As many of you will know, the 2nd Assembly of the 5th Australian Plenary Council was completed on 9th July after 4 years of prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment. The thousands of submissions received guided the bishops, priests, religious and lay people who made up the 277 Plenary Council members in deep discernment during the 1st Assembly last year as they tried to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit emerging from the multiplicity of voices being heard.
In the 2nd Assembly members voted on over 35 motions drafted from further processes of discernment by members. The majority of members were able to take part in a consultative vote, while the 47 bishops and ‘ordinaries’ present then took part in a deliberative vote on the motions. The motions that received the approval of two-thirds of the eligible and present voters in both the consultative and the deliberative votes were confirmed as decrees of the Plenary Council, although they must be sent to Rome by the Australian bishops for approval and promulgation. This process will take between 6-12 months.
A brief outline of the range of motions approved by the Plenary Council follows and includes:
- Motions to ensure that the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the life of the Church is recognised and joyfully received by others within the Church; (e.g., by ensuring the cross-cultural competency of clergy, religious, lay workers; formation for ATSI; using Aboriginal spiritual symbols and rituals where appropriate in liturgical contexts); and enhancing the place of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the life of our Church and in Australian political life).
- Although initially and contentiously rejected, motions that enhance the role of women in the Church and “witness clearly to the equal dignity of women and men,” and overcome “assumptions, culture, practices, and language that lead to inequality.”; and which commit to “supporting, with appropriate formation and recognition, new opportunities for women to participate in ministries that engage with the most important aspects of diocesan and parish life”; (e.g., policies to ensure that women’s voices are heard and women are appropriately represented in decision-making structures at all levels of Church governance; if the Vatican approves a female diaconate, the Australian bishops commit to examining how best to implement it in our context).
- Motions that commit the Church in Australia to being centred on Christ, with a baptismal identity and journeying on a path of missionary discipleship; (e.g., committing to development of resources, formation and education programs in hospitality, encounter, dialogue and more merciful responses to those in need; ensuring all Church communities develop a culture of inclusion; that they proclaim the Gospel through engagement in the public arena and in debate on marriage, sexuality, social and ecological justice action.)
- Motions offering an unreserved apology to victims and survivors of abuse, their families and communities, expressing profound sorrow that children, young people and adults have been abused by clergy, religious and lay workers in the Church and that religious leaders failed to act to prevent or respond to abuse; (e.g.,The Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia and the Association of Ministerial Public Juridic Persons, supported by appropriate experts, study, acknowledge and address systemic factors which have facilitated abuse within the Church).
- Motions that affirm the fundamental importance of a sacramental, joyful and spiritually rich prayer life that is transformed, transforming and inclusive; (e.g., by promoting people’s fully conscious and active participation in the Church’s liturgy and sacraments, as well as spiritual nourishment through other forms of prayer; renewing liturgical catechesis and formation to promote the “exercise of and formation for the ministries of Lector, Acolyte, and Catechist” and to develop a national framework for formation in Catholic Social Teaching).
- Motions for wider use of general absolution instead of individual confession; and to prepare a new English translation of the Roman Missal (one that is faithful to the original text and sensitive to the call for language that communicates clearly and includes all in the assembly).
- Motions that commit the Church in Australia to developing and committing to a culture of life-long faith formation; (e.g., by support for those who minister to the young; faith formation within and specifically for families).
- Motions that governance in the Catholic Church should be exercised in a synodal manner, with the appropriate participation of all the baptised; (e.g., via participation in a Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Diocesan Finance Council, the Diocesan Curia, various boards and governance bodies; and a Diocesan Synod – to be held by each diocese every 5 years.)
- Motions that recognises the sacred duty to care for and protect the Earth as a common home for all God’s creatures, including the generations to come; (e.g., by encouraging all Catholic people, families, parishes, dioceses, eparchies, religious institutes, educational institutions, and other Catholic organisations to accept Pope Francis’ invitation to join the Laudato Si’ Action Platform and either develop Laudato Si’ Action Plans, or participate in existing Laudato Si’ Action Plans, as a vehicle for their ecological conversion; and promoteing initiatives in Church and society which defend human life from conception to natural death, especially those who are most vulnerable).
- Motions to hold a 5-year review to monitor how the resolutions are put into practice. There will be interim reports in 2023 and 2025, and a final one in 2027.
- The Assembly rejected a motion seeking to permit appropriately qualified lay people to preach in the Eucharistic assembly under the oversight of the local ordinary.
Those who would like more information about the motions, voting and decrees that will be sent to Rome, can visit the Plenary Council website: https://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au and in particular https://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/motions-and-voting/
Notes prepared by Sandy Lynch, member of the Plenary Council Periti (advisory group).