About the Plenary Council in general

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?

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 are the Plenary Council assemblies?

The first Assembly of the Plenary Council will take place via a multi-modal format from October 3 to 10, 2021. The Second Assembly will take place in Sydney, from July 4 to 9, 2022.

The first Assembly of the Plenary Council 2020 was originally slated to take place in Adelaide, October 2020. This would have been followed by Assembly 2 in Sydney, July 2021.

Read the full media release on the postponement HERE and the multimodal format HERE.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, will the Adelaide assembly still happen in October 2020?

As of June 2020, Assembly 1 will be held in Adelaide on October 2-10, 2021 and Assembly 2 will be held in Sydney on July 4-9, 2022.

Read the full media release on the postponement HERE and the multimodal format HERE.

The first Assembly of the Plenary Council 2020 was originally slated to take place in Adelaide, October 2020. This would have been followed by Assembly 2 in Sydney, July 2021. It was decided that the assemblies would be postponed due to social distancing measures preventing the ability to facilitate delegate formation and making logistical preparation difficult.

Read the full media release on the postponement HERE.

Where will the Plenary Council be held?

As of June 2020, Assembly 1 will be held through a mix of online and in-person events across Australia. This decision was made based on changes due to COVID-19. The original Adelaide venue for Assembly 1 was unlikely to be able to host the gathering of more than 300 people, even in 2021, due to social distancing requirements and general security. Read the media release on the multi-modal format HERE.

Assembly 2 will be held in Sydney on July 4-9, 2022.

Read the full media release on the new dates HERE.

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.

How can I be involved in Plenary Council 2020?

There are many ways you can be involved, including being part of Communal Discernment session.

Go to the Resources page for more.

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.

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.

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.

About Listening and Dialogue (ended May 2019)

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

With the Listening and Dialogue phase now complete, the National Centre for Pastoral Research conducted qualitative and quantitative analysis of the submissions received and, using best-practice research methods, identified key subject areas that emerged.

The Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, the Plenary Council Executive Committee and the Facilitation Team worked with the National Centre for Pastoral Research to develop the National Themes for Discernment.

Those themes will become the focus for the Listening and Discernment phase, during which time people will be invited to reflect on the National Themes for Discernment as we journey towards the first session of the Plenary Council.

Did you read my Listening and Dialogue submission?

Yes we did! Both the Facilitation Team and the National Council for Pastoral Research read every submission. This was necessary for us to be able to specifically understand the unique context and meaning behind every submission.

The analysis of these submissions was done through the lens of a qualitative analysis, which means that all submissions were read and placed into categories that shared similar aspects to be able to identify the patterns and themes that linked the responses.

From those categories, and following reflection, prayer and discernment, the six National Themes for Discernment emerged.

About Discernment (ongoing)

What are the National Themes for Discernment?

After the analysis was carried out on the submissions sent in from the Listening and Dialogue stage of the Plenary Council journey, the National Council for Pastoral Research conducted qualitative analysis on these submissions to group them into categories that had similar aspects. After reflection and prayer, the six “National Themes for Discernment” emerged.

In looking at the National Themes for Discernment, for the next stage of the Plenary Council journey we are asking all Australians to communally discern how God is calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is:

  • Missionary and evangelising
  • Inclusive, participatory and synodal
  • Prayerful and Eucharistic
  • Humble, healing and merciful
  • A joyful, hope-filled and servant community
  • Open to conversion, renewal and reform

People are encouraged to continue to consider, reflect on and discuss those themes from a local and national perspective as we move towards the Plenary Council assemblies.

Where can I submit my group’s discerned response? Until when can we submit?

The discernment and writing groups are working towards preparing draft papers by the end of March/early April in 2020. So it would be a good idea to have any responses to your communal discernment into them by the end of January in order for them to consider it as they are writing.

Afterwards, your group is welcome to continue sending in responses to the group discernment in order for the delegates of the Plenary Council to read until July 2020.

The portal is open now, so any response are welcome any time, we (the facilitation team) will pass them along weekly to the chairs of the Discernment and Writing groups. Additionally, as repsonses come in, we will add them to the webpage, so you can see the responses coming in from others.

The response form can be found at the bottom of the Let’s Listen and Discern Page

Who are the people serving on the Discernment and Writing Groups?

Lay people, priests and religious were selected, after a thorough application and interview process, to serve on the six Discernment and Writing Groups, which are each focusing on one of the six national themes for discernment. Each group also has two bishops.

The people serving on the groups come from a variety of backgrounds. The chair of each group has provided a brief comment on their involvement with the Plenary Council and their hopes for the once-in-a-lifetime process. Choose a national theme for discernment on this page to read those messages and see a list of the group members.

About the Assemblies (October 2020)

How were the delegates of the Plenary Council chosen?

A process of calling for Expressions of Interest happened in each local diocese across Australia from November 2019 to December 2020. These processes differed per diocese. Please inquire your local diocese if you have any more questions about this.

The list of delegates was finalised in February 2020 and made public in March 2020.

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

The agenda for the Plenary Council will be developed over the months leading up to the first assembly in October 2021 and in response to the fruits of discernment. At Pentecost 2020, discernment papers were prepared for each of the six national themes for discernment, drawing upon the submissions during the Listening and Dialogue phase, Church teaching and tradition, Scripture and additional wisdom from inside and beyond the Church. The discernment papers and the subsequent instrumentum laboris (working document) will be the foundation for the agenda for the first session of the Plenary Council.

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.