Participation in the Plenary Council will doubtless be a learning process for us all. On this page we give a range of articles covering matters relevant to the Council. We hope that you will find them interesting and informative.
Summit Meeting "The Protection of Minors in the Church"
Faced with widespread and growing discomfort following new reports and revelations of very serious cases of sexual abuse involving members of the clergy, on September 12, 2018, at the end of one of the meetings of the Council of Cardinals it was announced that the Holy Father had decided to call a meeting in the Vatican for February 21-24, 2019. The meeting would be a broad approach to the theme ‘The Protection of Minors in the Church.
Recently the President of every Bishops' Conference around the world, arrived in Rome, to participate in this conference.
The complete program, the list of speakers with short biographies, the witness statements, the various presentations, the liturgies and the summaries are all available on the website set up for the conference. It is well worth your time and effort to spend time exploring and reading the various presentations, as this is the place you can access the actual words of the conference. Click "The Protection of Minors in the Church"
to be taken to the website.
There is obviously a huge number of articles on the internet offering different views on the conference, so here are just a few to challenge our thinking.
A Church in crisis needing attention
An excellent article presented to the NCP Conference in September 2018. Yes its long, and it deals with the major issues that need addressing in our church, but it finishes on a most positive note from 'a woman who who has a deep love for the Church and a profound admiration and tenderness for you the clergy.' We should all take Gerardine's suggestions into our hearts as we seek to support our priests.
Its not about women priests.
In May 2016, Pope Francis told the assembled membership of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) he would form a commission to study women deacons. In August that year, he named 12 scholars to The Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women. For the first time in the church's long history, an official commission was equally male and female. It provided a report for the Holy Father several months ago.
In speaking to media in late June, the current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, said it was not the place of the Commission to make a recommendation to the Holy Father.
That's up to you.
Get the facts in the article by Phyllis Zagano here
[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. She is a member of the Papal Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women. Her books include Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future (recently published in France and Canada as Des femmes diacres). A Study Guide is available for free download at https://people.hofstra.edu/Phyllis_Zagano/]
The video below on the right is the complete session given at Fordham University on Jan 15, 2019.
At this symposium on women deacons past, present, and future, two members of the Papal Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women spoke publicly for the first time. They were joined by an American woman religious who has done research on how women deacons would be received in U.S. parishes.
The video below on the left is a shorter interview given after the Symposium.
Francis' testimony: will he finally come clean on sex abuse?
The frequent -flier pope will soon face one of the biggest challenges of his pontificate.
Robert Mickens, Rome
February 1, 2019
Read the full article here
Pope Francis during a speech on July 31, 2018 at St. Peter's Square, Vatican. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP)
Late Addition: Connecticut Bishop appoints laywoman to lead parish
NEW YORK - Less than two months after serving as delegate in the Bishops Synod on Youth which called women’s leadership within the Church “a duty of justice,” Bishop Frank Caggiano has established a new leadership model in a Connecticut parish, appointing a woman to serve as parish life coordinator.
The appointment of Dr. Eleanor W. Sauers, which was announced on Sunday in a letter to parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua in Fairfield, Connecticut, grants Sauers decision-making authority over a team of priests who will be responsible for sacramental ministry.
Read the full story here.
'Knock, knock. Who's there? More than half the church!'
An Editorial at the National Catholic Reporter on Oct 25, 2018 has an interesting line on the topic of womens' place in the church, which is also worthwhile. Read it here.
Australian Bishop: respect for women is a top concern at Youth Synod
Our regional Bishop, Mark Edwards O.M.I., also hit the media in an interview with America Magaziine, when he was quoted as saying "We have a picture of what the goal looks like—the dignity of women, women feeling appreciated, their gifts being used—but how do you get there?” he asked. “Maybe the next step will show itself once we take this step.”
Women have been leading since Biblical times - they can lead again today.
Richard Clifford S.J. invites us to consider three turning pojnts in biblical history, where surprisingly, women have taken on leadership roles.
"These instances in which the Bible portrays female leadership at critical moments are not just acknowledgments that women were present or filled out the scene. In each case, they proved instrumental in moving the history of Israel forward, and what they did had an enormous influence upon subsequent events. Leadership by males proved inadequate for a new era; another kind of governance was called for, and it was done by women. Their stories illustrate vividly what Paul meant when he asked his congregation at Corinth to look around and see if they could find among themselves “the wise” and “the strong” of this world. Paul concluded, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).
It is well worth reading, and considering as a topic for the Plenary Council. Read it here
“Being a priest in an unprecedented time of change”
Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv (Bishop of Parramatta) has taken a courageous stand in speaking out about the crisis in our Church as being '
deep-seated, perhaps not unlike the financial institutions whose culture of corruption and self-interest has been exposed in a fresh Royal Commission. Indeed, to many people, Catholics included, it is not only the case of a few bad apples. It is more like the apple that is rotten at its core.'
In his recent speech to the priests of Australia and New Zealand, he stated that he firmly believes that 'we are on the threshold of renewal and transformation of the priesthood'; that 'the old way of being a priest has well served the Church' but that 'that model of the exalted, separated and elitist priesthood is drawing its last breaths.'
Bishop Long goes further to suggest that 'the Church cannot have a better future if it persists in the old paradigm of triumphalism, self reference and male supremacy'; and that 'untill we have truly incorporated the gift of women and the feminine dimension of our Christian faith, we will not be able to fully energise the life of the Church.'
It is a longish article, well written and structured and definitely worth your time and effort! Read it here
Energising talk at Mass
On the weekend of 27/28 Oct 2018. the parish was given an update on the progress of the Listening and Dialogue Sessions being held around our parish. Dick Danckert spoke at both Anglesea and Grovedale, and Maureen Ryan spoke at Torquay.
Here is the text of Maureen's presentation as it was given:
Many people see the catholic church as a dying institution in Australia.
That is not so in our parish of Nazareth.
We have had an excellent response to the input of the Plenary Council. Last year 46 ordinary parishioners came to a meeting to find out about it.
We then and there, began the process, of no longer being, the silent majority.
Many were sceptical of any chance for ordinary people to have their say in the agenda of the Plenary Council in 2020. It seemed a long way off. Yet open and critical analysis of our church occurred at that meeting.
Next we were given the opportunity to sign up in small groups to answer the question of “What is God asking of us in Australia at this time?”
We have had over a hundred people participate in the small group sessions. We were not asked to come up with solutions but to speak honestly and boldly outlining the issues facing us at this time.
Small groups of 4-6 people were convened, personal sharing occurred and responses were recorded anonymously, then posted on our website and on to the Plenary Council website.
Some of the Issues raised were:
*Reduction in the business and administrative workload expected of our priests, so as to leave more time for pastoral work.
*The need for on-going formation for adults –
*Updating the liturgy, and more involvement of children. If you are a grandparent you may related to one incident shared: “Grandma, Mummy and I went to church today, Mummy took up the biscuits, and I took up the trophy.” Many of us would be most happy they actually went to Mass.
Can we rid our church of some traditions that have had no beginning with Jesus for example: red hats. Francis has already done away with the red shoes.
We want to return to the Exploration of what the Bible means for us today.
*Can we have Open and transparent Governance of parishes with elected councils to reverse its current hierarchical nature instead to become a servant church, as described by Pope Francis.
Other Major issues also included:
The role of women in the church as deacons, and priests was raised.
Can the input of women, 50% of the population, continue to be ignored?
The celibate requirement of priests and the role of married priests was raised.
Our response to the child sex abuse scandal has been widely called into question. There is a strong feeling that our bishops have been tardy in responding to the royal commission’s report and less than transparent in response.
There was a loud call to make suitable and generous ongoing restitution, that is without litigation, to the victims of Sexual abuse.
This issue is not going away: nearly every group spoke about it. One group had 6 out of 7 present, related accounts of the devastating effects on their family and their movements away from the church.
Yet we, are all, still here. The recognition of the valuable experience of having a spiritual home and sharing the body and blood of Jesus in our community has been most positive.
The challenge is to be inclusive of those disaffected or marginalised and who want to be strengthened by the Eucharist.
Its a monumental task, in a secular world, to find what is required by young people and young families, so that they want to be involved in the expansion of their spiritual life.
For the 100plus people who have participated in the small groups, we thank you for your honesty and wisdom shared. We have seen the Holy Spirit at work, with the most interesting and stimulating discussions happening in our own homes!
The small groups have been an extension of relationships,
An introduction to many people, whom we did not know previously,
Also respectful sharing and listening
and most importantly, there has been a sense of hope for our church.
Please read the October Report (article below this one) for further feedback, as it was attached to the weekend bulletin.
We will continue to hear about the ongoing next phase. And some groups have decided to meet again.
The same process is to be rolled out to our schools soon. If you are not comfortable in a group setting, Personal Submissions can be made up till Ash Wednesday next year.
We have been challenged to continue to be active and informed about the energy the Holy Spirit is stirring in our midst: in “the ordinary people of Jesus.” 2020 Plenary Council
First report from the Parish Plenary Co-ordinating Group
Report of the Coordinating Group – October 2018.
Our responses to participate in the preparations for the Plenary Council have been very encouraging. To date 12 small groups have met and responded to the question “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” More than 70 people have attended those meetings and a further seven meetings are scheduled through October.
This is our first report on the listening and dialogue phase of the preparation process. It aims to give an overview of the issues of concern raised. We intend to continue these reports as we move through this process and on to the extensive feedback process which will commence after Ash Wednesday next year. The listening and dialogue phase of our preparation calls for story sharing and a building of trust as we raise issues of concern, rather than proposing solutions to those concerns. However, since both aspects were so often mixed in our meetings, so they are in this report.
Very strongly we are saying that we are called to what we have ever been called; to live the Gospel; to be witnesses to the love of Jesus. In the meetings there have been very many expressions of these guiding lights but all have been accompanied by a sense of urgency about the need to discern what this means today.
Clearly the child sex abuse scandal has had a massive effect on us all. And there is a strong feeling that our Bishops have been tardy in responding to the Royal Commission Report and less than transparent in dealing with the response of the Truth and Justice Commission. Now the overriding feeling is that we need to be more compassionate towards victims and their families. Our bishops are urged to deal quickly with compensation in a non-litigious, compassionate and generous way.
Strongly expressed in responses is the need to support our priests. This has been expressed both as being called to voice our support to our own Parish Priest and a range of suggestions to alleviate his administrative duties and facilitate pastoral activities. Many recalled a long standing and often articulated desire to relieve the priest of administrative duties so as to release him to pastoral activities.
Along with these concerns were many suggestions about how to address them. They included setting up of a Parish Council with full autonomy over the administrative functions of the parish; to make better use of our physical assets; to make the Catholic Education Office fully responsible for the schools with Fr Linh and his Pastoral Team engaged in religious instruction and faith formation in the schools.
A very strong concern is that we are called to be more inclusive. In particular we should welcome to Eucharist, divorced and remarried people, those of non-hetero sexualities and other marginalised people . In this context Pope Francis is often quoted in his references to “the field hospital”, “Who am I to judge.” , “The evil of clericalism” and the need for a Synodal and collegial church. Many feel that we are called to be more active in reaching out to all the marginalised and disaffected in our wider community.
Some also feel that the RCIA program needs to be reassessed. A wide range of views about the effectiveness of the RCIA program were expressed leading to some suggestion that it ought to be a matter for wider discussion. The absence of ongoing adult faith formation programs is also widely lamented.
An oft noted but variously articulated matter of concern is the need to revitalise our liturgies. Particular note is made of the music and liturgy of the Eucharist. It is currently felt to be uninspiring particularly for young people.
The call to include women in ministry is widely identified as an issue of injustice and dysfunction. While the need to include women as deacons and in decision making offices is widely supported, there is variation on the issue of women priests. Some feel that it is a bigger issue for a later time and that a gradual change would be more favourably considered in the Plenary Council. Others feel a stronger sense of injustice and call for consideration at this Council.
Many articulations of these issues and many other issues were brought out in our meetings to date. All are posted on our parish website and all have been posted to the Plenary Council website. We are doing more over the coming 5 months and look forward to the further process.
Clericalism: a problem for the Clergy..or the Laity...or both??
We have previously highlighted the issue of Clericalism but there are more and more voices calling for the culture of clericalism to be broken down and cast out of our church. However, many still find it difficult to identify ‘clericalism’ in a succinct way. Perhaps this will help –
Clericalism (Aleteia) is
a disordered attitude towards clergy
and excessive deference
and an assumption of their moral superiority.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula (Davenport, Iowa) in The Catholic Messenger
says ‘Clericalism is an exaggeration of the role of the clergy to the detriment of the laity. In a culture of clericalism, clerics are put on a pedestal and the laity are overly deferential and submissive to them.’
Bishop Vincent Long (Parramatta, NSW)in an online interview with America Magazine
says ‘it is not a question of individual manifestations of clericalism. It is a question of clericalism inherent in the very culture of the church, which we must look at very honestly.” He continues “we really need to, once and for all, jettison that clericalist model of church. It has served us well beyond its use by date.’
Natalia Imperatori-Lee (Crux
) says ‘Clericalism is isolating and insular - it cuts off the ‘oxygen’ of genuine solidarity and sharing-of-life with laypeople by creating a separate class, even a separate caste, within the Church.’
Pope Francis also, in his Aug 20 Letter to the People of God
, states ‘Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.’
These writers and others call to mind that we cannot be blind to the fact that clericalism is not just a problem of the clergy – it is inherent in us, as the laity, as well.
As Pope Francis wrote
, clericalism can be “fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons”—laypeople can fall into clericalism, too! Lay people can fall into thinking that their contributions to the life of the Church are only second-rate, or that in all things, surely “Father knows best,” or that priestly virtue exhausts Christian virtue.
Russell Shaw (OSV Newsweekly
) says ‘clericalist attitudes and assumptions remain embedded in the minds of many Catholics and, though probably unrecognized, go on doing great harm.
The harm is of several kinds. By far the worst occurs on the spiritual level, where relatively little is either asked or expected of lay people beyond a legalistic mediocrity — spiritual excellence is equated with keeping rules (go to church, say some prayers once in a while, avoid the grosser kinds of sin). The idea that, as Vatican Council II taught, the laity are called to be saints quite as much as the clergy and religious simply doesn’t enter this clericalist picture. It’s a miracle of grace that so many achieve holiness just the same.
Clericalist thinking also contributes to the passivity and non-involvement of many lay people.
As we move more deeply into the initial Plenary process of Dialogue and Listening, we need to look honestly and closely at this curse of clericalism that is so deeply ingrained in our catholic culture.
We need to ask ourselves, do we see evidence of clericalism
– in our parish –in our diocese – in our Australian church – and in our global church?
We need to ask ourselves, do we experience clericalism personall
y – and how do we experience it?
We need to ask ourselves, do we/I act at times within the culture of clericalism
, putting priests up on pedestals, above the ordinary person in the pews?
If you have not yet read the Robert Micken article in La Croix International
, read it now, for he says that ‘clericalism could not flourish, as it has for many centuries, without the compliance and complicity of the laity.’
Many of the issues that are arising in the small group reports of the Dialogue and Listening sessions in our parish are intimately connected to clericalism and we may have to let the Holy Spirit do her work before we have answers to them. In France though, the Archbishop of Paris is already moving towards a different way of training priests
– definitely worth reading!
Where is our church heading?
The USA is reeling once again in the wake of the level of abuse and cover up that has been revealed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report published on August 14, 2018. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the report identified 301 priests who abused children and more than 1000 victims.
At the same time as the Pennsylvania Report was becoming public knowledge, there was a report from the UK that the sexual abuse at two prominent Benedictine schools was considerably higher than was reflected by conviction figures with monks hiding allegations to protect the Church’s reputation.
Kim Smolik from Leadership Roundtable (An organisation that promotes best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications, and human resources development of the Catholic Church in the U.S., including greater incorporation of the expertise of the laity.) says that ‘the Catholic Church in the United States, and elsewhere is at a precipice.’ In the statement issued by the Leadership Roundtable on August 27, she goes on to say:
“Catholic leaders, lay and ordained, must create a new culture of leadership and management that is transparent, accountable, competent, and grounded in justice in order to restore trust and safeguard the essential mission of the Catholic Church.
For the culture to change, the Church must practice accountability at every level and not just in terms of sexual abuse”
Smolik goes on, “the underlying conditions were decades in the making; solving these problems will require a long term, transformational change that must begin with immediate steps.”
Finally, the statement finishes with “As lay, religious, and ordained leaders, in this critical time we understand that the solution rests with each of us in the Church to live up to our respective ecclesial responsibility and to act.”
Do we really want our church to change?
Massimo Faggioli (Professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University) goes further than just calling for change. He says in his article in Commonweal "Trent's Long Shadow"
that "Tackling the failures that made the sex-abuse crisis possible will involve many changes—changes to the church’s relationship with civil authorities and criminal justice, cultural and spiritual changes, but also changes in the structure of the institution itself. It is finally time to revisit the basic models of ecclesial organization that the Council of Trent imposed on the Catholic Church."
The latter sentence here held a resonance with Fr Linh's homily last weekend, when he artfully used the analogy of tidying up a woman's handbag
to help us understand the very real need to have a good look at our 'bag of life' - to look carefully at the contents we hold onto and to ask ourselves what really is important? What do we need to keep as still being valuable and what do we need to throw out, being no longer useful? He asked us to consider what is it that we need to be faithful to?
In the context of the Sunday scriptures, Fr Linh reminded us that the Israelites were going through a time of reassessment, when Joshua challenged them to look into their bag of life, and to reassess which god they were committed to. Where would they place their allegiance - in the gods of the Amorites, the land in which they were now living, or in the God who had brought them out of Egypt? To whom would they be faithful?
In the gospel a similar request was made to the disciples and their faithfulness was put to the test.
In the context of the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Fr Linh reminded us of our faithfulness to the God of life and love, as we re-arrange our bag of life and continue to hold onto a genuine welcome, protection and hospitality towards those who have been displaced from their homelands.
In the context of the Plenary Council, that question of "what is it that we need to be faithful to?" seems to be shouting out to every Australian Catholic, to look into the bag of life of the church and their own lived experience, and to re-assess what needs to be kept, protected and developed, and what needs to be jettisoned. Perhaps as we contemplate our participation in the Listening and Dialogue sessions, we also need to think about which aspects of our faith and the practice of our faith, are we prepared to be faithful to.
More pointedly, perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether our church is still important enough to us, and are we able to whole heartedly get involved in the Plenary Council, to be part the process that will steer the Australian Church into the future?
So, what is my responsibility to effect change?
Further on Rosica says "Ordained ministers and lay persons suffer from clericalism. If we are to learn anything from the current crisis facing the church, reform, healing, renewal must come about from every single member of the church, most especially lay women and men who have been commissioned by their baptism to be salt and light, leaven and hope, agents of renewal and witnesses to hope. As members of the church, we must decide once and for all that cronyism has no place among us...Any internal and cloistered bodies that answer only to themselves without transparency, honesty and accountability are destined for irrelevance and ruination."
An editorial piece from National Catholic Reporter "The Body of Christ must reclaim our church
" on August 17,2018 finishes with these words "The next time you go to mass and as you kneel in the silence that envelops the church just before the liturgy begins, utter a prayer for this battered and wounded body we call the church. Pray for a renewal and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and pray for a reform of our broken system. Then glance to your left and your right. Kneeling beside you are likely the strongest allies you have in rebuilding a church so badly in need of reform."
This affects all of us - the people of God. It's more than past time that we the laity demand more of our church leaders."
Thomas Rosica finishes his article with "Francis has begun the exodus leading to this reform...will we follow?"
To answer that headline question above - you and I have a responsibility, as baptised members of the People of God, to be part of the movement under the direction of the Holy Spirit to bring about good and effective change within our church . Please take up the invitation to be involved in the Plenary Council which has already begun. Seek out opportunities within your own parish to participate in the Listening and Dialogue sessions currently being offered.
If you have missed the invitation here in our parish please give DICK DANCKERT a ring on 0400 579 823 and let him know you are interested.
There's that word again - SYNODALITY
The 14 th National eConference "Synodality in Practice: Listening to the Spirit and Leading Change" was an excellent opportunity to hear some very interesting speakers as they each developed a theme around 'synodality' and how the process of the preparatory phase of the Plenary Council was in fact an exercise iin synodality in practice.
Some 18-20 people participated in the two days, with some staying for the full day program and others coming and going as their busy lives allowed. One or two even came back a second time so that they could listen a second time. Overall, most were very impressed with the presentations and felt that they had learnt so much by being there. When asked their opinion as to whether it would be worth purchasing a couple of the DVD's (to be publisheed very quickly with the whoe of the eConfernce included) for showing at other opportunies within the parish, there was a resoundingly positive agreement to do so.
Leaders That Listen: Synodality in Practice
Archbishop Mark Coleridge
This presentation was almost 20 minutes and as such it runs to 4 pages of print. However it is well worth the read - please try it!
Some of the salient points Bishop Mark made include:
- The word ‘synodality’ doesn’t occur at any point in Vatican II, but it does I think go to the heart of the vision of the church that was bequeathed to us by the council.
- This was the moment that after 10 years of discernment and discussion the Australian Bishops should move in fact to what we now call the Plenary Council.
- The Plenary Council is not just an event in the future, it is a process that has begun now. The two sessions of the Council which will be celebrated in late 2020 and early 2021 are merely part of that journey that has already begun. That journey has three phases - preparation, we are in the thick of it now; celebration - the two sessions; and then implementation, and the Lord alone knows how long that will take. So it’s a long journey and we’re not quite sure where it’s going. We are a bit like Abraham - it is an Abrahamic journey. Abraham is called by God to leave what is familiar and to set out on a journey to a land that he does not know. Well that’s about where we are together.
- What the Pope says is “synodality prevents a rigid separation between a teaching church and a learning church, because the flock has an instinctive ability to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to his church." Now this is crucial to understanding, in practice, what synodality really means. In other words, those who teach have to listen and those who listen have to teach.
- Well that whole distinction is something that the Spirit is calling upon us to revise.
- The sensis fidelium, that sense of the faithful... In other words, everyone who is baptised, not just the bishops or those who are ordained, everyone who is baptised receives gifts of the Holy Spirit and the question is, ...what are the gifts that have been given and how might these be allowed to flourish for the building up of the Body of Christ for the sake of the mission.
- So that’s what we are talking about - a charismatic understanding of the church, a church which is always under the influence of the Holy Spirit. ... it is in fact a time to make decisions and those decisions will be under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
- Now there is a danger in this because the Holy Spirit who is always the consoler is also the disruptor. Once we are caught up in the movement of the Holy Spirit, things get messy. If we want things to be neat and tidy and clear-cut, this is not the path for you. So we have to live with a certain untidiness, a certain messiness, a certain un-clarity, if we are serious about being a church that is on a journey.
- A journey is a dislocation, moving us from one location to another, and that is what God is doing at this time in this land. He is moving us on a journey that is a kind of dislocation where we will have to consider all our structures and strategies, and asked the question that however valuable and cherished these might have been in the past, are these what we need for the preaching of the gospel now? All those questions have to be considered and wrestled with because the process again is not easy and it is messy.
- A synodal church is a church that listens... First of all, the Synod process, the Pope says, begins by listening to the People of God - all of them. We are trying to do this in practice with the Plenary Council. ... So we are engaged in a process of consultation, trying to listen to all voices not just some. The people of God, again, believing that each of the baptised has received gifts of the Spirit for the whole church, to build us up for mission.
- The Synod process, the Pope says, then continues by listening to the pastors...
- Finally, the Pope says, the Synod process ... listens to the voice of the Bishop of Rome,
- So it’s a kind of a circle. Listening to the people, listening to the pastors, listening to the Bishop of Rome, and all of that goes on and on and on like a circle. Everyone listening to everyone, but, and this is the key again, everyone listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
- Our task on this journey. Listen to each other, that’s crucial but also everyone, the whole community of faith listening to the voice of the Spirit.
- Now that takes time and it isn’t easy and it is messy. We will have to live with the mess without losing our nerve, because the danger is that we can think that somehow this has all gone wrong, that the church is running off the rails. We will have to live through moments of that kind of uncertainty and that kind of hesitation. But to lose our nerve would be the big mistake - either to sit down and stop journeying or to turn around and go back. That would be the mistake that we can’t afford to make.
- The word that stands at the very head of the Scripture is ‘listen’. “Listen Israel” (Deuteronomy 6) - listen to what? The word that God spoke in the beginning when God said ‘light’ and there was light. This is what God is, this is what God does – the Word - and our task is to listen to that word.
- So we are right at the heart of Scripture when we talk Synod and synodality. The experience of listening, words quoted by Jesus in the new Testament. What’s the greatest commandment? Listen Israel. The words repeated every day by the Jewish people.
- We are a listening religion, if you like, called to be a listening people in a new way in the new set of circumstances that we face, given the new challenges that we face in Australia.
- All of this is for the sake of discernment... It is a process of sifting through all the voices, and there are so many voices, ...That’s our task, and that process of discernment must always be an experience of real prayer. .. that’s where the journey of the Plenary Council has to be, above all, a journey of prayer for the whole church.
One of the better-known of the Latin American theologians has said that this vision of the church, a church where everyone teaches and everyone learns, the church where everyone listens as we journey together requires three things:
- First of all, open dialogue on both sides. Now that might sound easy but it’s not. It assumes that the Holy Spirit is everywhere - he can just pop up anywhere. The more authority you have to speak the more you have to listen.
- Secondly, it requires mutual criticism, but not criticism to knock down but criticism to build up. The criticism that is a gift born of love. This touches upon the whole question of accountability.
- The third thing that it requires is a reference to the external. By which is meant we have to keep an eye on the world. It’s not just about the church. The Plenary Council is not just about the church. It’s about the world. So we always have to be looking outside or beyond the church. And a reference to the Holy Spirit. Again I stress this and it is the key, not just to ourselves and what decisions we might make take to our own devices, but what is the Holy Spirit prompting the church, driving the church to do. That’s the question, beyond ourselves, focusing out there.
- Is all of this easy? Of course it’s not. It’s hard. In some ways the Plenary Council will be the hardest thing we will ever do as Catholics in Australia. Hard because it’s messy; hard because it’s uncertain, we don’t have a roadmap or a GPS.
- As a pastor it can be hard because you hear all kinds of things, ...there has to be a great sifting and that’s hard.
- For those who are not ordained which is most of the church, synodality can be hard because sometimes pastors can speak to quickly, sometimes in questionable ways. ...
- It is hard for all of us because it means we don’t just listen to ourselves and to those who agree with us. We actually have to listen to God and to do that you have to believe that God is speaking - there is a word to be heard.
The wound of sin will always make synodality hard but the healing of grace will always make it’s not only possible but even joyful as we take the road together, educating ourselves as Pope Francis says, in the patience of God and his time. Now this is what the Spirit is saying to the church in Australia at this time and this is, I think, the Kairos of God.
Plenary - Do we have time to listen?
The temptation is to find a quiet corner, coffee in hand, and type in my response to the plenary question on my smart phone, sending it sailing into the iCloud heaven, hoping that my voice will sway the bishops to make some change to something I am not happy about. I finish my coffee, and get on with my life. If things don’t change, well, I tried my best to make a contribution, didn’t I? Isn’t that what plenary is all about?
Yet when I listen more deeply to the plenary invitation, I discover that it is firstly an invitation to listen. Let us “listen to what the Spirit is saying.” (Rev 2:7). What a wonderful invitation we have received from the Bishops of Australia! This scripture passage, siting as it does, underneath the logo of Plenary Council 2020, is at the heart of our engagement during this period of listening and dialogue for the Church in Australia.
While my current concerns are significant and should be voiced, what else is God speaking into my heart at this time? Am I able to come to a place of stillness and contemplation, and listen with the ear of my heart to what the Spirit is saying in my life? And am I willing to share this experience with others? Plenary is an invitation to listen… and to dialogue. After all, the plenary question is “what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”
We accompany Jesus on this plenary journey, and are invited into Gospel encounters. Who do we meet at the heart of the Gospel? Our family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. The Gospel people are today’s people, experiencing the same hopes and joys, griefs and sorrows as those from centuries earlier. We are invited in these plenary days to sit with a drink in the midday Australian sun, conversing with a woman from outside the religious tradition, and outside her own social circle (John 4). We listen attentively to two travellers, downcast on their way home on a dusty outback track after witnessing everything they believed about their faith being torn away (Luke 24:13-35). We experience the elation of those coming back from mission to the growth areas of our urban centres, fresh with stories of new life (Luke 10:17). We share in the grief of friends heartbroken at the loss of their beloved friend or family member (John 11).
In this time of privileged encounter, our bishops invite us to honour the stories we hold in our hearts and those we hear, by sharing the wisdom gleaned and questions raised. We are encouraged to raise our voices, to become a cloud of witnesses, sharing in the question of “what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” There can be no more important question. And we are a pilgrim people. We recognise that we need one another, and by listening to the truth of one another, we step more deeply into the Divine Truth, connected as we are in the One Spirit. By prayerfully listening to one another, and avoiding the temptation to race to the nearest answer, we may open our eyes and ears to what the Spirit is saying in our midst.
I hope and pray that when it comes time to submit my response to plenary, my mind and heart will have been changed by many fruitful conversations, particularly with those who hold views and beliefs different to my own.
National Centre for Pastoral Research is working with a research group and providing expert analysis of the responses that have been submitted.
Thousands of people from across Australia have taken time in the two months since the Plenary Council 2020 officially launched at Pentecost to consider the future of the Catholic Church.
In May, the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Plenary Council began, with resources created to help people across the country participate in a prayerful conversation to consider the question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins, who has travelled to every state and territory in recent weeks to promote the Listening and Dialogue process, said enthusiasm has been high.
“As people learn they are central to this process, that the stories of their experiences of faith and the Church will shape the agenda for the Plenary Council sessions in 2020 and 2021, they understand how important it is that their voice be heard and listened to,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.
“People see that the Church is moving into uncharted territory by engaging so significantly with all parts of the Church – young and old, women and men, all cultures, all languages, all abilities, lay, religious and clerical. Many find that very empowering.”
Trudy Dantis, director of the National Centre for Pastoral Research (formerly the Pastoral Research Office), is supporting the facilitation team by working with a research group and providing expert analysis of the responses that have been submitted.
“Our work as researchers is to collate and sort the data and to present it in the clearest manner possible without assigning any value judgement to the responses that are being received,” she said. “We are looking for trends and convergence in the responses to highlight the issues that are being discussed widely, while also noting the important individual experiences of Catholics.”
Dr Dantis said some examples of topics being mentioned in submissions include a greater role for women, the need for more faith formation and the desire for liturgy that is nourishing and inspiring.
She said the Plenary Council is also attracting responses from people who acknowledge they are no longer closely affiliated with the Church.
“There are many Australians who may identify as Catholics who have little or no contact with the Church,” she said. “Their views are critical to helping us understand what people find spiritually nourishing and how the Church could rebuild trust and renew connections with them once again.”
Ms Turvey-Collins said the Listening and Dialogue process, which she emphasised must be grounded in prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit, will run until Ash Wednesday 2019.
“The program for the Plenary Council sessions will develop from the grassroots, beginning by meeting people where they are at and listening deeply to the story of their experiences. The website has all the information to promote engagement and participation in the process and everyone is welcome” she said.
“This is not about large gatherings or events. All people are encouraged to come together with friends and family to consider the Council’s central questions and help the Church consider how it can reflect the face of Christ in Australian society today.”
What does 'Synodal Church' mean?
As the leadup to the Plenary Council continues we are going to hear the phrase ‘SYNODAL CHURCH’ more often, nad it will no doubt leave many wondering just what that phrase means.
In his Address to the Synod of Bishops (17 October 2015, in Rome) as they commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis stated that the synod was “one of the most precious legacies of the second Vatican Council” and that it was something that he has sought to enhance since the beginning of his papacy.
The word ‘synod’ derives from the Greek syn meaning ‘together’ and hodos meaning ‘road’ or ‘way’ and signifies a ‘coming together’, ‘assembly’ or ‘meeting’. Synods are the earliest and traditional forms for collegial discussion, debate and decision making in the Church. Pope Francis says that this “journeying together – laity, pastors the Bishop of Rome – is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.”
Pope Francis continues: “a synodal church is a church which listens, which realises that listening ‘is more than simply hearing.’ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 171.) It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.”
In bringing a synodal church into being in Australia, we first need to understand the Synod process which “begins by listening to the people of God, which ‘shares also in Christ’s prophetic office (SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 12.)…then continues by listening to the pastors’ and only then do “the bishops act as authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they need to discern carefully from the changing currents of public opinion.”
Preparing to be a synodal church in Australia
Looking ahead to the Plenary Council, Fr Noel Connolly sees a huge task in setting up the structures for the kind of consultations that can truly be synodal. "This is going to be a massive and possibly messy task" he says. Take a deep breath and think about what it might mean for our Parish. Read it here.
Bishop Long on Breaking Open the Priesthood
At the Manly Reunion Gathering in August*, Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta addressed the matter of the Catholic priesthood in Australia. The transcript of his speech appeared on the website of the Diocese of Parramatta. Showing some command of the Australian vernacular, Bishop Long makes an assessment of where we are today and how we might find a way back to the exercise of priesthood as “servant-leader”. Using personal stories and acute observations he skewers what’s wrong with our current exercise of priesthood and points a way forward. But beware! In identifying the evil of capital ‘C’ Clericalism we might be led to some consideration of our own small ‘c’ clericalism. (*An annual gathering of priests who were educated at Manly Seminary.) Read it here.
Fr Noel Connolly on Listening
Fr Connolly addresses the issue of how the Church hierarchy compares to the notion of the sensis fidelium - 'the faith of the whole people of God.'
In speaking of the need to "invert the pyramid" he notes that for ingrained cultural reasons this will certainly be no easy task. However he does propose wyas in which we can develop the new skills. Read it here.
Peter Wilkinson on Crisis
Wilkinson notes the scant history of Synods (Plenary OR Diocesan) in Australia. He goes on to identify and number all the groups of participants for this Plenary Council. While urging that "new business" (as distinct from "business as usual") should be part of the preparation for the Council, he speaks to the processes of listening and agenda formation. Opining that"poor governance was at the centre of this crisis; now accountability and transparencey must be at the core of the solution," he urges the use of diocesan assemblies as forums for engagement as they are less restictive than canonical synods.
Francis: not afraid of discussion; invites dissent.
Noel Connolly states that "Pope Francis believes in the sensus fidelium or the sense of the faithful as an important part of the teaching authority of the church." Noel goes on to say that this is a new approach to what it means to be church.
Read the full article here
and have a generous conversation with friends about whether the laity - you and I - should be encouraged to speak loudly.