Plenary ready to open up ‘spiritual conversations’ with members with nation-wide meetings ready to start – The Catholic Leader

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

WHEN Australia’s plenary council assembly opens on Sunday it will be different to any other plenary meeting before it.

Plenary ready to open up ‘spiritual conversations’ with members with nation-wide meetings ready to start – The Catholic Leader

It will be the country’s fifth plenary event – the last was held in 1937, an exclusively male gathering, with only bishops, theologians and superiors of male religious orders attending. 

The 2021 Plenary assembly will include women, religious and lay people among  280 members drawn from Catholic communities across the country.

The plenary will also be the first held virtually, as a necessary pandemic precaution.

“There have been moments when we wondered if we’d ever make it to this point, but led by the Holy Spirit and supported by a cast of thousands across the country, we’re within touching distance,” Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins, said. 

Lana Turvey-Collins
Lana Turvey-Collins: “There have been moments when we wondered if we’d ever make it to this point, but led by the Holy Spirit and supported by a cast of thousands across the country, we’re within touching distance.” Photo: Mark Bowling

A key component of the Plenary Council assembly will be the way members consider the 16 questions that make up the Council agenda.

Each day, some of those questions will be the focus of small group discernment, with about 10 members engaging in what is known as “spiritual conversations”.

“One of the most important conversations in the Gospels is between the Angel Gabriel and Mary in the Annunciation. That conversation is the very model of the steps in discernment,” Jesuit Brother Br Ian Cribb, who spoke about discernment during the Brisbane Assembly in 2019 – a lead up event for the Plenary Council – said.

“We work from the premise that the Spirit of God is at work in the world, in the Church, in our mission and in every person. 

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“Our desire is to see what the Trinity is trying to do in the world today and to better collaborate in God’s mission. By doing that, we are entering into spiritual conversations.

“Without prayer, discernment is empty; we remain in our heads.”

An early preparation phase of the Plenary – a 10-month “listening and dialogue” process between May 2018 and March 2019, captured the voice of more than 222,000 Australians. 

Organisers received almost 17,500 submissions, from individuals and groups of all sizes, addressed the plenary council’s central question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?

Guide: Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe.

“The National Centre for Pastoral Research was able to pinpoint more than 100 recurring subject areas from those 17,500 submissions,” Plenary Council president Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said at the time.

“In some ways, those subject areas described what one might call ‘the messy reality’ of Catholic life in Australia today.”

Celibacy for priests, the role of women, and the inclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics were among “strongly discussed” topics contained in the final report of the Plenary Council’s Listening and Dialogue phase .

Submissions included calls for greater transparency and accountability from the Church concerning the child sexual abuse crisis, and there were also calls for healing and moving beyond the scandal.

From there, Plenary organisers moved slowly forward towards compiling the agenda for the assembly.

The agenda has been developed in the form of posing questions, with 16 questions falling under six themes: Conversion; Prayer; Formation; Structures; Governance; and Institutions. 

Each of these themes can be explored in detail here.

“So much of what we heard during the Council journey related to this concept of ‘conversion’ – personal conversion, communal conversion and institutional conversion – with an ever-deeper renewal in Christ,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“The agenda asks us a number of difficult questions, but without asking those difficult questions, we won’t be entering into the depth of our hearts to consider how we become that missionary, Christ-centred Church we need today.

“Each member attending the assemblies will bring their own unique gifts to the agenda on behalf of the People of God in Australia.”

The Catholic Leader will report each day during the Plenary Council assembly, October 3-9.

The landmark meeting that will take place in two Australian cities during 2020 and 2021 is already bringing to the surface debate about the role of the laity in the church and other reforms that are becoming more urgent in the wake of the ever-growing global sexual abuse scandal.

The Australian meeting will be only the third plenary council to held anywhere in the world since the Second World War; the Philippines held one in 1991 and Poland in 1993. 

There were three plenary councils in the United States before 1884, but none since.

The Australian council was announced in 2017, during the five-year Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

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