Plenary Council is a key moment for the church in Australia


SYDNEY – The second meeting of the Australian Plenary Council takes place from July 3-9. A full council has far-reaching power, and Australia has gone through a long process to get to this point.

What is the Plenary Council?

A full council is a gathering of the local church; it has both legislative and governance powers and can pass binding resolutions or decrees.

The Fifth Australian Plenary Council was convened under canon law and, according to its statutes, “aims to better realize in Australia the vision of the Second Vatican Council regarding the nature and mission of the Church”.

What has happened so far?

The Plenary Council took place in several phases. The first phase, ‘Listening and Dialogue’, was an open-ended listening exercise in which the plenary asked Catholics: ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time? »

Submissions were received from 12,758 individuals and 4,699 groups. People aged 50 or over made up 44% of individual submissions, while those under 25 made up 14%.

About 50% of the participants in this first phase were women, 30% were men and the rest did not indicate their sex.

The second phase took this material and transformed it into “national themes for discernment” through other writing and discernment groups, and from there transformed it into an “Instrumentum Laboris” , or working document.

The first meeting took place from October 3 to 10, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held virtually.

The key themes discussed in the first assembly were conversion, prayer, structures, institutions, formation and governance. The discussion on “going to the peripheries” and listening to those who are hurt by the Church was particularly important.

The discussion was at times quite vigorous, as noted in the closing statement of the first assembly: “Passion and charisms are not lacking in the community of believers.”

The drafting committee was tasked with turning the first assembly proposals of small groups and individuals into motions to be voted on at the second assembly. The final version of the Motions Framework was released in May.

How will the second assembly work?

The second assembly opens with Mass at the Shrine of St. Mary MacKillop in North Sydney on July 3. The closing mass will take place on July 9.

Each day, the 277 members will gather in St. Mary’s Cathedral College Hall to debate and vote on each of the framework’s motions.

All non-bishop members get a non-binding advisory vote on motions, which are passed by a two-thirds majority. An approved motion is then sent back to the bishops for a deciding vote the following morning, also by a two-thirds majority. The final decrees of the Plenary Council will be sent to Rome for review and approval before being published.

Who participates in the Plenary Council?

The President of the Plenary Council is Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, President of the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The vice-president is Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst.

Each diocese has appointed members to represent it on the Plenary Council. There are also steering committee support staff, theological advisors, canon lawyers and others to support the work of the plenary.

Members of Catholic Religious Australia, church seminaries and universities, Catholic agencies like St. Vincent de Paul and representatives from Eastern Catholic churches and church movements are in attendance.

What are the problems ?

The framework of motions has approximately 30 motions, the full text of which is available on the Plenary Council website,

Key issues include apologies for victims of child abuse; advancement of women; moves to further incorporate First Nations Catholics into church life and to endorse the Uluru Heart Statement; and an awareness of the need for ecological conversion.

Other motions propose introducing a “ministry of preaching” for lay people at Mass, increasing the use of the communal “third rite” of reconciliation and establishing new governance structures.

What does Synodality mean?

The Plenary Council is taking place alongside a change of direction in the Church, driven by Pope Francis, in preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops on synodality in Rome.

The term synodality comes from the Greek words meaning “to walk together” and signals the shift from a “descending” church to one in which laity and clergy are co-responsible.

Listening, dialogue, attention to the “signs of the times”, spiritual discernment and openness to those on the margins are some of the characteristics of the synodal approach.


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