By Richard Marsden
Pope Francis has given his approval for the Catholic Church in Australia to hold its first Plenary Council – the most significant national ecclesiastical gathering – in more than 80 years.
The Council in 2020 will address the way forward for the Church in Australia in light of the challenges it faces in contemporary society.
Discernment on the way ahead
Delegates from the 34 “local churches” of Australia will gather across two sessions in 2020 and 2021 to enable deeper discernment, further learning, and dialogue. The process begins at Pentecost 2018 and will help form the agenda for the Council.
In a statement by the Australian Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, chair of the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, said the gathering “will be a unique opportunity for people to come together and listen to God in all the ways God speaks to us, and in particular by listening to one another as together we discern what God is asking of us at this time – a time when the Church in Australia is facing significant challenges.”
He added: “We sincerely hope the preparation and celebration of the Plenary Council is a time when all parts of the Church listen to and dialogue with one another as we explore together how we might answer the question: ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia?’”
“Seize the opportunity”
In approving the Plenary Council, Pope Francis also endorsed the bishops’ nomination of Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth as the president of the Plenary Council. The Archbishop said: “I encourage all Catholics, whether devout or disillusioned, fervent or frustrated, to seize this opportunity to speak what is on their minds and in their hearts.”
A series of planning meetings has already taken place in which faith-filled people across the country have shared their hopes for the Church.
The bishops of Australia have launched a website for the Plenary Council to help people better understand how they can participate in the discussion process. The website can be found at plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au.
Decisions made at the Plenary Council will become binding for the Catholic Church in Australia, subject to the approval of the Holy See.