There is to be a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia, whose first session is scheduled for October this year in Adelaide. We have been preparing for this event over the last couple of years. The preparation has consisted of consultations happening all over the country in parishes, religious orders, Catholic agencies, schools and other groups which are part of the life of the Church.
These preparations are crucial to the Plenary Council which is not just to be a forum for bishops but for the whole Church. This Plenary Council is to be different largely because of Pope Francis’ encouragement and the putting into practice of synodal structures.
Synodality involves the participation of the whole People of God in discerning the Church’s way forward. It is an ancient concept that is being brought to the fore again.
The Second Vatican Council spoke of the collegiality of bishops, which means that the bishops of the world form a college called to work as a unity and to take their place in the oversight of the whole Church along with and under the leadership of the Pope. There are also more local examples of collegiality in which the bishops of a nation or of a particular area work together for the good of the Church in that area. Synodality was not so much to the fore at Vatican II. One could say that its time had not come yet.
Synodality goes beyond collegiality by seeking to find the means of giving all the members of the People of God a voice in the ongoing life of the Church. The Australian Plenary Council is an early example of an attempt at this. It involves a fair bit of learning as we go.
There has been a great deal of work done for the Plenary Council already in collating all the responses which have come from all over Australia and turning them into documents that can be used as starting points for the meetings of the Plenary Council.
This is all at the mercy of the pandemic of course!
Over the next several weeks, there will be a segment in the parish bulletin delving further into synodality as a structure that Pope Francis is reviving in the workings of the Church.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin