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Call for national assembly of laity


A local parishioner is seeking support to hold a national assembly of the laity in Adelaide next year in order to give lay men and women a more united voice on the future of the Church.

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The “grassroots meeting” is being proposed by John Sabine, a parishioner from the Dulwich/Burnside community, who described it as a chance for the laity to “get their act together” and determine who would be responsible for actioning change in the Church.

“The Catholic Church today is in crisis; throughout the Universal Church there are calls for change. We, the laity, are everywhere being called upon to admit our part in the problem and to do something about it.

“The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has declared a Plenary Council to be called for in 2020/2021… this is entirely a clerical response. We, the Australian Catholic laity, have decided to act, to stand up and be counted,” Dr Sabine said.

He added that the “desired outcome” of the assembly would be “for an understanding of, and the creation of, an effective voice for the laity in today’s Catholic Church in Australia”.

Dr Sabine said he had been “tossing around” the idea of the national gathering for some time and had discussed the concept with various lay Catholics, including Professor John Warhurst, chair of the Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn group which seeks an effective voice for lay women and men in the administration and direction of the Church.

Similar to the Council of Australian Catholic Women’s colloquium being held in Adelaide later this month, Dr Sabine believed the assembly would be a way of “stirring the waters” and getting the laity “into action”.

“In the lead up to our 2020 Plenary Council much has been made about the laity needing to step up and be counted. For this to happen the laity needs to know more about what the problem is and how they, collectively and individually, might respond to it. What needs to be done and who needs to do it.”

In particular, Dr Sabine believes those laity who are formally invited to participate in the Plenary Council will need a much broader perspective than that of their own personal experiences if they are to be considered truly representative of “the laity” in Australia.

“The proposed assembly is not intended to be a talkfest, but rather an attempt to determine what we all need to be doing and who needs to be doing it,” he explained.

His personal opinion is that such work needs to start at the parish level.

“The laity can’t expect to be fully active in the running of the whole Church if they don’t participate actively in running their own parish. Properly constituted and effective pastoral councils at parish, diocesan and national levels, as advocated by Vatican II documents, would be a useful start.”

Dr Sabine is proposing the event be held in Adelaide in March next year – well before the historic first session of the Plenary Council in October 2020 – with “around 500 participants” including representatives nominated by each diocese in Australia as well as invited guests.

He is currently seeking feedback from the laity to determine if there is enough support for the assembly to go ahead. If it proceeds, he said he would be relying on volunteers from the laity in Adelaide to help organise the event, with input nationally regarding the process and program.

To find out more about the proposed assembly or indicate your support for the event, contact Dr Sabine at



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