By Vatican News Service
The Catholic Church of Australia has identified three priorities the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference must pursue: Formation, Becoming More Missionary and Promoting Collegiality. The priorities emerged from the ACBC Plenary Assembly, held virtually from 6-13 May due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Formation, mission, collegiality
With regard to formation, the Bishops stressed that “formation is for all the baptised and is life-long. It forms faith, shapes discipleship, deepens spirituality, enhances understanding, increases knowledge, effects conversion, builds Church community, fosters co-responsibility for the Church’s mission and equips Catholics for service.” For this reason, the Bishops say, “Formation needs to be specifically tailored for particular vocations and ministries within the Church community.”
The priority of becoming more missionary stems from Pope Francis’ dream of a “missionary impulse capable of transforming everything,” from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium gaudium. The Bishops acknowledge how easy it is for the Church to become “inward-looking and self-referential.” A “missionary impulse,” on the other hand, “impels the Bishops to present and promote Christ’s teachings in ways that are life-giving and appealing.” Such a missionary impulse, the note continues, also involves “offering society a new vision of what it can become – a vision centred in Jesus and the way of living He has shown us: acting humbly, seeking justice, speaking truth, offering healing and leading by service.”
Finally, for the promotion of collegiality, the Conference recalls that “all Catholic Bishops belong to the College of Bishops.” So, although much of their ministry is exercised in their own Dioceses, they nonetheless “also share national responsibilities.” The Bishops state that their experience “of the fruits of gathering for prayer and retreat, of engaging in shared reflection and discernment of significant issues, of journeying together towards the forthcoming Plenary Council and of supporting each other has heightened their sense of collegiality and affirmed its value, both for the Bishops themselves and also for the Church in Australia.” The Conference, therefore, intends to “foster the collegiality of the Bishops, not as an end in itself, but as a means to more fruitful ministry and service in the Church’s life and mission.”
The Plenary Assembly
At their Plenary Assembly, the Bishops sent a message to Pope Francis, which opened with a reflection on the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia and the rest of the world. The message highlighted “reasons for the Church in Australia to be thankful,” including progress made towards the upcoming Fifth Plenary Council, and the 200th anniversary of Catholic schooling in Australia.
They also outlined “progress in safeguarding and professional standards,” including the creation of a new safeguarding body and the introduction of a “National Response Protocol, which offers a framework for Catholic entities to respond consistently to people raising concerns or allegations of sexual abuse.
During their meeting, the Bishops reflected on preparations for the fifth Council of the Australian Catholic Church, which has been postponed due to the pandemic; it is now scheduled for October 2021 and July 2022. The event represents the most important national meeting since the last Plenary Council, convened in 1937: the Australian Catholic community, they said, is called to discuss and reflect on the future of the Church's evangelizing mission in the country, especially in the face of the challenges of the contemporary era, including that of the protection of minors.
Other topics examined by the ACBC Plenary include the need for a new catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, especially in view of legislative attacks on the seal of the confessional; the new ministry of catechist, instituted by Pope Francis on May 10 with the Motu proprio Antiquum ministerium; as well as vigilance, when necessary or possible, for priests removed from their ministry, as well as financial support for them. The Bishops also reflected on the work of Catholic schools, which in 2021 will celebrate 200 years of service in Australia; and on interreligious dialogue. The Bishops noted that during the pandemic, “many religious leaders have been working closely during the pandemic, including in advocating for fair treatment of places of worship when restrictions are imposed on public gatherings when there is community transmission.”
The Australian Bishops expressed serious concern over the desecration of Christian and cultural sites during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, attacks which they say “deserve the strongest censure of the international community.”
The ACBC also announced the publication of a statement on social justice for the month of August, entitled, “The cry of the earth, the cry of the poor.” Regarding indigenous peoples, the Bishops asked the national government to hold a referendum as soon as possible to have an indigenous voice in Parliament to advise the government on relevant laws, policies and programs.
Finally, the Bishops welcomed the Australian Catholic Cursillo Movement's request to be recognized as a “private association of Christ's faithful,” while insisting they be required to commit to “national standards for the protection of minors.”