Nazareth Catholic Parish

Grovedale, Torquay and Anglesea

First report from the Parish Plenary Co-ordinating Group

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Report of the Coordinating Group – October 2018.
Our responses to participate in the preparations for the Plenary Council have been very encouraging. To date 12 small groups have met and responded to the question “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” More than 70 people have attended those meetings and a further seven meetings are scheduled through October.
This is our first report on the listening and dialogue phase of the preparation process. It aims to give an overview of the issues of concern raised. We intend to continue these reports as we move through this process and on to the extensive feedback process which will commence after Ash Wednesday next year. The listening and dialogue phase of our preparation calls for story sharing and a building of trust as we raise issues of concern, rather than proposing solutions to those concerns. However, since both aspects were so often mixed in our meetings, so they are in this report.
Very strongly we are saying that we are called to what we have ever been called; to live the Gospel; to be witnesses to the love of Jesus. In the meetings there have been very many expressions of these guiding lights but all have been accompanied by a sense of urgency about the need to discern what this means today.
Clearly the child sex abuse scandal has had a massive effect on us all. And there is a strong feeling that our Bishops have been tardy in responding to the Royal Commission Report and less than transparent in dealing with the response of the Truth and Justice Commission. Now the overriding feeling is that we need to be more compassionate towards victims and their families. Our bishops are urged to deal quickly with compensation in a non-litigious, compassionate and generous way.
Strongly expressed in responses is the need to support our priests. This has been expressed both as being called to voice our support to our own Parish Priest and a range of suggestions to alleviate his administrative duties and facilitate pastoral activities. Many recalled a long standing and often articulated desire to relieve the priest of administrative duties so as to release him to pastoral activities.
Along with these concerns were many suggestions about how to address them. They included setting up of a Parish Council with full autonomy over the administrative functions of the parish; to make better use of our physical assets; to make the Catholic Education Office fully responsible for the schools with Fr Linh and his Pastoral Team engaged in religious instruction and faith formation in the schools.
A very strong concern is that we are called to be more inclusive. In particular we should welcome to Eucharist, divorced and remarried people, those of non-hetero sexualities and other marginalised people . In this context Pope Francis is often quoted in his references to “the field hospital”, “Who am I to judge.” , “The evil of clericalism” and the need for a Synodal and collegial church. Many feel that we are called to be more active in reaching out to all the marginalised and disaffected in our wider community.
Some also feel that the RCIA program needs to be reassessed. A wide range of views about the effectiveness of the RCIA program were expressed leading to some suggestion that it ought to be a matter for wider discussion. The absence of ongoing adult faith formation programs is also widely lamented.
An oft noted but variously articulated matter of concern is the need to revitalise our liturgies. Particular note is made of the music and liturgy of the Eucharist. It is currently felt to be uninspiring particularly for young people.
The call to include women in ministry is widely identified as an issue of injustice and dysfunction. While the need to include women as deacons and in decision making offices is widely supported, there is variation on the issue of women priests. Some feel that it is a bigger issue for a later time and that a gradual change would be more favourably considered in the Plenary Council. Others feel a stronger sense of injustice and call for consideration at this Council.
Many articulations of these issues and many other issues were brought out in our meetings to date. All are posted on our parish website and all have been posted to the Plenary Council website. We are doing more over the coming 5 months and look forward to the further process.

2020 - Context and Discussion

Participation in the Plenary Council will doubtless be a learning process for us all. On this page we give a range of articles covering matters relevant to the Council. We hope that you will find them interesting and informative.

There's that word again - SYNODALITY

The 14 th National eConference "Synodality in Practice: Listening to the Spirit and Leading Change" was an excellent opportunity to hear some very interesting speakers as they each developed a theme around 'synodality' and how the process of the preparatory phase of the Plenary Council was in fact an exercise iin synodality in practice.
Some 18-20 people participated in the two days, with some staying for the full day program and others coming and going as their busy lives allowed. One or two even came back a second time so that they could listen a second time.  Overall, most were very impressed with the presentations and felt that they had learnt so much by being there. When asked their opinion as to whether it would be worth purchasing a couple of the DVD's (to be publisheed very quickly with the whoe of the eConfernce included) for showing at other opportunies within the parish, there was a resoundingly positive agreement to do so.
Session 1
Leaders That Listen: Synodality in Practice
Archbishop Mark Coleridge
This presentation was almost 20 minutes and as such it runs to 4 pages of print. However it is well worth the read - please try it!
Some of the salient points Bishop Mark made include:
  • The word ‘synodality’ doesn’t occur at any point in Vatican II, but it does I think go to the heart of the vision of the church that was bequeathed to us by the council.
  • This was the moment that after 10 years of discernment and discussion the Australian Bishops should move in fact to what we now call the Plenary Council.
  • The Plenary Council is not just an event in the future, it is a process that has begun now. The two sessions of the Council which will be celebrated in late 2020 and early 2021 are merely part of that journey that has already begun. That journey has three phases - preparation, we are in the thick of it now; celebration - the two sessions; and then implementation, and the Lord alone knows how long that will take. So it’s a long journey and we’re not quite sure where it’s going. We are a bit like Abraham - it is an Abrahamic journey. Abraham is called by God to leave what is familiar and to set out on a journey to a land that he does not know. Well that’s about where we are together.
  •  What the Pope says is “synodality prevents a rigid separation between a teaching church and a learning church, because the flock has an instinctive ability to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to his church." Now this is crucial to understanding, in practice, what synodality really means. In other words, those who teach have to listen and those who listen have to teach.
  • Well that whole distinction is something that the Spirit is calling upon us to revise.
  • The sensis fidelium, that sense of the faithful... In other words, everyone who is baptised, not just the bishops or those who are ordained, everyone who is baptised receives gifts of the Holy Spirit and the question is, ...what are the gifts that have been given and how might these be allowed to flourish for the building up of the Body of Christ for the sake of the mission.
  • So that’s what we are talking about - a charismatic understanding of the church, a church which is always under the influence of the Holy Spirit. ... it is in fact a time to make decisions and those decisions will be under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
  • Now there is a danger in this because the Holy Spirit who is always the consoler is also the disruptor. Once we are caught up in the movement of the Holy Spirit, things get messy. If we want things to be neat and tidy and clear-cut, this is not the path for you. So we have to live with a certain untidiness, a certain messiness, a certain un-clarity, if we are serious about being a church that is on a journey.
  • A journey is a dislocation, moving us from one location to another, and that is what God is doing at this time in this land. He is moving us on a journey that is a kind of dislocation where we will have to consider all our structures and strategies, and asked the question that however valuable and cherished these might have been in the past, are these what we need for the preaching of the gospel now? All those questions have to be considered and wrestled with because the process again is not easy and it is messy.
  • A synodal church is a church that listens... First of all, the Synod process, the Pope says, begins by listening to the People of God - all of them. We are trying to do this in practice with the Plenary Council. ... So we are engaged in a process of consultation, trying to listen to all voices not just some. The people of God, again, believing that each of the baptised has received gifts of the Spirit for the whole church, to build us up for mission.
  • The Synod process, the Pope says, then continues by listening to the pastors...
  • Finally, the Pope says, the Synod process ... listens to the voice of the Bishop of Rome, 
  • So it’s a kind of a circle. Listening to the people, listening to the pastors, listening to the Bishop of Rome, and all of that goes on and on and on like a circle. Everyone listening to everyone, but, and this is the key again, everyone listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Our task on this journey. Listen to each other, that’s crucial but also everyone, the whole community of faith listening to the voice of the Spirit.
  • Now that takes time and it isn’t easy and it is messy. We will have to live with the mess without losing our nerve, because the danger is that we can think that somehow this has all gone wrong, that the church is running off the rails. We will have to live through moments of that kind of uncertainty and that kind of hesitation. But to lose our nerve would be the big mistake - either to sit down and stop journeying or to turn around and go back. That would be the mistake that we can’t afford to make.
  • The word that stands at the very head of the Scripture is ‘listen’. “Listen Israel” (Deuteronomy 6) - listen to what? The word that God spoke in the beginning when God said ‘light’ and there was light. This is what God is, this is what God does – the Word - and our task is to listen to that word. 
  • So we are right at the heart of Scripture when we talk Synod and synodality. The experience of listening, words quoted by Jesus in the new Testament. What’s the greatest commandment? Listen Israel. The words repeated every day by the Jewish people. 
  • We are a listening religion, if you like, called to be a listening people in a new way in the new set of circumstances that we face, given the new challenges that we face in Australia.
  • All of this is for the sake of discernment... It is a process of sifting through all the voices, and there are so many voices, ...That’s our task, and that process of discernment must always be an experience of real prayer. .. that’s where the journey of the Plenary Council has to be, above all, a journey of prayer for the whole church.
One of the better-known of the Latin American theologians has said that this vision of the church, a church where everyone teaches and everyone learns, the church where everyone listens as we journey together requires three things:

  • First of all, open dialogue on both sides. Now that might sound easy but it’s not. It assumes that the Holy Spirit is everywhere - he can just pop up anywhere. The more authority you have to speak the more you have to listen.
  • Secondly, it requires mutual criticism, but not criticism to knock down but criticism to build up. The criticism that is a gift born of love. This touches upon the whole question of accountability.
  • The third thing that it requires is a reference to the external. By which is meant we have to keep an eye on the world. It’s not just about the church. The Plenary Council is not just about the church. It’s about the world. So we always have to be looking outside or beyond the church. And a reference to the Holy Spirit. Again I stress this and it is the key, not just to ourselves and what decisions we might make take to our own devices, but what is the Holy Spirit prompting the church, driving the church to do. That’s the question, beyond ourselves, focusing out there.
  • Is all of this easy? Of course it’s not. It’s hard. In some ways the Plenary Council will be the hardest thing we will ever do as Catholics in Australia. Hard because it’s messy; hard because it’s uncertain, we don’t have a roadmap or a GPS. 
  • As a pastor it can be hard because you hear all kinds of things, ...there has to be a great sifting and that’s hard. 
  • For those who are not ordained which is most of the church, synodality can be hard because sometimes pastors can speak to quickly, sometimes in questionable ways. ...
  • It is hard for all of us because it means we don’t just listen to ourselves and to those who agree with us. We actually have to listen to God and to do that you have to believe that God is speaking - there is a word to be heard.

The wound of sin will always make synodality hard but the healing of grace will always make it’s not only possible but even joyful as we take the road together, educating ourselves as Pope Francis says, in the patience of God and his time. Now this is what the Spirit is saying to the church in Australia at this time and this is, I think, the Kairos of God.

Plenary - Do we have time to listen?

The temptation is to find a quiet corner, coffee in hand, and type in my response to the plenary question on my smart phone, sending it sailing into the iCloud heaven, hoping that my voice will sway the bishops to make some change to something I am not happy about. I finish my coffee, and get on with my life. If things don’t change, well, I tried my best to make a contribution, didn’t I? Isn’t that what plenary is all about?

Yet when I listen more deeply to the plenary invitation, I discover that it is firstly an invitation to listen. Let us “listen to what the Spirit is saying.” (Rev 2:7). What a wonderful invitation we have received from the Bishops of Australia! This scripture passage, siting as it does, underneath the logo of Plenary Council 2020, is at the heart of our engagement during this period of listening and dialogue for the Church in Australia.

While my current concerns are significant and should be voiced, what else is God speaking into my heart at this time? Am I able to come to a place of stillness and contemplation, and listen with the ear of my heart to what the Spirit is saying in my life? And am I willing to share this experience with others? Plenary is an invitation to listen… and to dialogue. After all, the plenary question is “what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

We accompany Jesus on this plenary journey, and are invited into Gospel encounters. Who do we meet at the heart of the Gospel? Our family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. The Gospel people are today’s people, experiencing the same hopes and joys, griefs and sorrows as those from centuries earlier. We are invited in these plenary days to sit with a drink in the midday Australian sun, conversing with a woman from outside the religious tradition, and outside her own social circle (John 4). We listen attentively to two travellers, downcast on their way home on a dusty outback track after witnessing everything they believed about their faith being torn away (Luke 24:13-35). We experience the elation of those coming back from mission to the growth areas of our urban centres, fresh with stories of new life (Luke 10:17). We share in the grief of friends heartbroken at the loss of their beloved friend or family member (John 11).

In this time of privileged encounter, our bishops invite us to honour the stories we hold in our hearts and those we hear, by sharing the wisdom gleaned and questions raised. We are encouraged to raise our voices, to become a cloud of witnesses, sharing in the question of “what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” There can be no more important question. And we are a pilgrim people. We recognise that we need one another, and by listening to the truth of one another, we step more deeply into the Divine Truth, connected as we are in the One Spirit. By prayerfully listening to one another, and avoiding the temptation to race to the nearest answer, we may open our eyes and ears to what the Spirit is saying in our midst.

I hope and pray that when it comes time to submit my response to plenary, my mind and heart will have been changed by many fruitful conversations, particularly with those who hold views and beliefs different to my own.

National Centre for Pastoral Research is working with a research group and providing expert analysis of the responses that have been submitted.

Thousands of people from across Australia have taken time in the two months since the Plenary Council 2020 officially launched at Pentecost to consider the future of the Catholic Church.

In May, the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Plenary Council began, with resources created to help people across the country participate in a prayerful conversation to consider the question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins, who has travelled to every state and territory in recent weeks to promote the Listening and Dialogue process, said enthusiasm has been high.

“As people learn they are central to this process, that the stories of their experiences of faith and the Church will shape the agenda for the Plenary Council sessions in 2020 and 2021, they understand how important it is that their voice be heard and listened to,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.

“People see that the Church is moving into uncharted territory by engaging so significantly with all parts of the Church – young and old, women and men, all cultures, all languages, all abilities, lay, religious and clerical. Many find that very empowering.”

Trudy Dantis, director of the National Centre for Pastoral Research (formerly the Pastoral Research Office), is supporting the facilitation team by working with a research group and providing expert analysis of the responses that have been submitted.

“Our work as researchers is to collate and sort the data and to present it in the clearest manner possible without assigning any value judgement to the responses that are being received,” she said. “We are looking for trends and convergence in the responses to highlight the issues that are being discussed widely, while also noting the important individual experiences of Catholics.”

Dr Dantis said some examples of topics being mentioned in submissions include a greater role for women, the need for more faith formation and the desire for liturgy that is nourishing and inspiring.

She said the Plenary Council is also attracting responses from people who acknowledge they are no longer closely affiliated with the Church.

“There are many Australians who may identify as Catholics who have little or no contact with the Church,” she said. “Their views are critical to helping us understand what people find spiritually nourishing and how the Church could rebuild trust and renew connections with them once again.”

Ms Turvey-Collins said the Listening and Dialogue process, which she emphasised must be grounded in prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit, will run until Ash Wednesday 2019.

“The program for the Plenary Council sessions will develop from the grassroots, beginning by meeting people where they are at and listening deeply to the story of their experiences. The website has all the information to promote engagement and participation in the process and everyone is welcome” she said.

“This is not about large gatherings or events. All people are encouraged to come together with friends and family to consider the Council’s central questions and help the Church consider how it can reflect the face of Christ in Australian society today.”

What does 'Synodal Church' mean?

As the leadup to the Plenary Council continues we are going to hear the phrase ‘SYNODAL CHURCH’ more often, nad it will no doubt leave many wondering just what that phrase means.
In his Address to the Synod of Bishops (17 October 2015, in Rome) as they commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis stated that the synod was “one of the most precious legacies of the second Vatican Council” and that it was something that he has sought to enhance since the beginning of his papacy.
The word ‘synod’ derives from the Greek syn meaning ‘together’ and hodos meaning ‘road’ or ‘way’ and signifies a ‘coming together’, ‘assembly’ or ‘meeting’. Synods are the earliest and traditional forms for collegial discussion, debate and decision making in the Church. Pope Francis says that this “journeying together – laity, pastors the Bishop of Rome – is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.”

Pope Francis continues: “a synodal church is a church which listens, which realises that listening ‘is more than simply hearing.’ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 171.) 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.”

In bringing a synodal church into being in Australia, we first need to understand the Synod process which “begins by listening to the people of God, which ‘shares also in Christ’s prophetic office (SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 12.)…then continues by listening to the pastors’ and only then do “the bishops act as authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they need to discern carefully from the changing currents of public opinion.”

Preparing to be a synodal church in Australia

Looking ahead to the Plenary Council, Fr Noel Connolly sees a huge task in setting up the structures for the kind of consultations that can truly be synodal. "This is going to be a massive and possibly messy task" he says.  Take a deep breath and think about what it might mean for our Parish. Read it here.

Bishop Long on Breaking Open the Priesthood

At the Manly Reunion Gathering in August*, Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta addressed the matter of the Catholic priesthood in Australia. The transcript of his speech appeared on the website of the Diocese of Parramatta. Showing some command of the Australian vernacular, Bishop Long makes an assessment of where we are today and how we might find a way back to the exercise of priesthood as “servant-leader”. Using personal stories and acute observations he skewers what’s wrong with our current exercise of priesthood and points a way forward. But beware! In identifying the evil of capital ‘C’ Clericalism we might be led to some consideration of our own small ‘c’ clericalism.     (*An annual gathering of priests who were educated at Manly Seminary.)   Read it here.

Fr Noel Connolly on Listening

Fr Connolly addresses the issue of how the Church hierarchy compares to the notion of the sensis fidelium - 'the faith of the whole people of God.'
In speaking of the need to "invert the pyramid" he notes that for ingrained cultural reasons this will certainly be no easy task. However he does propose wyas in which we can develop the new skills. Read it here.

Peter Wilkinson on Crisis

Wilkinson notes the scant history of Synods (Plenary OR Diocesan) in Australia. He goes on to identify and number all the groups of participants for this Plenary Council.  While urging that "new business" (as distinct from "business as usual") should be part of the preparation for the Council, he speaks to the processes of listening and agenda formation.  Opining that"poor governance was at the centre of this crisis; now accountability and transparencey must be at the core of the solution," he urges the use of diocesan assemblies as forums for engagement as they are less restictive than canonical synods.

Francis: not afraid of discussion; invites dissent.

Noel Connolly states that "Pope Francis believes in the sensus fidelium or the sense of the faithful as an important part of the teaching authority of the church." Noel goes on to say that this is a new approach to what it means to be church.
Read the full article here and have a generous conversation with friends about whether the laity - you and I - should be encouraged to speak loudly. 

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