The postponement of the first assembly of the Plenary Council by 12 months might have seemed like a slowing down of the Council journey, but lots of work continues to proceed.
Groups around the country are unpacking the six discernment papers that were published at Pentecost. One diocese is making that task easier with the provision of podcasts of the papers' text. The group preparing the instrumentum laboris -- or working document -- for the Council is also hard at work, leaning on the voices captured so far as well as wisdom from within and beyond the Church. New resources are also being developed to support the ongoing engagement of people across the country.
Read on for more information about those and other matters related to the Plenary Council.
New additions to the Plenary Council family
by Peter Gates
It is a pleasure to greet you in this edition of PlenaryPost. It is also a pleasure to share with you the great news that Lana is now on maternity leave after the recent birth of her beautiful daughter. As you probably know, I have been a member of the Facilitation Team since its beginnings and happily take this opportunity of contributing to PlenaryPost, our main communications tool.
Since the last Post we have gone from easing out of the many COVID-related restrictions to unfortunately experiencing a second wave of COVID infections and the subsequent return to tighter restrictions and renewed lockdowns in Victoria. Even though the infections are concentrated in the southeast of Australia, the reality is experienced by all across the country in one form or another.
In speaking with many people around Australia there is a constant thread of thoughtfulness and mindfulness in the conversations of not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual, effects of this pandemic. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness expressed by so many are very much the qualities and the way of the process for the Plenary Council. They are alert and attentive to each other. In being so, we get to the heart of what is important for people and, dare I say, for God.
As Lana mentioned in the last PlenaryPost, the loss of Noel Connolly -- friend, mentor, wisdom, elder and part of the Facilitation Team -- is much felt. We will miss him and yet we carry with us his faith and belief in God, in people and in the Plenary Council. (I also like the idea that in the mystery of heaven we have this key advocate on the inside who can work very closely with the Holy Spirit in a way you and I cannot).
However, we are fortunate that Sr Marion Gambin, a Sister of St Joseph and someone who has already been keenly involved with the Plenary Council as a member of the Plenary Council Steering Committee, has generously taken on a role in the Facilitation Team to help and assist with the work of preparation in the coming months. Marion and I will share this opportunity of contributing to PlenaryPost over the coming months.
At this time, the instrumentum laboris, the working document for the Plenary Council, is being discerned and developed. This is being done by a small team working closely with the six discernment papers together with other material that has been submitted to the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council and the Facilitation Team. From this document and woven with all the listening, dialogue, discernment and prayer over recent years will emerge the agenda for the Plenary Council.
Please know the process of listening to what the Spirit is saying doesn't have an end point with the instrumentum laboris. We are taking part in a journey of discernment that will continue to the Plenary Council assemblies and beyond. Hopefully, and importantly, the preparation of the instrumentum laboris will be a graced and inspired moment within this journey.
We are working on new resources and activities that will start to come online and be available from early August. We invite you to continue getting together for prayerful discernment with your local community. Read one of the six thematic discernment papers or listen to the new audio recordings of the discernment papers. Use the new reflection session to dialogue and respond to the discernment papers. Consider the updated timeline/journey for the Plenary Council. Explore the new discernment resources. Those new resources will be posted to the Plenary Council website in the coming weeks and shared through next month's PlenaryPost.
And please continue to be prayerful and gracious as we journey together as a people contemplating our companion, Jesus, and humbly listening for what the Spirit is saying.
Much peace to you, Peter
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…
What will be on the agenda for the Plenary Council?
The agenda for the Plenary Council will be developed over the months leading up to the first assembly in October 2021 and in response to the fruits of discernment. At Pentecost 2020, discernment papers were prepared for each of the six national themes for discernment, drawing upon the submissions during the Listening and Dialogue phase, Church teaching and tradition, Scripture and additional wisdom from inside and beyond the Church. The discernment papers and the subsequent instrumentum laboris (working document) will be the foundation for the agenda for the first assembly of the Plenary Council.
Can synodality renew a struggling Church? by Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, California
Excerpts from the November 2019 MacTaggart Lecture
Synodality is an ancient concept in the life of the Church which has been given new emphasis and vitality through the teachings of Pope Francis.
Fundamental to these teachings is the principle that the whole people of God must take part in the process of discernment that guides the Church in its sacred mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rooting the entire process of synodality in the baptismal call of all believers, Francis holds that "all of the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelisation that would be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients."
Quite bluntly, the Holy Father states, "the flock has an instinctive ability to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to the Church". Thus, an authentic process of synodality must never be an elite process, for it represents the action of the whole people of God.
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB says the instrumentum laboris (or working document) for the Council will provide a constant reminder of the need for deep and ongoing discernment of God's will for the Church.
Work has commenced on the document's preparation, drawing on the first two preparatory phases -- Listening and Dialogue and Listening and Discernment -- but also Church teaching and tradition, Scripture and other sources from within and beyond the Church.
Archbishop Costelloe is one of four members of the instrumentum laboris writing group. The other members are: Daniel Ang, who has served on the Plenary Council's executive committee since 2016; Trudy Dantis, the director of the National Centre for Pastoral Research; and Fr Kevin Lenehan, the master of the Catholic Theological College in Melbourne.
Parish profiles offer helpful insights to communities
For those looking to understand local Church communities, data about the demographic makeup of those communities is a useful tool when creating and implementing plans and priorities.
The National Centre for Pastoral Research recently released almost 1,300 Parish Social Profiles, which draw on data captured in the 2016 Australian Census and examine the Catholic population within parish boundaries.
Trudy Dantis, the director of the National Centre for Pastoral Research, said the reports provide statistics on a range of demographic measures, including age, sex and country of birth, that present the evolving nature of Catholic parishes.
They also contain important information on the language people speak at home, the makeup of their families and households, their income levels, their occupation, and employment status. Data on educational background and attendance at educational institutions are also included.
The document "highlights the changing nature of parish life from it being no longer 'the primary gathering place and social centre' for people as it once was, to a redefinition of parish as one that is not defined by its geographical territory alone", Mrs Morley said.
"I think that many parishes are still coming to terms with what this means for their life as a community of faith."
Daniel Ang, the director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, told The Catholic Weekly that the new Vatican document "underscores any structural renewal within our dioceses must be underpinned and at the service of spiritual renewal, to render our parishes ever more conducive to the encounter with Christ that it serves and makes present".
Deacon Peter Pellicaan, the director of Evangelisation Brisbane, said the Holy See demonstrates through the document that it "believes that renewal will not come from the abandoning of existing structures but rather from the personal encounter with Jesus that transforms the lives of the faithful and imbues them with faith, hope and love".
"It is this encounter that makes the Church look, feel and sound more like Jesus – and that's a Church that is attractive, life-giving and can't help but be relevant," Deacon Pellicaan told The Catholic Leader.
Governance review 'integral part' of Council journey
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge says a review of diocesan and parish governance will be an important document in the life of the Plenary Council.
A review of Church governance was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Church's Implementation Advisory Group oversaw the preparation of the review, which was presented to the Bishops Conference in May. The final version of the report will be released in August, at which time people will be invited to provide feedback to their local bishop.
"The Conference sees the report as an integral part of the Plenary Council journey, which is why it has been made available to those preparing the Council's instrumentum laboris (working document) and deciding the agenda," Archbishop Coleridge wrote.
"It will be up to the Plenary Council to determine what response the Church will make to the report as a whole; and given that the Council is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit who will have the final say."
Feast of St Mary MacKillop: The Church will celebrate the feast of Australia's first saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, on August 8. Born in Melbourne, Mary went on to found the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and among her many focus areas was the education of girls. The Josephites have run hundreds of schools across Australia and New Zealand over the past 150 years. Mary was canonised on October 17, 2010, with thousands of Australians in Rome for the ceremony. Click here to learn more about St Mary MacKillop.
National Catholic Men's Gathering: The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference was set to hold its inaugural National Catholic Men's Gathering in July, but postponed the event in April and planned to hold the gathering in July 2021. Some aspects of the event will now proceed using digital technology, with a range of resources to be published on August 15, the Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption. Click here to find out more.
Social Justice Sunday: The Catholic Church in Australia will mark Social Justice Sunday on August 30. The tradition of publishing an annual statement on a critical matter facing the Church and the nation dates back to the 1940s. This year, the statement focuses on mental health -- an important issue that has taken on new focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement will be released early next month, in anticipation of Social Justice Sunday. Find out more here.