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Australia: Second Plenary Council Assembly kicks off in Sydney

The Church in Australia holds the second and final assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council to reflect on the proposals that emerged from its first assembly in October 2021.

By Vatican News staff reporter

The Fifth Plenary Council of Australia is reaching its final stage this week with its second assembly in Sydney running from 4-8 July.

A four-year process

The Council, which is the most important national Catholic gathering in the country since 1937, was convened by the local bishops in 2016 with the aim of renewing the life and mission of the Church in Australia, heeding Pope Francis’ invitation to dialogue with society, in the light of the significant changes that have taken place over the past decades, and also of the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in the Church.

The preparation process began in 2018, with the launch of “Dialogue and Listening” meetings involving in, a synodal manner, bishops, priests, religious and laypeople, to give a picture of the reality of the Church in Australia today, but also of the concerns and aspirations of Australian Catholics. It was followed in 2019 by a second phase of "Listening and discernment", to identify the issues to be included in the Council's Agenda which has identified six thematic areas, including conversion, prayer, formation, governance, structures and institutions.

Themes discussed

These themes were discussed by a first Assembly which had to be postponed and was subsequently held online due, to the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2021. Delegates listened to victims and survivors of abuse in the Church recalling the “great wounds and failures of the Church and the continuing need to discern pathways of true healing and renewal”.

They also heard from Aboriginal peoples, reaffirming the need for reconciliation with Australian Indigenous communities, as well as the need for justice and for the healing of the land through an ‘integral ecology'. 

In responding to the questions on the Agenda, the Council Members considered ways of living as Church today, focusing on what it can offer the world on the one hand, and on how the world can inform the ways and structures of the Church, on the other. They reflected on questions of leadership and governance in light of Pope Francis’ call for the Church to be more synodal.

A key theme of the Assembly was missionary discipleship as well as the call to “go out” to the margins of society. Participants discussed how a missionary Church might connect with those who feel distant from the community of faith.  Another highlight of the Assembly was the “call to conversion and fidelity”, as well as to “imagination and renewal”. A recurring theme was also the need for ongoing processes of “ecclesial listening” which can form and inform how the Church lives out its mission today.

Over 30 Motions

In this second session in Sydney,  the 277 Council Members will discuss and vote over 30 Motions contained in a Framework document published early in June resulting from the proposals that emerged in the first assembly.

The gathering was officially launched on Sunday with a 'Welcome to Country' ceremony that included an apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nation peoples.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB opening the session

At the Council’s opening session introduced on Monday morning by its president, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB,  delegates were invited to carry “a deep consciousness of who we are” as the People of God, called to discipleship in the Australian context.

In his address, the prelate acknowledged the failure of the Church to live up to this calling.

“This week we will acknowledge again, in sorrow and in shame, the damage our failures have caused in the lives of many people.”

The challenge ahead means ensuring “that when people engage with the Church they experience healing, hope and safety: that they experience the compassion and mercy of God”, he said.  

Guided by the Holy Spirit

Looking ahead to the deliberations, Archbishop Costelloe also admitted that things may not turn out as people planned.

[ None of us is perfect and none of us I suspect is free from the tendency to presume that the way we see things must be right and must be God’s way and that therefore those who see things differently must be mistaken or not as wise and full of insight as we are. It is this reality of our giftedness and our frailty, which helps us understand why we must speak boldly, and listen humbly. ]

However “we should not doubt that the Spirit, in spite of our weakness and frailty, has responded to our prayer over the course of our journey so far”, he said. “It is the Holy Spirit" who will take the Council to a “new place” by the end of the week, and “into a future in which, through God’s grace, we can be the signs and bearers of God’s love for all people that the Lord is calling us, as his Church, to be".  

In his address, Archbishop Costelloe also welcomed those attending the Council as observers,  including Archbishop Charles Balvo, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia; Cardinal Charles Bo SDB, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar; Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand; and Rev. John Gilmore, President of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

04 July 2022, 15:17