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 is being held so that we can dialogue about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.

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.

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.”

The journey is taking place over several years 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.

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.

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 was originally slated to take place in Adelaide, October 2020. This would have been followed by Assembly 2 in Sydney, July 2021.

The celebration phase of the Plenary Council is over. What happens now?

The Plenary Council has three phases: preparation, which took place over more than three years; celebration, which included the two assemblies and the nine months between them; and implementation, which started after the second assembly and will unfold in coming years.

At the second assembly, the following motion passed:

That the Plenary Council adopt the following steps for ensuring the effectiveness and accountability of the Implementation phase, to take place over a period of five years:

      1. the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council will be responsible for establishing terms of review for the Plenary Council’s implementation;
      2. a roundtable body such as that proposed in Decree 7, Article 2, will be responsible for co-ordinating the review;
      3. interim reports will be published in 2023 and 2025; and
      4. the final review report will be published five years after the Second Assembly, in 2027.

Much of the work of implementation will take place at the local level, including at diocesan synods that are expected to take place within five years of the conclusion of the Plenary Council’s celebration.

How can I be involved in Plenary Council?

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

Go to the Resources page for more.

Who is on the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council?

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 assemblies in 2021 and 2022.

Who is on the Facilitation Team?

See the Facilitation Team section.

Where can I find the final Council decrees?

During the second general assembly, more than 35 motions were put to a consultative and a deliberative vote. Those motions that received a qualified majority in the deliberative vote – two-thirds of voters eligible and present – were passed by the Plenary Council. They were confirmed as the decrees of the Plenary Council.

After the November 2022 meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the decrees will be sent to the Apostolic See. In accordance with canon 446 of the Code of Canon Law, decrees are not to be promulgated until they have been reviewed by the Apostolic See. They will be promulgated in the Australasian Catholic Record and the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in accordance with its usual practice. The decrees will oblige six months after promulgation.

The decrees and other material can be found on the home page of the Plenary Council website.

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 assembly 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.

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 2021)

How were the members 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 members (then called delegates) was finalised in February 2020 and made public in March 2020.

What will be on the agenda for the Plenary Council assembly in 2021?

The agenda for the Plenary Council will be developed over the months leading up to the first assembly in October 2021 (formerly October 2020) 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 Working Document (Instrumentum Laboris) will be the foundation for the agenda for the first assembly of the Plenary Council.

Who will attend the Plenary Council assemblies?

There will be three main groups of people attending the Council’s assemblies: Members; Advisers; and Observers.

Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia are those who have been called to participate in the assemblies. Some of the members are people who “must” be called to a plenary council, as outlined in Church law; others are people who “may” be called, who were chosen through a range of processes across the country. The members have, at times, been referred to as “delegates” to the Council. The language of “member” better reflects the canonical status of those called to a Council, as well as the sense that all members are there to represent the People of God in Australia, not just their local Church community. Members are the only people who can vote at the Council assemblies. It is expected there will be 280 members at the assemblies.

Advisers to the Council are people with particular expertise across a range of matters, such as theology, Scripture, governance, formation, ecclesiology (study of the Church), who can be called upon by members, individually or collectively, to provide advice on particular matters to assist with their discernment and decision-making. Advisers are sometimes called “experts” or “periti”, a latin term used to describe the experts at the Second Vatican Council and other major Church events.

Observers are people who, as the name suggests, observe the proceedings of the Council assemblies because of their particular relationship with the Catholic Church in Australia. Following the tradition of other Church gatherings, the observers are likely to include Catholic leaders from other parts of the world, especially New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia; leaders of other Christian denominations; and leaders of other faith traditions. The observers might attend some or all of the assemblies.

The Members, Advisers and Observers will be supported by staff and volunteers helping with the facilitation of discernment, technology requirements, events management and liturgical needs. Media and communications staff will help document the national and local aspects of the Council assemblies.