The fruits of the first general assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia have been gathered together in a new report that contains dozens of proposals to shape the ongoing Council journey. More than 270 Plenary Council members gathered online for the first assembly in October, spending much of the week in small groups discerning responses to the 16 agenda questions.
Their discussions arose from and were enriched by contributions from across the Australian Church over the three-and-a-half years of preparation.
The document reveals the directions of the small groups discernment and offers them as a basis for the ongoing preparation for the second assembly.
‘These dozens of pages cannot come close to capturing all that was shared in the assembly, but there is great richness in what is contained, including the many proposals the small groups and individual members have put before us,’ Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said.
Archbishop Costelloe said the first assembly was ‘inspiring, challenging and sometimes unsettling’ for the members. The report, as much as possible, ‘retains the original voice of those who spoke, without attempts to produce a harmonised or homogenous account’.
‘This is another document in our years-long journey that can help carry forward the hopes of the members of the Council and, indeed, the hopes of the People of God across the country,’ he said.
The proposals already put forward will be used to identify thematic focuses for the second general assembly of the Council in July 2022. The Council’s drafting committee, supported by expert theologians and other contributors, will lead that work.
Final versions of the propositions, which will form the agenda for the second assembly, are expected to be published in June. Reflection, prayer and conversation will precede final discernment and voting at the second assembly.
Plenary Council members have this week begun their reflections on the document and its proposals, and the wider Catholic community can now commence its own prayer and discernment on the report.
Archbishop Costelloe suggested one way that could happen is through the local consultation phase of the Synod of Bishops, which is considering how the Church is ‘journeying together’ to announce the Gospel.
‘The complementary nature of the Plenary Council and this Synod of Bishops process is quite clear, and I encourage people to be as engaged with the Synod as they have been in the Plenary Council,’ he said.
Archbishop Costelloe asked the People of God to continue to keep the Plenary Council in their prayers – as they have done for the past four years or more.
‘We are very mindful of all those who have trusted us to carry their hopes and dreams with us,’ he said.
‘I am confident that we will continue to walk together as we share our experience of the first assembly and as we reflect together on the ever present and pressing question: what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?’
Susan Pascoe AM13 October 2021
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)11 October 2021