The last time the Catholic Church in Australia held a Plenary Council was in 1937. It has been more than 80 years since we gathered all of the Church together and much has changed. In 2020, we will have a Plenary Council about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia. What are we called to do? Who are we called to be? How do we need to change?

Pope Francis has spoken of the need to engage in the world and respond in faith. He said:

“The defining aspect of this change of epoch is that things are no longer in their place. Our previous ways of explaining the world and relationships, good and bad, no longer appears to work. The way in which we locate ourselves in history has changed. Things we thought would never happen, or that we never thought we would see, we are experiencing now, and we dare not even imagine the future. That which appeared normal to us – family, the Church, society and the world – will probably no longer seem that way. We cannot simply wait for what we are experiencing to pass, under the illusion that things will return to being how they were before.”

The journey toward the Plenary Council will help us to prepare to listen to God by listening to one another. We invite all people to engage, to be a part of the listening and dialogue encounter in the next two years.

What is a Plenary Council?

A Plenary Council is the highest formal gathering of all local churches in a country. Our Plenary Council 2020 is being held so that we can dialogue about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Why are we having a Plenary Council in 2020?

There are many reasons for having a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia: Pope Francis has invited the local church to dialogue; the contemporary society of Australia has changed significantly, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse has been a significant and influential event that requires deep consideration and response.

When the Australian Catholic Bishops announced the decision to hold a Plenary Council, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said that “the Church is not the presence in our society it once was. We need to take a measure of that and make decisions accordingly. The culture in which we have to proclaim the Gospel is very different to what it was even 20 or 30 years ago.”

It is being held in 2020 in order to give the Catholic community in Australia time to listen, dialogue and discern with one another and, guided by the Holy Spirit, about the future, the role and relevance of the Catholic Church in Australia.

When is the Plenary Council?

Plenary Council will be held in two sessions. The first will be held in late 2020 (possibly October) and the second session will be held in mid-2021 (possibly in May).

The Council will be held in two sessions in order to enable to deeper discernment, further learning, dialogue and listening where it may be needed and to write or rewrite anything in response to the dialogue of the first session.

Most importantly, the time in between will allow us to ensure we are “listening to what the spirit is saying”. Rev 2:7

Where will the Plenary Council be held?

The first session of the Plenary Council will be held in Adelaide, in October 2020.

The second session is proposed to be held in a metropolitan city on the eastern seaboard. It will likely be Sydney, because it is where the Catholic Church in Australia first began and where the 1937 Plenary Council was held.

The facilitation team is currently working on these options and exploring what is possible.

How is a Plenary Council different from a Synod?

Both gatherings can be influential for the Church. A Plenary Council is the highest form of gathering of local church and has legislative and governance authority. The decisions that are made at the Council become binding for the Catholic Church in Australia. A Synod does not have this legislative and governance authority.

Does my voice, my experience, sharing my story really matter?

Yes absolutely! Each of us is called as children of God to respond to Pope Francis’s invitation to become a “synodal” Church – a Church of faith-filled people who speak boldly and with passion, and who listen deeply with an open and humble heart.

In his address to the Bishops of the world, Pope Francis explains the importance of listening, dialogue and prayer.

“A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening is more than simply hearing. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7).”

Go to the Resources page and see how you and your local community can be involved.

How can I be involved in Plenary Council 2020?

There are many ways you can be involved. Go to the Resources page.

Can I pray for the success of the Plenary Council?

Yes, you can. And we’d be most grateful if you did. The Plenary Council prayer was composed to coincide with the opening of the Plenary Council process at Pentecost 2018, but it will guide the three-year journey towards the final session in May 2021.

You can access the prayer here in multiple formats.

The Listening and Dialogue phase is over. What happens now?

With the Listening and Dialogue phase now complete, the National Centre for Pastoral Research will continue the deep listening process, conducting a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the submissions received and, using best-practice research methods, will identify key themes that have emerged.

Then, in May, the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, the Plenary Council Executive Committee and the Facilitation Team will work together with the National Centre for Pastoral Research to finalise the National Themes for Discernment.

Those themes will become the focus for the Listening and Discernment phase and will be the foundations for the Plenary Council agenda.

When was the last Plenary Council in Australia?

The last Plenary Council was held 80 years ago in Australia in 1937. For a detailed insight into Plenary Councils in Australasia, read Peter Wilkinson’s article published in The Swag.

You can find it here.

What will be on the agenda for the Plenary Council session in 2020

The agenda for the first session of the Council will be formed in response to the dialogue and listening process that will happen during 2018-19. After an open and inclusive process of listening, dialogue, prayer and discernment, we will form the Council agenda in late 2019 and early 2020.

Who attends the Plenary Council sessions?

“Plenary” refers to the Council being attended by all local churches that are in Australia. This means the geographical dioceses such as Brisbane Archdiocese, Lismore Diocese etc., as well as the other local churches, which include the Military Diocese, Eastern Church Eparchies and others of this nature. Altogether, Australia has 34 “local churches”.

The delegates of the Council sessions are leaders with particular roles in our local churches. These are outlined in canon law (c. 443) and fall into two categories: those who must be called, and those who can be called.

Those who must be called to the Council include:

  • All diocesan Archbishops and Bishops;
  • All auxiliary Bishops;
  • Other titular Bishops who have been given special functions in Australia, either by the Apostolic See or by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference;
  • All Vicars General;
  • All Episcopal Vicars;
  • Some Superiors and Congregational Leaders of religious orders; and
  • Some rectors of seminaries in Australia

Those who may be called to the Council include:

  • Lay people;
  • Clergy;
  • Retired Bishops living in Australia at the time of the Council.

The number of people who can be called to the Council must be a maximum of half of those who must be called: i.e. if the total number of people who must be called is 164, then the maximum number of others who may be called is 82 people.

All Council delegates have a vote. Some have a deliberative vote, while others have a consultative vote. The deliberative voting is how the final decisions are made at the Council. These deliberative decisions are forwarded to Rome to ensure they are consistent with the universal teachings of the Catholic Church and then the legislation becomes binding for the Catholic Church in Australia.

Others such as advisors and consultors can also be invited to the Council as guests. Observers may also be invited. Anyone invited as a guest or observer does not have voting rights at the Council.

Who is on the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council 2020?

See the Bishops Commission page.

What is the role of the Executive Committee?

The Executive Committee is an advisory body to the Bishops Commission and the Facilitation Team. The people on the Executive Committee have a diversity of skills and experience particularly relevant to a Plenary Council and offer this expertise to the Bishops and the Facilitators to help to guide the process of dialogue, listening and discernment.

Who is on the Executive Committee?

See the Executive Committee section.

What is the role of the Facilitation Team?

The facilitation team is responsible for helping the Church in Australia to prepare for the Plenary Council. This includes enabling a dialogue and listening process that all people can engage in about the future of the Church in Australia; providing and facilitating education and formation about topics related to the Plenary Council and the mission of the Church; and also organising the events of the Plenary Council sessions in 2020 and 2021.

Who is on the Facilitation Team?

See the Facilitation Team section.

My question is not here

We will be adding more information to this website regularly. If you have a question about any aspect of the Plenary Council that isn’t answered here, please send us an email and we will respond and add it to the list of FAQs.

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