Plenary Council 2020 – Listen to what the Spirit is saying …
The Australian Plenary Council 2020 – For and of our Time and the Future
After seeking and receiving the approval of Pope Francis, the Australian Catholic Bishops have called a Plenary Council for 2020, at which decisions about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia will be made.
Thousands of Australians have been involved in the first phase of the journey toward the Plenary Council, the Listening and Dialogue stage, which ended on Ash Wednesday.
A draft report analysizing submissions to the Council and collating themes that emerged during discussion will be released to coincide with the second phase of the journey, the Discernment and Dialogue stage, to be launched on 9th June, Pentecost Sunday, 2019.
What is a Plenary Council?
A Plenary Council is the highest formal gathering of all local churches in a country. The decisions made at the Council, subject to the approval of the Holy See, are binding on the Catholic Church in Australia.
The delegates to the Council are leaders within the 34 local churches of Australia and include those who must be called to the Council (Archbishops, Bishops, Vicars General, Episcopal Vicars, some superiors and leaders of religious orders, some seminary rectors) and those who may be called (lay people, retired bishops and clergy). For more information on Council attendees, see the Plenary Council website.
There will be two sessions of the Plenary Council. The first will be held in Adelaide in October 2020 and the second culminating session will be held in Sydney, in May 2021.
Bishops are obliged to make decisions on the basis of their careful discernment of the work of the Holy Spirit in the minds and hearts of all the People of God.
That discernment requires accepting the sense of the faith of the faithful – ‘sensus fidelium’ – as a source of the Church’s life and learning as it engages in the task of fulfilling its Gospel mission.
What is God asking of us in Australia at this time?
This question, posed by the Australian Bishop’s Conference, may have initially been perceived to be overly broad.
However, the extraordinary number of responses from those who made submissions to the Plenary Council has revealed a wide variety of engagements with the question.
The variety and depth of those engagements will stimulate thought and enable deep discernment regarding the challenges and opportunities facing the Church today.
This suggests that the question was perhaps the right question for our time..
In our communities, homes, workplaces, parishes, schools, universities, with sporting and social networks, we listened to one another, spoke boldly, and shared our stories.
Our authentic accounts of our diverse experiences, the sense of faith revealed in responses, the questions about and hopes for the future of the Church in Australia in the 21st century were both confronting and inspirational and will be crucial to the shaping of the Plenary Council agenda.
We are being called to continue to fully participate in this process; through prayerful reflection and openness to encountering the Holy Spirit in preparation for the next phase of the Plenary Council.
Each of us is invited to share in this journey – whether as a baptised Catholic or as a person who may have a lesser involvement with the life and mission of the Church; those who feel vulnerable, have been hurt and those who have moved away from the Church – all are invited to engage with open hearts in a process of ‘listening to what the Spirit is saying’.
Together we can continue to build a vibrant and welcoming culture of dialogue and discernment in our lives and communities.
Plenary Council President, Archbishop Timothy Costello’s invitation to all Australians to be part of this momentous time for the Australian Catholic Church
Given that more than 80 years have passed since the Australian Catholic Church last held a Plenary Council in 1937, we have an opportunity to respond to Pope Francis’ call that we become a “synodal Church”: one that listens carefully, recognizing that listening goes beyond simply hearing to become a mutual activity in which all participants have something to learn.
The Pope envisages “faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7)”.
His invitation to the local Church to engage in dialogue is prescient, given the challenges presented by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and by the changes in society over the past 8 decades. As Archbishop Mark Coleridge explained when announcing the Plenary Council:
“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.”
In the Year of Discernment…
The national themes for discernment emerging from the thousands of voices who shared their responses to the question, “What is God asking of us in Australia today?,” are to be finalized by the members of the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, the Plenary Council Executive Committee and the Facilitation Team working together with the National Centre for Pastoral Research.
As noted above, the release of the themes on Pentecost Sunday, 9th June 2019, will mark the beginning of the second phase of the Plenary Council – the Listening and Discernment stage – and the themes will lay the foundations for ongoing local reflection and dialogue. In this second stage of the journey working groups will be established to develop discussion papers on each of the themes.
These discussion papers will be addressed in the first session of the Council, to be held in Adelaide between 4-11 October, 2020. Information about the constitution of the working groups will be announced in the near future and Australians will be given opportunities for further local dialogue and discernment on the themes within their parishes and communities and via the Plenary Council website.
Local Discernment And Spirituality
In the hope that we become a leaven of holiness, justice and reconciliation in today’s rapidly changing society, Pope Francis has encouraged all Australians to participate patiently and in a spirit of fraternal unity and missionary discipleship in this period of dialogue and faith-filled discernment. He has invoked the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, harmony and openness to the Lord’s will toward the future of the Church in Australia.
In preparation for the second stage of the Plenary Council and in response to submissions from many members of the Sydney Archdiocese, which called for: clear, direct and more detailed faith formation, more fulfilling prayer lives and greater emphasis on the sacraments, the Sydney Plenary team has two initiatives in place.
- The first is the production of an online resource, ‘Baptism as the Catalyst for Life and Plenary 2020’
The resource is designed for use by individuals or groups to support prayerful reflection and discussion on participation in the life and mission of the Church within the Archdiocese.
- The second initiative is to be the development of ‘Spiritual Hubs’ in each deanery region of the Archdiocese, where Twilight Retreats will be held over the period of a month between mid- September and mid – October. The aim of these retreats is to call the Sydney community together in contemplative practice of prayer to encounter Christ with confidence and courage; and to respond to the movement of the Spirit within us, between us and amongst us as we address our hopes for the future of the Australian Catholic Church. Look out for more information in parishes and on this site.
National Listening and Discernment
The calendar of the major stages of the national Plenary Council process:
Source: National Plenary Council http://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/
Our Local Plenary Council Process……
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has established a Working Group to coordinate and manage the Archdiocese’s participation in the national journey toward the 2020 Plenary Council.
The Most Reverend Terence Brady, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, and Professor Sandra Lynch, of the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia, as co-chairs, lead the Plenary Council Working Group (PCWG) for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
The PCWG Committee, includes a variety of appointed representatives (archdiocesan clergy, religious, indigenous Australians, members of ethnic and migrant groups, chaplaincy staff, school principals, academics, and a range of Church agency staff).
As is the case in Cathedrals across the country, the Plenary Council candle will continue to stand in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, lighting our way along the journey to the Plenary Council in 2020 – 2021.
The Sydney Working Group commissioned reflection candles, similar to the Cathedral Plenary candle, for each parish. These candles were made at St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Coober Pedy – a Church located underground.
The candles were moulded into shape, using beer cans with the loving care and skill of Coober Pedy parish priest, Fr. Brian Matthews and his dedicated team of volunteers.
Together on this Journey in Sydney……
The Sydney Plenary Council working group sought to engage and include as many diverse voices as possible within dialogue in the Archdiocese. This involved the engagement of parishes and direct consultation with 12 groups involved in various roles vital to the work, life and mission of the Archdiocese.
The consultation groups were identified as follows:
1. Education (Universities)
2. Education (Schools)
5. Social Services and Outreach
6. Consecrated Life
7. Social Justice
8. Catholic Agencies
9. Parish Representatives
12. Aboriginal Catholic Ministry
Both the network of committed ambassadors established in the parishes of the Archdiocese and the dedication of members of the consultation groups have been invaluable to the Plenary Council process and its deliberations in the Archdiocese.
Our first group of parish appointed ambassadors undertook training generously provided by Broken Bay diocese in August 2018. The Archdiocese also held its own training for parish ambassadors in September 2018.
Using material shared by other dioceses as well as tailor-made resources, our parish ambassadors, encouraged and guided their communities to respond as individuals or as group participants in listening and dialogue sessions, in which they prayed about and reflected on the central Plenary Council question: What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?
The commitment of our parishioners and those who participated in consultation groups to this contemporary Australian listening, dialogue and discernment process has been remarkable. The encounters and the prayerful reflection facilitated, the depth of engagement, the detailed records of discussions have enabled a broad range of voices to be heard and actively listened to.
We thank all who participated in the hundreds of listening and dialogues sessions that were held and which enriched the experience and participation of Sydney Catholics in the initial Plenary Council process.
Those who took the time to prepare individual submissions; those who collated group submissions; parish ambassadors and parish priests, and consultation group leaders who promoted, facilitated, guided, encouraged and supported their communities and groups through the first phase – all deserve recognition and thanks.
We continue to pray that many will similarly welcome the opportunity to promote, encourage and support further local discernment as part of the second phase – dialogue and discernment.