After the busyness of the lead-up to the first general assembly of the Plenary Council and the intensity of that week, there needed to be something of a “recovery” period, allowing the outcomes of those days to settle and be distilled for the journey to the second assembly in July.
That’s not to say that work hasn’t been taking place to allow the whole Church in Australia to continue to walk together for several more months and continue to seek how the People of God can each live out their mission today. We will soon be able to share the next important document in this Spirit-led process, capturing what has emerged from the first assembly and inviting people to consider how those fruits are carried forward.
Read on for more updates and news of related Church events. And please continue to pray for the Plenary Council.
by Lana Turvey-Collins
It’s the last few days of November, and we are about to begin Advent — a season of preparing for the birth of Jesus. It is a wonderful time to reflect on how we can best live as “Jesus’ people”.
Last month marked four years of being in this role of facilitator and I must say it has been an incredible journey of learning, challenge, courage and creativity. Being a member of the Facilitation Team for this historic process has been (and continues to be) a great privilege and one that I do not take for granted. The stories each person has shared, the prayer and discussion, time and focus which the whole People of God have given to trying to answer “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” have helped all of us reach this point.
The Members of the Plenary Council are charged with the responsibility of taking those stories into their ongoing discernment and returning to the Church in Australia “concrete proposals for a more missionary, Christ-centred Church”.
The first general assembly began their communal discernment in earnest, and now that it has wrapped up and some weeks have passed, we move into the next stages. The Members’ communal discernment is only partially complete. They are mid-process. Much more prayer, conversation and reflection is required to reach the second assembly in July 2022.
The raw fruits of their work-in-progress will soon be available for the whole Church to read. It will give us all insight into the directions of their discernment.
During the days and nights of the first assembly, every Member poured their heart and soul and faith into the work of the Council, into the communal discernment process and the small group outputs reflect their commitment, faith and engagement.
The next steps include the Drafting Committee (a mix of Members and others), working together with the Steering Committee (a mix of Members and others) to continue the communal discernment that the Members began during the first assembly.
Over the December/January period, they will work to draft a few thematic documents, which collate and capture the proposals and propositions from the first assembly and return these drafts to the Members for further individual or small group discernment.
After Easter 2022, the drafted, discerned, re-drafted, yet still-not-complete versions of the documents will be made available for the whole People of God to read, reflect on and pray with. Of course, Members will continue to do this also.
This will bring us into Pentecost season, and to the final stages of preparation towards the second assembly — during which the four-and-a-half-year process of the Church in Australia discerning together will be brought to a completion point. Then, of course, comes implementation – the third stage of the Plenary Council.
July 2022 may be just a few months away, yet much is yet to be revealed. The entire process and the whole work of the Plenary Council has been led by the Holy Spirit. I do believe it is a work of the Holy Spirit for our Church and for all people. With faith in God’s Holy Spirit, I look forward to the final weeks of 2021 and the fruits of this journey that will come in 2022.
On behalf of Marion, Peter and Olivia, my colleagues in the Facilitation Team, I wish you a happy and holy Christmas season and a wondrous and blessed beginning to 2022.
Thanks and peace,
We will address a new question in each e-newsletter. To catch up on previous editions, you can check out the Plenary Council FAQ page. If you have a question, email it to us and we will include it in future editions of PlenaryPost.
The question for this edition is…
Who attends the Plenary Council assemblies?
Three main groups of people attend the Council’s assemblies: Members; Advisers; and Observers.
Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia are those who have been called to participate in the assemblies. Some of the members are people who “must” be called to a plenary council, as outlined in Church law; others are people who “may” be called, who were chosen through a range of processes across the country. The members have, at times, been referred to as “delegates” to the Council. The language of “member” better reflects the canonical status of those called to a Council, as well as the sense that all members are there to represent the People of God in Australia, not just their local Church community. Members are the only people who can vote at the Council assemblies.
Advisers to the Council are people with particular expertise across a range of matters, such as theology, Scripture, governance, formation, ecclesiology (study of the Church), who can be called upon by members, individually or collectively, to provide advice on particular matters to assist with their discernment and decision-making. Advisers are sometimes called “experts” or “periti”, a latin term used to describe the experts at the Second Vatican Council and other major Church events.
Observers are people who, as the name suggests, observe the proceedings of the Council assemblies because of their particular relationship with the Catholic Church in Australia. Following the tradition of other Church gatherings, the observers include Catholic leaders from other parts of the world, especially New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia; leaders of other Christian denominations; and leaders of other faith traditions. The observers might attend some or all of the assemblies.
The Members, Advisers and Observers are supported by staff and volunteers helping with the facilitation of discernment, technology requirements, events management and liturgical needs. Media and communications staff help document the national and local aspects of the Council assemblies.
And so, brothers and sisters, let us experience this moment of encounter, listening and reflection as a season of grace that, in the joy of the Gospel, allows us to recognise at least three opportunities.
First, that of moving not occasionally but structurally towards a synodal Church, an open square where all can feel at home and participate. The Synod then offers us the opportunity to become a listening Church, to break out of our routine and pause from our pastoral concerns in order to stop and listen. To listen to the Spirit in adoration and prayer. Today how much we miss the prayer of adoration; so many people have lost not only the habit but also the very notion of what it means to worship God! To listen to our brothers and sisters speak of their hopes and of the crises of faith present in different parts of the world, of the need for a renewed pastoral life and of the signals we are receiving from those on the ground.
Finally, it offers us the opportunity to become a Church of closeness. Let us keep going back to God’s own “style”, which is closeness, compassion and tender love. God has always operated that way. If we do not become this Church of closeness with attitudes of compassion and tender love, we will not be the Lord’s Church. Not only with words, but by a presence that can weave greater bonds of friendship with society and the world. A Church that does not stand aloof from life, but immerses herself in today’s problems and needs, bandaging wounds and healing broken hearts with the balm of God. Let us not forget God’s style, which must help us: closeness, compassion and tender love.
Dear brothers and sisters, may this Synod be a true season of the Spirit! For we need the Spirit, the ever new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy. The Holy Spirit guides us where God wants us to be, not to where our own ideas and personal tastes would lead us.
— From Pope Francis’ address to mark the global launch of the Synod of Bishops process last month. Click here to read the full address.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has said the way in which the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia and the Synod of Bishops process are interacting is a great sign of how the local and universal Church can work together.
“Here in Brisbane and right across Australia we are very, very much in synodal mode at the moment,” he said in a video late last month.
“At this time there is a great interweaving of the Plenary Council and the Synod (of Bishops) process. In other words, the local and the universal working together and enriching each other.”
Archbishop Coleridge said the Plenary Council has been considering the mission of the Church in Australia, while the Synod is seeking to engage the Church globally. In his video, he says the Synod process could be seen as an invitation to each person to tell Pope Francis what they think about the Church worldwide.
“This is really a call to enter into a new way of being the Church, and on this journey of the worldwide Synod, the process itself is in many ways the product,” he said.
The local consultation phase for the 2023 Synod of Bishops has been extended in Australia by more than two months, following the Vatican’s decision to allow more time for dioceses to hear from their people.
The Holy See announced in late October that the original request for national syntheses of diocesan consultations to be sent to Rome by April 2022 had been changed, with them now due by August 15, 2022.
At the recent plenary meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, a new timeline was outlined and accepted as the national approach.
It extends the original timeline for local consultation, with the submission of local responses to the Synod of Bishops’ questions pushed back from December 12, 2021 to February 27, 2022.
A number of Plenary Council Members, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Members, had urged the bishops of Australia to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Earlier this month, following advice from First Nations Catholics, the bishops backed the statement.
In announcing their decision, the bishops said they had been informed by the words of St John Paul II, who in a visit to Alice Springs in 1986 said to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: “Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear… Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost.”
Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, chair of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said the bishops were “very grateful for the reflections of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council in helping shape our thinking on this important subject”.
“That Council recently endorsed the Statement from the Heart, and we have listened carefully to their reasons for doing so,” Bishop Macbeth-Green said.
“We also heard from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of the Plenary Council at our recent assembly of their desire for the Church in Australia to follow NATSICC’s lead.”
The Plenary Council’s agenda called for the Church to “honour and acknowledge the continuing deep spiritual relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to this country and commit ourselves to the ongoing journey of reconciliation”.
Madeline Forde, a Member of the Plenary Council for the Archdiocese of Adelaide, has been announced as a member of the international youth advisory body established by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Ms Forde, 25, has worked in a number of Church settings, including school, youth and young adult ministries, and is current a pastoral associate at Australian Catholic University’s Blacktown campus in western Sydney.
“I was surprised when contacted by the Dicastery and humbled by the invitation to be a part of the international youth advisory body,” Ms Forde said.
“I am excited to meet with other members from around the world to speak openly about the realities of young people, continuing to deeply listen to their stories and their views of today’s world.”
Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan said Ms Forde is “energetic, has a preferential option to stand with the marginalised and is a strong young woman of faith. She will make an invaluable contribution as she takes on this role”.
Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, the Bishop Delegate for Disability Issues, has used a message for the International Day of People with Disability to share the hopes he expressed during the first general assembly of the Plenary Council.
“During the [assembly], I felt inspired to urge the Church to lead the way in our society with regard to all people with disabilities, who with their families, often find themselves on the margins,” he wrote.
“I called for the Church to recognise and reach out to those with disabilities as they are our sisters and brothers, loved by God, and rightly have a place in our communities.”
Bishop Sproxton’s message for the International Day of People with Disability, which is celebrated December 3, took its title from comments Pope Francis made for the day last year.
Pope Francis had said the presence of a brother or sister with a disability will help the community “to develop attitudes and acts of solidarity, and service towards them and their families. Our aim should be to speak no longer about ‘them’, but rather about ‘us’”.