Martin Ashe

The plenary was a grace filled event from my perspective. This was so in the midst of the ups and downs of each of the days of the Plenary sessions.

The most difficult day was in addressing the motion on the equal dignity of women and men. It was a difficult time for us when we could not reach the two thirds majority and there were all kinds of emotions in the room being experienced. At the same time there was also a determination to find a way forward out of our impasse. Indeed, there was a great sense of trust and a generosity of spirit being displayed amongst the members.

The spirit of synodality emerged as members stayed together to listen more deeply and to seek a new way to move forward together for the sake of the whole. I felt that the Holy Spirit was with us in providing us with the courage and the good will to address more appropriately this motion. In fact I felt that after this moment in time, we were able to embrace a better process that enabled us all to believe that we each had a say.

I would like to give thanks to Bishop Shane Mackinlay and the other members of the Steering committee for moving us forward with purpose and commitment to our task. The morning prayer with the music and singing was very moving at times and we were also blessed to have the involvement of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters and their creativity in the ritual of Welcome to Country.

I believe the First Assembly and especially the Spiritual Conversations over the time of the assemblies enabled us to be ready and committed to the success of the Second Assembly. Well done to all in the organizing committee and IT for their hard work and for all who created a welcoming and hospitable environment for the days of the Assembly.

With every grace and blessing,

Helen Belcher

Thoughts on the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council

Whilst the Second Assembly is a step along the pilgrim way, not the final destination, it delivered I believe several benefits.

The disruption on Day Three was Spirit inspired, most notably due to the fruits that flowed from the disruption. First, it led to a redrafting of Part 4 which ultimately achieved the necessary votes to pass – we did have something to say about women. Secondly, it led to an improved process – hearing from members after the first round of Spiritual Conversations meant members were engaging and addressing the motions at the appropriate time. On Day Two signs of polarisation, which were shaping interventions and proposed amendments related to LGBTQI+ issues but most notably Part 4 with the focus on female ordination to the diaconate became evident. The protest and the response of the Steering Committee to halt the agenda and change the process produced better discernment and better decisions. It also delivered what I perceive as a third fruit namely the palpable change in tone and atmosphere. The Assembly could have descended into chaos but members demonstrated we could have open and respectful conversations when we opened ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Members became more open, but importantly more willing to engage with those who were not of the same opinion.

The acknowledgement and championing of the participation of First Nations Peoples in the life of our Church; the recording of deep sorrow for the wrong inflicted on children; and the Council’s commitment to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor were also notable.

Much remains to be done and implementing the measures agreed will take time and energy but the Plenary Council as a whole was an amazing and blessed experience. In part this was due to the good will and work of the members but it was also due to the planning and work undertaken by the Steering Committee, the Drafting Committee, and the Facilitation Team.

Appreciation and thanks are also due to the many across Australia who participated in the journey by providing their responses, feedback, support and prayers along the way.

Thank you all.

Brian Boyle

In the week past, together with some 275 member delegates, I attended the second general assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church. The gathering was held at St Mary’s Cathedral College, next to St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. This assembly was in person; the first general assembly was held on line last October.

On reflection, it was a privilege and a grace to attend this Plenary Council at which, under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we sought to discern and discuss what God is asking of our Australian Catholic Church at this time. It is true we are no longer the Church we once were; however, it was inspiring to sit in the company of some 300 other faith filled and committed Catholics during our week of discussion.
The program for the week was full and intense. I found the experience physically and emotionally demanding. Our days were filled with prayer, reflection, discussion, voting. Member delegates were assigned a table grouping (nine in our group), and you basically spent the week with that group, interacting from there with the general assembly.

The document we followed was entitled ‘Motions and Amendments’ in which all the discussions and reflections of the several years of preparation for the Plenary were gathered together. There were eight themes or parts of this document, taking up key themes of the Plenary preparation. One of these parts which formed the substance of table and then general assembly discussion was entitled “Called by Christ sent Forth as Missionary Disciples”. Voting followed discussion; consultative vote for member delegates (online voting) and deliberative vote for Bishops (hard copy), with good synchronicity in the voting patterns.

The theme or part which attracted the most attention was part 4: ‘Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women & Men’. As many of you are aware, this part also received significant media attention. The original draft was rejected in the voting. I personally thought the draft was inadequate, as did many other Plenary members. We then had the dramatic scene of a significant number of members standing on the side of the assembly place, in protest. Did the Plenary have anything to say about equal dignity? It was certainly a watershed moment. We asked the drafting committee to come up with a new draft on this key topic, and several days later the new statement was enthusiastically received and passed. The Holy Spirit had led us through a time of crisis and distress to a deeper understanding of our equal dignity before God.

During the days of the Plenary I found myself returning, in reflection and in prayer, to a marvellous homily preached in Rome by Pope Francis for the Feast of Pentecost. Basically Francis preached about the activity of the Holy Spirit, how you recognise the presence and work of the Spirit, as opposed to the presence of the evil spirit. The content of the homily seemed most opportune for the work of the Plenary. As Francis says, discernment is a subtle skill acquired over a lifetime. The Spirit is present in calm, respectful listening; the Spirit can also create a ruckus!

As the Plenary closed, members were given two key questions to guide their reflection: What has the Holy Spirit revealed to me in this journey? How will I contribute to a hope-filled future? Much to ponder on and to give thanks. It was a grace and a privilege to attend the Plenary.

Fr Brian Boyle ADM

Edmund Brown

It was a privilege to be part of our Diocesan group who participated in the Plenary Council. I confess to not really appreciating the ramifications of my ‘expression of interest’ over 2 ½ years ago, but I maintained an enthusiastic and hopeful spirit of anticipation that the Plenary Council would signal a new beginning for the Catholic Church in Australia. I was constantly aware of the extensive process of preparation and consultation which preceded the Second Assembly and I was attentive to listening to what the Spirit was saying in the voices of many hundreds of members of our Church who engaged in the process of prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment in the journey of the Plenary Council.

I also must admit to not fully understanding the concept of ‘synodality’ which has recently been discussed extensively. I am however certain that it was evident in the Second Assembly which concluded after an intensive and, at times, challenging week of reflection, discussion and voting on the motions on the key themes identified during the extensive process of preparation and consultation. Some excellent and life-giving recommendations, commitments and initiatives were approved.

I fully appreciate that the Plenary Council is a first step in a new era for our Church in Australia, and there is much work to be done. It is crucial that we move into the ‘implementation phase’ of the Plenary Council with the same energy and enthusiasm evident at the Second Assembly, and that we resolve to continue our journey as a more missionary and Christ-centred Church in Australia.

Tony Chiera

To have been a Member of the Plenary Council second Assembly was a singular and unique gift for me.

I was privileged to experience and witness firsthand the growing synodality of the Australian Church.

Like all growth the week took its toll, for the steps toward synodal maturity are clearly complex, costly and the “slow work of God”. But the fruits of this emerging synodality became evident as the interplay of so many gifts came to the fore. The voices, gifts and experiences of Members engaged with the skills and gifts of the whole Plenary Team in creative and determined ways, and the fruits emerged. There was new direction in the face of uncertainty, healing and clarity in the face of confusion and pain, and finally a way forward to becoming a more missionary Church.

All this was made possible by the Holy Spirit, invoked so many times, and the Assembly’s proximity to the pain of so many in Australia as we listened to the cries of First Peoples’, women, the earth, youth, gay people and so
many more vulnerable brothers and sisters. The synodality at work during the Assembly has planted seeds of compassion and generated new ways for the Church in Australia to both bring ,and become, the Good News of Jesus Christ for our times.

Congratulations Australian Church! Come, Holy Spirit!

Monica Conway

The image of a roller coaster ride best describes my experience of the Plenary Council. To be in the room with other members was the first wave of excitement and anticipation. After four years of listening, discernment and discussion and the first Plenary Session online, we were finally meeting to discern matters that would shape the future of the Church in Australia. The attention and time given to the acknowledgment and welcome to country filled me with the hope that the Plenary Council would be a space which engendered new understandings and commitments. The first sessions confirmed this, as motions addressing Reconciliation and Healing were discerned and passed in the deliberative voting.

The interventions and consultative voting on the motions related to the equal dignity of women and men at the end of day three were a clear sign that the ride had become bumpy. When the deliberative voting results were announced at the beginning of day four, a storm blew through the room. I was very aware that the outpouring of grief from many in the room represented not only our personal feelings but those of many others, because so many have struggled with the current status of women in the Church and held such high hopes for some progress during the Plenary Council. The fact that it was one of the most critical issues for those who engaged in discernment over the past three years, intensified the emotion and incredulity for many Plenary members.

The reaction to the vote however became a moment of disruption inspired by the Spirit. The decision to revise the program and take time to discuss and revisit the processes, and the motions, toward a new vote was a watershed moment. Through flexible, mature and genuine discernment we were able to move forward together.

I am incredibly grateful to have been a Plenary member and hope to actively promote implementation in my own diocese and beyond. I feel deep gratitude to all Plenary members, organisers and all those who contributed over the past four years.

Brigid Cooney

My journey with the Plenary Council has shown me the face of Christ in the Church in Australia today. The Plenary Council showed me the hope, perseverance present in each of us and the good work that God is doing through the Church in Australia. It was an honour to journey with Catholics from all over the country, to hear their stories and to walk with them as we discerned what the Holy Spirit was asking of us. God was so clearly present during the Plenary and moved powerfully in all those involved. It gives me such hope for the future of the Church here and around the world and was an example of Spirit-filled Synodality in action.

Kerry Crowley

I appreciated being a member of the Fifth Plenary Council. The Council is a sign that our Church is striving to be relevant in the twenty first Century and beyond: to be true to her mandate to “Go make disciples” and for the Gospel to spread.

The tasks of consultation, assimilation, presentation, adaptation and adoption were herculean. Good results were achieved with the guidance of the Holy Spirit; steps were made along the way.

My conviction is that the members and hierarchy have listened and have heard, to what the Spirit is saying; our Church is in a better place to be ‘Good News,’ Jesus Christ is present.

Fr Kerry Crowley
Member, Diocese of Cairns

Daniel de la Motte

The Plenary Assembly was an awesome reminder of the diverse gifts, talents and perspectives of the people of the Church in Australia. As I come away from the celebration, three enduring remain with me:

  1. spiritual listening and speaking (conversation) are elements of our communion, we need these spiritual foods to fully celebrate our communion. If all we delegates took this practice back to our parishes and ministries and made it a reality in that context the church would be that much more open to the Spirit of life and the change for growth it brings!
  2. Catholics in Australia are energised and gifted to do the work of the Spirit and do so in many places already. Sometimes when these gifts and energies first emerge or are denied a way of expression they can manifest as antagonistic or foreign to the life of the church. This creates hurt and frustration which we witnessed at our celebration. Our priests and church leaders are called to patiently receive and acknowledge these gifts and energies and to encourage and direct them, with the aid of the sacraments, to flow where they are needed. But they must flow. An example of this that deeply moved me was that of one of my table-mates who with the blessing of her bishop, has kept the work of her rural parish active and sacramentally nourished for 20 years! How blessed are we to have her!
  3. The Church has the mandate to encourage through the provision of the sacraments as St. Paul said to Timothy: “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

May we together realise the power of the Spirit which calls us to love and to grow in love through disciplines like spiritual conversation which order our every action to the ends of God for the Church and the World.

Mark Edwards

In the assembly and on my ‘stable table’ I experienced people from a great diversity of backgrounds. The breadth and variety of the Church was on display: bush/city; Eastern Rite/Latin; aboriginal/Australian born/overseas born; and from across all spectrums. What we had in common is a zealous love for and commitment to the Church and its mission. It was a precious experience of Church and I was privileged to be a part of the journey.

A wonderful and key part of the process was the listening. We were able to find pathways forward because we heard, recognised and responded to concerns.

Archbishop Tim Costelloe, president of the Plenary Council, opened with an address which was prescient. Among other things, he emphasised that we are not combatants each wanting our way to prevail over others but sisters and brothers who want the Lord’s will to be done. He encouraged us not to fear that the Spirit has abandoned us or that this journey has been a purely human experience (rather than one guided by the Lord). We needed these words and this advice very particularly when we dealt with the document “Witnessing to the equal equality of women and men.”

The text was only just achieved assent in the consultative (non-bishop advisory) vote and failed at the deliberative (bishop’s) votes. The failure of this document to be affirmed was experienced as dismissive and hurtful by some of the women and men and led to a very messy and tense moment.

There was a gracious re-engagement which was testament to the commitment of all to the Church and to this process. The subsequent listening to the hurt and the reasons why the vote was not passed provided an opportunity for understanding and an even better document. This eventually led to unity at a deeper, more engaged level. Even in the moment of confusion and pain, interactions were largely very gracious, courteous and respectful and people looked to de-escalate. I experienced this as an aspect of God’s grace and, more specifically, the Holy Spirit’s work at our Plenary Council assembly. I learned from this that I need to look for where Jesus is in the broken and dark places. Perhaps we are closer to him in such moments than we are in sunny times.

One of the great joys for me has been the experience of my ‘stable table’. We are on the same tables for the duration of the week and I was with 8 wonderful, faith filled, zealous and joyful companions.

Adrian Farelly

My ongoing memory of the assembly is the way we grouped in our table settings. I did hear that we were divided up by an algorithm someone devised. However we got there, the membership of the table reflected the membership of the church: bishop, priest, religious, lay men and women, single and married. Often at gatherings, when left to making our own choices, we gravitate to those like us. Not this time. Lay faithful, men and women, bishop, priest, religious we accepted we were a community and prayed and discerned as a community.

The Word of scripture was our starting point as we took the words to heart and sought the guidance of the Spirit with the overriding aim of being a more Christ-centred church and ourselves as intentional missionary disciples.

The issues before us in the motions, are the issues of our day, ecclesiastical and secular. The image of the man in last Sunday’s gospel, beaten, robbed and left for dead at the side of the road, was very much in our minds and hearts we came face to face with how we have acted like brigands and left people injured and impoverished. At the same time, the evil does not have the last say and it did not during our time in Sydney.

I am much uplifted, have new friends and new insights into my faith.

Sally Fitzgerald

I had an amazing experience as one of the members of the Plenary Council. While I found it hard at times, heavy going at other times and very emotional at various stages, I still had a “great” time!

While it was great to be part of this historical event, I also thought that it was great to be part of the diversity of the Council-hearing and listening to the various opinions whether I agreed with them or not. This is how life in the real world is! I felt it was a challenge at times, to hear some of the opinions-some I thought were nit picking and at other times I felt that some of the members just wanted their”15 minutes of fame”. I have no tolerance for such behaviour!

I met up with so many people that I had only “met” on Zoom! I renewed friendships and made new ones! One of the great things that I realised by attending the Plenary Council was that I am not doing my work on my own-there is support out there in the Church if I reach out to others!

I had a few misgivings about sitting at a table with people that I didn’t know-but, at our table we all got on and shared and cared for each other-and some of us are going to keep in touch. This is a very positive outcome!

Above all – I had fun!!!If we can’t have a laugh, then we are dead to others! Laughter is the best medicine! I returned home exhausted, but revitalised and ready to go again!

Thanks a million for including me! I loved it!

Wendy Goonan

I was involved in the Plenary as a volunteer for my diocese and deanery, disseminating the messages as they came through and encouraging people to be involved. I studied hundreds of submissions to try to understand the breadth and depth of the Catholic experience in Australia. I was keen to be a member and delighted to have been called. I enjoyed the many hours I devoted to the Council and the learning I gained along the way, and was always optimistic about the Council.

I commend you on the calling of the Council and the work done in preparation and celebration phases. We can all be proud that we have shown the world a good way to get such a gathering going and done, even if there were flaws. I will continue to promote the Council as a good for our Church, and will try to help ensure it enjoys a good reception in my area.

I found the experience to be very uplifting in the main, despite the flaws in the process which at times were upsetting. The first assembly had several flaws that contributed to the second one being less well-informed than it could have been. It is likely that some of these flaws would have been less significant if we had been able to meet in person.

My fellow members, almost “to a man”, were welcoming and ready to engage. I value greatly my encounters with people from all over the country and beyond, and their willingness to share stories with me. My table of members at the second assembly was a joy to work with.

I found that not everyone I encountered over the four years shared my optimism for the Council, but most were prepared to give the Council a chance to prove itself, and acknowledged that this would take time, though some of their concerns are urgent.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some writers in the Catholic media, especially the Catholic Weekly, which I understand to have a national distribution, and possibly the only print communication from outside the parish in many places. Several commentators and opinion writers therein were ill-informed, or simply took small issues and made them appear significant, often using language that disparaged the views of their perceived “other side”. Many cases made were unfair or poorly researched or both. I was greatly saddened to find this also happened during and following the second assembly. I felt ashamed that a Catholic newspaper could publish opinions whose writing did not seem Christian in their tone, when the Council is of great interest around the world.

I wish you all well as you close and complete this phase and hope that the implementation phase will be worthy of the dedication, care and investment of the thousands of people who contributed.

David Green

The Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia was an amazing experience, producing both challenges and rewards.

I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions around the table, listening to everyone’s perspective and opinions. This was truly the heart and soul of the Assembly. Being able to sit at a table with priests, bishops and lay people and have an equal voice across a spectrum of topics was amazing.

Throughout the week, with all its ups and downs, it was this ongoing connection with people from all across the country and working with them to forge a path for the Church here in Australia generated feelings of hope and excitement in everyone.

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in something so important and am very eager to see the ideas and motions from the Plenary Council come to life over the next few years.

Alison Hamilton

With excitement and anticipation, I arrived in Sydney airport on Sunday 3rd July 2022 and found the first of many Plenary Council (PC) helpers.

The opening Mass was a graced-filled Mass! The welcome to country and Bishop Columba’s homily was a blessing and so appropriate. Supper and fellowship after Mass was friendly and sectional (for someone knowing so few) early but after a short time, very welcoming.

On Monday and at Table 25 I was pleased to meet 7 wonderful Catholics who made me feel very welcome. The knowledge and faith around my table was plentiful and generous. I was amazed to witness the many blessed and mission filled people doing God’s work in Australia and abroad in the Hall. The daily presentations, liturgy and music each day were amazing. Up until Wednesday I felt I was in the Hall only to tick and flick through the motions. Reflecting on the motions, I believed they were well worded and written in goodwill.

Through the conversations, interventions and presentations of many in the room I realised my limited and simple understanding of them and even my Catholic foundations but blessed that there were others called to the PC with many varied gifts that could enrich those motions.

The Bishops’ deliberative votes results of Section 4 changed the course of the week. I was stunned. Those votes (if nothing had been done) would have meant that section would have been thrown out and in my simple view would allow many to judge the PC as a failure. There was a lot of stress in the room that day with many disappointed and even angry. I was told by one young woman the vote results were the work of the Holy Spirit and the result should be accepted. However, my heart burned when I saw many in the room who weren’t willing to accept them.

With the bravery and courage of many, I too joined the call to action. Bishop Shane and his team then guided the Assembly through a possible process and order was restored.

I believed the Holy Spirit can and was a disrupter and the PC had been disrupted. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and using the gifts of many, the Writing group produced a new set of motions and these were eventually accepted.

In the remaining days of the Assembly the motions were addressed in an improved manner and many blessing came.

During the week I occasionally felt overwhelmed by my inadequacy and at times I questioned why I was there. I was unsettled to realise how limited and simple my view of the Catholic Church is and how huge and legalistic the Canonical Laws of the Church are. I was also reminded that my Catholic tradition (both with the little t and the capital T) was both an accident and gift of my birth. I reflected on my wish of my involvement on the PC was to assist to make the Catholic Church a more inclusive and less judgmental.

Post the PC, I realized I too need to concentrate on these goals. It is not just the collective but individuals that need to make the Church this way. Most weeks I spend only 1hr at Church and the rest of the week I have many opportunities (not always taken up) to pray and for spiritual reflection. Inside and outside the Church walls and filled with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, I hope my interaction with others I can be missionary and show others how Jesus loves me unconditionally and with this grace I can make them feel included and loved.

Was the PC successful? There will be many different views on this question.I know I witnessed many Spirit-filled people working hard to discern how God is calling us to be a Christcentred Church in Australia that is missionary and evangelizing. Many topics were considered, and actions planned. Not everything was achieved however it will be wise to remember the 2nd Assembly is not the end of this journey but the start for many to calls to actions to be a more inclusive, evangelizing Christ-centred Church in Australia.

May we all and especially the Bishops be granted wisdom and grace as they take the nextsteps of this journey.

Maeve Heaney

Being a part of the Plenary Council was an honour and privilege, and it opened my eyes to the real issues facing the Church in this country, now and into the future. It was also both energising and exhausting, as it involved entering into a real process of dialogue, listening and discussion about areas of our lives of faith that are important to all of us, even when we do not agree. Through it all, I experienced the Spirit very much at work, and “when God works, we sweat”, as the work of the Reign of God in our lives passes through us, not around us.

I was disappointed by some of the media coverage post the event, in particular the way in which Catholics air public disagreement with little thought for the faith of those who are more vulnerable. But this also proved to me the need for ongoing dialogue and deep listen.

My prayer to the Spirit is that we accept and implement this challenge.

Gerard Holohan

Broadly speaking, the charisms of the ordained empower them to share in the ministry of the Risen Jesus as Teacher, Sanctifier and Leader in Love of parish and diocesan communities. They serve in ‘the Person of Christ’.

Charisms the basis for Church leadership and synodality

All effective leadership in the Church, lay and ordained, flows from the Risen Jesus who is the Head of his Church. Leaders are called to serve as his voice, hands, feet and eyes within Church communities.

Without an understanding of the charisms of both the lay faithful and the ordained, discussion of roles in parishes and dioceses becomes nothing more than superficial debates about power and ‘who can do what’.

Much of the confusion today about the exercise of leadership within the Church stems, it seems to me, from lack of understanding of the charisms received through Baptism and Holy Orders. My personal feeling during the Plenary Council was that tensions in some about leadership in the Church reflected perhaps lack of understanding of faith foundations.

Plenary Council delegates participating in the synodal discernment were lay faithful, priests, religious, deacons and bishops, each listening to the other.

How do Plenary Council decrees relate to our Diocese?

This is a question requiring the guidance of the Lord through the Holy Spirit. It will require further synodal discernment.

Dioceses have different pastoral priorities in response to different pastoral needs. They vary in available personnel and financial resources and this will have an impact upon the implementation of Plenary Council decrees.

To establish new ministries in many dioceses may require the suppression of existing ones. These are just some reasons why the answer to the above question needs to be synodal.

Fortunately, our 2019 Synod and the priorities identified by our priests in their more specific pastoral plan have already discerned some directions which the Plenary Council decrees affirm and contribute to. Our diocesan plan intended another Synod this year but Covid and other pressures, such as responding to financial compensation claims by survivors of historical abuse by two now deceased priests in particular, have hampered implementation. Few Synod recommendations do not require significant preliminary study and resources. Implementation has not been easy.

Putting together all recommendations by our Synod, the priests‘ pastoral plan and the Plenary Council, our immediate priorities need to be mission, the infrastructure needed for local parish faith formation, Parish Pastoral Council renewal and our priests.

Of mission, the first priority has been renewed catechesis and formation in the Eucharist. This has begun and will increase in the second half of 2022, along with Parish Pastoral Council renewal. The latter will include the development of charisms and synodality, including sacred conversations.

The 2019 Synod and our priests’ pastoral plan emphasise in particular the need to focus upon those who have drifted from the practice of the faith, or ‘new evangelisation’. We need to renew our parish communities to fulfil our wider mission of spreading the gospel in our cities and towns.

The Risen Jesus and his Gospel are the same as always. However, the ways he needs to be proclaimed where believers have drifted away are quite different today from those used when I was young.

‘Formation’ too is a very different process which focuses upon the whole person of faith, whereas presenting ‘information’ in courses is aimed at the intellect.

I hope that the above reflections and information are helpful for understanding something of the experience of one delegate in the Plenary Council. Thanks again to all who prayed and participated in the consultations over the last few year.

God bless, Bishop Gerard
25th July 2022

Toni Janke

Broadly speaking, the charisms of the ordained empower them to share in the ministry of the Risen Jesus as Teacher, Sanctifier and Leader in Love of parish and diocesan communities. They serve in ‘the Person of Christ’.

Charisms the basis for Church leadership and synodality

The Plenary Council journey has been one filled with a sense of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding me over the past few years, gently nudging and calling me to actively participating in the process. I have learned so much through the listening and discernment process. I know that God wants us to work together to rebuild and strengthen the Catholic Church is Australia at this point in time.

The Plenary Council has been an enormous gift in which clergy and lay people continue to work together for the future of the Church. As a diverse group of people we bring many gifts to the Church. I pray that we will continue to be open to these gifts and that much of the work that has been done will build a foundation for the future and that implementation of the various motions will have a genuine and meaningful practical result for everyone.

Katherine Jelavic

I can’t help thinking of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 when thinking of the Plenary Council. Most of its verses seem to be relevant.

It was also a time to meet people and hear their stories, to acknowledge country in the most beautiful manner each day, then to pray together, to eat and journey together through the highs and lows of the week. A time for soggy morning walks that took in views of the Opera House and the Bridge and definitely a time to make mad dashes to various venues in the wind and rain. A time to recognise the freedom of the Holy Spirit expressed in the Auslan sign language and evidenced in the room over the days of the Council.

It was a profound, enriching, and sometimes frightening experience to be a Council Member, and wonderful to meet and enjoy the company of so many people, members, organisers, periti and others, who are faith filled disciples of our Church.

Catherine Jones

It was a privilege to be a member of the PC.

To be in contact with so many Catholics from Western and Eastern Rites, diverse backgrounds and experiences was a gift in itself.
We all prayed for the Holy Spirit to come and indeed the Spirit came amidst chaos and divisiveness!

Bishop Shane McKinley was ‘born for the job’ as he led the group through a process of prayer, discernment and sharing, even being open to change the agenda and the format to accommodate the category ‘The equal dignity of women and men” which had caused division; and heartbreak for some.

Many hands prepared the PC and many others worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth running of the PC. To ensure the motions were recorded accurately and reflected the opinions of the members the drafting committee worked tirelessly each day. Writing and re writing motions as amendments were made.

There is hope for the Catholic Church because we did together what we could not have done alone; and all were open to the Holy Spirit.


Lourds Chitra Justin

The journey that I took with the plenary members and of the whole church in Australia was an extraordinary one. It is a unique opportunity given by God to walk with the people of God to learn the art of listening, discernment and speak boldly of what God is asking of me to be a Christ centered missionary disciple in Australia today. Christ centeredness is looking everything in the eyes of Christ and responding to the needs in a more concrete way. Its about bringing the values of Christ into reality.

This plenary journey enabled me to turn my attention from the distractions and waywardness to focus deeply on what the Spirit is saying to me and to us at this given time in each situation. During this three-year process I was able to experience the practice of synodality as Pope Francis terms it as “journeying together” with the whole people of God not leaving anyone behind. Is that easy? People who walk slowly, wobbly, faster than anyone, people whose walk seems to be a marathon… yes, it is about the inclusion of everyone. No one left behind, no one feeling that they are left out and lonely. Yes, I was able to see this kind of synodality in our Second Plenary sessions. The Holy Spirit led us in deep listening and dialogue with all the people in the table and to be the voice of God during interventions and making decisions.

The turn that the Holy Spirit enabled us to take to practice true synodality on the third day was such an exceptional one. Although there was turbulence and friction the turn that Bishop Shane and the bishop’s council took was purely the work of the Holy Spirit. There was a complete change in the process which was truly synodal. This process led Bishop Shane, the drafting group and the steering committee to be more flexible, giving priority to people’s voice rather than just sticking on to the schedule to complete the council is much appreciated.

I could experience the spirit of unity, the spirit of dedication born out of passion for the future of the Church among us. We were blessed with many committed and skilled leaders who were able to direct us and guide us throughout the journey.

My deepest commendation and awe filled appreciation go to our Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, the president of the Council and the vice president Bishop Shane MacKinlay for their leadership. There were so many committees of people who put their heart and soul to the success of this council. We are so proud that we belong to this such a diverse Church walking together with one goal of re-imaging our church to be Christ centered and missionary. Finally I am happy that the council produced some good fruits to enliven the Church in Australia after it has been approved by the Holy see.

Michael Lowcock

I would like to thank the organizers for a wonderful Spirit-filled week. The ultimate results were a sign that the Spirit was at work. The way you were able to respond to the immediate needs of the Plenary was a sure sign of the presence of the Spirit.

However, I would also like to record that I think there was a lot of inward gazing. I personally tried to raise issues of people on the margins which reflect society today and it really did not get a hearing – 1 minute. In Part 5 which I saw as the only possible opportunity to raise the issues it did not really get into the agenda. In particular we needed to reflect on our society and the issues the Australian and State Governments are talking about: Domestic Violence, Prisons, Addictions, Homeless and Lack of Housing, Mental Health, Youth at Risk and Work and Unemployment. These are what the world is on about and we had nothing to say to the world in which we live, except to look at ministry so often to those not on the margins. I am sure Pope Francis would have had this as a high agenda item.

Thank you again for a great week.

Dean Marin

I left the Plenary Council with a great sense of hope and confidence for the Church in Australia.

We were continually reminded that despite differences of vocations; bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, lay people, women or men, young or old, single or married we are of equal dignity before God and united by the Spirit and together called to seek what the Spirit is calling us to be and do in our land. This common purpose pervaded the whole time together even in the midst of moments that potentially could have divided us.

And what’s at the heart of moving forward? I take with me the words of Archbishop Costelloe in his homily at the final Mass. Renewal in the Church must be “Christ centred” “we are all called to holiness of life” and “to become missionary disciples.”

Fr Dean Marin VG
Archdiocese of Adelaide

Catherine McAleer

“We are one body, one body in Christ;
And we do not stand alone.
We are one body, one body in Christ;
And he came that we might have life.”
Dana Scallon

When I thought there were no more tears, they once again welled in my eyes and trailed a well-worn path down my cheeks. I was privileged to have a place at the table at the Plenary Council. I am very aware there were many who did not. As I sang, with around 300 others, led by an angelic voice, ‘and we do not stand alone’ undid me. We did not and we do not stand alone. I closed my eyes and countless faces scrolled through my mind, much like a movie reel. Reminding me that there is room at the table for all, that there have been centuries of sisters and brothers standing at the table and most importantly that this is a limitless table. A limitless table of love. As we move forward, I pray that we recognise Christ in all who come to the table, who might think about joining the table and those who want nothing to do with the table. We are after all united by being part of the human family, God’s family of ultimate love. This is what the Plenary Council was and always will be for me, a reminder to not forget each member of this precious family.

Thank you for the opportunity to share and be a part of this experience.

Angela McCarthy

As I reflect on the Council my principal feeling is one of gratitude. It was a privilege to be among so many faith-filled people who have worked towards this point for many years.

I was impressed by the leadership, particularly that of Archbishop Timothy Costelloe and Bishop Shane MacKinlay, and of the extraordinary people in the background who expertly completed the numerous tasks that made the Council successful. Its true success can only be seen when the implementation is well under way, but my experience was life changing. The conflict on Wednesday over Part 4 in regard to the place of women in the Church was deeply painful but at the same time lifted the whole work of the Council to a different level because of the work of the Holy Spirit among us. The process had to change and the behaviour of all involved had to change. We had some struggles at our table but they were resolved by the work we had to complete and with the power of the Holy Spirit which was real and tangible.

I am grateful that our Australian Catholic Church has been able to complete such a huge and valuable work which will surely move us towards a more Christ-centred and missionary Church.

Loretta McKeering

The Plenary Council has been an eye opening and transformative journey for me as I have listened to the many, many voices around the nation. While these voices have voiced differing opinions, the shared depth of faith and desire for a strong Catholic Church has been so encouraging. I thank each and every person who has engaged in any way during the process – with submissions, with prayers, with volunteering, with personal encouragement, or any other way; thank you for making the Plenary Council what it was. Even if you are deeply disappointed, if your submission wasn’t reflected in the final document, or you disappointed with the directions taken, please continue to be a part of this Church as it journeys forward to implement the Plenary Counci and so much more. If nothing else, this Plenary Council journey has highlighted to me how each one of us is the Church; it is up to each one of us to be the Church that we want it to be.

For me, the Plenary Council has been time consuming and draining, but totally worth it. It is my hope that the lessons learnt in synodality will be used for the ongoing betterment and journeying of our Church as both a body, and as a collective of individuals.

Aidan Mitchell

Being something of an adventure-seeker, the years of my Plenary Council journey have brought adventure aplenty. From being employed in my Diocese as a Local Network Coordinator to attending the Second Assembly, it has been an amazing ride with some profound moments in the plot.

Prior to the Assembly, the hidden blessing of covid-extended years of prayer, study and reflection were a critical preparation.

The First Assembly, although attended remotely, was a unique experience of being ‘authentically Church’ and I came away invigorated in faith and sense of service.

The Second Assembly also was a rare but real experience of the riches that can be uncovered if we truly listen to God and each other. The daily rhythm of prayer, reading, reflection and listening to each other, all with an openness to the Holy Spirit, made it less about achieving outcomes than the mode of gentle listening in which it was done. Yet we all know calling on the Holy Spirit will cause something unexpected and this was clearly proven in one of the motions.

For myself, arriving with something of a grudge with the Church to deal with, the passing of each day led me to a place of peace and healing and I was again left in wonder and awe at what had just taken place. My own implementation phase now calls me to convey the riches of this experience into the faith life of my family and community. This incredible adventure is not over yet.

James Monaghan

I was wondering, until the First Assembly. It was when we encountered each other in our wide diversity as Catholics, and honed the skills of spiritual listening and discernment – that I felt deep faith in the plenary. Those processes, in themselves, a gift to the church from here on in. In the Second, after an orderly start, we encountered the limits of human efforts and good intentions. This was a good thing, because in our flailing need, the Spirit was there. Discarding hubris, we were led forward. It came to me that our Catholic Church may have traditionally leaned toward proud self-reliance. The Plenary Council may be the watershed that sees us renewed as a humble community of disciples. Disciples who instinctively call out for help and inspiration from the one bequeathed to us for this very purpose, by Jesus. We met “the God who overturned our smooth predictabilities and led us into new territory”.
And a new theological metaphor uncovered for us – “manure”: letting go of cherished perspectives which have had their day begets new life and hope.

I’m grateful to so many of the Bishops who chose people with a diverse range of views, and including many younger women and men. To Pat Keady whose prayerful card lifted my spirits, along with the prayer messages from all over the country. To the brilliant people running the show, both upfront and behind the scenes. Fr Noel pulling a few strings for us! Spirited people, indeed.

Allison Newell

Face-to-face participation in the 2nd Assembly was inspiring and more than I could have dreamt it would be. Extraordinary people of faith coming together with one goal – to become a missionary Church which is more Christ centred.

Synodality was a word that I knew little about in practice until this time. Initially in its infancy as model for Church, by the Wednesday of the Plenary I felt the true challenge of synodality which was messy, painful and I believe Spirit driven. We could not have come away from the Plenary Council without a statement on the dignity of women; it was as if the Spirit would not allow this and drove us back together to reconsider, reframe and revote – inspired by the Scriptures. Tears flowed, previously unspoken words came to the surface, dialogue was respectful and sincere but somehow, through all the different opinions, walls fell, and we moved forward together. The outcome I believe is a step forward to the future. Not as strong as many would have hoped for, but stronger than others desired, I believe the vote was eventually an outcome of true synodality.

The other major reflections for me were the passing of motions in response to the cry of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, survivors of abuse and the earth. God dwells in the homes of families in all their messiness and chaos and I believe there was acknowledgement that all families need accompaniment as they travel through life, regardless of their make-up and frailties. Support to families, from the mountains to the seas, from the plains to the cities, came through again and again in many different contexts. Outreach to Catholics who have not felt welcome in our Church was received well.

While some were named, there are many who weren’t and my prayer moving forward is that our Church will walk more closely with all those on the peripheries, the poor, the disadvantaged, those in isolated rural and outback areas, refugees, the divorced, LGBTQIA people, people with disability, and all those previously left behind, as we journey along the many different pathways of discipleship towards a more Christ centred Church. Smart thinking and sharing of resources across dioceses in Australia will hopefully support the implementation of all the outcomes of the Plenary, including good governance, accountability and transparency.

Catherine Nguyen

Grateful, blessed, humbled, and privileged. These are some of the words to describe what it was like to have been a part of the Plenary Council – something that brought together people from different walks of life and vocations, to think about the church and where it is going.

I have been on this incredible journey for years now, invested so much into it and believing in the possibilities, and this phase of it reached its climactic conclusion in the Second Assembly – and what an occasion it was! It was extraordinary to be amongst bishops, clergy, religious, and the lay faithful gathered to fill the assembly hall with much collegiality, spirit, listening, disruption, unity, and forging ways forward. It was a frenetic time of joy and frustration, testing of patience, light-bulb moments, and everything in between and I could not help but be caught up in the emotion of it all. I soon discovered synodality was not for the faint-hearted, but it is utterly graced in every way.

I came into this assembly very excited, but also a little anxious as I felt a little out of my depth being amongst the most learned and influential of the church. All I could speak from was my heart and experience of the church. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find that it was not only enough, but added to the richness, depth, and diversity of our spiritual conversations. I am grateful to the wonderful people at my table for their support and encouragement.

The experience of the Plenary Council has changed me for the better, and I am energised to bring the fruits of this journey to my local communities and beyond, in the hopes that they will experience what I have – renewed love and belief in the church, a church whose heart beats for them.

Sincere thanks to the organisers, staff, and volunteers of the Plenary Council for their extraordinary efforts every step of the way. God bless you!

Mary Olofu

The Plenary Council of Australia, for me was a Spirit-filled event.

Every member of the Catholic Church had equal opportunity to contribute to the growth of the church. The Plenary council prayer of invocation of the Holy Spirit was apt to the preparatory and the assembly phase. We, as a Church need the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the awareness of Church as an instrument of the Mission of Jesus which is Spirit-led and open to everyone. The Plenary highlighted our common understanding of being Church; journeying together, working together, supporting one another, and praying together. This common understanding is our vision in very ecclesia group and community of which family life is its core.

The Holy Spirit inspired the Bishop’s Conference to carry every member along the way of evaluation of our lived experience as church, to acknowledge our failures confess our sins reconcile with God’s faithful and embrace a new beginning.
The Liturgy highlights the day’s theme; it was an invitation to pray with the theme of each day. Use of symbols, texts and appropriate hymns and gestures led members into the spirit of the day’s activities.
The nature of Conversations stresses the importance of inclusion of everyone; a Synodal Church where everyone has a co-responsibility. Dioceses and eparchies: East and West all carried along and given a sense of belonging.
Facilitation: There was good listening and equal participation, alertness to the dynamics of the group and its trend. Ability to creatively move the group through chaos to stability with firmness, and flexibility interplaying all through.

The Plenary Council was a call for me to focus and deepen my faith in Jesus by reflecting on his life and mission and to carrying on his mandate to proclaim the good news of salvation, heal the sick, set the downtrodden free, open the eyes of the blind, reading the signs of the time and responding to it.

May God give us all the grace to walk faithfully in his footsteps. God Bless.

David Orr

Generally I have been impressed by the generosity of both members and staff throughout the week. All were willing to ensure that the process worked well. The process in the first half of the week was controlled and did not seem to be allowing issues to emerge. With changes on Wednesday that all seemed to change and there was an opportunity for issues to emerge and be addressed.

The event of Wednesday was pivotal. I was very impressed by the work of Bishop Shane. His willingness to acknowledge what had happened, his wisdom to consult and listen and then his decisiveness to move forward sustained the process.

Throughout the week, the technology worked extremely well. The staff were most generous and patient with us all. The success of the voting was a revelation.

Catering was always of very high quality. I certainly enjoyed the variety and quality that was offered. Service was excellent The two banquets were greatly appreciated. However the seating being so close and without masks contributed to many of us getting Covid.

Throughout the Plenary process I have always been frustrated that reality was not being faced. The real issues of Church life were not being faced. Fortunately the place of women was acknowledged but not serious addressed. Our rural communities that do not have Eucharist; clericalism, poor seminary formation, shared understanding of the priesthood of the faithful and provision for liturgical formation for all. All work still to be addressed.

Hopefully the path has been given and we will continue forward. With gratitude.

Dharmaraj Rajasingam

Initially it was a feeling of excitement and to some extent fear of the unknown as to what the week was going to be.

In my Table, I was feeling a bit unsure of what my level of sharing would be as I was surrounded by Catholics who were all either Ordained or working within the church. I for one had no formal church formation or studies, but only my own journey of personal formation.

I felt at ease when what I shared was then echoed within the group on my table and I became more confident in my sharing through the Spiritual conversations.

Our prayers each morning set the scene and helped us in our own discernment process.

I felt that the Spirit was truly alive at our Table and was leading us in many directions and sometimes where we did not want to go! We mostly always seemed to come to a consensus.

The overall sense of Conversations and Interventions throughout the week, were not planned, and it seems that the Holy Spirit was definitely guiding us all as one. If this was an expression of synodality within the church, we are definitely on the right path.

I felt that the Motions were not earth shattering but did move all of us and the Catholic Church in Australia in a direction that would bring hope to all of us especially our Catholics in the pews and those on the peripheries.

More could have and should have been done but the Motions put forward from the Conversations over the last 4 years and the time permitted was not enough for us to tackle a lot of the issues facing the church in Australia today. I was hoping for more on Evangelisation, especially in encouraging the Catholics in the pews to be more evangelising and willing to share and stand up for their faith.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Plenary Council journey, especially during the 2nd Assembly, for the connection and friendship we made with one another at our Table, to have felt the sense of belonging, working with Catholics from all facets of the Church, not just the Laity, and feel more empowered to encourage others in their faith journey, especially in my own community.

Conversations have started, decisions made, pathways have been drawn, and so the work continues for all of us in this next phase. God Bless.

Deborah Robertson

I participated online in the Second Assembly, and I am eternally grateful to Angelica and the IT team for making my involvement so accessible and fruitful. Apart from not being part of the closing Mass and group photo (and maybe standing with the group on the Wednesday morning!) I don’t feel I missed out on anything. The online group was amazing and although we may have differed in opinion on some things, we were supportive and accepting of each other.

It was a great privilege to be part of a ‘Holy Spirit’ event where we moved from heartbreak and division to consolation and acceptance. I hope this movement may happen throughout the Australian Catholic Church so that the fruits of the Plenary Council become apparent in every Diocese and parish. Thank you to all those who helped make it happen.

Catherine Simmonds

My experience of the Plenary Council has been one of authentic communion and community. This form of communal discernment, of men and women, lay and ordained, gathered together and engaging in spiritual conversations, invited the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, ears, heart and mind to the challenges facing the Church in our contemporary world.

It is said that the Holy Spirit is both a disrupter and a comforter and during the week of the second assembly I experienced both! I am grateful to have experienced this intentional process of synodality.

Spiritual conversations, which were woven into the fabric of the council, invite our trinitarian God who is love, who is community, to guide the Church. To sit beside others, listening to their stories and those of their communities, and hearing different perspectives and experiences provides a context and perspective that broadens our own understanding of the challenges and also opportunities that exist for the Church at this time.

Listening to the Holy Spirit in the voices of others has shown that synodality can be done. That there can be unity in diversity. By its very nature, such a process invites ongoing and shared responsibility for the mission and necessitates a call to action. This experience has generated much energy and commitment from those present. All present entered into the process of synodality with faith in God’s providence and presence, a spirit of hope and goodwill, and love – for God, our Church and most certainly by the end of the week, for each other.

I look forward to the implementation phase which will require the active involvement of all the baptized, generously sharing their gifts, skills and time at the parish or Diocesan level to make this vision of Church a reality across this vast country.

May we continue to pray for one another, provide practical support and encouragement to each other through the networks formed or strengthened during the Plenary Council and walk together as the Australian Church, Christ-centred and mission focused.

Peter Slater

Despite not attending in person, I was grateful to be able to participate on line. Instead of being at a table in the main hall I was in a small online group where the participants grew closer to each other as the days progressed. I found I could observe the contributions, including the Masses, read the documents being handed out and vote when motions were put. The quality of our tech support was of the highest standard.

I have been struck with the serious commitment of all members to engage with the topics, reflect on them, and vote. This required time to read, pray and consider; people were generous with their time.

I was also struck with the great efforts made to consider differences of outlook and opinion. There were certainly differences, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the differences we heard expressed at our local discernment gatherings. Yet here we had to incorporate differences in order to reach statements that could receive the required support. I believe we will have much to guide us in the years ahead.

Stephanie Sullivan

Our entire Plenary discernment was done within the context of questioning how we can become a more missionary and Christ-centred Church. During the process, we discovered that “differences between persons and communities can sometimes prove uncomfortable, but the Holy Spirit, who is the source of that diversity, can bring forth something good from all things and turn it into an attractive means of evangelization” (EG 131). It was here, in the ‘nitty gritty’, honest listening and discernment together, that we came face to face with the Church in all her diversity.

We also discovered that it is the Holy Spirit who binds us in a unity deeper than we alone can achieve; and it is this unity which enables us to be truly missionary and Christ-centred. We may have been discerning how to become more missionary and Christ-centred, but in the process we already did and this is a remarkable witness to our world and the rest of the Church. It is also a beautiful springboard upon which we now ‘leap’ into the implementation phase of this journey together.

Peter Tonti-Filippini

In the beginning of the week we came from many different parts of our Great South Land and tohu wa bohu covered the space Ruac swept across the deep and God said “Let there be light “ and there was light. The light separated revelation from fear and the creation began in the Spirit. It is good. So God created humanity equally in God’s own image to be stewards of creation and flourish and delight in all the Goodness.

God saw it was very good and rested in the all that is beautiful and danced in the great Garden of Life.

A little rushed but a sincere thank you for all your goodness and creativity. All the Blessings.

Lucy van Kessel

Where to start: it was a privilege to be there with so many people discerning what the Spirit was asking of us. We, 477 members, carried the hopes of hundreds of others with us. We prayed, listened, shared and responded. It was a roller coaster ride filled with gratitude, joy and appreciation combined with pain, disappointment, and confusion. However, all things work together for good and the Spirit was tangibly felt, especially after Wednesday when we not only reviewed the results of the negative vote on the equal dignity of women and men but modified the process and wording of a number of proposals, resulting in a calmer, more positive and balanced final days. The result is we see 18 or 19 motions that provide scope for positive development in so many areas in the future. They can truly lead to a more Christ centred Church when implemented. The whole experience was emotionally and physically intense, as one member said ‘it was like being in a rugby scrum and then going out to others’.

John Woods

I meant to say how appreciative I am of all the work done ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘front of house’ to ensure that the Plenary Council happened. An exercise in synodality!

Indeed, I think that the lasting fruit of the Council will be that this way of doing Church will gain momentum to the good of all.

A big thanks to the team!

Gemma Thomson

It is hard to encapsulate the profound, transformative experience that was the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council in Australia. It was inspiring, challenging, comforting, disruptive, but above all, faith-filled, because majority of the people present love the Church and most desire the best future possible for our Australian Church moving forward.

One of many take-aways of the week for me was Bishop Emeritus Greg O’Kelly SJ’s description of what it looks like and feels like when the Holy Spirit is truly at work, as opposed to our person-made decisions. When the fruits of the Holy Spirit are present and active, we can feel at peace, faith-filled, generosity of spirit etc, as opposed to when we fail to listen to the spirit in decision making and we can be left feeling heavy, flat and without hope.

For me personally, the Plenary Council journey; the formation, the connections, the new friendships, the new skills, and the experience of both assemblies has been life changing. As a young lay Catholic woman, it has inspired me to “take the road less travelled”. When many other young people are turning away from the Church, I feel that it is my calling to play a continuing role in our wider Australian Church, both personally and professionally. Being a part of the Second Assembly has confirmed this as a future vocational direction for me.

I am grateful to represent the Archdiocese of Perth and to have Bishops who are very supportive of my role within the Church and who provide me with opportunities to journey together, to learn, to advocate, to pray and who listen to my thoughts and reflections. I understood from listening at the Council that this has not been everyone’s experience. I am very mindful of keeping those on the margins at the forefront of my mind, those who often don’t have a voice, and the least, the last and the lost of our Australian context.

I extend my gratitude to all involved in the organisation of this historic event and all the thought, attention to detail, pastoral care and experiences are truly so appreciated by us all. Bringing this event to fruition is an example of synodality in itself; heartfelt congratulations to you all.

Jodi Steel

Being a part of the Plenary Council process has been challenging, fulfilling, tiring, energising, frustrating, humbling and inspiring! I served as both a Local Animator and Plenary Council Member. It has been a great privilege to hear and hold people’s faith stories – their hurts, their joys, their deep love of God and our Church, their frustrations and anger and their deep desires for how we can better bring people into God’s love; to participate in discernment on the Church’s future in Australia and especially to attend the Second Assembly in person. What happened during the Second Assembly was a profound experience that I will carry with me always. The disruption of the Spirit in the process moved us from being ‘nice’ to being more ‘real’ with each other, and the gifts of the Spirit and each person enabled us to experience a way of being Church differently, together in our diversity.   

All of this has contributed to deep spiritual growth. Being part of the Plenary Council process has awakened me to even greater diversity in our Catholic tradition and different ways in which we hold that diversity. I have become more conscious of the arc of my own faith journey and have been able to integrate it differently and more completely. I’ve greatly benefited from God’s (surprising at times!) teaching, such as finding more subtle ‘planks in my own eyes’, through interacting with a greater range of others who have different views, beliefs, gifts and experiences. I am deeply grateful.  

A prayer from Michael Leunig:

God give us rain when we expect sun.

Give us music when we expect trouble. 

Give us tears when we expect breakfast.

Give us dreams when we expect a storm.

Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.

God play with us, turn us sideways and around.


Selina Hesham

We can argue endlessly over definitions of synodality, or we can simply do it. At the Plenary Council, we gave it a shot. The experience of the week was messy, rough, and painful. It was also patient, faithful, and tender. Maybe next time we will do it better because of what we have learned.

By the end, the journey of my table was precious, and I am deeply grateful for everyone’s contribution and commitment to listening to each other and engaging in the process, imperfect though it was.

I came away from the Plenary Council with my love for the Church renewed. This surprised me, because at the Plenary Council the Church was not at its finest. Our dirty washing showed our divisions, and our fault lines were exposed. And yet we were lovable. Perhaps that’s how God sees us. In all our mess and frailty and hopelessness, that’s when he loves us the most.

In his reflection on being an observer for the week, Rev John Gilmore, the President of the National Council of Churches in Australia said he wished his church could do what we did. I thought his comment strange and questioned him about it afterward. “You have synods all the time”, I said. “Yes, but we don’t commit to it the way you did, for seven days and coming to the conclusion you did, was truly commendable”. Sometimes having a perspective from the outside is helpful.

I know some members are disappointed. Others are dismissive and happy to go back into their ecclesial corner, comfortable in a church made in their own image. But I hope we can come away seeking the image of the Church that God has for us–divine, human, and glorious; made in the image of Jesus Christ, who loved us unto death, and has not given up on us yet.

Peter Slack

We arrived as strangers and left as friends. The assembly hall at the Cathedral was filled with round tables, Ours was Table 15. I had never met my companions who would accompany me on the Plenary journey over a week. Over the week we worked hard as we came to learn each of each other’s faithfilled hopes for the Church in Australia.At the end of the week I was glad that I had  attended.

Claire Victory

I’m not sure I was ever truly ready for the Plenary Council – I’m not sure anyone could have been – and I’m also not sure I can really formulate yet, in words, how I feel about it now that it’s over. It was clear before (and certainly after) the first assembly that the actual motions coming out of the Plenary Council would, on the whole, not be as ambitious or definitive as many people (myself included) would have liked.

Throughout the first assembly I gained a sense of optimism that the sharing, listening and relationship-building would bring the church to a better place, and by the end of the second assembly I was affirmed in that sense that a large part of the treasure is indeed ‘the friends we made along the way’ or, perhaps more accurately, some of the barriers that were broken down.

Ultimately, as painful as many of the week’s events were, I feel a sense of gratitude that the second assembly unfolded in the way that it did; sometimes you don’t realise your full potential until you go through the tough times.

Kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold, strikes me at this moment in time as an appropriate metaphor for what happened last week; we embraced our flaws, were open and honest about the fear and discord, and ultimately came out the other side with something a little bit beautiful.

Cathy Jenkins

A defining memory of the assembly for me is the room of round tables with bishops, ordained and lay people, all straining to hear each other in honest dialogue. Were there tensions, yes. Were the fault lines of the Australian Catholic church laid bare – yes. Was their joy, yes. Will it make a difference – I think so.

The Church of Australia, under the leadership of the bishops, has taken a brave step into the world of synodality – the fruits of which are yet to unfold. We are at the beginning of a way of working and walking together and for that I am thankful.

John Fleming

First, congratulations on the operation of the Plenary Council.

Having been secretary of a parish animation team, I was there from the beginning of the process with great hopes for what the Spirit might do with us. I felt I had a good grasp of what the people were feeling. I was able to share ideas with many other parish groups and realised there was virtual unanimity across many key issues.

Despite the Coffee Conversations and the drafting of documents along the way, I felt that my reading of the landscape was at a disconnect with the developing documents and themes. Many felt the same way and even though the final outcomes were positive and promising, the range of ideas was narrowed, and they were diluted from their original substance. Better mediated discussions, more collaborative dialogue, between the various parties would have paid huge dividends at the public Assemblies. Thanking you.

Deearne Gould

The Plenary Council has been an amazing experience of examining the Catholic Church for the 21st Century

I have learnt the true meaning of Synodality – to listen….. to the Holy Spirit talking to me, then listen to my fellow Catholics and the voice of the Holy Spirit through the voices of my fellow Catholics and/ or the Community in which I live. We have so much richness in our diversity in the Church and the Holy Spirit is the cause and ‘blender’ of our diversity. My contribution in hope will be to pray and wait (for the Holy Spirit’s prompting) and “Let go and Let God” guide, guard and inspire His Church.

At the end of the Council, I felt exhausted

But Expectant

that the Holy Spirit will rouse the (Catholic) Faithful to implement the

more open and balanced,

welcoming and non-judgmental

 Church of Jesus

that we can “Go and make Disciples of all nations” Mat 28; 19 (or is it 18?)

Denis Stanley

Richard Lennan, one of the Council’s periti, wrote a book with the striking title, “Risking the Church”. God has taken a risk in entrusting his redeeming purpose to the church. We take a risk in living in the church – we experience there a community rich and varied in personalities and ideas, both sinful and saintly. Yet God is always faithful to us. I came to the Council with this thought ready for the work we were asked to do for the church.

The experience of the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council was not new to me. I have attended as an observer many Synods and Assemblies of other Christian Churches. Like the Plenary Council, these are prayerful political gatherings seeking to seriously discern a way to order the lives of their communities. I have experience in these councils wrestling over “bread and butter” issues as well as issues of tense controversy, debate, and decision-making. So I was somewhat prepared and ready for the experience of a church gathered to discern and decide.

I came to the Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia fully aware of the authoritative nature of our gathering and so the responsibility laid upon us. Responsible for what? Responsible for shaping the work of the Consultation of God’s people, the writing groups and the decision making of the Council, into Decrees that would set priorities for the future of the Church in Australia. I wasn’t an observer now. I would be helping to make decisions for the church into which I had been baptised and ordained for service.

I was also fully aware of the uniqueness of Bishops, religious, priests, deacons and lay faithful gathered to discuss and to vote. I have kept my red and green voting cards as a reminder of this! Sitting at individual tables in mixed groups was an important part of the Council for me. I delighted in the depth and richness of the experience and love of the church gathered together, even though it brought with it differences.

Our daily and constant focus on prayer, key scripture texts and daily celebration of the Eucharist kept us focussed on Christ in our midst. I remember the intensity of listening to the words of Jesus from Matthew 7: 24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise person who built their house on the rock”, when the Council encountered a moment of confusion and division.

Well what now? We know that an integral part of all the Church’s councils and Synods have been the years following these gatherings, a time to receive and implement the Decrees of the Council. This is where my concern and prayer now turn.

These years ahead will be crucial for the Church in Australia as we take these Decrees into our Church and the community around us where the Gospel needs to be heard afresh. However, this has been the Lord’s call to the church in every generation.

Bernadette Gibson

I found the whole process to be extremely well organised with great thought given throughout. I came to the Council with an open heart and whilst we hit some challenging moments which were quite distressing, we were navigated through these very well by Bishop Shane. The agility shown by the organisers resulted I believe, in a far more authentic process and was the moment when we all opened ourselves more fully to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I feel that this was a profoundly powerful moment for our Church, one which reflected the challenges and beauty of our diversity. It was disappointing at times when social media from some members and the public, were disrespectful of our hard-working liturgists.

I hope that every appreciation was conveyed to the musicians and the team who worked so hard to provide us with prayerful spaces throughout our time together. I was deeply humbled to be a part of the Council and pray that great fruits continue to bless our Australian Church as a result.

Thank you to all those involved at every level for your generosity of time, talent and spirit. At the end I was truly moved with great joy at the achievements of the Council.

John Warhurst

My experience of the Plenary Council has been memorable, and I have always tried to respond positively to requests for feedback, including the recent survey following the Second Assembly. It is fresh in my mind. This is not the occasion to repeat criticisms or suggestions for improvement. What I perhaps haven’t said was how much I enjoyed the spiritual environment, including the Indigenous environment, of the Second Assembly.

Congratulations and thanks to all involved. I especially want to thank the members of the Facilitation Team, Lana, Peter, Olivia, and Marion. They always responded quickly and generously to my requests. I am also greatly indebted to the members of the technical team. Finally, I would like to thank Bishop Shane Mackinlay for seriously and expeditiously engaging with me over the last few weeks when I raised issues with him.

Michelle Goh

I came to the second assembly of the Plenary Council feeling somewhat underprepared and uncertain about what the week ahead would bring, but at the same time open and hopeful for what the Holy Spirit would bring.

As it turned out, it seemed like the Spirit blew in and shook us thoroughly in the events of the assembly. And it felt like the Spirit also spoke through the weather that paralleled what was happening – first with the big storms and then the brilliant sunshine that followed.

The daily acknowledgment of country rituals led by the Aboriginal members of the PC, and the beautifully led morning prayers were notably powerful and moving. The opportunity to connect with so many people was amazing – old friends, acquaintances as well as new faces – faith-filled and deeply committed in their love of Christ and service of others, all with immense goodwill for moving our church into the future.

Listening to the variety of voices coming from a rich diversity of experiences and ministries both inspired me as well as challenged me to open my heart to be respectful and inclusive of differences. I come away from the Plenary Council with a sense of peace and hope, a sense of the Holy Spirit working in and through it all. I am reminded that many people throughout Australia are already doing great things in their lives of outreach missionary discipleship. This experience of being a member of the Plenary Council is one that will continue to touch my life deeply.

I am very thankful for this gift of grace. 

Nichii Mardon

I offer the following short reflection on my experience of the Plenary Council, along with my thanks to all involved. I reflect on three words relating to what I have experienced in profound ways throughout the Plenary Council experience:

Participation: The Plenary Council has provided genuine opportunity for every person, parish, Catholic organisation, and diocese to participate individually and/or communally throughout the journey of Plenary. As a PC member and Chairperson, I have metaphorically both ‘watched from the balcony and danced on the dance-floor’ as this privileged and historic invitation to deep listening, genuine dialogue and bold speaking has been taken throughout the stages the Plenary Council. I consider myself to have been part of a privileged moment that has been remarkable, courageous and generous in spirit.

Community: I have been privileged to have joined with people – some previously known, others I’ve known of, and others unknown until now – who have become companions on the journey as co-members of Plenary Council, facilitators, advisors, and a range of support people, through whom the Holy Spirit has been present, and without whose commitment, the Holy Spirit could not have been so fully present. It truly has been ‘One body, many parts.’ I find this inspiring, encouraging and honouring of our diversity and faith commitment.

Growth: I have learnt so much through taking up the invitation to engage with the spirit and practice of synodality enabled through the Plenary Council experience. I feel that I have been part of a moment of significant growth as an individual, for our Australian Church community, and personally as a member of a local and broader faith community. I find this empowering, challenging and calling me into further reflection and learning.

Marie Shaddock

My Experience of the Plenary is one of many highs and lows, of confusion and challenges: physical, mental, and spiritual and of successes and friendships. I am still struggling with putting everything into context, and getting my head around being involved in something of such a profound historical significance for us, the people of God in Australia. To have had even a tiny part in the shaping of such powerful and far-reaching decrees is both humbling and horrifying. It is something I find that I have nothing to compare with and so for now at least, it sits out on its own and remains a unique experience.

There were many highlights: the daily Masses, the morning prayer and beautiful spirituality of the ‘Welcome to Country’. I was touched by the music and the passion and courage of many speakers in their interventions; and I was in awe of the small band of committed organisers who seamlessly wove everything together.

I struggled with the physical elements of: cold, wind and rain that seemed to penetrate everywhere, as well as the suspicion, agendas and politics that also surfaced from time to time.

I came out on a high, as I think many did, happy that we had made a good start but that there was still much to do, as there is in any living organism.

I think about what differences there might have been had we been able to meet in person last October; but we will never know. There seems so many areas that could be developed further but always, the way forward  begins with a single step. 

Paul O’Keeffe

An absolutely great gathering. Full marks to all the organisers and IT people…brilliant. Full marks to Tim Costelloe and his team for their leadership and a special thanks to Shane MacKinlay for his brilliant leadership and knowledge of the documentation. Cool, calm and collected and handled pressure very well indeed! Great group at our small table to work with.

Clalia Mar

My journey as a member of the Plenary Council started as a local coordinator for our Diocese in what seems like an eternity ago. Many I encountered labelled it as just another ‘talk fest’ and I was worried that is what it would be. My journey has really brought to bear for me the joy and discomfort of co-responsibility. Engagement on the ground in the listening, dialogue, and discernment was at times disappointing due to the lack of numbers to sessions, however, I found this a particularly special time as many shared their very personal experiences of faith and this Church of ours.

The Facilitation Team was very responsive to the needs of the local coordinators as we supported our communities as part of the process. The organisation of the Assemblies and the times in between was extraordinary. The preparation of members (through Coffee Conversations and resources and the like) by the Facilitation Team and Steering Committee was critical in the lead-up to the Assemblies. A testament to the diligent organisation was a seamless transfer from face-to-face to online for me for the Second Assembly, on the very first day!  Whilst I was devasted not to attend in person, the online experience was almost as good!

The Wednesday of ‘Witnessing to the Dignity of Women and Men’ was a time of grace and pivotal. There was a deep sense of commitment by all members to listen to each other and share in the pain of many and then find a way forward, together. 

Louise Vella-Cox

The 2nd Plenary Council Assembly has been an extraordinary experience for me – far above and beyond my expectations in anticipation of the gathering. The Holy Spirit was with us each day in our deliberations and in our joys and frustrations.

Much credit must go to the organisers, the openers, writing group, volunteers and supporters who have contributed to the success of the assembly, particularly in the way they have navigated the challenging parts.

I fully believe the conversations and actions during Plenary will assist the Church to be once more, missionary. I heard many voices from people who are of faith and who feel very deeply about the direction of the Catholic Church in Australia. They spoke well, wisely and with conviction. I was blessed to be at a table of people who were honest, warm, open hearted and genuine in their discernment and a pleasure to work with throughout the week. They gave me hope for the future of the Australian Catholic Church.