Welcome to PlenaryPost

With the last Plenary Council in Australia having been held more than 80 years ago and with there being no real “prototype” for a national council of this type in the world, it was unclear how the Australian people would participate – especially in the opening Listening and Dialogue phase.

Over the past 10 months, the response has been overwhelming. As of the end of January, 68,700 people had shared their stories with the Plenary Council and feedback from the National Centre for Pastoral Research suggests there was a massive influx in the past five weeks. The final statistics will be published later this month.

The end of the Listening and Dialogue phase marks the completion of the first part of the preparation stage, which will continue in earnest from June 9, when the themes that emerged during Listening and Dialogue will be announced. 

That will mark the start of the "Listening and Discernment" phase. Over the coming weeks, there will be a lot of information shared about discernment, starting with this edition’s “Talk Theology” section below.

Thank You


Seeing the abundant possibilities in the Plenary Council

by Lana Turvey-Collins
Today the world celebrates the unique and beautiful genius of women. It is a day that makes me think of all the incredible women in my life who I rely on for guidance, wisdom and courage. 

Eight years ago, I was a postgraduate student on a UNSW internship program and had the privilege of accompanying 11 women from different parts of the world who had come to Geneva for two weeks. They had come to give testimony, to share their story and the stories of women like them with the UNHCR ministerial meeting – a global platform of diplomacy and negotiation for governments. 

The women were living variously with “undetermined status” – some were seeking asylum, some were refugees, one woman was internally displaced and another was a woman who had been recently settled into a foreign country after living in a refugee camp for three years. 

Those 11 women have not only survived the last eight years, they have thrived. Today, one is running for Parliament in the country she was resettled into, one is a trauma counsellor, one has two grandchildren, one has graduated with a bachelor degree in the country of asylum and the others have all achieved great and wonderful things in their lives.  

At the end of those two weeks in Geneva, I honestly wondered if those women would make it home safely, let alone live to make incredible contributions to the world in the way they have. My perspective, then, was not yet ready to see the abundance of possibility the next decade would bring.  

I wonder if the journey toward the Plenary Council might be a bit the same as my own journey this past eight years. Could it be that our current perspective cannot yet see the abundance of possibility that God has in store for us all? I certainly hope so.  

We have had more than 75,000 people engage in this first stage of preparation: Listening and Dialogue. It has been a sacred time of sharing stories with one another of our journey of faith, of how we experience God in our lives and our experiences and hopes for the Church.

The stories have been both inspiring and challenging and this past year of listening has been transformative. I hope this habit of sharing with one another and deep listening can help us to be a more deeply connected people, living and leading God’s mission in Australia today and for generations to come.


We will address a new question in each e-newsletter. To catch up on previous editions, you can check out the Plenary Council FAQ page. If you have a question, email it to us and we will include it in future editions of PlenaryPost.

The question for today is…

The Listening and Dialogue phase is over. What happens now? 

With the Listening and Dialogue phase now complete, the National Centre for Pastoral Research will continue the deep listening process, conducting a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the submissions received and, using best-practice research methods, will identify key themes that have emerged.

Then, in May, the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, the Plenary Council Executive Committee and the Facilitation Team will work together with the National Centre for Pastoral Research to finalise the National Themes for Discernment.  

Those themes will become the focus for the Listening and Discernment phase and will be the foundations for the Plenary Council agenda.


Discernment: A 'gift we must implore'

With the second phase of the Plenary Council process – Listening and Discernment – to begin in June, it is important to understand what discernment is. In the coming weeks and months, there will be a number of articles and videos created to help explain discernment.

In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad in English), Pope Francis dedicates a section of the document to discernment.

He writes: “How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. 

“It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.

“The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good. 

“Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.”

Click here to read the section on discernment.


Listening and Dialogue was 'landmark moment'

Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB says the overwhelming response from people across Australia to the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Council means it has been a “landmark moment” for the Church in this country.

In a media release issued yesterday, Archbishop Costelloe thanked all those who have shared their stories, which will help form the basis for the Plenary Council agenda.

“The Bishops and the Plenary Council team are deeply grateful to all people who have participated,” he said. 

“It is important to stop and acknowledge the significant moment that this is for the entire Catholic community. I have been very moved by the stories of faith, hope and resilience I have heard.

“This is a landmark moment for the Church – not only in terms of the stories that have been shared, but also in the new relationships that have formed after encountering one another in dialogue. The change that this brings is already evident among people from all parts of the Church.”

Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins said “many people have mentioned that they haven’t really been asked to participate in anything like this before and that experiencing this together has been empowering because it has provided a platform for all voices to be heard”.

Click here to read the media release.

Women's voices prominent in Council submissions

In a message ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, Archbishop Christopher Prowse has paid tribute to the contribution women make to the Catholic Church in Australia – including to the Plenary Council.

The latest data shows that at least 56 per cent of the submissions received came from women.

“It’s encouraging that so many women are offering their insights and stories to the Plenary Council process,” said Archbishop Prowse, chair of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry. 

“May those holy women of the Church, most particularly our own Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Mary, the Mother of God, continue to inspire you.”

Click here to read the media release.

Plenary Council can drive parish renewal

Speaking to 170 people from Catholic parishes across New South Wales, Broken Bay Diocesan Administrator Fr David Ranson has predicted the Plenary Council will play a key role in helping parishes live out their distinct role in the life of the Church.

“Here in Australia, the parish continues to be the place primarily by which people become 'Church' – that living social body that bears the light of the risen Christ,” Fr Ranson said at the event organised by the NSW Association of Pastors, Pastoral Associates and Pastoral Workers.

“It is my hope that particularly as we journey towards the Plenary Council 2020, our parishes of Australia will enjoy focus and development. The Plenary itself is prefaced on the notion of ‘synodality’ – this sense of walking together. As we walk together, we are discerning what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

“It will become incumbent on us as we journey forward to think how we make synodality a living characteristic of each of our parish communities.”

Fr Ranson said parishes “can only do that as we call each one who belongs in those communities into active listening so that our parish communities become circles of listening and places of deep conversation in which people experience a sense of inclusion and belonging and recognising their identity as disciples”.

Click here to read the full story from Catholic Outlook.

(Photo by Mary Brazell/Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.)

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