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  • Navigating between the perfect and the good at the Second PC Assembly

Navigating between the perfect and the good at the Second PC Assembly



Voting is now on the minds of the Plenary Council Members. That is because the frantic final month is now well under way. The Framework of Motions has been issued and the Members who wished to do so have submitted their proposed Amendments. Many looked at the list of amendments suggested to us by community organisations, including the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and the Sense of the Faithful group in Melbourne. Many other members were either satisfied enough or daunted by the task, amid other demands on their lives, and allowed the process of formulating motions to continue without offering any amendment at all. 

Members were also asked to put their names forward by 20 June to move and speak to one of the motions. This is a challenging task as Members have not constructed the motions themselves and will in effect be speaking to a motion put forward by the Drafting Committee rather than one of their own making. 

These amendments, probably totaling in the hundreds, will now be considered by the Drafting Committee. A list of approved amendments, which must not negate the intent of the motions, together with a list of movers/speakers, will be issued by the Plenary Council authorities on or about 29 June, just a few days before the Second Assembly gets under way.  

The week of the Second Assembly, unlike the First Assembly, will largely be devoted to voting. My best guess is that there could be about 100 rounds of consultative votes (including amendments and then thirty amended motions) during the week. This will be followed by deliberative voting by the bishops and their proxies. Before voting there will be many short, sharp speeches from among the 280 members interspersed in the program. This will make for an extremely tight timetable. 

This focus on voting reminds us that synodal meetings like the Plenary Council Assemblies, though they are explicitly not parliamentary or democratic processes, still offer useful parallels with Australian parliamentary politics. 


'Compromise is an honorable word and "good enough" is a respectable position to take; but so is drawing a line in the sand when a motion just does not go far enough in the desired direction.' 


Voting will not be straightforward. I challenge anyone to look at the Framework of Motions to confirm this assessment for themselves. Members will be voting (Yes, No, or Yes with reservations) on complex, often multi-part motions. Some have four or five sub-clauses. Almost certainly there will be some motions which seem to be flawed, incomplete and/or mealy-mouthed, while still incorporating a worthy idea, a concrete proposal, or an agreed principle. Members may then be faced with deciding whether such a motion is ‘good enough’ or a ‘good starting point’ upon which to proceed or whether it is just too weak or half-hearted to deserve support. 

This sort of calculation was an issue in the 1999 republic referendum when some direct election republicans urged a ‘No’ vote to the parliamentary republican model, while others decided to vote ’Yes’ with a view to making further improvements later if required. We know that ‘No’ prevailed. 

Such calculation has also been an issue during the climate change debate. The Greens have been criticised for failing to support the Kevin Rudd-Malcolm Turnbull climate action consensus bill in 2009, because it did not meet their expectations. The bill consequently failed to pass the Senate. The Greens condemned the Rudd-Turnbull approach as irredeemably flawed, while its supporters saw it as a promising start which could be built on later.  

The current Greens leader, Adam Bandt, has now promised that he will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That is a signal to the new Labor government that he is willing to compromise. But how far he is willing to compromise remains unclear. 

Compromise is an honorable word and ‘good enough’ is a respectable position to take; but so is drawing a line in the sand when a motion just does not go far enough in the desired direction. Some Plenary Council Members may be faced with voting on a Motion after their desired amendment has failed to pass or perhaps has not even been put to the Assembly at all. Such a situation is not unusual in parliamentary politics. 

Some Members may reluctantly support motions which are flawed and/or couched in unnecessarily weak or vague language. Others will say ‘enough is enough’ and oppose motions which lag too far behind accepted community standards on inclusion, co-responsibility, and accountability. This could mean that the tally of ‘No’ votes may include strange bedfellows.   





John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University, chair of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn and a Plenary Council Member.

Main image: Hand of a person casting a ballot at a polling station during voting. (Getty Images)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Plenary, Votes, Second Assembly, Compromise



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Existing comments

This is a continuation of an autocratic process, the same autocracy that is the basis of the Church’s failures. Plenary Council members have been asked to move and speak to motions put forward by the Drafting Committee, not motions of their own making. The Statutes even require that Plenary Council members approve the agenda and timetable for the 2nd Assembly “by applause”!
As John notes, “Compromise is an honourable word and ‘good enough’ is a respectable position to take; but so is drawing a line in the sand when a motion just does not go far enough in the desired direction.”
It is time for Plenary Council members to reject this autocracy, this semblance of consultation, as the only means of signalling the need for real reform.

Peter Johnstone | 23 June 2022  

The whole process smacks of Leninist Democratic Centralism combined with Mao's experiment to "Let a hundred flowers bloom". I don't attribute improper motives to the organisers. I think the task of "managing " the Synodality process requires a greater spiritual preparation than asking "What is the Lord asking of us in Australia today?"
The impression I got from the consultative sessions I attended was that a third of participants simply wanted to voice their objections to Vatican 2 reforms as anti-Tradition & two thirds saying the reforms didn't go far enough, because the hierarchy wouldn't face up to challenging Canon Law.
But who knows? The Holy Spirit may blow where I would not have expected. I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Uncle Pat | 23 June 2022  

John refers to the amendments suggested by the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) to the official Framework for Motions prepared by a drafting committee. Those amendments have been published in a form that allows comparison with the official drafts and may be viewed here: https://onedrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=DD5DDC5A0DD80DD0!54980&ithint=file%2cdocx&authkey=!AARfB_dPwFYhTjg
It is reported that the drafting committee is accepting very few proposals for change from Plenary Council members or others.

Peter Johnstone | 24 June 2022  

This is the only contribution I've read to an expose of the Plenary voting process and its likely negative impact on the result. I wish I had Uncle Pat's faith in the last minute intervention of the Paraclete. Would, however, the Bishops had sought the advice of John Warhurst at the planning stage of the Council rather than leaving him to languish as a loyal and necessarily critical participant. Please God they don't come to regret their shameful neglect of the skills of this fine political commentator.

Michael Furtado | 24 June 2022  

I think it is probably extremely unwise to expect a spiritual thunderbolt to emanate from this tortuous process. Synodalidity is about opening up local Church administration to make it more transparent, not to change the Church. The Plenary Council is unable, by its very nature, to make submissions to change the Magisterium and anyone thinking this is really living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. The last Reformation was, looking at the Churches it sired now, an utter disaster. I think people who will be involved with this Plenary Council need to think long and hard about whether their desires are in alignment with its aims. Some are destined for grave disappointment.

Edward Fido | 24 June 2022  

John, Marx thought the dialectic, eg: Thesis, Antithesis and the tension between the two viewpoints invariably led to a new result.
The hierarchy in charge of this secret Plenary charade claim that it is their spiritual journey and all will be revealed to their holier than thou minds (with the help of a chosen few), by the Holy Spirit.
To date there has been no appearance of tongues of heavenly fire.

Francis Armstrong | 25 June 2022  

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