We have just completed the listening phase in preparation for the Plenary Council 2020.
An extraordinary number of more than 220,000 people were involved in the 17,400 submissions made in response to the question, ‘What does God want of us in Australia at this time?’ When one thinks of the challenges and disedifying episodes that have blighted the Church in recent times, it is remarkable and consoling to note the intense interest and love for the Church that prompts such large numbers to go to the trouble of communicating their thoughts to the bishops.
Some of the answers are not as broad as the question, and were more like what an individual thought might be a good idea for the Church. Some suggestions would be beyond the scope of the Plenary Council. For example, the request for women’s ordination. The Australian Church could not legislate for that, because we are part of the Universal Church, and cannot act separately from the whole Church. Other thoughts are stimulating, such as a renewal of sense of mission amongst all members of the Church, in acknowledgement of the vocation baptism gives us. There are also many stimulating suggestions concerning the governance of the Church and ways to change a clericalist culture which has all authority in the hands only of the ordained.
The stage for listening and dialogue is now accomplished, and the National Centre for Pastoral Research is undertaking the mammoth task of analysing the responses and grouping them into themes. These themes will then be presented for further discernment nationally in the Church. These themes will be announced at Pentecost, in early June.
After that, guided we pray by the Holy Spirit, working groups will attempt to devise the agenda for the Plenary Council in October 2020. The chairs of the working groups are lay women and men.
It is providential that the Australian bishops will be going to Rome in June for a week of conferences with the Vatican administration, a preliminary retreat, and a two-hour interview as a group with the Holy Father. Pray that this time will be a time of inspiration for the bishops that they may be better attuned to the voice of the faithful and hear the murmurings of the Spirit calling us to rebuild a Church that reflects the message and beauty of Christ.
- Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Adelaide and Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese.
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