As Catholic Church in Australia ends plenary council, members hope for lasting impact – Catholic World Report
Denver Newsroom, July 12, 2022 / 10:09 a.m. (CNA).
The Catholic Church in Australia has concluded its Fifth Plenary Council. After months of debate and discussion about church governance and pastoral priorities, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth declared the council closed on Saturday.
“There will be no renewal of the Church if we place ourselves above Christ or push him perversely to the margins,” he said in his homily during the closing mass. in Sydney on July 9. The full council, in his words, tried to “reimagine the Church in Australia through a missionary lens”. The Archbishop encouraged members of the full council to continue to ask themselves what the Holy Spirit is saying.
The final session was held in Sydney for six days.
A plenary council is the highest formal gathering of all the particular churches in a country. It has legislative and administrative power. The laity were invited to participate in council sessions and they joined the bishops in voting on binding resolutions to be sent to the Vatican for approval.
All members signed a final declaration. Council members described the council as an expression of synodality.
“Synodality is the way of being a pilgrim Church, a Church that walks together and listens together, so that we can act together more faithfully in responding to our God-given vocation and mission,” the statements help, adding that in their deliberations “the Holy Spirit has been both a comforter and a disturber.
The members of the plenary council also confirmed the decrees of the plenary council, which all the Catholic bishops present then signed. The decrees will be sent to the Holy See after the November meeting of the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Six months after the Holy See receives this notice, officially known as the “recognitio”, the decrees will become law of the Catholic Church in Australia.
The full council formally recognized the duty to care for the Earth as a common home and to promote and defend human life from conception to natural death. He encouraged the Church to join Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si'” Platform for Action and to develop existing action plans in the spirit of the Pope’s 2015 encyclical on God’s creation and the care of the environment.
The full council supported greater use of general absolution, an alternative to individual confession typically used only in emergencies. He also endorsed an effort to research a new translation of the 2011 Roman Missal.
Rejected proposals included one to allow lay people to preach at Masses.
On July 6, more than 60 of 277 members protested the failure to pass motions on women in the Church, including the defeat of a motion to support the ordination of women as deacons if Rome is Okay. Lay members voted for the proposals, but there were not enough votes from the bishops to pass the measures.
After some controversy, the board passed a motion to reconsider proposed language on women in the Church, which was later passed in a slightly modified form.
“There has been a lot of talk about the division and the drama of the week and it might scare some and delight others,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told The Catholic Weekly. “But I think the remarkable thing is that it didn’t break the Church. It did not lead to a walkout or a schism or the establishment of an alternative assembly as we have seen at different times in history.
“Ultimately, with more prayer and reflection, we came up with a much improved chapter on the dignity and role of women,” he said.
The decrees of the council include the creation of diocesan pastoral councils across Australia, diocesan synods to be held over the next five years and wide consultation on the creation of a national synodal body for church collaboration.
The plenary council’s closing statement said members “sought to be true to their mission to listen and hear ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches'”. He acknowledged the disruptions to daily life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters and war.
Some moments of the council’s final week were “calm and harmonious,” while others were “tense and challenging,” the closing statement said, adding, “every moment was blessed; the whole week has been filled with grace, though never cheap grace. The statement hailed “listening and discernment practices” as “essential dimensions of the implementations of this plenary council.”
“They will reshape our engagement with the world, our mission of evangelism and our works of service in a rapidly changing environment,” the statement said, adding that “the work has only just begun.”
Implementation will be reviewed by the Commission of Bishops for the Plenary Council. Interim reports will be published in 2023 and 2025, with a final review report expected in 2027.
Archbishop Fisher spoke about the achievements of the full council and any shortcomings in his remarks to The Catholic Weekly.
“There was direct engagement with some of the really ‘difficult’ issues, like Indigenous issues, child sexual abuse and the place of women in the Church,” he said. “These discussions were sometimes very emotional and potentially very confrontational. Yet, in the end, there was a high level of agreement on most of them.
“It is much better for these issues to be addressed directly rather than presenting a sort of false unity by avoiding the difficult questions,” the Archbishop continued.
He praised the assembly’s work in offering “some good reflections on liturgy, marriage catechumenate, youth ministry, formation programs for lay leaders, including those in rural and remote areas, and management of the earth”. He also welcomed his appreciation for the place of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia.
However, Fisher worried that there wasn’t enough content dedicated to “the missionary impulse” and “a passion to bring people to Christ, to conversion, and to new life in Him.” He said there was too little attention given to people on the margins and that there was “no practical proposal” to promote religious freedom at a time when it is “clearly under threat”.
He feared that “ordinary” priests and lay Catholics, including those born abroad, were underrepresented in the assembly, which could have had a distorting effect on the debates.
Still, he said, most of the proposals had “a very high acceptance rate among lay members and pastors.”
“All will find good things in the final decrees when they come out, and people should look for them, look for inspiration and encouragement in their own lives of missionary discipleship,” Fisher said.
People will also find gaps and topics they think should have been addressed, Fisher said. He wondered why so little attention was paid to lay people, mothers, consecrated nuns or “Catholics whose main vocation is in the world”.
“There is very little that speaks of the crisis of vocations to marriage and parenthood, and priestly and religious life,” he added.
Although there is a whole chapter on the importance of the liturgy, in particular the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, Fisher said, he had wanted to see “positive proposals” on how the Church can guarantee the priests who can celebrate these sacraments.
In late 2021, Fisher said he hoped the council would focus on priorities such as responding to a culture of secularism and declining religious practice.
Last year he told the Catholic Weekly that currently only 1 in 10 Catholics in Australia regularly attend Mass. The Church in Australia is experiencing a vocation crisis, not only to the priesthood, but also to marriage and religious life.
In addition to a culture of secularism, the Church continues to respond to sexual abuse scandals. A 2017 royal commission report found that the Catholic Church and other institutions in the country have shown serious shortcomings for decades in protecting children from abuse.
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