As of 3 July 2022, the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia will commence in Sydney, ending on 9 July. This marks the final assembly of the Council, the conclusion of a four-year journey of collective discernment around the theme: ‘Listen to what the Spirit is saying.’
Last year, we heard from Plenary Members from Melbourne, listening to their thoughts and experiences before and during this exciting event. We also heard from important Plenary periti, theological experts and advisors whose role is to be a voice of clarity in the discussions.
As Archbishop Peter A Comensoli noted at the beginning of last year’s deliberations, the purpose of the Council is to ‘reveal the face of Christ’ in our own time and place:
We are the people Christ now calls to go out into the depths of missionary endeavour, there to find a catch, but also to be caught ourselves.
The Second Assembly moves the Council into a more practical mode. The First Assembly was a mixture of online and in-person; some COVID complications notwithstanding, the Second Assembly will mostly be in-person.
Early in June, the Framework for Motions was published, with an invitation for members to provide amendments to the document. Taking into account the amendments proposed, an updated Motions and Amendments document was recently published and will guide the deliberations this time around. The document outlines eight key areas with practical motions that will be voted on in Sydney. The areas are:
The breadth of issues on the table is a sign of the holistic approach being taken to the crises and opportunities currently facing the Church.
There are 38 motions in total, and they will be voted on in two rounds. On each of the first four days of the Assembly, there will be a ‘consultative vote’ on the motions across two of the sections named above. Members who aren’t bishops have a consultative vote. Then, on the following morning, the bishops will cast a ‘deliberative vote’ on the same motions that will either affirm or reject the consultative one. The results of the deliberative vote are binding.
The motions include a diversity of proposals, some of them broad, focussing on longer-term plans, and some of them more specific.
Among the many issues the Council seeks to address is the call to discipleship that springs from our baptismal identity, a call that needs awakening in every baptised person. The Framework for Motions says:
Each of us is called by our Baptism to be a missionary disciple, hearing and responding to God’s invitation to follow Jesus Christ with joy. As a people anointed with the oil of gladness, all the baptised share in Christ’s three-fold office that is priestly, prophetic and royal (Lumen Gentium 31). In this way, the Church proclaims that ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 10:17) and embodies the in-breaking reign of God that transforms human history.
As we noted in last year’s guide to the Plenary, the motions that are passed at this Assembly, once they have been sent to Rome for approval by Pope Francis, will be enacted and become binding on the Church in Australia. This is why the Second Assembly is so important: the motions implemented will be, God willing, the Catholic Church in Australia’s first major and collective step on the road to renewal.
In its introduction, the Framework for Motions notes the growing ‘awareness that the Catholic community in this country is facing a time of both crisis and hope’ (§8). It is because of this crisis that the Plenary Council emerged. It is into this crisis that the Council wants to breathe new hope. During the coming week, we invite you to pray for the Plenary Members and for the bishops, that God’s will be done and the Church in Australia can enter a new springtime.
Melbourne Catholic20 September 2023
Christian Bergmann20 September 2023