This has been a landmark week for the Catholic Church in Australia with 277 delegates gathering in Sydney to formally vote on motions that will project the Church into the future. The full list of motions passed, including the votes, are on the Plenary Council website. The remaining resolutions of the Plenary Council will be finalised and posted by Saturday, 9 July. The week began with the Plenary Council members passing motions around Indigenous Australians, including to further explore the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the Liturgical life of the Church. It passed resolutions in relation to apologies and commitments to survivors of sexual abuse. The delegates struggled with the motions around the equal dignity of men and women in the Church. On the first vote, the necessary two thirds majority was achieved by the baptised faithful present but not by the bishops. That motion was amended and will be voted on Friday, 8 July.
The council passed a motion calling for all Dioceses in Australia to establish Diocesan Pastoral Councils and committed the Church in Australia to continue to work in a consultative and synodal way. It called on all parishes to establish effective and consultative parish councils in each parish. It committed the Church to embedding an ecological framework into its daily life by imploring the whole church in Australia to accept Pope Francis’ call to join the Laudato Si’ platform and develop action plans around the environment at all levels of the Church.
In many ways the Plenary Council is a starting point and not an end point. It is clear that many of the issues that were voiced by the Catholic faithful during the consultation phase have been picked up and addressed. The work of practically implementing these resolutions lays ahead. Our own newly formed representative Parish Council will meet for the first time this month. The motions passed at the Plenary Council will be on the agenda as we determine how to project our own parishes into the future in a new landscape here in Australia. The recent census data from the 2021 census indicates clearly that we live in a diverse cultural and religious world. The way that various generations ‘put life together’ and priorities their worlds is also diverse.
There is much work to be done in order to respond to the Spirit’s promptings that have been discerned during the Plenary Council processes. These processes have shown us once again that the Church is both a grace-filled gift from God and a very human institution which needs to constantly reflect, reform and renew itself in line with the gospel from which it was formed.
This week’s gospel reading is the account of the Good Samaritan. We hear of the unexpected and unlikely passer-by who stopped and helped the one who was wounded and abandoned on the roadside. As we grapple with the implications of the Australian Plenary Council perhaps we could do no better than to simply start the process of renewal by looking out for the wounded and abandoned in our world and first set our hand to that plough.