May God grant me the grace to deal with all of it without missing anything significant.
Even though the prevailing mood from the plenary council members is optimistic, relaxed, and weary or ‘relieved, emotional, and exhausted’ I find myself wondering whether everyone shares that view. Just because all those who appeared on plenary tracker or the media briefings feel this way, it is by no means certain that everyone feels this way. From a few things viewed on Twitter this morning, I dare to hope.
Our bishops have now gone down to somewhere at Mittagong to spend three days together, presumably talking, relaxing, and processing the pressure cooker events of the last week. This mirrors what has now become a mandatory highlight of Australian contingents to World Youth Day: they get together for three days to let what has just happened sink in, to talk and discuss with others who had similar experiences, before they disperse to return to real life. I’d give a lot to be a fly on the Mittagong wall because I suspect these three days will contain a lot of collective soul searching.
At least the press briefings have now all been put up on YouTube, that’s a win; and they are all worth taking the time to view.
However I did wonder whether I’d stepped into an alternate universe when a comparatively younger male member said, ‘there’s a lot of good youth ministry happening in all areas of our Catholic Church’. If by good you mean occasional very showy large gatherings of youngsters, maybe, but there’s no evidence that these extravaganzas lead to the kind of conversion which helps youngsters commit to prayer, to Sunday Mass, to regular Confession, and to the rejection of participation in pre-marital sexual activity. Does the youth ministry as experienced as lots of pizza, ice-breaking games, fund raising for big youth events, and the occasional challenging talk actually minister to young people? It’s really good for youngster-sitting; but for actually ministering to them a la Everett Fritz? No. There’s normally something worthwhile with youth happening in close proximity to cathedrals, but anywhere else it is hit and miss, and out in the boondocks it is miss.
Lots of members have gushed about the morning prayer experiences during the second assembly. Yes, there was a cut down version of the litany of Saints, and the Benedictus got prayed once as did the Hail Mary, and there was a smattering of scripture, but there was a lot of dodgy stuff too. At times I had to force myself to continue watching online. When I came across a member on Twitter this morning to admitted that he walked out while the pagan-esque rituals were going on, (especially planting seeds in mulch) and returned when they were over, I was greatly relieved. How much better it would have been if they had prayed Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours together, in both Latin and Eastern rites!!!
A tale is told from time to time about a long-term family friend born 1930, who, when told that there was to be a second Vatican Council put his head in his hands and wept. As a student of church history, he knew that international Church Councils disrupt the mission of the Church for at least 50 years. At the time he was doing his best as an evangelist and apologist on a soapbox in The Domain.
Deeply I felt in charity with him when a motion was approved to force all Australian dioceses and eparchies to have a diocesan synod within 5 years’ time. Haven’t we done enough navel gazing during Vatican II and the 5th Australian Plenary Council? Isn’t it time for mission?
10 years ago, a synod was held in Broken Bay diocese. Us pew-sitters were invited to answer a few questions on a sheet of paper. There our involvement ceased. After meetings upon meetings of ‘movers and shakers’ the Synod was held, and a memorial website set up. Long gone is the website and if any positive outcomes came from the Synod, apart from enhanced relationships between the ‘movers and shakers’, they were not perceived by me. When the Plenary Council was first announced, reflecting upon that synod, I wondered, ‘How could a national version of the same, even if called a Plenary Council, not ultimately be a similar waste of time, talent and money? Any time dedicated to synod preparation, national or diocesan, is time that won’t be dedicated to evangelisation or to the needy.
Some motions had 40+ No votes. Now that’s really significant opposition! Yet the motions were still approved. Given that normally consensus was extraordinarily high for the two last days of voting, shouldn’t these large No votes have given the steering committee pause? Maybe two thirds majority was too low a bar, and it should have been higher, like 80% or 90%. Any motion with 40+ No votes is going to have big trouble at the implementation stage.
Generally the mood of last night’s press briefing 8 July was that the new deliberation process went well. But comparing where I expected the bishops to stick up for church teaching, the missing backbone, and the actual votes, I have to wonder whether the new process introduced quite a lot of peer pressure and therefore dissenting voices were discouraged from speaking - just by gazing across the sea of green straw polls and feeling alone. Perhaps it would have been better to have an ‘as long as it takes’ plenary council instead of the pressure of a time limit?
Further reflection has me wondering three things:
Firstly, the open mike nature of the deliberations of the last two days of the assembly suited the bold and the articulate. It couldn’t have possibly suited the introverts and those with hearing aids. This would have skewed the deliberations of the assembly. Surely deliberations need to be from both oral and written sources so that the playing field is levelled somewhat.
Secondly, the votes seemed to happen very soon after the deliberations finished. There was no cooling off period. No time to mull over all the input in the quiet of a private bedroom and weigh everything up more soberly.
Thirdly, how many of the votes were made not according to rational judgement but according to emotion viz, why should I keep to the vote I had intended to make if it seems everyone else has the opposite view? How many deliberative votes were swayed due to fear of hostility from the rest of the room, and from fear of the general public’s reactions?
Even juries are sent away to deliberate after closing arguments are made; they don’t vote in the court room immediately after closing arguments have been presented.
I’ve been thinking deeply about this because in a rational world the bishops would have voted against inclusive language in liturgy. Surely they have a reverence for sacred scripture which is peppered throughout the prayers? Surely they cannot have forgotten all the work that went into the re-translation of the Novus Ordo a few years ago, and all of the discomfort church goers went through in the adjustment process. In a rational world they’d run a million miles away from going through another revision process so soon. We’ve all laid out so much money on new missals and lectionaries – and they said Yes to doing it again? So many of our favourite hymns have already been ruined with inclusive language revisions.
I put it to you this way: The re-translation of the Novus Ordo has returned a sense of sacred and repentance to the liturgy. Who wants to wreck that? The good spirit or the evil spirits?
We were treated to some examples of what would become commonplace with inclusive language: There was universal use of ‘sisters and brothers’; must we never use ‘brothers and sisters’ again?
More concerning was the replacement of ‘priest, prophet and king’ with ‘priest, prophet and royal’. Between the concepts of king and royal is a vast chasm. There can only be one king at a court, with responsibility for the welfare of all. At a court are many royals, in various near and far family relationships to the king. Far from minor is this replacement because the triple title is sourced deep in sacred scripture and is the triple role of Jesus we are baptised into. To use ‘royal’ is to distort the truth.
Let’s remember again, who is it who is the Father of all truth distortions?
As commentators have said, maybe our bishops decided to let this one on inclusive language go through to the keeper, and let ICEL and Rome get the flack for saying No.
This isn’t the only motion where fear of God should have outweighed fear of man, or fear of woman eg lay preaching at Mass.
I also note that part 9 about implementation had nothing about prioritizing which parts to take precedence. Even a multi-choice online poll of members’ views would have been useful and instructive. Clearly it all can’t be implemented at once. Some needs to be in the urgent bucket, some needs to be in the important bucket, and some will end up in the if-we-get-to-it bucket.
Comment was made to me that knowing people were so emotional about the many issues up for deliberation, that in the beginning there should have been a time of naming, sharing and releasing hurts and working through reconciliation opportunities before entering into the plenary council process. I whole heartedly agree.
It also befuddles me that having experienced the plenary tracker interplay from the first assembly that the head instigators were not put on notice and told that bad behaviour (ie. non-conducive to collaboration) would not be tolerated.
As I’ve mentioned before, entering into a plenary council process in a combative mode rather than in a collaborative mode is profoundly insulting to those doing their best to be collaborative.
Therefore I return to the 2 types of people on earth :10 commandments vs 2 commandments people, viz 1. nobody tells me what to do; 2. I don’t give a stuff about anyone else. There’s a very big difference between those who sing ‘we did it God’s way’ vs those who sing ‘I did it my way’. Were we seeing a corporate expression of those 2 commandments viz 1. we want these particular topics to go our way (women, governance, inclusion, LGBTQIA+) and 2. really don’t give too much of a stuff about how we obtain those results – as long as we get them - nor about any topics other than these? Deeply concerning it is. Yet I understand only too well how easy it is to get carried away by seemingly righteous anger and passion for apparent injustice, and not realise that a lack of sufficient detachment has permitted darker forces to play unseen puppeteer with your emotions.
I further wonder why, when it became apparent that those in a combative mode were not being collaborative, and in fact were implacably combative, that the leadership did not remove them from the assembly. Granted, they may have kicked up more of a stink outside than inside, but maybe it would have been better to put up with nasty public scenes than to have had the plenary council hijacked by their implacability. Because it was hijacked. Those who screamed loudest got their way, and those who should have had more parental concern for the whole let them. When a young child reaches the age of being able to have tantrums, giving them what they want in order to shut them up just makes a precedent for a higher stake outcomes later down the track. The only way to prevent that is a short sharp smack and some time on the naughty bench.
To understand why this is crucial, here’s a crash course in Discernment 101. Usually we have two choices before us, and usually we have a strong preference for one of them. This is particularly so when seeking God’s will for our life vocation; marriage or one of the total commitments requiring celibacy. Until we can come to the point, through prayer, study, reflection and discussion of saying, ‘God, both choices are good, yes I admit I have a preference for one of them, but I am prepared to wholeheartedly embrace Your choice for me, no matter which one it is, because it is Your choice, and I wish to please You, and I acknowledge that Your choice will bring me the greatest happiness.’ Only then can the Holy Spirit move us in His direction. Only then can we know that we are following God’s will and not our own. Can you now see that if you come to a discernment process unwilling to relinquish your own strong preferences, that you block the discernment process?
We seem to have only dealt with the push button issues for the progressives at the plenary council. That’s sad. Because it has been dangerously inward looking- and failed to do much at all to support evangelisation. If you asked someone in the pews what was urgent for the church my guess is that better homily preaching would be number one. It didn’t feature at all in the plenary council. Neither was there anything to do with how laity could better live out the twin calls of holiness and mission in their daily lives at work, play and home. There was nothing about how to be more open to the Holy Spirit; nothing about ways of facilitating encounters with Jesus, nothing to inspire those living in vocations to marriage and family.
A ray of joy is that ‘Eparchy’, is now being mentioned in Australian Church matters as often as diocese is.
Across social media, whenever the comment function wasn’t turned off, there were consistent questions: How did my bishop vote? How much did this whole Plenary Council process cost? Where’s the money coming from to fund the new things proposed by the Plenary Council?
In the vast wish-list of the Plenary Council, did everyone forget just how many dioceses are already in financial crisis?
At times members, steering committee and drafting committee struggled under the constraints required by Canon Law for a Plenary Council.
The wisdom from members of religious orders was a gift to the Plenary Council. Their experiences of collective decision making, the good, the bad, and the ugly, reassured everyone else that what they were experiencing in the Plenary Council was not abnormal. When religious meet in chapter, the process is normally 4 to 6 weeks long, and is recognised by congregational leaders that the decision to put something to the vote only happens when a sense of consensus is reached.
Synodality is hard work, and it is a difficult process. Any kind of deep listening and having long cherished preconceived notions challenged generally is.
Some of the wording of Plenary Council motions was imprecise. As some members and commentators asked, who is going to decide what is appropriate and what is not appropriate eg.
‘that women are appropriately represented in decision-making structures’
‘with appropriate formation and recognition’
If you take the view that the whole plenary council process was tied to an agenda full of woke ideas, or at least politically correct ideas, then are we running the risk of ‘Go woke, go broke’ and of grave damage to the Australian Church - since God has an eternal perspective, and we only have the prevailing perspectives of this era of society?
One of the younger panel members on the plenary tracker about integral ecology was very enthusiastic and therefore persuasive. Her contribution has continued to niggle at me. If you took away the audio and just looked at the visual, I think you’d be convinced that this was a new convert to something. Problematically that something was not Jesus. So amazing is the Good News that we should be excited about Jesus; and have very little else on our lips. We should beware whenever something less that Jesus takes up our minds and hearts.
Given the number of new research assignments, new roundtables for accountability and resource sharing, and other things that will require staffing – how is it all going to be paid for, given that most parishes are already under heavy obligations for insurance and contributions to diocese? Existing obligations are already crippling. Will the obligation get heavier, or will something that is working get cut for something untested, or both?
The plenary tracker episode of 8 July had a fair amount of discussion about whether the Plenary Council has been a watershed moment in the life of the church in Australia, or whether it was just another small step on an incremental path. It also answered a question: The two thirds majority for voting approval was based on the number of eligible voters; so abstentions, which happened, did make getting to two-thirds a little harder. For all the talk about women deacons, any discussion about the experiences and role of married deacons and their wives was conspicuously missing.
Discernment isn’t always yes and no, sometimes, legitimately, it is ‘we’re not quite there yet’.
One of the press briefing panelists had an interesting view. With the motion to settle outstanding motions from the 4th Plenary Council, it means that we’ve just had a change of era. The era of the 4th plenary council is now over, and the era of the 5th plenary council is beginning.
When asked about the notable lack of emphasis on interior conversion during the Plenary Council, Archbishop Costelloe said that the Year of Grace in 2012 which preceded the Plenary Council was thought to have already done that.
He also expressed a hope that everyday meetings in parish and diocesan life will now have more of a focus on ‘what is God asking of us at this moment’ than heading straight into normal procedural and practical matters.
The Implementation timeline goes like this: all of the documentation from both assemblies will be packaged up over the next few months, it is likely that the November assembly of the bishops’ conference will accept it as a true record, then it will be sent to Rome. Then we wait for Rome’s response, because anything implemented has to be in communion with the church universal. The implementation phase will only begin on motions that have the green light from Rome. ‘Jumping the gun’ on implementation risks wasted efforts. Possibly the earliest the response from Rome will be received is May 2023.
There was adoration going on in the crypt area of St Mary’s cathedral during the Plenary Council, and many members availed themselves of that opportunity especially during lunch time.
Closing Mass 9 July 2022 excerpts from Archbishop Timothy Costelloe’s homily.
There can be no true renewal if we ourselves, perversely, push Christ to the margins.
Our task is to point beyond ourselves to Jesus.
Pentecost is the deep reality of the Church.
Salvation ultimately depends on preachers being sent.
We are not to be concerned with self-preservation but with proclaiming the truth and beauty of the Gospel by what we say and what we do.
The commission to go out and make disciples was not withheld from those whose faith was weak and faltering and caused them to hesitate.
We have experienced this week what it means to struggle with the reality of the call of the Gospel and recognise that the struggle must continue.
There is more to discover about where the Holy Spirit seeks to lead us.
We are sent as witnesses to the love and mercy of God.
The Lord never promised that discipleship would be without its challenges.
What He did promise was that He would be with us always.
How to conclude? It is going to take time to discern what has been of God and what hasn’t been of God in the Plenary Council. Unpalatable truth though that be. Currently all we have seen is general euphoria. In reality, this has been the easy part. Now begins, when Rome gives the green light, the task of putting it into practice and discovering which parts work and are accepted, and which parts don’t work and aren’t accepted, by pew-dwellers and bishops, and everyone in between. My gut feel is that the consensus reached on the floor of the second assembly is far from being a consensus throughout parishes, dioceses and eparchies. May God have His way.
Below is a printer-friendly compilation of all the blog-posts concerning the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council.
20 x A4 pages