The first of two gathering sessions for the Plenary Council is soon upon us. It is the first such gathering in Australia in 80 years, and distinctive because of the greater participation of lay people. We have asked various community members to share with you their thoughts on the upcoming Plenary Council, and why each of the different themes are such an important consideration for the church at this time.
Margaret Vider shares her thoughts on governance: how might we recast governance at every level of the Church in Australia in a more missionary key?
The 3rd October is now only weeks away when the first session of the fifth Plenary Council of Australia will begin. The members will gather to address an agenda developed from input from the people of Australia as to what they believe God is asking of us at this time. The agenda is organised around six themes. One of the themes nominated for inclusion is “Governance” and one of the questions generated asks, “How might we recast governance at every level of the Church in Australia in a more missionary key?” This question must address the role of women in the Church, as this topic was frequently raised in the group discussions open to all God’s people held in 2018/2019 in preparation for the Plenary Council.
There are many levels of governance in the Church and, if there is to be authentic witness, then governance must be seen to be inclusive and transparent, that is open to all God’s people, women as well as men. Together we bring different insights to the discussion table which can contribute to a good decision-making process and subsequently, the desired outcomes.
Throughout the preparation phase for the Plenary Council, a word frequently found in discussion papers and commentary articles was COURAGE. The Litany to the Holy Spirit prays, “Come, Spirit of Courage, free us from fear and doubt that we may act justly.” The prayer for the Plenary Council asks the Holy Spirit to “Give us the courage to tell our stories and to speak boldly of your truth.”
If the governance structure is to change, then courage will be needed, as fear and doubt can be two powerful blocking agents evidenced in the human response to change. Therefore, to achieve the desired outcome will take wisdom, discernment and courage. The Holy Spirit can guide us through this phase, and trusting in that Spirit, it would seem inappropriate to attempt to predict an outcome to “Governance”; that will emerge from the deliberations of the Plenary Council.
Our faith should give us the confidence to trust in what we as Catholics believe, and should assist all members at the Council to focus on the needs of the Church in Australia in the future by pondering the question as to what God is asking of us.
If we are authentic in our desire to be a more inclusive, participatory and synodal Church,then the Spirit must be allowed to penetrate our inner being and be heard to direct the future path of the Church in Australia.
The late Fr Noel Connolly, a member of the Facilitation Team for the Plenary Council, was asked a question at a “Spirituality in the Pub” session “Will they listen, will anything change?” In response he said, “The Plenary Council provides us an opportunity and a process to draw close to one another, to share our faith, our insights and our questions. If we can all learn to share vulnerably and fully, people, priests and bishops, that will help us to become a listening church and help develop a culture of relatedness, freedom, co-responsibility and hope. That will be a different church and real cultural change.”
Come, Spirit of Courage, free us from fear and doubt that we may act justly. In faith and hope, let the process begin.