Plenary Council could spark change

More than 220,000 people from throughout the country shared their stories and considered the question, “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

The Listening & Dialogue phase of the Plenary Council closed in March – and Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, has predicted it will spark cultural and structural changes in the Church.

He told Catholic Leader:

“I think we have to accept the fact that Christendom is over – by which I mean mass, civic Christianity. It’s over. Now, how do we deal with that fact? This is no time for the Church to be putting up signs that say ‘business as usual’.

“If we needed any proof, then the Royal Commission (into child sexual abuse) has shown that.”

Here in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, our Director of Pastoral Ministries, Teresa Brierley, said respectful listening was the “pearl of the process”.

“What I have noticed is that the Plenary Council question and process invited those who gathered in the listening and dialogue groups to listen deeply to each other, which led them to listen more intently to what the spirit is saying.

“That deep respectful listening was the pearl in the process. People were amazed as to what was shared and then what finally emerged from that engagement with each other and the spirit,” Teresa said.

Teresa hopes the experiences will carry into other areas.

“It would be my hope that this process of listening and dialogue becomes the normal practice of those of us who participate in pastoral planning for our church because it is a planning that will and should impact on the whole of Australia, not just the Catholic Church.

“People are anticipating a movement within the church that comes from the spirit and not just from those people who are in the pews. This involves listening, dialogue, discernment and decision-making. We must listen together,” she said.

The Diocese engaged 150 trained animators to run listening and dialogue sessions throughout our district. Helene O’Neill was one of the animators and says she enjoyed gathering different groups of people together and hearing their opinions.

“I really loved the sessions,” Helene said. “We weren’t in a church and we weren’t being judged. People didn’t have to say ‘I don’t go to church’. It was the coming together of a community.”

Helene was also surprised by the topics raised in her sessions.

“I think many people thought it would be all about the women priests and the married priests, but I was so surprised that most of the ones I led were about getting back to basics.

“They were saying, ‘Let’s live by the scriptures, live by the gospels’. For me it was quite a revelation that the media virtually tells people what we’re thinking. These people aren’t thinking that at all. They really want to belong to something,” she said.

The National Centre for Pastoral Research is currently collating and analysing all responses. A draft preliminary national report will identify emerging themes for the 2020 Plenary Council. This report is to be released in the next few months.

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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle