POPE Francis has given his approval for the Catholic Church in Australia to hold its first plenary council – the most significant national church gathering – in more than 80 years.
“The Australian bishops are deeply grateful to Pope Francis for affirming the decision and we ask all people to join in prayer as we embark on this journey together as God’s people in Australia,” Brisbane Archbishop and chair of the Bishops’ Commission for the Plenary Council Mark Coleridge said.
Plenary Council 2020 will be only the fifth plenary council in Australian history, and the first to feature women and lay people.
Earlier events in 1885, 1895 and 1905 and 1937, were exclusively male gatherings, with only bishops, theologians and superiors of religious orders attending.
“The council 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,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“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?’”
Described as a three-year journey “of listening to God by listening to one another”, the intent of Plenary Council 2020 will be to discuss and legislate on a wide range of issues, including matters of faith, morals and discipline.
Cultural reform of the Church is likely to feature prominently.
“This is no time for the Church to be putting up signs that say ‘business as usual’,” Archbishop Coleridge told The Catholic Leader when he announced the plenary council more than 18 months ago.
“If we needed any proof, then the Royal Commission has shown that.”
In approving the plenary council, Pope Francis also endorsed the bishops’ nomination of Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe as the president of the Plenary Council 2020.
Archbishop Costelloe said he held great hope that the council would bring about a period of authentic renewal.
“This is a significant moment for the Catholic Church in Australia and I look forward to walking with the people of God as we look towards the future,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“I am honoured by the appointment as president of the plenary council and am committed to listening to the Spirit.
“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.”
Plenary council facilitator Queenslander Lana Turvey-Collins, who grew up in Beenleigh and attended Trinity College, said she was inspired by the many faith-filled people across the country who had shared their hopes for the Church with her during a series of planning meetings.
“People are both curious and passionate about how all people – particularly people who are marginalised, vulnerable or distant from the Church – can be part of preparing for the plenary council,” she said.
“The process of listening and dialogue, beginning at Pentecost 2018, will help form the agenda for the plenary council.
“It’s a chance for us all to learn to become a truly listening Church.
“All people are invited to share their story of faith, of life and of their experience of the Church.”
The website for the plenary council was launched this week and helps people better understand how they can participate in the process.
“Signing up to the e-newsletter and the plenary council social media channels is the best way to stay up-to-date with local and national activity for the plenary council,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.
Visit the plenary council website at plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au