Plenary Council – Some Challenges
Due to COVID-19, the Plenary Council will now take place in Adelaide on October 2021 and Sydney in July 2022. May I offer four challenges and reflections.
- A JOURNEY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The Plenary Council is a work of the Holy Spirit. This means we journey together by way of silence, listening and patient discernment.
This is the most important foundation we must all share. Already this journey has taken us over two years. We need to assess how we have fared in this challenge. I would say we have much room for improvement.
- CONFUSION OVER THE WORD “GOVERNANCE”.
The key word “governance” requires greater definition.
It has a theological meaning; it is a derivative of our baptism whereby we share in the mission of Christ as Priest (sanctifying), Prophet (teaching) and King (governing).
It also has a corporate meaning. Good governance is anchored in administrative processes and protocols alongside essential words like “transparency” and “accountability”.
The Catholic Church has much to learn from this corporate meaning.
- THE CHANGE IN CATHOLIC DEMOGRAPHICS.
The recently deceased and loved member of the Plenary Council Facilitation Team, Columban priest Fr Noel Connolly, wrote: “By 2050, 80 per cent of Catholics (globally) will live in or trace their origins to the Global South.
“The typical Christian will soon be a poor coloured woman from a shantytown in Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Manila or some other large city in the majority world …
“Forty nine per cent of all Australians are born overseas or have a parent born overseas.”
We are challenged to do more to engage our huge vibrant Catholic migrant and youth communities.
- TO AGREE ON EVANGELISATION AS THE KEY.
Surely we all agree evangelisation is the key pastoral paradigm of the Plenary Council.
Discernment is still required as to how this paradigm is to engage practically our complex Australian evolving culture and those on the periphery of life, especially our First Australians.
Governance in its various forms provides a window through which many people are able to view the church in the light of their perception of whether the church holds to a meaningful and moral force for good. Good Governance is the foundation on which Christian outreach finds its public explanation of what the church is and what it stands for. It gives substance to the teaching and values of our church and it defines the leadership image of the church as a whole. It delivers, or at least it should without “fear of favour” represent the real meaning of the teaching of Christ.
Good governance, in all its forms, must be transparent and must be respected for its capacity to incorporate and deliver against the realities that allow the church to properly express the truths and the responsibilities and the gifts that it treasures as the church of Christ.
The church does need to reflect on how our human response has tended to compromise on some of these issues and has failed, in part, to identify with the need for us to provide a very real public presence as an evangelical force informed by the Holy Spirit.
Thank you, Archbishop, for your frank appraisal of the current situation in preparing for the Plenary Council. As you have noted, there is a long way to go yet – but with the right Spirit (the Holy One!) we will get there. Your suggestion that we continue our journey by silence, listening and patient discernment, however, is somewhat baffling: if we all maintain silence, what exactly will we be listening too and what will we patiently discern? I think that we might already have been silent for too long and perhaps we should use the extra time now available because of the postponement and perhaps look at a second round of consultations with the whole Australian church. The first round struck me as rather disappointing as far as the numbers were concerned.
You write, Archbishop Christopher: “Surely we all agree evangelisation is the key pastoral paradigm of the Plenary Council.”
I certainly agree that evangelisation is a critical priority of the Plenary Council but the facts are that with Australian Catholics today there are the many who have left the Church in sadness; and of those who remain there are two major groups – conservatives and those who seek reform.
Garry Nolan [The Swag, Vol. 28 No. 2 | Winter 2020] writes: ‘The progressives seek renewal in the Church and to bring Jesus back into central focus. They see themselves as preserving the early teachings of the Church by going back to a pre-Emperor Constantine era, a presoldier/male model of church, a premonarchist style institution. To establish proper governance, leadership, accountability and transparency standards in our Church. This group represents somewhere in the order of 95% of Australian Catholics.”
Even if Garry’s estimate of those want reform is too high – say it is more like 60% – the question remains: why are the voices of Catholics who seek reform in the Church so unrepresented in diocesan Catholic media, despite inclusive titles of diocesan publications such as “Catholic Voice” and “Together.”
Evangelisation is the proclamation of Christ and his Gospel. One way Australian Catholic Bishops can support evangelisation is to actively promote a full spectrum of the views of Catholics in publications such as ‘Catholic Voice’ demonstrating that the Church is truly open to conversion, renewal and reform – a major theme of the Plenary Council.