Plenary Council

The First Assembly

“In October 2021, the Catholic Church in Australia will gather for the first Assembly of the Plenary Council to be held since the second Vatican Council. In 2018, when the decision to hold a Plenary Council was announced, the entire People of God in Australia began preparing for this historic moment by listening to God and by listening to one another’s stories of faith.” Let’s pray that the listening continues throughout the assembly!

News and reports from the assembly will be added to this page as they become available. Some items may be behind a paywall, which is not something we have influence over, we are sorry.

Information about the Plenary Council can be found on its dedicated website. This includes the Agenda, the Instrumentum Laboris and a list of council members. Unfortunately, the site itself is slow to load.

The prayer for the Plenary Council has been recorded in an inspiring video. Another video discusses the practice of discernment. The Plenary Council has a YouTube channel to which resources may be are being added during the week. There is also a podcast archive: we have learnt that there will be a new episode daily during the week.

The first assembly of the council begins on Sunday 3 October 2021 and continues until Sunday 10 October 2021.

Mass booklets and prayer resources for the assembly will be found here.

Ahead of the Opening

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, spoke with Andrew West on ABC Religion and Ethics Report in the week before the commencement.

Plenary Council Facilitator Lana Turvey Collins and Chair of Catholic Social Services Francis Sullivan were interviewed by Hamish MacDonald on RN Breakfast . Council member and ANU Emeritus Professor John Warhust spoke to ABC News Radio. Also on the Religion and Ethics Report, former Royal Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald called for more transparency in the church.

A council member from the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Dr Nimmi Candappa, contributed a reflection in Eureka Street.

Archdiocese of Sydney representative Daniel Ang wrote for the Catholic Weekly.

In an article in CathNews, Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra Goulburn spoke of the ‘sense of anticipation’ leading in to the assembly.

Cath News is the daily e-newsletter of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. If you are not already subscribed, this might be a good time to sign up.

In the current edition (98/3 2021) of the Australasian Catholic Record (subscription required) Boston College Professor Richard Lennan writes on the ecclisiology of the Light from the Southern Cross report and comments on the response of our bishops.

The current edition of The Swag has several relevant articles (subscription required).

The secular press seems to have been quiet. There was an article by Mike Seccombe in the Saturday Paper last week. The last few minutes of Archbishop Coleridge’s interview with Andrew West (Religion and Ethics Report, linked above) responds to aspects of this article: its worth a listen.

Throughout the first Assembly

Some sessions of the assembly will be livestreamed. For the schedule of the assembly, including the sessions available by livestream, visit the Assembly-1 page of the council website. News, key documents, prayers for the council and an archive of the livestreamed masses and assembly sessions are also available from that page.

Esteemed ABC journalist and Catalyst for Renewal member Geraldine Doogue is providing a daily podcast, each evening of the assembly.

Francis Sullivan will write a blog post each day.

John Warhurst will also blog daily.

Garratt Publishing on behalf of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn is providing a daily (evening) webinar during the assembly. You can register to attend Plenary Tracker here.

Day by Day

Day 1 Sunday 3 October 2021

Around the country, mass has been said this morning for the Plenary Council. This recording comes from the chapel of St Vincent’s Hospital, in the Diocese of Lismore.

The Plenary Council Opening Mass was livestreamed from St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth WA, celebrated by Plenary Council President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB,. The recording is found here.

Andrea Dean, Chair of Women and the Australian Church (WATAC) contributed an article to Pearls and Irritations.

Francis Sullivan has updated his blog.

John Warhurst’s new blog entry is here.

In her Plenary Matters podcast (Ep 3) Geraldine Doogue interviews Fr Frank Brennan.

Day 2 Monday 4 October 2021

Mass this morning came from St Killian’s Church, Bendigo, VIC. The celebrant was Bishop Shane Mackinlay, Vice-President of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.

The Opening Session of the Council commenced at 11am. The first 75 minutes were livestreamed. Click here to watch the recording (starts 10 minutes in).

CathNews has a report of yesterday’s Opening Mass, with links to some news items.

The Australian newspaper has three articles: “Catholic summit no ‘gabfest’ says prelate” and “Archbishop: we are a church poised for renewal, not reinvention as a secular NGO”, the second by Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher. The  third article is by Terry Fewtrell of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn: “Catholics push for change as Australian church launches summit.” Subscription required.

Father Frank Brennan was interviewed on Sky News (video).

You can still register to attend Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars (7.30pm AEDT nightly). Recordings of past episodes are available to registered participants. Click here to register.

Francis Sullivan has titled today’s blog entry “Listening”. Read it here.

John Warhurst has updated his Plenary Insight blog, asking the question “Does the agenda reflect the hard work of the 17,500 submissions?”

A new episode of the (official) Plenary Podcast features Bishop Shane Mackinlay.

Geraldine Doogue has posted Episode 4 of the Plenary Matters podcast, focusing on lay women at the assembly.

Day 3 Tuesday 5 October 2021

Mass this morning was from St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Adelaide, celebrated by Archbishop Patrick O’Regan.

The video recording of the public segment of this morning’s assembly has been posted here. The second half of this contains the reports of yesterday’s small group discussions of agenda questions and is quite interesting.

There are two items in CathNews this morning: Pope Francis has sent greetings to the assembly; inspiration has been taken from yesterday’s Feast Day of St Francis of Assissi.

La Croix International has a report of Pope Francis’ call for mutual listening.

Inés San Martin has written in Crux Now of Australia’s “grand experiment in synodality”.

A new episode of the (official) Plenary Podcast features Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville and two other council members reflecting on the first day of assembly proceedings.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have updated their blogs this evening.

Geraldine Doogue has posted Episode 5 of her Plenary Matters podcast, declaring that “the real work is underway.”

Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars continue tonight (and at 7.30pm AEDT nightly). Click here to register.

Day 4 Wednesday 6 October 2021

This morning’s mass is from St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher presiding.

CathNews this morning reports on the first small group discussions at the assembly.

Marilyn Hatton of the Coalition for Church Reform has written in Pearls and Irritations.

The secular press seems quiet, with nothing new in the Nine papers or The Australian, as far as we’ve seen. Please email us at catalyst-for-renewal@tpg.com.au if we’ve missed anything.

On ABC RN Breakfast radio Patricia Karvelas and Noel Debian discussed the council.

The video recording  of today’s public plenary session can be viewed here. Embedded in this recording is the contribution of Richard Lennan, live from Boston College USA, with his brilliant explication of the church’s mission (6 mins), viewable here.

Today’s edition of ABC Radio’s Religion and Ethics Report also focuses on the council. This episode demonstrates the diversity present at the assembly and highlights the challenges that exist in building consensus on proposed actions.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have updated their blogs again this evening.

Geraldine Doogue has posted episode 6 of her Plenary Matters podcast this evening.

The new episode of Plenary Podcast (commissioned by the Plenary team) features Bishop Michael Kennedy (Armidale, NSW) , Br Peter Carroll FMS (Provincial Marist Bros), and Marco Ceccarelli, a Laity member from the Archdiocese of Perth

Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars continue tonight (and at 7.30pm AEDT nightly). Click here to register.

Day 5 Thursday 7 October 2021

This morning’s mass is according to the Maronite Catholic Rite and is celebrated by His Grace Archbishop Antoine – Charbel Tarabay, Maronite Archbishop of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, from St Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Sydney.

In CathNews this morning there are two items. The first previews today’s agenda and suggests that consideration will be given to how a public response will be made to victims and survivors during the Council journey. The second reports on Archbishop Fisher’s homily from yesterday’s mass.

There are a further two items in Crux Now, the first summarising some of the reports of discussion groups and the second on bridging the gap with Australia’s indigenous peoples.

There was no livestream of today’s session. Members participated in a special plenary that was not broadcast. This session addressed two agenda questions:

  • How might we heal the wounds of abuse, coming to see through the eyes of those who have been abused?
  • How might the Church in Australia meet the needs of the most vulnerable, go to the peripheries, be missionary in places that may be overlooked or left behind in contemporary Australia? How might we partner with others (Christians, people of other faiths, neighbourhood community groups, government) to do this?

We understand that the decision to close this session was based in concern for victims and survivors. The council will need to address not only the questions themselves, but also related issues of governance, reporting and transparency that will, now and ongoing, satisfy the People of God that abuse has ceased, that systems of prevention are and will remain robust and that the needs of survivors are being prioritised.

Frances Sullivan has written about the issues in today’s blog. The sense is that the task is far from complete.

John Warhurst has offered a thoughtful reflection on hierarchy and formality and how these impact the proceedings of the council.

We wait to see whether there will be a formal statement about today’s proceedings.

Geraldine Doogue has caught up with John Warhurst for a conversation in the Plenary Matters Podcast Episode 7. This is a must listen.

Today’s edition of Plenary Podcast changes format to a panel discussion of today’s proceedings. There is no pointer as yet to emerging action.

Finally today, ABC TV’s The Drum features Geraldine Doogue and Francis Sullivan with others in a high quality panel discussion. The plenary segment begins at 20 minutes in.  Initially the discussion focuses on the problem of a small number of priests who are refusing vaccination. From 30 minutes, a more substantial discussion of today’s issues proceeds.

Day 6 Friday 8 October 2021

Mass this morning was from the Diocese of Wollongong, NSW celebrated by the Most Rev Brian Mascord.

An article in CathNews focuses on the presence of Eastern Catholic members of the council.

After yesterday’s closed session, the livestream of the morning session returned today. Again, you need to move about 10 minutes into this recording before the Welcome to Country commences. The focus of this session is small group feedback. The group considering prayer and liturgy has begun to form tentative proposals. Unfortunately I heard nothing about the current translation of the liturgy. In other areas too, it is difficult to discern any clear directions at this stage. Two days of diliberations remain (Friday and Saturday).

There are two articles of interest in Eureka Street. Tracy McEwan and Patricia Gemmel have written on ‘Raising Women’s Voices’, one theme that may be gathering attention in the assembly.  Jesuit Bill Uren’s piece is on the restoration of the third rite of reconciliation.

The ABC aside, the secular press continues to ignore proceedings, as far as we can tell. (Again, if there are items we have missed, please let us know by emailing catalyst-for-renewal@tpg.com.au).

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have again updated their daily blogs this evening.

We have mostly omitted the plentiful reporting of the official diocesan media. As John says in his item tonight, they mostly ‘fail to present a variety of voices’. The Catholic Weekly in particular displays a strident sameness. However John reports that Canberra Goulburn’s Catholic Voice has provided some material that is ‘instructive’. You’ll find Catholic Voice here.

Geraldine Doogue has posted episode 8 of her Plenary Matters podcast this evening.

Today’s episode of of Plenary Podcast is another panel discussion with four guests.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have again updated their daily blogs this evening.

Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars continue tonight (and at 7.30pm AEDT nightly). Click here to register.

Day 7 Saturday 9 October 2021

This morning’s mass came from St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, VIC, with Archbishop Peter Comensoli presiding.

The first part of the morning assembly was again livestreamed, with the recording available here. Again, the focus is short reports from the groups addressing the agenda questions. It is evident that the groups are beginning to formulate their proposals.

CathNews does not publish on the weekend.

An article in La Croix International  cites the assembly’s focus on mission.

An article in Crux Now discusses the liturgical diversity of the Australian church.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have again updated their daily blogs with two typically insightful pieces.

Geraldine Doogue has posted episode 9 of her Plenary Matters podcast, which features an interview with Professor Greg Craven, past Vice Chancellor of Australian Catholic University and a peritus at the council. The conversation is discordant with what we have understood to be the tone of the proceedings at the assembly. Be sure to listen and form your own judgement.

Today’s Plenary Podcast features a discussion with Monica Cavanagh RSJ and Salena Hasham.

Tonight’s episode of Plenary Tracker discussed the situation of LBGQT+ persons in our church. This is recommended listening. If you have not yet registered for these webinars, you can still do so at this link. Recordings of previous episodes are available.

Day 8 Sunday 10 October 2021

The Mass to close the first general assembly was celebrated at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane. Archbishop Mark Coleridge presiding.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe’s closing address to the assembly (delivered yesterday) has been posted here (video).

The Plenary coordinating team has also recorded a wrap of the week.

Geraldine Doogue has posted the final episode (#10) of her Plenary Matters podcast, featuring discussions with Archbishop Coleridge and, from Rome, Susan Pascoe. This is again excellent listening.

John Warhurst has updated his blog, observing that the ability of synodality to resolve differences remains untested at this stage.

Francis Sullivan’s post strikes an optimistic note, whilst remaining realistic.

The final episode of Plenary Tracker summarised the week’s proceedings. It was revealed tonight that 3,500 people have been registered for these webinars. We thank and congratulate Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn for their skill, professionalism and generosity in providing this forum.

Early Reactions

Without trying to be comprehensive, we’ll post links to significant news and commentaries in the several days following the assembly.

The Concluding Statement of the assembly has been added to the Council’s Key Documents page. If you have read nothing else, this is a useful summary.

On Monday 11 October, there  are two items in CathNews, the first reviewing the Concluding Statement and another reporting on the closing mass.

A report of Archbishop Costelloe’s closing address was released by ACBC Media.

Paul Collins has submitted a critical piece to Pearls and Irritations.

An item in The Australian is behind its paywall.

From ABC News comes this item (text), not especially focused on the assembly.

On Tuesday 12 October, writing for Pearls and Irritations, John Warhurst sees hard work ahead.

The current episode of God Forbid on ABC RN features Maeve Heaney and Monica Doumit in discussion James Carleton.

Catholic Voice (Diocese of Canberra Goulburn) has a series of Plenary Reflections. You’ll find numbers 2, 4 and 5 here. If you find numbers 1 and/or 3, please email the link to catalyst-for-renewal@tpg.com.au . Thank you! (There is of course, coverage in other diocesan newspapers, but as we noted last Friday, we are leaving these for your own searching. Pick your favourite.)

As we’ve noted here before, the secular press has largely ignored the assembly. ABC Radio has also gone quiet, after some good early coverage. We’ll close this page now, but it will be retained here as a historic record, for your enjoyment. We finish with one final invitation to send us links to significant items we may have missed: please email us at catalyst-for-renewal@tpg.com.au.

Thank you for joining us during this most interesting period for our church.