and Man.
It was accountable to the Bishops’ Committee for the Laity and would have role monitoring the development of strategic planning and evaluation of the ACBC recommendations.The Commission for Australian Catholic Women (CACW) would have an Office, known as the Office for the Participation of Women (OPW), to support its work.
In 2006, the Bishops determined that the Commission would be replaced with the Council for Australian Catholic Women.
The Council would now provide advice to the Bishops Commission for Church Ministry about women and their participation in the Catholic Church in Australia.
Questions have been raised as to whether this move has resulted in a downgrading of the voice of women in the Church. Reduction in staffing and the need for the Director to also support the Australian Catholic Council for Lay Pastoral Ministry raises the concern that the scope of responsibilities for the Director of the OPW has become much too wide.
A CASE FOR THE PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN THE 2020 PLENARY COUNCIL
The intention of the bishops’ decisions in 2001 was to give women a better platform for contributing their talents, gifts and wisdom to the service of the Church. This would enable their voices to be more readily heard, recognised, reported and brought to the attention of the hierarchical/institutional Church in a positive, respectful and consultative way. The pioneering and spirit-led decision by the bishops of Australia taken in 2001 should be respected in the decisions about the agenda and participation of women in the 2020 Plenary Council. Some progress has been made, but the Plenary Council provides renewed opportunity to hear and respond to the voices of women. The need to be open and responsible to diverse voices, including that of women, has been reinforced by the deliberations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The need for continuing engagement between the ACBC and women remains relevant and is in fact more compelling in 2017.