by Peter J Wilkinson
15 May 2012 originally published in The Swag
A plenary or national council (or synod) is an assembly of the bishops, clergy, religious and laity of a particular nation working to ensure that the pastoral needs of the People of God in that nation are provided for (C. 445).
It is 75 years since the last plenary council of the Catholic Church in Australia, held in 1937. That, and earlier ones in 1885, 1895 and 1905, were exclusively male clerical gatherings, with only bishops, theologians and superiors of male religious orders attending. Women, religious or lay, took no part.
The question now is: Has the time come to convene a fifth plenary council or synod in Australia, to be held under new inclusive rules (C. 443) which allow wider participation of Christ’s faithful, including women, to address the critical issues of our times?
how it should occur, and why this is important
by Peter Wilkinson
The Diocese of Melbourne was established in 1847. It became an archdiocese in 1874. To date, it has had 8 archbishops. The first three were Irish: James Goold (1848-1886), Thomas Carr (1886-1917), and Daniel Mannix (1917-1963). The next five have all been Australian-born: Justin Simonds (1963-1967), James Knox (1967-74), Thomas Francis Little (1974-1996), George Pell (1996-2001), and Denis Hart (2001-present). The main task of the Australians has been to embrace and implement the vision of the 2nd Vatican Council. How well they have done that will determine their legacy.
From 1788, when the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay, until 31 March 2016, seventeen popes have entrusted the pastoral care of Australia’s Catholics to 214 bishops. Until 1976 the popes had also designated Australia a ‘mission’ territory and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide which largely determined the selection of its bishops.
The first five bishops never set foot on Australian soil. All English, they shepherded from afar, three from London, and two from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa where, from 1820 to 1832, they tendered their flock in distant New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land via priest delegates.
The selection and appointment in 1832 of Australia’s first resident bishop, English Benedictine John Bede Polding, as Vicar Apostolic of New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land, was the result of long and delicate political and ecclesiastical negotiations between Propaganda, the British Home Secretary, the Vicars Apostolic of the London District and Cape of Good Hope, the English Benedictines, and the senior Catholic clerics in NSW. The process was repeated until English candidates were no longer available and the majority Irish Catholic laity in Australia had made it clear that they wanted Irish bishops.
This year, nine new Australian diocesan bishops could be appointed – NINE! – including a new archbishop of Melbourne. All the faithful have a vital interest in these selections. This is an opportunity for inspiring leadership with the help of the people of each diocesan community. Catholics for Renewal is developing a proposal for including the people of God in the selection process and we are seeking views on how best to do this.
by Paul Collins
I was talking recently about the Synod with a very experienced parish priest. He said that if the bishops thought we were all waiting with bated breath for their decision regarding the divorced remarried receiving Communion, then they really do live in cloud cuckoo-land. Nowadays divorced Catholics don’t just hang around waiting for a bevy of bishops to decide. They follow their consciences and do what they think is right, especially if they have talked to a sensible, pastoral priest. Sure, many have understandably walked away from the church, but many have stayed having made their own decisions about going to Communion – the internal forum solution.
So really it’s irrelevant what the Synod decided. Even on the gay issue sensible Catholics already understand that talk about people being ‘intrinsically disordered’ is not only utterly insensitive; it is also ‘intrinsically’ un-Christ-like and evangelically ‘disordered’!
But that doesn’t mean the Synod was a failure. It was a success because it recovered something of the church’s Catholicity. Genuine Catholicism implies a universal, multi-ethnic, non-sectarian church, a community of many parts and differing views. My major criticism of the two popes before Francis is that they were essentially ‘uncatholic’; they promoted a narrow, ‘pure’, sectarian church, the antithesis of Catholicity. That’s why they loved outfits like the Neo-Catechuminate and Opus Dei; they are sectarian in structure and intention.