I am going to try and share the most prominent of my impressions from what the general public is permitted to participate in, and to do so each day until the final Mass on 9 July 2022.
At this point I have watched the opening Mass of 3 July, the livestreamed first session on 4 July and the Plenary Tracker video from 3 July, and I have read as many articles in the Catholic Press and from blogs as possible.
That there were more than 600 amendments to the motions put forward, and only a handful of those will be put to the vote is of concern. Some compilation of the general gist of those proposed amendments would have been very welcome. Likewise, the agenda of the steering committee is unknown, and what those collective desires are will definitely influence which interventions are chosen for presentation prior to the voting and which will only be viewed by those Plenary Council members who make a special effort to view them on an online portal. Some of the interventions we might see if they are shared with the Catholic Weekly and published online. Otherwise we pew-sitters have to wait for the Acts of the Plenary Council to be published – and there is no data yet available for how many copies will be made, and whether or not it will be published online as well as on paper.
We’ve already seen some of the agenda of the liturgy committee in the drafting of prayers of the faithful, the selection of hymns for Masses, and in how the smoking ceremonies and welcome to country rites have been conducted.
I have already cringed many times. Ciboria are supposed to be made of noble materials. Seven candles are the official limit of lit candles, and only when a bishop is present. There were 9 lit candles at the first Mass, and the ciboria looked like they were made of either wood or pottery, and without any hints that there might be gold lining to them. It also seemed less than ideal to have two non-Australian cardinals on the sanctuary with the Apostolic Nuncio, and to not introduce them, or at least acknowledge their presence.
This morning the cringes induced blushes. As the first session opened no microphone was given to those doing the smoking ceremony and welcome to country. Even with the sound up very high, insufficient words could be discerned to get a gist of what the speakers were saying. When even the lady signing for the hearing impaired, who is on site, can’t distinguish enough words to sign them, it has to be bad! Then the lighting of the candles was a disorganized mess. We definitely were not putting our best foot forward before the nation and before worldwide observers. How many people saw this and washed their hands of the whole affair?
Sadly it didn’t stop there. I almost wished we had the slickly produced prayer services from the first assembly back. There was space on the livestream screen to show the overhead screen with the words to the songs, but it wasn’t used. After that the visuals started to misbehave, and we were able to see about one frame every 10 frames. Not to be outdone, some of the later videoclips had the sound preceding the text. It was strange to have what seemed to be a lay person read a passage from the Gospel in the midst of a plethora of deacons, priests and bishops. But to crown it all, the screen went to the screensaver for 30 minutes while small group discussions went on. Just as well I didn’t view it live and could fast forward that bit. If you needed ultimate proof that the powers that be couldn’t care less about the online viewers, that was it. No wonder so many people have become disengaged from the whole process.
The first assembly also had the same disregard for pew-sitting participants.
It would have been far more fruitful if the interventions were livestreamed, at least then we would get the gist of the pros and cons of each motion - and have a chance to grapple with the subject matter, - before the voting results are revealed. Watching procedural motions is far from gripping viewing.
Livestreaming the interventions would have been a far better option for the first assembly too. The quality of the interventions shared via the Catholic Weekly for the first assembly was excellent.
For the Plenary Council to not be a waste of time and money, it has to engage the minds and hearts of the pew-sitters, so that they actively want to be involved in implementing the approved motions. Just if you are leading and no one follows all you are doing is taking a walk by yourself; for the whole church in Australia to move in a specific direction the whole church in Australia has to be engaged. Having the motions written in bureaucratic language hasn’t helped. In other parlance, a Plenary Council has to be received. If most people, priests and dioceses ignore implementation of the approved motions, then it hasn’t been received.
Efforts have been made to diffuse unpleasantness and importune lobbying.
If I have understood it correctly, the non-bishops vote electronically of an afternoon, the bishops vote the next morning on paper. Clever, isn’t it? That way no one will know how any individual bishop voted, even though every non-bishop vote will be attributable. Any flack the bishops get will be therefore shared collectively. But the results of both parts of the voting on the motions will be released at 1pm on the day the bishops vote. Theoretically this means that the non-bishop votes and bishop votes are independent of knowing the results of the other vote. If the outcome of the non-bishop vote was announced immediately after the scrutineers were finished, then it would have been highly likely that the bishops would have been swamped with people who didn’t like the way the non-bishop vote went and also swamped with those who wanted to make sure the non-bishop vote was supported by the bishops. It does however give the bishops more time for private debate about the motions during the night hours, and to put together a likely view of the non-bishop vote by sharing with each other the comparative deliberations of the small groups they were part of.
Non-bishop members have been forewarned that should the bishops not vote the same as the non-bishops to not expect any kind of episcopal explanation. Should this happen, frustration and animosity will be the result.
Some mention has been made about the wishy-washy wording of the motions. Missing are any must’s and should’s. Possibly the thinking is that affirmative votes are far more likely to be achieved if no one feels that implementing the content of the motions will be mandatory. Certainly some of the motions are worded in such a way that ‘business as usual’ is more than possible.
Ultimately of course no one can force another that they don’t want to do – unless they are fairly compensated or persuaded by violence or expected loss of freedoms.
The notion struck me while watching Plenary Tracker that any talk of ‘we’re going to change the Church’ is quite absurd. Only the Holy Spirit has the power and the authority to change the direction of the Church. Unless the Holy Spirit is behind any change, any and all human efforts will be fruitless. As the bible reminds us: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.
It hasn’t been the most auspicious start to the second assembly of the Plenary Council, but I suppose the cave at Bethlehem didn’t look too auspicious either. May the Holy Spirit take complete control of all the proceedings.
How could we tell if the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints were present? Unanimous votes from both non-bishops and bishops would be indicative. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can produce unity like that.
The highlight thus far was Bishop Macbeth-Green’s homily on 3 July about being tired, and how God’s peace and the Cross are antidotes for that kind of weariness.