By Tony Giglia, Archdiocesan Co-ordinator, Plenary Council
So, what will be discussed at the 2020 Plenary Council? The honest answer to this question is that we do not know.
This is perhaps most unsatisfactory for those who like definitive responses to their questions.
That is, however, just how the Catholic Bishops of Australia have designed the process.
When Archbishop Coleridge went to Rome to put the case on the behalf of the Bishops and for the celebration of the Plenary Council, he was asked what the agenda for the Plenary Council would be.
His response was, that there is no agenda, and that it would come from the voice of the people.
In an age of royal commissions and parliamentary enquiries with their clearly defined but often restricted terms of reference, this seems like an unusual approach to adopt towards an undertaking that has not occurred in Australia since 1937.
From the beginning of the Plenary Council process, we have been encouraged to speak boldly and to listen to one another.
By the end of November 2018, there had been approximately 32, 000 contributions to the Plenary Council listening and dialogue process.
It will come as no surprise, that there have been a wide range of topics contributed.
Some topics relate to Church structures, some to the presence of the Church in the community while others relate to the involvement of people in various church enterprises.
“… we are all going to need courage and humility and trust.”
It is perhaps important to remember that these topics have been contributed largely from people sharing their stories in the listening and dialogue sessions and then lodging their submissions.
One of the topics to emerge is what the priesthood might look like in the future including reference to married priests.
The issue of a greater role for women in positions of leadership and responsibility in the Church has also emerged.
The longer the listening and dialogue process has continued, however, the more attention has turned to issues such as rebuilding credibility and trust in the Church, calling for the Church to have a stronger voice in the media and on social and justice issues.
The emergence of topics such as fostering greater inclusivity and ministering to migrants, youth and indigenous groups points to a greater focus on people rather than structures.
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, both Chairman and President for the Plenary Council 2020, has said that “Listening can sometimes be a difficult or confronting thing.
Sometimes when we listen really carefully, we hear things that surprise us or even unsettle us.
We might have some of our strongly held views challenged or even turned upside down. So we are all going to need courage and humility and trust.”
The Plenary Council has the capacity to propose legislation for the way the Catholic Church in Australia will operate into the future. Perhaps those with the greatest challenge of all in this journey are our Bishops as they listen and discern what is in the hearts and minds of those who are making their submissions.
We need to keep them in our prayers and support them in every possible way.
The listening and dialogue process is the first part of the first part of the journey. In the months ahead, there will be further opportunities to contribute to discussions on the themes that emerge from the data analysis being undertaken by the National Pastoral Research Office and to comment on the papers that are prepared as a result.
From pages 10 & 11 of Issue 17: ‘Plenary 2020: A whole Church entering into mission, dialogue and discernment’ of The Record Magazine