Catholic Church to meet for first plenary council in 84 years
Representatives from the Catholic Church in Australia are soon to assemble at an historic gathering that will chart a future for a "diminished" institution bruised by the damning finds of a sexual abuse royal commission.
The last time bishops and representatives from all the nation’s dioceses gathered for an all-in plenary council was in 1937.
The issues now confronting the church could not possibly have been foreseen then – royal commission findings that child sexual abuse ran rampant and was covered up.
From this Sunday, 280 ordinary lay members and bishops will convene to consider issues that will have a profound effect on the shape of the church in Australia.
Among the most pressing agenda items is how the church plans to reform; 45 bishops will vote on binding resolutions that will be sent to the Vatican for approval.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who is also the president of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, pushed for the summit, saying that the royal commission didn’t prompt the event – but that the “great humiliations” it exposed must inform the next steps of a “diminished” church.
“We have to ask the questions about what it means to be a poorer church, a humbler church, a simpler church, but a church which is reaching out in all kinds of new and perhaps hitherto unseen ways, into culture and society,” Archbishop Coleridge told the ABC.
Former royal commission Robert Fitzgerald says it’s no secret that the church “struggles with transparency” and that some bishops, priests and laity still hold the belief that the church is a private institution.
He wants to see the return of pastoral councils to improve transparency and increase the involvement of lay people in decisions taken by priests and bishops.
“If the governance of the church is not significantly improved, and the participation of women isn’t considerably enhanced, then .. the reforms we’ve talked about previously in relation to professional standards, the way in which we protect vulnerable people, they will falter over,” he has warned.
Archbishop Coleridge says “question of women” will be central to the deliberations of plenary council.
Other issues on the agenda include how the church might "open in new ways to Indigenous ways of being Christian" and learn from First Nations peoples.
The first Plenary Council assembly begins with a mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Perth on Sunday. The event runs until October 10, and will be conducted online.