When the Plenary Council process began, it was always spoken of as a three-stage journey: Preparation, Celebration and Implementation. Well, after four-and-a-half years, the People of God in Australia have reached that third stage.
Even so, there is still much to be said about the celebration phase, which concluded when Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB celebrated the Council’s closing Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on July 9. That was itself the culmination of an intense, prayerful and Spirit-filled second assembly, which we know most of you will have followed closely.
Much of this edition of PlenaryPost relives the week that was, but also looks to the future. For now, here’s a video that seeks to capture this journey we have made together.
by Marion Gambin rsj
“This has been a time of grace and for that we give humble thanks.”
These words appear at the end of the Concluding Statement made on the final day of the second assembly — a statement affirmed by all the Members as they prepared to travel home and bring to a close the role each one has embraced for the past four years.
There is much available on the Plenary Council website to inform you of the outcomes of the listening, discernment, dialogue and decision-making that took place during the second assembly, with prayer and reflection threaded throughout the program for each day. The Members were very conscious of the prayerful support coming from the Catholic Church community across Australia and beyond.
In today’s PlenaryPost you can read some of the individual reflections written by several Members, describing their personal experience of the second assembly. These will also be included on the Plenary Council website along with any others that arrive over the next couple of weeks.
I really encourage you to read these brief reflections as they certainly give expression to the amazing diversity, generous commitment and strong hope for a Church more missionary and Christ-centred, evident in the group of 277 Members.
So, what happens now? We have moved into the Implementation Phase and the work continues with a plan, over the next five years, to regularly review the “taking action” in parishes, dioceses and organisations the decisions of the Plenary Council journey. The steps in the next few months, through to November, will include the finalising of the Acts of the Plenary Council and the sending of the Decrees to Rome for approval.
The Facilitation Team has begun the process of attending to what we are calling “tying up the loose ends” before we finish in our role at the end of August. In this process we have discovered that we have 110 hard copies of the books which are the collated material from the Listening and Dialogue Phase. If you would like one of these books, please send the Facilitation Team your postal address to our email firstname.lastname@example.org by August 5. We only have 110 books, so it will be first in, first served.
Please pray that this Implementation phase will continue to strengthen the seed of hope that has been planted. We look forward to seeing the seed blossom and flourish as we work together to be a more synodal, Gospel-focused community.
Many blessings of peace,
Marion – for the Facilitation Team
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…
The celebration phase of the Plenary Council is over. What happens now?
The Plenary Council has three phases: preparation, which took place over more than three years; celebration, which included the two assemblies and the nine months between them; and implementation, which started after the second assembly and will unfold in coming years.
At the second assembly, the following motion passed:
Much of the work of implementation will take place at the local level, including at diocesan synods that are expected to take place within five years of the conclusion of the Plenary Council’s celebration.
Baptismal call carried Members through second assembly
We reflected upon our baptismal call to missionary discipleship and the ways in which we might strengthen our personal and communal response. We focused upon the diverse gifts and common dignity of women and men, and reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to recognising and fostering the participation of women in all the avenues of ministry and leadership open to the lay faithful.
We considered our baptismal invitation to receive and to live the gift of the Trinitarian life of grace, and how we might enrich and deepen our sacramental life, which both draws us from the world and leads us back. We sought to discover new and creative ways to form our communities and their leaders in ministry and for mission.
We committed the Church in Australia to greater participation of all the laity, women and men, in our governance processes and leadership structures. We acknowledged the urgent need to make commitments to care for our common home and to be open to the integral and ecological conversion required to work with God who makes all things new (Rev 21:5).
We carry forth into the world the seeds of fresh possibilities, sown in a hidden yet abundant way by the great Sower of everything, who makes these seeds flourish in unexpected places for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15).
We bear a rich heritage: the many ways in which the Catholic community has enhanced life in Australia through its care for the sick and marginalised, its commitment to education, and its advocacy for social justice, especially the needs of refugees and asylum seekers. We commit ourselves to seek and serve the human flourishing of all Australians, and to care for Earth, our common home, by cherishing, preserving, and healing the land.
We have seen God at work in these days, comforting and disrupting in order to lead his people into a future of God’s making. This has been a time of grace, and for that we give humble thanks. May God who has begun the good work in us bring it to fulfilment (cf. Phil 1:6).
— An excerpt from the concluding statement of the Plenary Council’s second assembly. Click here to read the full statement.
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 Motions and Amendments document for the Plenary Council’s second assembly, which followed the earlier Framework for Motions document, was the key guide for the Members’ prayer and discernment. During the course of the assembly, additional amendments were made to various motions.
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.
Plenary Council Members experienced a wide range of emotions during the Council journey, and especially during the two assemblies. After the second assembly concluded, Members were invited to — if they wish — share a reflection on their personal experience, as part of a larger group drawn from the People of God across Australia.
Many members have agreed to have their reflections published on the Plenary Council website. Here are some excerpts from the reflections.
“For me personally, the Plenary Council journey; the formation, the connections, the new friendships, the new skills, and the experience of both assemblies has been life changing. As a young lay Catholic woman, it has inspired me to “take the road less travelled”. When many other young people are turning away from the Church, I feel that it is my calling to play a continuing role in our wider Australian Church, both personally and professionally. Being a part of the Second Assembly has confirmed this as a future vocational direction for me.” — Ms Gemma Thomson.
“We arrived as strangers and left as friends. The assembly hall at the Cathedral was filled with round tables. I had never met my companions who would accompany me on the Plenary journey over a week. Over the week we worked hard as we came to learn each of each other’s faith-filled hopes for the Church in Australia.” — Fr Peter Slack.
“What happened during the Second Assembly was a profound experience that I will carry with me always. The disruption of the Spirit in the process moved us from being ‘nice’ to being more ‘real’ with each other, and the gifts of the Spirit and each person enabled us to experience a way of being Church differently, together in our diversity.” — Dr Jodi Steel.
“I was also fully aware of the uniqueness of bishops, religious, priests, deacons and lay faithful gathered to discuss and to vote. I have kept my red and green voting cards as a reminder of this! Sitting at individual tables in mixed groups was an important part of the Council for me. I delighted in the depth and richness of the experience and love of the church gathered together, even though it brought with it differences.” — Fr Denis Stanley.
Hundreds of articles, videos, podcasts and thousands of photos were shared during the second assembly of the Plenary Council. They captured everything from procedural matters to members’ assessments of the work of the assembly and homilies preached during the week.
The Plenary Council’s media and communications team published a large number of articles during the course of the week. You can find them here.
The team also recorded a podcast on each full day of the second assembly. You can find them here.
There were also media briefings that aired on Facebook Live each day. You can find them, along with other video content (including livestreams), here.
With the celebration phase of the Plenary Council having concluded, the “rubber” is now about to hit the proverbial road. With implementation of the outcomes of the Council to be lived out across dioceses, parishes and other communities, consideration has moved to how that will happen.
Townsville Bishop Tim Harris, whose diocese covers large parts of northern Queensland, is thinking what the outcomes will mean for his communities.
He told The Catholic Leader that he believed the Spirit was present in the Council “from beginning to end”.
“And I think the Spirit was shaking us up a bit and saying to the Church gathered – bishops, priests, lay people religious, ‘Look, you know, be prepared for some surprises that things may not go according to plan’,” he said.
“What has transpired I think, is a pivotal moment for us… I trust the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit has taken us through the plenary process to where we are now.
“We’ve now got to implement these decisions once they’re approved by Rome. I’m hopeful that we will achieve, or the Holy Spirit will achieve, great things for the Church.”
As the global Church journeys towards the 2023 Synod of Bishops on Synodality, one of the expert advisers to the Plenary Council has spoken highly of the evidence of synodality in the Council’s work.
Fr Gerard Kelly, a lecturer in theology at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, said the world was watching Australia as the People of God undertook the Plenary Council to see how it might be a model of what “a synodal church might look like”.
Fr Kelly said the presence of the Pope’s ambassador to Australia Archbishop Charles Balvo, New Zealand Cardinal John Dew and Cardinal Charles Bo from Myanmar was “a constant reminder that the plenary council was indeed a synodal gathering”, not focused solely on itself, “but aware that its actions were for building up the communion of the whole Church”.
“Throughout the week of the plenary council, the members learnt the truth of the words of the pope in his October 2015 address, namely that ‘synod’ is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice,” Fr Kelly said.
“The starting point for synodality is listening – listening to the Holy Spirit by listening to one another. The presumption must be that the other person has something to say that is true and good and important.
“Moreover, as the pope said in his Pentecost homily this year, ‘oddly, the Holy Spirit is the author of division, of ruckus, of a certain disorder. … He creates division with charisms and he creates harmony with all this division’.”
While the Plenary Council’s celebration phase has concluded, the PlenaryPost community has grown to several thousand over the past four years. In coming weeks, we will consider how to continue to keep this community informed about news related to the Catholic Church in Australia. We will be in touch soon to invite you to remain connected.
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