From the Parish House

I don’t think that I am alone in being a little shocked after initially reading the proposals coming out of the First Session of Australia’s Plenary Council, published on 8 December 2021.  As I read the proposals from small groups and individuals, I recognised very few of the themes that emerged during the consultation across our parishes when we entered into the Listening and Dialogue phase of the process three years ago.

Instead, within the first eight proposals there are two (proposal three and proposal eight) that suggest what we really need to do now is to evangelise men and increase men’s participation in the Church.  I wonder if the authors of this document have any idea what those proposals look like to the average reader of this document who sees and experiences a Church dominated by men.  What message do the authors think this is sending to those both inside and outside the Church?  It is not until proposal 36 that we see a specific proposal regarding women in the Church.  It reads ‘re-engagement with women in the Church’.  We need to reengage with women who have disengaged and been wounded by the church and seek better inclusion and participation of women, the proposal suggests.

The number one proposal that is listed in the report is to ‘affirm the Church’s teachings on human sexuality.’  That statement is a pretty raw and un-nuanced proposal given that in other places in the report there is a call for inclusion and welcome of divorced and remarried, a lament of the hurt caused to LGBTQIA+ members of the Catholic community and a call for deeper engagement with those who have been marginalised because of sexuality or gender.  Once again it is hard to imagine why the authors of the report would lead off with a number one proposal that on first reading appears closed and authoritarian in the face of real life diversity when it comes to sexuality.  It is a lightning rod issue with which to begin the report.

In my view, the problem with the way these proposals are set out is that they betray an initial priority of future directions for the church which may or may not be intended.  You have to persevere and read thoroughly the 110-page report to really get a sense of the diversity of views.  On the other hand, the sometimes oppositional proposals leave you wondering where the Council will go at all.  For example, there are suggestions that women are involved in a renewed ministry of preaching (proposal 19), and that the diaconate be open to women (proposal 48).  This is immediately followed by a proposal that insists that the Plenary Council affirm that the diaconate and priesthood are open to male candidates only (proposal 49).

There are also some very sobering commentaries and reflections in the report that don’t yet lead to recommendations or proposals.  These may yet emerge in the second session of the Council.  Proposal 11 is about ‘healing the wounds of abuse’.  It reflects on the Council delegates experience of hearing “impassioned pleas to listen, to listen to the voices of those who are missing from our Churches, those who feel alienated and excluded … victims of sexual abuse, our Indigenous brothers and sisters, divorced Catholics, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and others.  We have heard stories of people who do not feel at home in our Church, who feel judged and alienated.  If we are called to be the Heart of God on Earth, we need to show a magnanimity of spirit, a love that welcomes and embraces all.”

Clearly the next session of the Plenary Council is going to have to move even more deeply into the discernment of where the Spirit is leading the Church in Australia in the twenty-first century.  Discernment can’t just be a matter of sorting out all the various views and laying them side by side.

As the concluding statement from the First Session says the Council will now enter a time of prayer, reflection, maturation and development.  This will involve more listening and consultation by delegates with the wider Church community with new and refined recommendations being put forward.  The words of Pope Francis in Evangeli Gaudium could be very helpful to us all as the next phase unfolds.

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. (EG 27).

St Francis put it another way.  “It is in dying that we are born to new life.”

Fr Brendan Reed

 

Parish Priest

Comments

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Mary Barbuto

Thank you Brendan, for sharing your response to proposals that seem to have emerged in the Plenary Session. The responses are disappointing and yet challenging ! May we continue to hope (maybe against all hope) that the voice of the Spirit may be heard in the silence of deep listening.

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Rose Marie Prosser

Thanks Brendan. The report is very disappointing in that it does not seem to reflect the concerns of the People of God that came from the discernment process

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Denise Mulcahy

Thank you Fr Brendan for the time you have spent reflecting on the proposals coming from the First Session of the Plenary Council,. Reading what you have shared with us inspires me to read the proposals with you helpful reflection beside me. As I read your text, it took me back to what I have heard about the situation at the Vatican Council and the power of the Spirit at work in that time, when original texts were put aside, so to speak, and the movement of the Spirit in the group itself created the texts which are not yet fully realized in practice.

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Brendan

Thanks everyone.

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Tony Santospirito

Brendan thank you for your comments on the “proposals” reported by the Plenary Council. As you say, discernment can’t be a matter of listing opposing views. Discernment involves deciding which proposal reflects the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It seems that despite all the effort so far put into discerning where the Spirit is leading the Church we have not made much progress.

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Donna Davies

Dear Brendan, thank you for your wise and thoughtful reflections. How lucky we are to have your spiritual leadership in our communities.

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Sister Anne Byrne

Dear Brendan thank you for sharing your thoughts on this first report of the Plenary Council with us. It is indeed quite dispiriting when you know how much hope and expectation went into the work of the groups. What a pity that the authors of this report did not begin with Pope Francis’ words - as you quoted. “I dream of a missionary church………..”

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