The Catholic Church in Australia has commenced preparations for a Plenary Council to be held in 2020. A Plenary Council provides an occasion for the whole Church to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to our Church at this time. For this to happen, wide consultation of the entire Australian Church will be necessary so that all voices have an opportunity to be heard. Processes that enable all to genuinely listen to each other will also be required. A new relationship of trust and confidence has to be created within the Church in Australia and the wider community.
The last time a Plenary Council was held in Australia was eighty years ago in 1937. At that time those engaged in the Plenary Council were advised to “take care that provision is made for the pastoral needs of the people of God… and to decide what seems opportune for the increase of the faith, the organization of common pastoral actions and the regulation of morals and of common ecclesiastical discipline which is to be observed, promoted and protected.” A Plenary Council has legislative capacity that will be applicable to the Church in Australia.
The idea of having another Plenary Council in Australia has been around for some years. The idea has been given fresh impetus by Pope Francis’ encouragement of a ‘synodal’ style of Church and also by the reflection on the lessons of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The synodal process has three stages – preparation, celebration and implementation. Throughout the preparation stage the Diocese of Ballarat will commence with Praying Towards 2020. This will take place in the Easter Season of 2018, from April 21 – May 7. Over these weeks, the whole Diocese, its parishes, faith communities, schools, institutions and agencies will be invited to participate in prayer to invoke the Holy Spirit to inspire our preparations for the Plenary Council. Twelve Redemptorist Priests will lead what will be something of a mini mission throughout the Diocese, with four Redemptorists in the northern, central and southern zones of the Diocese for these two weeks.
In the latter part of 2018 and into 2019, there will be gatherings at local and regional levels of the Diocese that will be opportunities for Dialogue towards 2020. Prayer and Dialogue are essential elements in this whole process of preparation for the 2020 Plenary Council. The Diocesan Pastoral Council has begun to consider ways of encouraging Parish Pastoral Councils and local Leadership Teams to plan ways of hosting dialogue sessions with as many as possible. Diocesan Commissions, Councils, Boards and Committees will all have the Plenary Council on their agendas. Catholic Schools, Social Services and Health Care institutions will also be called into this preparatory phase. At a recent gathering in Sydney to start the conversation across the Australian Church towards the 2020 Plenary Council, Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon expressed her hope that the preparatory processes of the Plenary Council would engage with survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and religious, ordinary faithful Catholics, clergy, Australia’s first peoples, women, young people, those who are served by St Vincent de Paul and Centacare, the homeless, disabled, those living with mental health challenges and those who are marginalised in so many ways. Such engagement would help us become not just a Church for the poor but a Church of the poor.
What is expected throughout all of the stages of the Plenary Council is that it will be messy, at times chaotic, frustrating, confronting, honest, truthful, inspiring, visionary. Proposals might be easy to express but not easy to implement. Throughout the whole journey mutual listening will be required so that everybody learns. This means that the humility to listen, even and perhaps especially to difference, will be asked of all who participate.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane who is chairing the Bishop’s committee for the Plenary Council has likened the journey to the 2020 Plenary Council to the biblical pilgrimage of Abraham, requiring us to leave some things behind, having the courage to let some things go and imagine new ways, allowing ourselves to be led by a God who dislocates. He has said that the journey to the Plenary Council must be the work of the Holy Spirit, it must be an act of faith which is why we will commence our preparations for the 2020 Plenary Council with Praying towards 2020 in the Easter season of 2018.
Fr Justin Driscoll, Vicar-General(Reprinted from Our Diocesan Community October 2017) Photo courtesy of the Ballarat Courier