The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has decided to celebrate a Plenary Council for the Church in Australia in 2020. In announcing the Council the bishops said:
“At the conclusion of the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II encouraged the Church in his Apostolic Letter ‘Novo Millennio Ineunte’ (2001) to discern what the Spirit has been saying to the Church and to put into practice resolutions and guidelines for action that fit the context and culture of each place (§3). Reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God, he exhorted “the Pastors of the particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God’s People”, to plan for the future in a collegial way that harmonises among the dioceses the work of pastoral revitalisation (§29).
Pope Francis has encouraged and fostered the same collegiality among bishops and synodality throughout the whole Church. In his address last October commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, he stated: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening ‘is more than simply hearing’. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7).” Speaking of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Regions, Particular Councils and Conferences of Bishops, the Holy Father went on to observe that, “We need to reflect on how better to bring about, through these bodies, intermediary instances of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and updating certain aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical organisation. The hope expressed by the [Second Vatican] Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realised. We are still on the way, part-way there.”
The circumstances of the Church in Australia in our time, including the patterns of change that are evident within the community of the Church, the issues confronting the Church in modern multicultural and secular Australia, the increase in entrusting responsibility for and leadership of the Church’s mission to laity, and even the changing face of the Episcopate, prompt the Church to review, analyse, and discern the signs of the times, to listen anew to the Spirit, and to chart its course into the future.”
The Australian Catholic Theological Association put the Plenary Council on the agenda of its 2017 conference and will follow up at the 2018 conference. Members of the association – the theologians of Australia – will have an important contributing role in providing theological reflection on matters pertinent to the Council.