Plenary Council Listening and Dialogue Reports

Therese Power’s Group at Our Lady’s

Suggestions for the Future of the Church

  • The witness of the Church to be one of joy, not regulation, as we love God and our neighbour

  • A strong commitment for social justice to be continued and expanded – including public voice

  • Inclusive processes to be the norm and perceived to be so. A re-writing of Church documents to include all

  • Devising ways to encourage youth to participate in the life and mission of the Church, e.g. Use of social media/selection of music/other activities

  • Transparency to operate in matters of governance (finance/decision-making/representation…) at all levels in the current hierarchical Church

  • Education about other faiths so that we cooperate rather than be in ignorance or in competition with each other

  • Inclusion of indigenous prayers and reflections into our liturgies

  • To assist communication: the setting up of National Catholic Radio/TV stations

Connie De Nino’s Group at Our Lady’s

Key Topics from our Responses

  1.  Leadership – a more inclusive leadership structure which encourages the contributions of both lay men and women in the decision-making processes of the Church. We thought that the leadership of the Church needs to reflect that it is part of a community and as such, lay involvement should extend to everything from how priests are trained to which liturgy we use to celebrate the Mass. Further, it should reflect the society we are living in now so should consider married priests and as a minimum, women deacons. 

  2. Humility – we believe the Church needs to be humble. It is not about pomp and ceremony, but about reflecting the face of Christ to those we interact with on a daily basis. The focus should be on being a humble servant and welcoming all. We can demonstrate this by having a liturgy that is more accessible, for instance, the 1998 translation of the Roman Missal

  3. crafting a new statement of mission that emphasises our commitment to being people of the beatitudes, that is, social justice, especially to the poor, the marginalised and refugees and asylum seekers

  4. moving to clean energy in all Church properties to reflect our commitment to the earth

  5. Acceptance and adoption of all the recommendations of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

 Sr Marjetka’s Italian Group at Our Lady’s

The Catholic Church into the Future

The Church has been through difficult times. Note the shortage of priests, abuses within the system, ageing attendances, loss of youth, the challenges of a multicultural environment, disengagement by members of the community as well as increased criticism from external sources.

The Work of the Church

There is hope for the future. The faithful community needs to manifest the joy of who we are and what we can do. We are the People of God and we need to manifest this. We note the challenges ahead, but we also note that much can be done.

Inclusiveness is essential. It is important to open doors to all, to welcome those who are lost, refugees, those in need and people of other persuasions.

The tradition reminds us of where we have come from. We are in this together. Our mix of cultures highlights the challenges ahead. Our belief tells us that we are one in Jesus. He is our brother and our sister. How important this is.

Ministry and Worship

Fundamental changes are required. Structures need to be developed to meet the increasing needs of society. Priests cannot do this on their own. Within the Christian community there are many willing to share their gifts. The doors need to be opened. Great work can be done. We can all minister to one another. There are many talents that could come to the fore to be of service to the community. It takes vision and some humility to share the workload, but it can be done. For many it becomes a labour of love in the service of the Lord.


Hopefully, the problems of today can be made right. The Church needs to reach out to all who have suffered. The hierarchy needs to show that it has got the message — to right the wrongs and to make sure that it will never happen again.

We are the People of God. May the Spirit be with us in all that we do and may the light that we receive give witness to our joy and hope.

Three Priority Topics

  1.  Return enthusiastically to Following Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament by loving and serving one another.

  2. Continued formation of the Catholic Community including study of Salvation in the Bible, explanation of types of Liturgy and History of the Catholic Church.

  3. Developing a lively enthusiastic and credible parish community which includes a sense of belonging by living in hope and joy.  

Robert Mandile’s Group at St Ambrose

What is God asking of us in Australia today?

  1.  To strengthen our own faith, to support our parish, share the true meaning of Jesus and trust in God. To be kind, loving, empathetic, welcoming and speak out about injustice.

  2. To engage the Laity more in the running of the parish, in the appointment of the parish priest, the finances and be more proactive with youth activities. To share our wealth, be educated on social issues and provide an antidote to negativity and social issues in the world.

  3. To treasure our traditions. To reform the model of priesthood, the role of Bishops, training in seminaries and the ongoing development of priests, especially with pastoral and personal skills. Revisit married clergy and women priests. Remove priests from the running of the parish primary school. Revisit the beautiful reforms of Vatican II that have failed to materialize.

Tom Knowles’ Group at St Ambrose

What is God asking of us in Australia today?

  1. To return to the language of the gospel rather than that of dogma and law; to recover the spirituality of the gospel and affirm inclusiveness and equality (vs masculine language and structures); to be a simpler and humbler church

  2. To engage lay people, especially women, at every level of the church’s life, mission and decision-making; to reform the model of priesthood and priestly training so as to emphasise pastoral and personal skills; to reform canon law so as to allow married priests and women deacons (even priests), to redefine the role of bishops, and to discontinue priests as employers of school staff; to open up vocational pathways

  3. To be a church of mercy and justice that speaks up for the poor and for the environment and engages ecumenically with other Christian and faith traditions; to be welcoming parish communities that encourage families, practise faith-sharing and are open to diverse cultural traditions; to connect with young people and their passion for justice

  4. To restore the practice of the Third Rite of Reconciliation; adopt the 1998 translation of the Roman Missal.

Annette Tepper’s Group at St Ambrose

Share and Listen Reflect

The following are what we thought God is asking of us in Australia at this time:

  • To treat all people equally regardless of differences, such as but not limited to race/sexuality/gender/beliefs

  • To respect and listen to each other and reflect our humanity

  • The Church to advocate that Government act in the benefit of all, not in special interest groups (eg policy that gets business to vote for them by offering tax cuts rather than policy that supports an Australia which supports all Australians equally)

  • To reflect on why people are not attending Church

  • The Church to act with Christian values on social issues such as refugees and ensuring they are treated with humanity

  • The Church needs to be a stronger visual/active and vocal advocate on social justice issues such as refugees, homelessness and violence against women (particularly in the context of domestic violence) within society and also politically.

  • For the Church to properly and fully support social justice issues (for instance once refugees are accepted into Australia what is done to support them in their transition to their new country?)

  • A Church that recognizes it is not ‘bricks and mortar’ and protecting its assets is not the point.  The point is focusing on Spirituality

  • The Church is the people not the hierarchy and the role of the people in the Church is crucial.

  • Common ethics and not Canon Law to define how we think and react to situations and for there to be consistency with how we are in Church with how we are in society. For instance in Church to hear and accept the teachings about treating all people equally but then to politically support ‘turn back the boats’.

  • The Church needs to respond to the changing needs of the population it serves to remain a relevant, important place within society.  The feeling of the group was the Church saw itself as the main thing of importance and not the community it serves.  This attitude needs to change.

  • The example of Libraries. Libraries need to reinvent their ‘model’ every 5 years to respond to changing needs within society and how new technology impacts them. If they had not changed libraries would no longer exist. However they have integrated new technology and responded to the changing needs of the population they serve and they remain relevant important places within communities. 

 Discuss and Prioritise

The following are suggestions from our group about the future of the Church for the Plenary Council to consider in 2020:

  • Have a majority of laity on the Plenary Council–this to be addressed PRIOR to our submission. 

 Our priorities are:

  • To question the priest model so it is more inclusive and responsive to changes in society

    Does the Church need to have priests?

    Could we instead define the skills required eg life experience, social awareness, ability to put into action and support a community and have the Church support those individuals (regardless of race/gender/marital status etc) with theological training to provide leadership within parishes?

  • To address the priest shortage in the meantime (given the above will take some time to consider/implement) -rather than ‘import priests’ to support the current model, develop laity with these skills already eg priests who left their ministry and similarly skilled former religious who could take on bigger pastoral leadership roles.

  • Review the training of current priests as it seems to be very socially conservative and not reflective of the inclusive model required to remain relevant and constructive and inclusive to the Parishes they aspire to support.

  • Make the language of the Liturgy more inclusive.

    The changes made by Pope Benedict made the language unnecessarily male orientated and therefore less inclusive.

  • Revise Canon Law and to move back to individual conscience and spirituality, with these being the most important elements rather than the now ‘ad hoc’ collection of strange rules built up over thousands of years.  These rules may have had some purpose or relevance in the time they were written but they no longer relevant and in some instances seem quite petty.  We understand that a Church needs structure and we need structure but spirituality and individual conscience must shine through in all that the Church does (current Canon Law does not allow that) e.g. divorced or actively homosexual people not being able to take Communion.

  • For individual parishes to be allowed to include the cultural traditions relevant to their communities so practices are more culturally aligned and reflect their communities (eg the example of baptism in local rivers)

 Agnes Dodds’ Group at St Ambrose

What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?

Each member of the group spoke. There was great agreement between the members about what were the important matters to be addressed. This summary reflects the issues raised by one or more of the members.

While acknowledging that change is a slow process, there needs to be structural change in the Church, especially in the following areas:

  1. There must be an examination of the meaning of 'Church' in the current time and place

  2. The laity, and especially women need to have a greater role

  3. The priesthood needs to be opened up to a wider range of people, e.g., married men, women

  4. More must be done to attract young people to the faith, and to the Church as an institution. Catholic schools need to be a part of this, and at the moment, they are not convincing young people that the Church is relevant to them, or welcoming of their ideas

  5. Catholics need to be more visible and active in the community.

  6. The Church structure is not representative of society at the moment

  7. The safeguarding and nurturing of children must be a priority, and processes must be transparent

Overall, the group agreed that we needed to move back to Jesus' message and become a simpler, humbler church

What suggestions do you have about the future of the Church for the Plenary Council?

The group agreed that all of the individual issues raised above need to be part of the Plenary Council discussion. In addition, the following points were made:

  1. There should be an emphasis on core beliefs, based on the Gospel, and not on tribalism from the past

  2. The Plenary Council must include a wide range of people, and that voting should not be restricted to the Bishops

  3. Consideration should be given to establishing formal structures and processes for the voices of the laity to be influential in decision-making. The Anglican Church Synod was given as an example of such a structure

  4. Decision-making must become more transparent (e.g., re the appointment of bishops and parish priests)

  5. The relationship of the church in Australia to Rome needs to be clarified and updated, including Canon Law

  6. Priestly formation must be addressed as a matter of urgency, and must continue after ordination, to address clericalism and the isolation faced by priests

  7. A parish is at the heart of the Church, and there needs to be discussion about what makes a well-functioning parish, including the laity in leadership roles

  8. Consideration of how to support the people of the Church in their endeavours to live the life of the Gospel

Three Priority Topics

  1. Youth engagement. This means listening to the voices of young people and genuinely addressing their concerns

  2. Structural change at parish, diocesan and national levels to achieve greater transparency, a wider contribution to decision-making, and opening up the priestly ministry to married men and to women

  3. The creation of a simpler and humbler church more in tune with the community.
    How can the Church support the people as they try to live the Gospel? 

Clare Johnstone’s Group at St Ambrose

The group's 3 key topics from the listening and dialogue encounter are: 

  1. for the Church to be more welcoming and inclusive of families and young people so they have a greater sense of connection to faith and community. Reviewing the language of the liturgy would be beneficial here. Young people require assistance to discern their vocation and listen to what God is wanting of them.

  2. for the Church to return to an emphasis on the way of Jesus and the Gospel values of justice and compassion - making the approach of Jesus and the Gospel relevant to the way we live our lives.

  3. for the Church to work more ecumenically, and to be open and welcoming to a broad demographic and a range of ethnicities.

  Tricia Murray’s Group at St Ambrose

  1. Servant Leadership
    We believe God is calling us to be a humble Church with a leadership structure that is truly one of servant leadership, without any sign of clericalism.
    We believe Church leadership must embrace the equality of both men and women – with an openness to the ordination of married men to the priesthood and women (at least) to the diaconate.

  2. The Language of Liturgy and Sacraments
    We believe that God’s call to humility must be reflected in the language we use in our worship. Our strong recommendation is that the Australian Church adopt the 1998 translation of the Roman Missal, because the language of the 2011 translation seems pompous and convoluted. Also that we adopt the Revised New Jerusalem Bible for a new Australian lectionary. Regarding the Sacraments, we recommend that the Third Rite of Reconciliation be re-introduced.

  3. Open Windows to the World

    We believe God is calling us to look outward to the modern world with the face of Mercy. As a servant Church, this is seen by our spirit of justice for the poor, for asylum seekers and refugees, and for the earth itself. If we take Laudato Si seriously, we will adopt practical measures to protect our earth because it is always the poor who are most affected by climate change.

  4. Broad Representation: We believe the Australian Church would be better served by the Plenary Council’s decision-making body being open to a greater number of non-clerical members.