All we want for Christmas is.....
In 2016 Australia’s bishops decided to convene the nation’s 5th Plenary Council, the first since 1937. In March this year Pope Francis approved their decision, and at Pentecost the preparatory phase of the Council – to be held over two sessions in 2020 and 2021 – was officially launched. Catholics nationwide are being encouraged to consider the key question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” Inside that is another key question: “Will our bishops listen?”
This Council will be the most important sacred gathering of Australia’s 35 ‘particular churches’ – 30 dioceses, 3 eparchies, 2 ordinariates – for over 80 years. It must give all Christ’s faithful in Australia - bishops, presbyters, deacons, religious, lay women and men – the opportunity to make input to the future of their Church through listening, talking to one another, discerning, raising their voices, speaking boldly, and making written submissions.
The Council’s principal theme is “Listen to what the Spirit is saying”, but that has to involve bishops listening to the sensus fidei - the ‘sense of faith’ – of their people. Council president-elect, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, has said: “Our job is to listen”, which means bishops listening to the faithful who are listening to the Spirit.
So, are our bishops listening?
On the premise that the **_official websites of the 28 territorial dioceses_** are a current and reliable source of information on Council activity, a recent review of each of them found a very mixed promotion of the Council, reflecting, it has to be assumed, the attitude of particular bishops. A strong priority commitment to engage with their people was not a common thread.
The websites showed varying diocesan activities: Council working groups - 20 dioceses; parish, deanery or regional gatherings – 17; effective resource materials – 5; training of facilitators – 2; pastoral letters, podcasts, or special appeals to their people to get involved – 6; and in just 5 dioceses, scheduled assemblies or synods to prepare for the Plenary Council. Only two websites mentioned bishops sitting in on local listening sessions, and just six recorded the local bishop asking his people to send him copies of written submissions. Surprisingly, only 16 websites highlighted the Plenary Council on the Home Page, and though a concerted search turned up another 9 websites referring to the Council, 3 websites did not mention the Council at all, or publish any link to the Plenary Council website.
Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville has said: “By listening we learn, by listening we discern, by listening we understand each other better, and by listening we can respond better to the new landscape that is now before us.” That applies to all of us, but especially to bishops. If they want to be attuned to the sensus fidei of their own people and learn what wisdom has been gained from their listening to the Spirit, they have to enter personally into the Council’s listening processes, and even make and share their own submissions.
All Catholics should to check out their own diocesan website (links below), and make a submission to the Plenary Council. And when posting it, forward a copy to your local diocesan bishop (email addresses below), particularly if you have not heard him promoting the Council or asking to hear from you.
Consultation will only be effective if there is a continuous and open feedback loop, so it is good to see the Plenary Council website now asking those making submissions for permission to publish a copy (de-identified) online, and permission to forward a de-identified copy to their local diocese. However, anonymity as a general rule is questionable, for it can prejudice effective analysis.
Certainly, better processes are needed, especially those which ensure effective lay contribution to council outcomes, as Fr Frank Brennan SJ recently pointed out in Eureka Street (HERE)
So what do we want for Christmas? Nothing more and nothing less than all our Australian bishops strongly encouraging their people to be involved in the Plenary Council by listening to the Spirit and speaking up; but above all, having our bishop listen more closely to the sensus fidei of their people.
Catholics for Renewal wishes all our readers a Joyful Christmas and prays that its message will make each of us more open to the Spirit and to one another.
Painting: Who's really Listening? Barrington Research Group
List of Australian diocesan websites and email addresses of bishops (HERE)