I was pleasantly surprised at the revision of motion 4. There was nothing in it which raised my hackles. Certainly it is a much better motion than the one presented to the assembly on Tuesday.
Daniel Ang’s input released 6 July and Sandy Wallace’s input released today have caused me to look deeper at the disconnect between what’s been going on in the Plenary Council Masses in the Cathedral and what’s been going on in the Plenary Council from a plenary tracker perspective – for lack of a better descriptor.
Last night’s plenary tracker portrayed a bubble of reality that was quite alien to me. How come there is such enthusiasm about ecological conversion? Could it be that it’s because ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is close at hand’ is far more demanding? I doubt that the name of Jesus was mentioned more than once at last night’s plenary tracker. That really bothers me. The way I heard the panel of women enthuse was uncomfortably like having an alternate religion proposed. Perhaps the troubling thing was a placement of the human person as a cog within the ecosystem of creation – which is very different to God’s command, ‘Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth’. It was couched in either/or terms, not in both/and terms, and that is very troubling.
But when I look at the number of federal votes for the Greens party and for teal candidates, perhaps I should not be surprised at this green-washing of the life of the Church in Australia.
I keep returning to the notion that if plenary members were more steeped in scripture, in theology, in living the liturgical year, and in frequent and regular use of the sacrament of penance then so many hot button issues would have had minimal support. Daniel’s observation of the tale of two councils is ringing true. How can lives more infected with worldliness than with apostolic levels of conversion truly discern? Strangely, I’m now finding myself in sympathy with the previous way of conducting plenary councils – bishops only – because at least they are all coming together with a strong baseline of shared knowledge and practice.
Deeply I fear that the members got it wrong yesterday. Two topics stick in my craw. The first one was making diocesan pastoral councils mandatory for all dioceses, and the second one was signing up all dioceses, parishes, schools, hospitals etc to the Laudato Si program and demanding that it happen by 2024.
My experience of any kind of committee is that ineffective chairmanship is rampant and that effective chairmanship is rare. Chairpersonship was just too much of a mouthful to consider using. Very few parish councils ever accomplish anything worthwhile. Witness the number of parish council members who haven’t read the minutes of the last meeting prior to the current meeting. Witness how many accountabilities are treated as suggestions subject to a better offer rather than ‘serving as if it was done at God’s orders’. Now if instead there had been a motion to invest in widespread training for effective chairmanship – that would be useful. Let’s also refresh our memories that if a parish priest doesn’t want a parish council and if a bishop doesn’t want a diocesan pastoral council, all efforts are doomed to failure. Recall also that it is usually volunteers that are sought for pastoral council positions and that very little effort is usually expended to make sure that there’s a variety of gifts among members so that it’s not top heavy with dreamers and deficient in doers.
Where or where do you think the limited resources of a parish are going to go if implementing the Laudato Si program has to happen by 2024? How much will be left over for the primary mission of the Church: making disciples of Jesus? Matt 28: 18-20
And so much for not making decisions without the input of stakeholders! According to the approved motion all parishes have to do this, and parishes certainly weren’t consulted about the Laudato Si mandate. That’s a very different thing to a bishop saying Yes, we will start a few pilot programmes in interested parishes and see how it goes before extending it further.
Were you gobsmacked that one of the ecology motions was unanimous among bishops? I was. Maybe they were tired and didn’t fully comprehend the implications of the Yes vote to that motion.
Generally there has been a relatively consistent voting pattern from the bishops with an average of 30 Yes votes and 10 No votes. Only God knows if it has been the same bishops in each voting bucket or whether it has been more fluid. But there was a strange thing happening with motions 7.4 and 7.5 where the No vote was significant and the motions barely passed. That lack of unanimity should have sent both motions 7.4 and 7.5 back to the drawing board, time pressure or no time pressure.
The media briefing was again instructive, answering three important questions.
The first was about the general content of the Rome response to the Light from the Southern Cross document, viz too horizontal and not balanced enough with vertical and a reminder that the Church decision making is very different to the ways businesses and governments do things. The same criticism could be levelled at the plenary council process, yes?
The second was about the risk, due to new research groups, diocesan pastoral councils, and this new three yearly roundtable, of too much new bureaucracy in an already swamped experience of meetings upon meetings upon meetings (Here’s looking at you Bishop Umbers). Since if you are tied up in meetings all the time, a pastor or bishop has nothing left in the tank to do pastoral visits to families or to be supportive to a struggling priest. The answer given was that the risk of increasing bureaucracy is always present, and it is the price paid for the chance of some of these new meeting types to actually assist in moving the mission of the Church forward. To which I want to respond, surely there must be other long-shot ventures with more chance of success that we could invest our time, energy and scarce resources in!
The third was a response to the general deflation experienced when reading the framework for motions for the first time, viz after all these years couldn’t we have come up with something less bland, less general and more specific? The answer was that since implementation will be across very different circumstances, city, regional, rural, remote, that anything one-size-fits-all doesn’t provide enough wiggle room to implement motions creatively according to specific diocesan situations. Additionally members had come to acceptance about the need to have less prescriptive motions.
This morning Bishop Bird widened our concept of Mary as mother of the Church, because we think too readily that church means only the rite we celebrate liturgy with. So Bishop Bird took us through the richness of liturgical prayers in the Latin rite, the Maronite rite, the Chaldean rite, the Melkite rite, the Ukrainian rite and the Syro-Malabar rite. Sincere apologies if I missed any Eastern rite out. The love of Mary as mother and model is deep throughout dioceses as evinced by the numbers of parishes with Marian names, and throughout all the liturgical rites of the Church.
Last night at Mass there was an incredibly bad use of inclusive language in the responsorial psalm, Psalm 33(34). This is the accepted translation: ‘This poor man called; the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress’ – which was on screen. The translation used: ‘When the poor cry out the Lord hears and rescues them from all their distress’ – which was sung. Any student of language knows that there is a vast difference between singular and plural eg. est and sunt. The former encourages the individual to seek the Lord’s help. The latter could be interpreted that God only hears when a group of poor call out to Him, and that being united in prayer is a prerequisite for the prayers being answered. These are vastly different interpretations caused by inclusive language that the literal Hebrew translation cannot support. Shouldn’t our fidelity to what the original text of God’s Word says take priority over any ideological overlay?
A bright point on Thursday morning was the presentation of a message stick from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and the explanation of the symbolism of each part of it. Both the forethought to prepare such a gift and visible token of solidarity and the deep understanding of the plenary council process it portrayed were amazing.
Similarly amazing was the explanation by Erica of how much the smoking ceremony meant to her, and why, viz (paraphrased) ‘together we acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation who have welcomed us so warmly with the smoking ceremony when we gathered together to begin this meeting on their country. That smoke made me feel safe. It gave me courage and it encouraged me to take part in sharing, especially sharing about our first nations culture’.
Last night Cardinal Dew from Wellington, New Zealand was the homilist at Mass. He has been one of the official observers, and he is adamant that he hasn’t been bored during his observation of the plenary council process. Among his many observations two stood out: increase in faith of the community, increase in communion of the community: and that increase in mission of the community is the responsibility borne by each baptised person: discernment is integral to synodality.
When I looked at the plenary council website a little while ago, the results of the voting from today’s deliberations were not yet published.
Stay tuned for a response to that, and to the Mass tomorrow morning, and the wrap up press briefings and plenary tracker episode – although it is likely to be Sunday before that response can be completed.