The Archdiocese of Melbourne has released the Consultation Report that it submitted to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) in preparation for the second stage of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, often referred to as the ‘Synod on Synodality’.

For the past two years, the Archdiocese of Melbourne has journeyed together in mutual listening and discernment. Thousands of representatives of the people of God across Melbourne engaged in the initial two-year process of local, parish-based consultation, with input forming part of an Oceania response which was provided toward the first Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in October 2023, resulting in a Letter to the People of God and a Synthesis Report.

In February 2024, in preparation for the second Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in October 2024, dioceses were advised by the ACBC of the process and local guidelines for the next stage of diocesan consultations, assisted by the document Towards October 2024.

While the initial process involved broad and extensive parish-based consultations, this most recent stage did not involve a return to grassroots parish consultation. Instead, the recommendation was that dioceses build on what had already occurred by engaging with existing structures, particularly with leadership and key stakeholder groups already present in the diocese, to reflect on key questions and identify future pathways and tools for mission.

As a result, the participation in this phase of diocesan consultation occurred either through parish pastoral council (PPC) consultation and submissions—three parishes chose to participate in this way—and through diocesan-hosted consultation sessions for people across regions to come together and provide their feedback. These sessions were aimed at those in leadership positions within parishes, communities and movements (including clergy, chairs of PPCs, ministry leaders, community/movement leadership etc). There were five sessions originally offered, but only three sessions were able to proceed with sufficient numbers of participants registered (45 parish leaders attended across those three sessions).

The fruits of this process resulted in the Archdiocese of Melbourne’s Consultation Report, which was submitted to the ACBC in mid-April as a contribution towards the Australian Summary, which has now been sent to the Vatican.

The report notes the very low level of engagement with this second stage of consultation—suggesting some reasons for this—and acknowledges a hesitation as to whether it ‘should be considered a truly representative consultation. However, given the timeline restrictions, this is the fruit of those that did engage—and we are grateful for those parishes, communities and movements that participated and provided helpful reflections on their prayerful engagement with the Synthesis document.’

The Australian Summary

From February to April, hundreds of Catholics contributed their thoughts to the Australian Summary, an eight-page document that has been sent to the Vatican ahead of the October Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

The National Centre for Pastoral Research ran the consultation process which occurred at a local (diocese) and national level.

Twenty-five dioceses and three Eastern Catholic Church eparchies submitted summaries of their consultation outcomes, while a further 13 organisations submitted summaries from the national consultation, culminating in the final report.

‘I greatly appreciate the way Australian Catholics have engaged in the process of discerning, in a synodal way, how they might best live the Gospel in their different communities and contexts,’ said ACBC President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe.

‘This material will now be considered as we develop the Instrumentum Laboris for the second assembly of the synod and prayerfully consider the pathways in which the Holy Spirit is inviting us to walk.’

The document, and others like it provided by other nations, will provide the basis for talks in Rome in October.

Fifteen Australian participants—including bishops, priests and lay people—will attend the second assembly from 2 to 27 October 2024.

The full Australian Summary document and testimonials can be found here.