‘Learning to be synodal is different from learning to be democratic’
New bishop Shane Mackinlay wasn’t completely surprised when he got the call, but he concedes the lead-up to his ordination was overwhelming.
As one of seven recently ordained bishops taking part in an inaugural seminar in Canberra this week, he recalls many people had said over time, “oh, you’ll be a bishop one day”.
While the week leading up to his ordination was “quite overwhelming”, the new Bishop of Sandhurst in Victoria describes the ceremony as enormously significant.
“By the end of the ceremony, I felt like the Bishop of the Diocese,” he said.
“I’d been recognised and placed and prayed for. With so many bishops in attendance, it seemed that the wider church had placed me in this position, and the Diocese had accepted and welcomed me.
“It was then a matter of learning how to be bishop and what that meant, but it didn’t feel overwhelming in the same way as before.
“I felt confident that this was where I was meant to be, and it was OK. Not every day since has felt that way entirely, but that’s true as a priest and any other positions I’ve held. So the ceremony confirmed my sense of vocation and calling to be a bishop.”
He counts himself blessed to have had more than 30 bishops attend his ordination, as it was before COVID restrictions began.
One of his experiences that is new is “being part of the Church, more broadly; for example, on a national level with the bishops conference, and an international level through involvement in an international ecumenical dialogue for the Catholic Church.”
Bishop Mackinlay is also one of two Australian bishops who will attend the International Synod on Synodality in Rome next year. He believes that the international Church will follow the Australian Plenary Council process with great interest.
“Learning to be synodal is different from learning to be democratic,” he says.
“It’s not about whoever gets 51% wins. It’s about reflecting together on who we are and where we’ve been and what we are being called to – explicitly in the context of prayer and in response to the scriptures. And that’s a wonderful process for us to learn and to train ourselves in.
“Our focus should not only be on how we engage on a national or international level, but how do we be synodal on a parish and diocese level. How do we make that part of everything we do?”
This week’s seminar for recently ordained bishops was the result of an external review of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, with bishops backing a proposal put forward in 2018.
Sessions over four days included pastoral governance, professional standards and safeguarding, canon law, synodality and media engagement.