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Plenary Council fails to embrace Pope Francis’s wider social vision

  • 21 June 2022
Some 278 Catholic bishops, clergy, religious personnel and lay people will meet as members of an unprecedented Plenary Council during 3-9 July to finalise the resolutions of their first assembly last year. However the May working document ‘Framework for Motions’, despite much worthy content, especially on Indigenous affairs, relies on a narrow notion of mission overly focused on inner-church issues at the expense of the wider social engagement that Francis emphasises.

In the Conclave before he was elected Pope, Francis said he had ‘the impression that Jesus was locked inside the Church and he was knocking to get out’ to serve the poor, the hungry, the sick.  Instead Francis envisages the Church like a ‘field hospital’, and engaging in the struggle for universal human and ecological wellbeing, as he highlighted in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’.

‘The Church’s evangelising mission finds outward fulfilment in the transformation of our world and in the care of creation’, he wrote on World Mission Day on 6 January 2021. This mission involves the personal responses we make in our daily lives, he wrote in Joy of the Gospel (#188), but also ‘working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty’ and to advance the integral development of the poor.

This is not a sectarian mobilisation. Francis insists that Catholics cooperate with all people of good will, with other Christians, with those of other religions or of none, in the urgent tasks of recovering from the pandemic to build a more just and equitable international order, and avert impending catastrophes from threats of war and climate change. As he wrote in September 2021, ‘care for our Mother Earth and building a society of solidarity as fratelli tutti or siblings all are not only not foreign to our faith; they are a concrete realisation of it.’

Missing from the Framework

Also puzzling is how the Framework for Motions overlooks the specifically secular mission of lay women and men in their daily work, occupations, communities and families. Merely a single paragraph calls for deepening the ‘lay apostolate in the world based on attentiveness to the “signs of the times”, scriptural reflection, prayerful communal discernment and a commitment to engagement with the broader Australian community through listening and dialogue’ (#80). But it does not explain why this secular involvement is so crucially significant, especially for Pope Francis.

'Francis has explicitly recast this see-judge-act method into the process of synodality and discernment, calling the whole Church