Australia’s plenary council completes first phase

Australia’s Catholic Church has completed the first phase of plans for the Plenary Council scheduled for 2020-2021.

Plenary Councils are rare, with only two held during the past 130 years or so – one in the Philippines and the other in Poland.

Lay-people’s opinions have been sought regarding the topics to be debated at the Council and they will be able to vote on the Council’s recommendations.

A focus question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” triggered a wave of responses among Australian Catholics and some of the church’s senior clerics, Lana Turvey-Collins, facilitator for Plenary Council 2020, says.

When the 10-month “listening and dialogue” process finished earlier this month, the meeting’s organisers had more than 20,000 submissions from over 75,000 Australian Catholics.

The Council was announced in 2017, during the five-year Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Some of the inquiry’s findings related to the Church’s administration and the formation of clergy. They included a recommendation that the seal of confession be removed for abuse cases.

Although the notion of a plenary council meeting was mooted at the Royal Commission, it had been on the horizon for some time, Turvey-Collins says.

“Around the start of the new millennium, the Australian bishops started discussing the possibility of some sort of national gathering.”

She says initially the bishops were aiming to take up the challenge St. John Paul II issued in his apostolic letter ‘Novo Millennio Ineunte.'”

The letter said the new millennium was the perfect opportunity for every church, nationally and on a diocesan level, to reflect on the faith and determine what pastoral actions to take in order to make Christ known and loved in today’s world.

Jack de Groot, CEO of St Vincent de Paul in New South Wales and chairman of the Implementation Advisory Group to Australian bishops and religious on sex abuse, says the plenary council needs lay people’s votes.

[It’s] “only going to have credibility if laypeople get to vote on its recommendation – and that they have at least half the vote.

“There are still some bishops who have a default setting to the way things were, and that needs to change,” he says.

“There are five million baptised Catholics in Australia and 800,000 kids in Catholic schools around the country; they need to be given permission to speak, and they need to get some power with this voice.”

Turvey-Collins says final numbers of people attending the council are yet to be determined, but it is expected there will be approximately 300 delegates.


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