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Seeking a plenary council fit for purpose



The Bishops’ Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment has now concluded in Rome. Like the Synod on the Family, this synod which was focused on youth was more inclusive and democratic than previous synods. Pope Francis has been trying to make the church more ‘synodal’. He has been happy for synod fathers to vote on each paragraph of a document, publishing the voting figures, and taking forward only those paragraphs that gain a 2 out of 3 vote. But like his predecessors, Francis rightly insists that the church is not a democracy. A synod is not a Parliament. And the Roman Church is not trying to emulate the Anglicans.

Pope Francis at Vargihna

Francis raised some eyebrows at this last synod when he allowed the male religious lay representatives to vote. His conservative critics are fond of pointing out that a synod is primarily a synod of bishops meeting with the pope and think only clerics should vote. Francis raised other eyebrows, and perhaps these eyebrows were raised a little higher, when he denied any vote to the couple of women religious lay representatives in attendance. Though youth were the focus of the synod, the youth participants had no voting rights. Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher was a member of the synod. A disproportionate number of the Australian youth in attendance came from the Sydney Archdiocese. Maybe they were better organised. 

When interviewed after the synod, Archbishop Fisher said, ‘We had a group of 36 young people present throughout. They were delightful. They were lovely to talk to informally, and they were not backward in coming forward in the general assemblies and the small-group discussions. Most of them were very idealistic. It really added to the whole process, having them around. But at times I felt they hunted in a pack: They would clap and cheer and whoop comments that played to a very particular script.’

We Australian Catholics are now preparing for a Plenary Council. Hopefully there will be a large number of participants at the proposed plenary council who are not bishops. They won’t all be delightful. Some will be young. And they will be wanting to do more than talk informally. When those without a deliberative vote organise to make themselves heard, it will be important for them not to be perceived by those with a deliberative vote to be hunting in a pack.

When discussing how the new synod procedures instituted by Pope Francis had worked in Rome last month, Archbishop Fisher observed‘The papacy is hugely important ... What [Synodal Fathers are] wary of, I think, is the way synods might be manipulated today, swept up by the fashions of the age.’

These observations from the vice president of our Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference triggered a couple of alarm bells for me when thinking about our forthcoming Australian Plenary Council, to be held in two sessions in 2020 and 2021. Pope Francis, unlike his immediate predecessors, is more willing to take guidance, and he is hoping that the local Bishops will be close to the people in the pews and in the streets, hearing their daily needs and concerns, and making pastoral decisions suited to local circumstances. Francis is fond of saying: ‘In a synodal Church, it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization”.’

Francis’s approach is consistent with Vatican II’s emphasis on listening to the sensus fidei fidelium (the sense of faith of the faithful) and the established Church governance principle of subsidiarity. As long ago as 1931, Pope Pius XI decreed that ‘it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do.’


"In twenty-first century Australia, there is no point convening a time consuming and expensive assembly of the Church which includes so few lay women and people from the pews. In the wake of the royal commission, the Catholic faithful are as adamant as the general public that there be transparency and inclusiveness in our church governance arrangements."


Only bishops will have a ‘deliberative’ vote at the plenary council. Other participants can be given a ‘consultative’ vote. Under the present canon law, there is provision for the bishops to be accompanied by a significant number of priests, religious and laity. There will probably be about 200 eligible attendees including bishops, retired bishops, vicars general, episcopal vicars, religious superiors, seminary rectors and theologate rectors. The overwhelming majority of these will be men. Under the existing canonical provisions there could then be up to another 100 laypersons appointed. So when you do the maths on the present canonical arrangements, there would probably be only about 50 places for women other than nuns in an assembly of up to 300. And the smaller country dioceses are unlikely to have any representation greater than their bishop, one priest and one lay person. Now, that’s just not on. In twenty-first century Australia, there is no point convening a time consuming and expensive assembly of the Church which includes so few lay women and people from the pews. In the wake of the royal commission, the Catholic faithful are as adamant as the general public that there be transparency and inclusiveness in our church governance arrangements.

To date, the consultation team for the assembly headed by facilitator Lana Turvey Collins has worked tirelessly, doing a great job traversing the country and getting people talking. Some bishops, like Archbishop Prowse in Canberra, Bishops Long in Parramatta, O’Regan in Sale and Bird in Ballarat have led their dioceses in consultations which have been very detailed and inclusive. Other bishops have been less engaged, largely leaving it to the national facilitation team. If the plenary council is to be a success, it is essential that the council members come with a sense of the needs and spirit of their own local churches. The national church will develop a synodal sense only if the dioceses themselves are already living and acting synodally. 

The consultations around the country are going well in dioceses where the bishop has got onboard with the process. But there is an increasing realisation among lay people (in particular) that the lay participation at a plenary council risks being abysmally low when it comes to having a place at the table; lay participation in the deliberative voting will probably be non-existent; and the selection of lay people may be insufficiently inclusive.

What’s needed is a structure which ensures that the bishops with deliberative votes are fully aware of the sensus fidelium of their own dioceses and to be attentive to the concerns raised by lay participants (and perhaps only to the concerns raised by lay participants, rather than what the bishops themselves might regard as neuralgic issues).

There are a number of canons even in the existing canon law which point to the need for attention to the consultation process. Bishops casting deliberative votes at a plenary council are required to seek the counsel of the people, in their dioceses and at the council. Canon 127 provides that where ‘counsel is required, the act of a superior who does not hear those persons is invalid; although not obliged to accept their opinion even if unanimous, a superior is nonetheless not to act contrary to that opinion, especially if unanimous, without a reason which is overriding in the superior’s judgment.’ Canon 212 encourages Christian faithful to 'make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.’ Canon 212 goes on to state that the 'Christian faithful have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful.’

At the very least, there will be a need to seek a dispensation from or an amendment of Canon 443 so as to increase significantly the representation of laity at the plenary council.

Being the Roman Church with its hierarchy and ordained offices, we all need to accept that ultimately it is the bishops and the pope who legislate when there is a need. But the last thing the Australian church needs at the moment is a new set of laws or a law-making body which precludes attentive listening and the discernment of equals. What we need is a listening and inclusive Church — a plenary council at which the clergy and the laity have a proper place at the table, at which the voices of the ‘rusted-on’ and the ‘cheesed-off’ Catholics are heard and at which the bishops are respectfully listening as much as speaking. 

What we need is a plenary council which is an expression of the Church at its best — delivering education, health and welfare services to those in need regardless of their identity, celebrating the sacraments and the liturgy with the people in the pews — in all their diversity and varying existential and social challenges — and praying for a broken and complex world whose secularisation may well be a sign of the times in the best Vatican II sense. It is time for our Church to learn some lessons from the world, from parliamentary democracy and from other Churches which have a longer tradition of taking seriously the deliberation of the diverse faithful regardless of their place in the hierarchy.

If the plenary council is to be a success, the deliberative votes of the bishops legislating new laws for the Australian church in 2021 or at some assembly thereafter will be seen to be the hierarchical endorsement of the sensus fidelium expressed with hope and joy in 2020 and 2021.


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia. 




Image credit: Pope Francis at Vargihna (Tânia Rêgo/Wikimedia commons)

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Pope Francis, Plenary council, synods



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Existing comments

1 of 2…“But at times I felt they hunted in a pack: They would clap and cheer and whoop comments that played to a very particular script”… And this is one of the reasons why the Church cannot be a democracy, as the Truth is a burning fire (Not one iota), it looks not a man’s desire, we can only bow down before It in humility. A cleansing has to take place and it needs to start at the top, thankfully Our Lord Himself has given the leadership of the Church the means to do this through the true Divine Mercy message one that incorporates an image of ‘Broken Man’… “God will not despise a broken spirit and contrite heart” … and neither will the faithful. The leadership has nothing to fear, no matter how compromised, as the cleansing grace of humility (Full ‘open acknowledgement of past failings/sins) is the communal bond of love that holds His flock together. The problem of the credibility of the Priesthood to-day can only be resolved and restored by an 'outward' manifestation of priestly transparency, in ‘all things’. A possible way forward, James 5:6 “tell your sins to one and other”… as in, reveal your selves (Confessing) to one and other in brotherly love, led by the Bishop been ‘open’, in unity, with all his priests (Once a year), as truth is the mortar that holds His house together, in this way accountability for anything that might bring the Church into disrepute, is shared/confronted. This would create an accountable, vulnerable/ humble/spiritual priesthood, one that serves/leads in humility, before God and His people. Trust would gradually be restored…Continue

Kevin Walters | 13 November 2018  

2 of 2;..as they/we endeavour to create a culture of transparency/humility. It is said you cannot be what you do not see/envisage, we need to see our Shepherds holding the bright lamp of Truth high above their own vulnerabilities, teachings us by example, in humility, how we are also to be made holy (Sanctified) as in… “Sanctify them in the Truth; thy Word is Truth as thou didst send me into the world so I have sent them into the world and for their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be consecrated in truth”… I believe that the Shepherd leader for a new invigorated church will be a transparent humble one, with the capacity to discern and direct the potential in others, leading them also to become (working male and female) Shepherds, who together hold each other responsible for their combined actions, before the faithful, underpinned by total honesty, the serving of the Truth in ‘all’ situations would be the binding mortar holding these new emerging structures together. It could be said, that for true emotional inter-dependence to come about with others, we need to show/tell our vulnerability, for when we do so, it confers authenticity, a place from where we can truly share the communal meal and our life with others. Please consider continuing via the link; kevin your brother In Christ. https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2018/07/fifty-years-on-and-still-a-disputed-question/#comment-94797

Kevin Walters | 13 November 2018  

Something to be guarded and treasured: the church's otherness to secular institutions. Each has a place in society and can and should inform and support each other. The church is necessarily a hierarchy and what should be happening is the further up the more humble. We have a pastoral and theologically astute Pope, a good start. It can be difficult to listen when our own agenda seems all-consuming. But it's worth the effort.

Pam | 13 November 2018  

Bravo Kevin Waters! Whilst bishops hold onto ecclesial ‘ideals’ as their mode of government, there is no recognition of their own personal needs and those of the laity. Our God is essentially a Personal God so dogma should flow from personal experiences and insights rather than from medieval ideals. Our culture now has a primary characteristic of continuous change so the church must change in order to allow for human connection. The current Church needs to remove the gap between its own ideals and be transparent to personal experience in order to be relevant, because church now has a tremendous loss of meaning in people’s lives.

Trish Martin | 13 November 2018  

If the bishops are the final arbiters of what goes and what doesn't go in their dioceses, then let them alone vote at the forthcoming Plenary Council. The outcome will be then on their heads alone. I am much more concerned about what they vote on. This is where the concerns of the whole church must be manifest, where the voices of the rusted-on and the cheesed-off Catholics must be heard. If not, then forget it.

John R. Sabine | 13 November 2018  

The comment at the end of the first paragraph that 'the Roman Church is not trying to emulate the Anglicans' is an interesting one. There are many aspects of governance and practice within the Anglican Communion, extensive experience with synodal governance being prominent among them, which might provide well tested structural processes which might make a significant contribution to renewal within the Roman Church without having to painfully 're-invent the wheel'.. There does seem to be a sense that the Roman structures are not in need of reform and that any process 'not invented here' must be inferior them. It seems to me that it is precisely the structures that are in need of reform. If the Church is to drink new wine it will need new skins.

Richard Hallett | 13 November 2018  

My concern is whether any process like this can be meaningful when the canonical framework is fundamentally skewed against lay (especially female) involvement in Church governance. Frank also mentions Canon 212, observing that the Canon encourages Christian faithful to ‘make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires’ and goes on to provide that the ‘Christian faithful have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful.’ Be that as it may, the Canon actually limits this responsibility to lay persons who possess (according to whom?) unspecified levels of 'knowledge, competence, and prestige' and says that such lay persons can do so only 'without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.' When it the senior clerics who decide what constitutes ‘faith and morals’, ‘reverence toward their pastors’ and ‘common advantage and the dignity of persons’, the relevance of Canon 212 becomes moot.

Andrew Phelan | 13 November 2018  

The sensus fidei fidelium is the product of the community's life of faith, hope and charity. The living of that life confers on the faithful the capacity to discern the call of God in the events of their life as a community. These signs of the times, in other words, appear only in the experience of the believing community. No statement of the magisterium can therefore have any other base but this experience. Expression of this experience in such gatherings of the church as synods and plenary councils is therefore not just a matter of justice, but of connection with the source of God's voice. To fulfil its role in the function of the magisterium, then, the hierarchy must 1. LISTEN to the voice of the faithful; 2. COMPARE the experiences emerging across the whole community; 3. DISCERN the call of God in the signs issuing from that experience; 4. SET FORTH before the church the results of that process for embrace by the community; and 5. STIMULATE its embrace by the community. The council must allow hierarchy and laity their proper roles if it is to be an authentic expression of church.

Michael Leahy | 13 November 2018  

Regardless of how carefully I search, I have yet to find in Christ's life as recorded in scripture his vision for a church based on the democratic, pseudo-parliamentary, human systems which seem to be deemed superior to Christ's model in the modern world. While the Church is here to serve all, it must first serve its God before it serves the desires of humanity which we all know are flawed in favour of self rather than in favour of personal sacrifice. Christ's life is fundamentally one of supreme self-sacrifice - that is what we should all be aiming for rather than personal comfortable preferences and fence-sitting designed to couch favour and support. Democratic Church is long since available in the Churches born out of protest in favour of human self-opinion - anyone is free to join one of them if the Church Christ instigated is "too tough" for them. All that the modern world seems to regard as out of date in the Church is the call to a moral Christ-like life. It is this failure of some human beings in the Church to lead a moral Christ-like life that has destroyed and continues to destroy the true Church. It is a naivety to suggest that there is something special to the human being that resides in age (the experience-deprived youth) and gender or that salvage of human frailty resides in the young or one or other gender. Sadly, God created all ages and genders with the fatal flaw of susceptibility to corruption or self-opinion- the true mystery of creation. I wonder if God will guide the determinations of the synod - somehow I have doubts. He must despair at the human god-like hubris of it all.

john frawley | 13 November 2018  

Thank you Fr Frank for this article. Let us pray that there is a lot of ‘cheering, clapping and whooping’ at the Plenary Council as joy is a true sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit

Tricia Ryan | 13 November 2018  

Thank you Frank for a clear and level headed analysis of the issues which will confront all the participants in the forthcoming Plenary Council. Canons 127 and 212 are particularly interesting and should encourage lay people to make their concerns heard, even when it appears that nothing is happening. Having been involved in a number of Listening and Dialogue sessions my sense is that around 5 million Australians will be very unhappy if nothing of any substance comes out of the Plenary Council!

Mary McComish | 13 November 2018  

50 out of 300 is 17 % Frank. That's an improvement for the treatment of women in this august institution. However "There will probably be about 200 eligible attendees including bishops, retired bishops, vicars general, episcopal vicars, religious superiors, seminary rectors and theologate rectors", the comment makes me shake my head in the wake of the RC. Scrap that lot altogether and make it 200 parents of both sexes instead. Then you'll find a different outcome for the Plenary council rather than the same old tired rhetoric and excuses. No disrespect but failing that, the laity should jettison the catholic church as a diseased hierarchical dinosaur, and start a new church of their own.

Frank Armstrong | 13 November 2018  

Thanks Frank. If I were to write it might not be so calm and measured as this fine article. My comment would simply have been "Now, that’s just not on." However, as find as your argument is, I am doubtful it will win over the likes of the bishop of Sydney not ours in Tasmania. For heaven's sake it mentioned Vatican II. Thank you for at least trying.

Tom Kingston | 13 November 2018  

Yes, Frank, 'if the plenary council is to be a success, the deliberative votes of the bishops legislating new laws for the Australian church in 2021 or at some assembly thereafter will be seen to be the hierarchical endorsement of the sensus fidelium expressed with hope and joy in 2020 and 2021.' However I doubt if this will happen, because I think most of the clergy are likely to act true to form and retain their clerical powers, prestige and privileges. Jesus never ordained anyone but virtually all the power in the Catholic Church is in the hands of ordained men. Over 90% of Catholics are so cheesed off that they no longer come to church. The remainder who do tend to be older Catholics who won't be around in about 10 to 15 years. If the Catholic Church is to attract people intent on following Christ, I think it needs to abandon ordination, sexism and many/most of its formal structures, and appoint leaders who have a preferential option for the poor, a church social teaching that tends to be largely neglected, and get back to Jesus two commandments, rather than be hamstrung by canon law.

Grant Allen | 13 November 2018  

Thank you Fr Frank for your clear-eyed analysis of the Plenary Council processes underway in Australia. The Holy Spirit will see us through but we must be the hands and legs that do the work. This is a pivotal moment for the Catholic Church in Australia. If we, all of us working together, do not get this moment right, the mission will be set back in Australia. The protection of children, transparency of decision-making, accessible liturgies, co-responsibility for the laity, the genuine involvement of women in leadership roles and accountability in governance are just some of the issues to be taken very seriously by the Plenary Council. I hope you are able to influence some movement on the participation of the laity, and especially of women, in the deliberations and decision-making of the Plenary Council. You mention the activity behind the Plenary Council processes. The tempo of promotion of the Plenary Council needs to be greatly increased. It is simply not evident to either the “rusted on or cheesed off”. Once again, thanks for your contribution.

Bruce Ryan | 14 November 2018  

Thank you Frank, Your concerns are also mine. As a layperson with a Masters in Theology, earned at great personal cost and sacrifice made by my then young family and my suffering spouse , I feel a great sense of frustration that my opinion counts for nought in the deliberations of the Council, assuming I am given the opportunity to attend . I firmly believe that the laity should have a role in the formulation of future directions of the Church in Australia as made clear by the deliberations of Vatican 11 as you mentioned. In my humble opinion the Hierarchy represented in major part by the CBC have made a real mess of the response of the Church to the Commission on Sexual Abuse. They just don't seem to be able to get it! Until such time as the Church leadership grasps the bullet, attendance at Sunday Mass will continue to decline, as will numbers entering the ordained ministry.

Gavin O'Brien | 14 November 2018  

Discerning thoughts Frank. Canon 127 of course is key and doesn't fill me with a great deal of expectant hope. More like justice must be seen to be done but not necessarily done... For those of us engaged theologically and disengaged institutionally the challenge to have any Plenary voice is increased proportionally. After all these decades since Dulles' groundbreaking work on Models of Church, here we are, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, still stuck in Institutional Mode. Clearly, there is hierarchical fear of other models such as Church as Communion. I mean that might be seen to encourage a pack mentality, mightn't it?!

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 14 November 2018  

Thanks again, Frank, for the typically hard yards covered to outline the liberating aspects of canon law in regard to the forthcoming Synod and Plenary Council, which are a mere year away. The responses here, as I read them, and including mine, would be typical of 'God's Rabble', and to discern a pathway through them for a Bishop would justify both policies of intransigence and opposition, as well as of radical action. In this regard I take issue with John Frawley's demonization of democracy, which is a political system that encompasses many schools of thought and which, rightly, is a hotly contested discourse, as witnessed in the deliberations of the Sydney Democracy Network, which, among other phenomena, has to deal with the emergence of Trump-style politics in the global arena (and as published on The Conversation website). It also happens that the Church has very many good things to say about politics and the participation of Catholics in it, but when it comes to female and lay participation in Church affairs, it chooses to draw the curtains and pull up the drawbridge. This doesn't augur well for any body that says: "Do as we say, but not as we do".

Michael Furtado | 14 November 2018  

(Part 1 of 2) Fr. Frank, thank you for the clarifications on some of the pros and cons of the up-coming Plenary Council. From day one, I have been somewhat sceptical, given that, as you have pointed out, voting lies with the bishops only. And then, as Archbishop Coleridge points out, (https://youtu.be/sQTDOTWfiec?t=14) all accepted recommendations from the bishops are then submitted to the Holy See, subject to its acceptance or otherwise. What happens, for example, if we have a change of administration in the Vatican who is not so sympathetic to such Synods, by the time our Australian synod is concluded? All may be in vain. And your points regarding women and limited numbers of laity are of concern, and are particularly valid. While the Plenary Council is a start, I do not believe this is going to be the miracle to solve all the problems of the Church in Australia. For a start, despite our vast Catholic school system, we have many parishes in decline, with younger generations no longer interested in God or the Church.

Thomas Amory | 14 November 2018  

(Part 2 of 2) The questions of transparency, accountability, clericalism and so on resulting from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, cannot wait for the Plenary Council. I suggest these structures should already be in the process of rectification by the bishops, in consultation with the laity across the country, with regular reporting. To my knowledge, this has not begun, at least not in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. This necessitates regular Diocesan/Archdiocesan synods be held in every A/diocese involving bishops, clergy, religious and laity on an ongoing basis eg., every three years. If this has us emulating our Anglican and Protestant brothers and sisters as you mention, then so be it. They have had this system in place for centuries, and it works. As well, this is demonstrated in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium of 1964, particularly the entire of article #37. In this case, that the Church moves slowly is an understatement. That’s over 50 years ago!

Thomas Amory | 14 November 2018  

Jennifer Herrick, " . . . engaged theologically and disengaged institutionally" is an oxymoron: the institutional dimension of the Church is a necessary part - admittedly, not the only one - of its structure, as Avery Dulles recognised, and John Paul II and Benedict XVI affirmed in stating that theology proceeds from within the Church, not merely as a detached intellectual exercise.

John | 14 November 2018  

If "cheering, clapping and whooping ... is a clear sign of the Holy Spirit" as suggested by Tricia, I can confidently declare that the Holy Spirit hasn't turned up at any celebrations of the Eucharist that I have attended over a very long time, even when I was a youth. It appears that he probably didn't turn up during Jesus of Nazareth's Earthly excursions either if the New Testament is any indication. Even the extraordinary miraculous events recorded in the New Testament were not accompanied by the pop responses of modern youth but rather by awe and reverence for God, cloaked in deferential humility. I doubt that the Holy Spirit jumps around a-cheerin' , a-clappin' and a -whoopin'. Probably not even in America!

john frawley | 14 November 2018  

John Frawley. John, thanks for your post. I respectfully ask for your understanding of what model of Church you feel Christ left us? There is nothing in the Gospels really, and certainly nothing like we have now. For example, Christ did not ordain priests or bishops as we understand this now, nor did he leave instructions on how the Church should be governed in any age. The problem as I see it is that the Roman Church as an institution is enormous and its governance structures are dysfunctional at all levels and for all concerned. We have bishops, clergy and laity going in all directions, such that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. This suggests that appropriate proven corporate structures be used to bring us all together. There is nothing wrong with this. We are not talking about dogma and doctrine here, just good governance. Dogma and doctrine are the domain of theology and theologians, in union with the bishops, clergy and laity. And, as Fr. Frank has highlighted, the sensus fidei fidelium (the sense of faith of the faithful) must always be taken seriously in any age. What the ‘Fathers’ thought in 200AD might well be different now 1800 years later. Afterall, ours is a journey ‘into’ God, and an ever-increasing but not final understanding of God. If our dogma, doctrine and indeed structures need to change than so be it.

Thomas Amory | 15 November 2018  

Trish Martin: Thank you Trish for your comment, I am not sure if we are fully on the same page, so for clarity, the teachings, as in, “ecclesial ‘ideals” of the church, on morality stem from innate knowledge, and are reinforced by Jesus in the Gospels, as in “Not one iota” and are unchangeable. You say… “The current Church needs to remove the gap between its own ideals and be transparent to personal experience in order to be relevant, because the church now has a tremendous loss of meaning in people’s lives”… This loss of meaning stems from hypocrisy, emanating from pride, humility is the key, as we all fall well short, as in, “Not one iota” If this is truly understood within the heart, it will induce humility, a place from where we can all share/show our personal insights/vulnerability, in our brokenness, no matter how ‘tragic’ or sinful our personal encounter with life, may have been, as humility heals the heart. Before responding to your comment Trish, I researched previous comments that you had made over the last six months and like you I suffer from (PTSD) as seen via my posts in the link below, perhaps you may read them. You say…“Our culture now has a primary characteristic of continuous change so the church must change in order to allow for human connection” So Yes ! and to do this She must show her vulnerability, in humility before mankind. From the link below.. “If we could plumb the depths of meaning in our own personal life histories we might be able to forge more effective links with others’.. kevin your brother In Christ. Link: https://acireland.ie/emerging-christianity/#comment-10808

Kevin Walters | 15 November 2018  

"...there is no point convening a time consuming and expensive assembly of the Church which includes so few lay women and people from the pews." I will go further and say that there is no point in having a Plenary Council at all, as long as any recommendations need to be approved by the Roman Curia. They will not approve anything that would affect their cosy sinecures in even the tiniest way. They will certainly not approve the sort of recommendations needed to stop the stampede from the pews. They will however likely approve Archbishop Fisher's suggestions to make Adoration, Processions and Confession more available to young people to bring them back.

Bruce Stafford | 15 November 2018  

As Frank indicates, it is imperative that "the bishops with deliberative votes are fully aware of the sensus fidelium of their own dioceses and to be attentive to the concerns raised by lay participants." This seems very unlikely unless all the bishops follow the example of the few mentioned by Frank and immediately commence "detailed and inclusive" consultations throughout their individual dioceses, including the alienated particularly the young. Bishops who simply rely on the centralised consultation process are failing their canonical responsibilities as leaders of their dioceses to inform themselves regarding the experiences and concerns of their own people, for whom they have pastoral responsibility.

Peter Johnstone | 15 November 2018  

Thomas Amory. I agree completely, Thomas, that Christ did not ordain priests as happens today nor did he leave instructions as to how the Church should be governed a couple of thousand years into the future. I suspect he realised what the future held and the meaninglessness of instructions for a future which no human being of his time could foresee or imagine in their wildest of dreams. Even to day, we marvel at unimaginable evolutionary changes and discoveries of truths, long hidden from our understanding, happening all around us, some of which were unthinkable only 10 to 20 years ago. In April 2016, for instance, the first child was born with the genetic material (genome) of two women and one man. This is an extraordinary potential disclaimer to any concept of a Creator God in Christian understanding. Clearly Christ would not have had a need to leave specific instructions as to how to deal with that, but his Church certainly needs to do so. The question is I suppose, "By whom"? Our world would seem to demand that women as the mothers should have the moral say in such a situation. I prefer to believe that God, embodying the Holy Spirit, has vested that authority in those ordained as his priests and ministers. I am thus one of those silly old retros who believes that ordination does impart to a human being something which does make him different from the non-ordained. The Church which Christ left us is, I believe, very well documented in the gospels. "On this rock I will build my Church", "do this in memory of me", "whatever you bind on Earth will be bound also in heaven", "whatever sins you forgive will be forgiven and whatever sins you retain will also be retained in heaven", "go and teach all nations" and so on. All of these I believe still apply despite our extraordinary evolution which to me is nothing more than the ongoing revelation of the Greatness of God's creation. I reckon the big problem is that too many of the ordained are too bloody human and have abandoned the Godly.

john frawley | 16 November 2018  

An added fear, compounding those already raised in this correspondence, is that whatever the outcomes of the Synod, the majority of Bishops will fight shy of taking responsibility to implement the more radical ones by forwarding them to Rome for consideration. +Francis has already stated that he expects national conferences to implement their own joint decisions. However, in addressing the Western Deanery of the Brisbane Archdiocese recently, Archbishop Coleridge made it clear that it was his view as Chairman of the Bishops Conference that some decisions would be sent to Rome. He did this also less recently in addressing the response of the Australian Catholic Bishops to the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, when he said that some recommendations of the Royal Commission would be sent to Rome. Whatever the arguments, in favour or against, for forwarding decisions to Head-Office, any decent lawyer, whether canonical, criminal or civil, would be willing to bet that in most cases such decisions would rest on matters of interpretation, and that an episcopal leader inclined towards the ultramontane view is unlikely to inspire much confidence in his ability to lead and guide his synodal colleagues into making decisions that are bold rather than safe.

Michael Furtado | 16 November 2018  

What is needed is a separate lay body perhaps called the House of the Laity that can deliberate, vote and have a weight similar to that of the bishops and priests.

Frank Rosenfeldt | 17 November 2018  

Thomas Amory, there is ample evidence in the gospels, Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline letters that supports Christ's establishment of a hierarchical structure in the community of believers to whom he entrusted his mission; for instance, the special role of Peter and the apostles. Catholic tradition, which preceded the writing of the gospels, has maintained this structure, despite protestant reformers rejecting it. The same Catholic tradition links priestly ordination to the Last Supper.

john | 17 November 2018  

I admire your principles, dear John; but your ability to read the Signs of the Times appals. After all, we 'meet' here as a Catholic people and at the eleventh hour to address many horrendous problems which the episcopate, so far, have palpably failed to address. What of exigency or does the word not appear in your canonical vocabulary?

Michael Furtado | 18 November 2018  

The mainstream church is drowning in a pool of ignorance. Last Sunday week, I went to a Novus Ordo Mass for the first time in years, because I had no choice. The first prayer of the faithful reminded us of the anniversary of Remembrance Day. Great, but there was no petition for the souls of anyone who died in WW1. Another prayer was for three who would be baptized soon. It urged that they grow up making no "distinctions" between people! The final prayer, the "collect", as it were, and read by the priest, summing up all the prayers, was addressed to "Jesus Christ", and concluded with "We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord." I kid you not. No one seemed to react to this absurdity. Then again, perhaps no-one was even remotely switched on by that stage. In defense of the priest, he "said the black and did the red". He was modest, humble and preached a coherent and orthodox sermon, and arguably had no control over the frankly bizarre prayers of the faithful, which must have come from Head Office. God help the Plenary Council if those who composed the Prayers of the Faithful at that parish are the sort who are in charge and those listening are as sheepish as the congregation I encountered. (Nothing against the congregation - just what they've become inured to.)

HH | 19 November 2018  

Frank Rosenfeldt. Thank you for your post and observations. A house of laity - I couldn't agree more. A house of Bishops, a house of Clergy and a house of Laity. Now there's a Trinity!

Thomas Amory | 19 November 2018  

Michael Furtado, the "signs of the times", precisely because of their exigency, call into play another principle: "festina lente". You might recall Peter Berger's admonition to those who would marry the zeitgeist: they're soon widowed.

John | 19 November 2018  

Michael Furtado. Are you suggesting in your comment to John that the Signs of the Times supplant the Word of God and dictate the direction of his Church? Surely not? While there are urgencies facing today's Church its abandonment in favour of popular opinion is not one of them. The exigency is to sort out the profane and human demands of the times and preserve the sacred and divine.

john frawley | 19 November 2018  

Your post, HH, sounds the death knell for the lively Vatican II Catholicism I experienced as a boy. Like you I attended, on the suggestion of a fellow classical music fanatic, a parish in Brisbane that has been handed over to the Oratorians. The Church itself is used by music performers at Easter and Christmas as a venue for musical performances with a religious theme. However, the net effect of this venture is to send out a deeply conservative and antimodernist message, proclaiming a medieval mode of Catholic worship, rather than a liturgy born of the lived experience of the congregation. Reinforcing this reactionary idiom is the fact that this is a house of formation for the Oratorian congregation which is new to Australia and which therefore has no roots in Australian cultural experience and its modalities. A glance at the website reveals a phalanx of black-robed young men, mainly from the UK, and who travel to various Oratorian 'houses' around the world, ostensibly to be 'formed', but also to spread the Oratorian charism. Its difficult to discern what this is, other than through pious references to Cardinal Newman and St Philip Neri, who certainly aren't saints for our times.

Michael Furtado | 20 November 2018  

M.F. thanks, but don't you find it at least intriguing, if not a sign of the times, that these "reactionary", "conservative", "anti-modernist" non "lived-experience" Oratorians and groups like them have very healthy numbers of young Catholics joining them, whilst the "Vatican II" style religious orders are auto-demolishing so quickly that most of them will probably be out of existence within about 3 decades, except in old-peoples' homes? In Spain alone 341 religious houses closed down in the 18 months! The parish I visited certainly will not be around in the next decade or so. IE the vast bulk of its members won't be available to speak from their "lived experience" to any Plenary Council: they won't be living. And it's not an outlier community. I've heard it said that in France, despite intense antagonism from the mainstream hierarchy, the number of E.F.s (Pius X, F.S.S.P., etc) regularly attending Mass is the same as the number of O.F. attendees, though of course the demographic of the former groups is far healthier. On current trends, in 30 years time the only Catholics around in the West to speak from their lived experience will be traditionalists. Perhaps in the interest of saving the planet and avoiding futile carbon emissions, we should postpone the Plenary Council till about 2050, when the 'Spirit of Vatican II' has definitively shuffled off this mortal coil.

HH | 21 November 2018  

HH and Michael Furtado. Part 1 of 2. HH, at the outset, I acknowledge that I prefer the Novus Ordo, although I am perfectly comfortable with the Extraordinary Rite. It is part of the mix of Eastern Catholic Rites and now the Anglican Ordinariate Rite. That said, I share you concern regarding the quality of the liturgy, preaching, liturgical music and lack of intelligence in terms of presentation and theological cohesion in the Novus Ordo, that is experienced in the majority of parish liturgies in this country. It is appalling and third rate at best. And I travel a lot. I put this down to a poor reading, comprehension, teaching and misguided understanding of what it was meant to be following Vat II. Too many bishops, clergy and well-meaning laity got it terribly wrong in terms of what the ‘new’ liturgy was attempting to do, which was, in part, to allow fully active, conscious participation on the part of the assembled (the congregation). Fully active, conscious participation means that the prayer and content of all public liturgy, be it the Mass, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and so forth, are prayed (spoken or sung) by the assembled, with a full understanding of what they were praying or hearing (thus in the vernacular), and the theology behind it. This required (and requires on an ongoing basis) a thorough catechesis in terms of the faith, theology, liturgy and so on. This as we know, does not occur in the majority of parishes and certainly not in Catholic schools.

Thomas Amory | 21 November 2018  

Part 2 of 2. Michael, likewise, I share your concern regarding groups such as the Oratorians and what is largely 19th century English romantic Catholic pietism. Anglicans John Henry Newman et al., were Tractarians – the Anglican group in 19th century England now known as the Oxford Movement – who sought to recover what they ‘believed’ to be the true Anglicanism (Anglo-Catholicism) of Post-reformation England. This was not mainstream Anglicanism in England at the time, which had discarded undue ritual, flummery, vestments and Eucharistic adoration and so forth according to Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. The Tractarian’s, in no small way affected by the secular English ‘aesthetic’ movement of the time, sought to bring this into Anglican worship, with hostile reactions from mainstream Anglican hierarchy and laity of the time. Understandable. On conversion to Catholicism, (interesting in itself) Newman and others joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by Phillip Neri, a Renaissance pietist and aesthete. A logical step for Newman et al. All good. But English romantic and Renaissance pietism and liturgical aesthetics will not work in a 21st century Western world for most people. I agree that we must find new ways of integrating these properties into contemporary liturgy and the Church, through contemporary biblical scholarship, theology, dogma and doctrine, lest we become nothing more than a museum Church, demonstrating the way it used to be.

Thomas Amory | 21 November 2018  

John and Dr Frawley, regarding your remarks: your other posts on this site reveal your model of Church (see Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ for this) as underpinned by an implacable and unyielding ecclesiology, set in stone and demonstrating all the characteristics of a fortress Catholicism. Far better persons than me have addressed the problem of this kind of unyielding rigidity and the problem it has created such as the bizarre liturgies of the kind that HH and I describe in prior posts: https://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/ctsa/article/viewFile/3304/2917 Add to that the near collapse of regular attendance at Mass of Catholics formed in the expectation that the modalities of Vatican II would be rolled out, especially in terms of an equal say by the laity, and we have a crisis of unimaginable proportions on our hands. Given that during the half-century since the Council, the Church has paid lip-service to lay participation and, if anything, has become more clerical and patriarchal, spurning the participation of women, in addition to being found guilty by a Royal Commission of a cock-up of colossal proportions on child-abuse reporting and we cannot afford to sit on our hands. The Bishops have plainly failed us: it is time to act!

Michael Furtado | 21 November 2018  

Newman not a saint for our times, Michael? His contemporary biographer, Fr Ian Ker, maintains the contrary in his latest book on Newman, reminding readers of his subject's major influence on Vatican II's espousal of re-orientation to Patristic sources ("ressourcement") and his contribution to our understanding of the development of doctrine. Newman also prophetically read the signs of the times in recognising how the Church would be portrayed as "enemies . . . of civil liberty and of human progress" in our own era.

John | 21 November 2018  

Thomas Amory. Thank you for your post addressing HH and Michael Furtado, Part 1. You have clearly enunciated the appalling damage to the Sacred Liturgy and devotional prayer life brought on by the failed interpretations of Vatican II's promulgations by individual clergy, local bishops and uninformed laity. Michael Furtado's diagnosis of my brand of Catholicism ( and probably also John's brand) is seriously wrong since I in fact welcomed Vatican II and agree with all it promulgated in the eighteen documents it passed with resounding majorities. I am at serious odds, however, with the failed interpretations that have plagued the Church since and, in my no doubt uninformed view according to many, originated in personal disappointments in Vat II's failure to indulge human desires in relation to life matters revolving in the main around matters sexual(contraception, priestly celibacy, divorce for example)This failure to meet human demands added fuel to the sexual revolution amongst Catholics and its clergy in the 1960s, 70s and 80s which saw the well-documented increase in child sexual abuse by clergy rise progressively from 7 per cent of all reported cases pre Vat II to 80 percent by 1990. (The rate in the last decade is 2 percent of all reported cases since the 1950s). Michael Furtado has it right when he lays blame at the feet of the Bishops (allegedly hamstrung by canon law), not only in the sexual abuse issue, but also in their abject failure to guide the education of their people, both adults and children in their schools, in the Spirit of Vatican II (contrary to what Vat II decreed) but rather chose to leave that to a fleet of self-proclaimed lay experts and protesting reformers, many of them disillusioned ex-religious and most of them purveyors of a new theology of seriously doubtful quality, some of it contrary to what Vatican II proclaimed.

john frawley | 21 November 2018  

John, I'm sure that Newman was a person as well as a saint for his times; unlike you, I'm not into hagiography - not at least when the Church is facing an unprecedented crisis of the kind not experienced before. In Newman's time, there was a different kind of crisis, both within Anglicanism, which impelled him to convert, but also within an ultramontane Catholicism, which was hellbent upon proclaiming the dogma of papal infallibility, which, from various hints he dropped, since the internal voting deliberations of Vatican I were confidential, he advised against. Newman too was aa prophet of sorts. As the best known churchman of any denomination in the world at the time, he was denied the See of Westminster and spent his life writing but also couped up in the Birmingham Oratory with an Italianate Order known more for its piety that its capacity to nurture the immense intellect of a man like Newman. When a lay person writes a book about him I shall sit up and take notice. So far the only lay Catholic who wrote extensively about him is Lord Acton, who was highly critical of the way in which he was treated by Rome.

Michael Furtado | 21 November 2018  

T.A. thanks, but, "museum piece"? Here's C.S. Lewis, saying it better than I ever could: “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

HH | 22 November 2018  

Michael, I'm sorry to hear you're "not into hagiography", all the more so when the lives of these close followers of Christ we call "saints" can reveal so much about both faithfulness to the Church and creativity within it in response to the needs of the times in which they are called. On Vatican II, I share Dr John Frawley's attitude to it and its misinterpreters, especially those who view it as a departure from the Church's tradition and utilize its alleged "hermeneutic of discontinuity" as a justification for heterodox opinions and practices. Regarding the institutional aspect of the Church and your suggestion that Avery Dulles completely repudiates it, I refer you the distinction Dulles makes between "institutionalism" and "institution". In Models of the Church, he says: " . . . the Church could not perform its mission without some stable institutional features. It could not unite men of many nations into a well-knit community of conviction, commitment and hope, and could not minister effectively to the needs of mankind, unless it had responsible officers and properly approved procedures. Throughout its history, from the very earliest years, Christianity has always had an institutional side. it has had recognized ministers, accepted confessional formulas, and prescribed forms of public worship. It does not necessarily imply institutionalism, any more than papacy implies papalism, or law implies legalism, or dogma implies dogmatism." It strikes me as an undesirable "sign of the times" that, so immersed has much of academia become in ideological reductionism, we seem to be losing our capacity to make such real and necessary distinctions.

John | 22 November 2018  

John, differentiating institutions from institutionalism sounds like hair-splitting to me. I realise your ecclesiology is set in stone, whereas my Christianity is a culture, derived from the awe-inspiring grandeur and prophetic leadership we come to know in Jesus, and in which context we Christians have to make our way critically but also effectively in the real world. Much as I love ancient history I don't believe that anything Jesus is reputed to have said or done was in the faintest bit curatorial and committed to a museum conservation project. I regret to say that, from where I stand, the institutional Church is plainly moribund and in many senses an obstacle to spreading the Gospels. Given that kind of stark but truthful dichotomy, I know on which side many Catholics now belong. I'll leave you to defending the turf that many have left in search of change and relevance in their lives. As always, I wish your conservation project well.

Michael Furtado | 27 November 2018  

Michael, on numerous occasions your postings in ES have expressed admiration for the Society of Jesus. It is surprising, then, (and given your background in sociology) that you would take such a dim and trenchant view of the institutional aspect of the Church. The Jesuits' founder, Ignatius of Loyola, was no stranger to the limitations, indeed corruptions, of the Church's institutional manifestation in times of upheaval in many ways not dissimilar to out own but part of his genius was to remain and work within the often unpropitious conditions that beset him. I think there's a message here for us today in Ignatius' choosing to do so, and in the remarkably fruitful outcome for the Church and society that his stance produced. I might add that the ecclesiology of Avery Dulles SJ does not posit the institutional dimension of the Church and the Church as a community of disciples as mutually exclusive.

John | 28 November 2018  

John, Thanks for your reminder that we meet on Ignatian ground and that the Jesuits have pursued a mission second to none in Catholicism, especially on faith and justice. It happens though that the matter on which Frank Brennan writes, and which is the topic for discussion here, is about seeking a plenary council fit for a purpose. As preparation time for it passes, my despondency grows and, much as I wish I were wrong, I see all the signs of a stymied Synod, akin to many other initiatives since Vatican II and which went nowhere. I attach a typical account from the Editor of La Croix International. My experience of the 'Mother Angelica Syndrome' in the Perth Archdiocese was a meeting called by the CSJC (Catholic Social Justice Council), in the early Noughties, on the Report on the Participation of Women in the Australian Church, ‘Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus (April 1999). The Archdiocesan meeting at Mercedes College was completely disrupted by well-organised reactionaries. Archbishop Hickey was present, did not say a word and left half way through the gathering. This was the situation of ‘synodalism’ in Perth at the turn of the century. What's different? https://international.la-croix.com/news/why-pope-francis-was-right-to-halt-the-us-bishops/8876?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=e-mail&utm_content=16-11-2018&utm_campaign=newsletter_crx_lci&PMID=cd0a3f8fa9b54e3bd6633a37e293e916

Michael Furtado | 29 November 2018  

Michaell, your reply points to one of the issues that the Plenary Council could address: an inordinate contemporary preoccupation with ideology and politics rather than attention to personal and communal renewal informed by scripture and tradition, the Catholic Church's perennial sources of doctrine and aggiornamento consistent with the teachings and practices of Christ and the Apostles.

John | 30 November 2018  

I am still sad to hearFrank Brennan say that his alarm bells ringing at Arch Anthony Fisher's comment '....synods might be manipulated today, swept up by the fashions of the age.’ Why alarm bells? Who in the Church needs or should want to emulate the fashions of today? Frank Brennan continues the idea when he says later - " It is time for our Church to learn some lessons from the world, from parliamentary democracy ...........................The meaning is unambiguous; why then, am I the only one, knowing that we are living in a largely godless Western society, to question such a statement? Yes there are lessons to be learned from society because, in part, it accounts for the loss of our young ones under its influence who are unable to reconcile life according to current social mores with the teachings of Christ and his Church. Unfortunately, it is statements like this that drive some to the far right of the Church, which is also unhelpful. Yes, we are an evolving Church, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and always in accordance with the Gospel. This and the rich treasures of the Church in the writings of the Saints and the great cloud of holy witnesses, urges us NOT to be like the world. The Gospels are replete with calls to turn our back on a world that will eventually disappear, of not being able to serve two masters. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2 Damage is being done by promoting possibilities that go against Christ's and the Church's teachings e.g. condoning a change in the definition and nature of marriage. The moral law of the Old Testament was not changed by Christ and therefore condemnation of homosexual acts remains. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" To liken homosexual behaviour to the married state, is heresy in the strict canonical sense because one is denying or questioning a truth that is taught as the word of God, while at the same time recognizing one's obligation to believe it.

Ann Kerley | 02 December 2018  

Nice wind-up. If someone thinks homosexuality is immoral, they have a right to believe that. Marianne Williamson

AO | 03 December 2018  

John, I think your last post perfectly captures my point in regard to the recent statement of Archbishop Fisher about the Youth Synod. We desperately need for the Bishops, with a very few exceptions such as Bishop Vincent Long, to stop playing politics. Garry Everett's accompanying article eloquently and tellingly explains: https://johnmenadue.com/garry-everett-who-is-manipulating-what/#comments

Michael Furtado | 03 December 2018  

What we need is a 'fringe plenary council' !!

Margaret O'Connor | 03 December 2018  

The new book Pope Francis wrote is set to come out this week translated in several languages about homosexuality and the priesthood. Many articles and comments quote ( over these years) Pope Francis saying... " Who am I to judge''... There is a video, an interview of the Pope on youtube where he repeats twice after saying this, ''Who am I to judge - we must consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this issue. My suggestion is to read'', he says '' the Catechism of the Catholic Church." In other words, he was simply saying 'he' will not judge. Without a clear end goal any outcome will suffice.

AO | 04 December 2018  

Archbishop Anthony Fisher's reflections on the "yooth synod" in his interview with Edward Pentin are philosophically and theologically accented rather than political. For instance, the Archbishop distinguishes between doctrine and the process by which it is articulated, and between teaching grounded in the Church's tradition and "tiresome secular-sociological analysis." He also raises important questions of ecclesiology and the authoritative status of synods - considerations neglected by a secular and fundamentalist notion of the "sensus fidelium."

John | 04 December 2018  

In which case, why have a Synod or Council in the first place, John? It will end up like the World Youth Day Sydney 'celebrations' a few years ago, when participants were told that no questions would be taken. Ignoring the Australian and global crisis in Catholicism that has occurred on Archbishop Fisher's watch, you and he can attend a Synod of Iteration and go home well pleased that, after a couple of million being wasted on a fruitless and supposedly 'consultative' exercise, your joint preconceived outcomes, as yet unannounced but no doubt already there in Archbishop Fisher's mind, will have remained intact and set in stone to a rendition of Chopin's Funeral March. Better still, I'd use Verdi's Requiem: a fitting accompaniment to your joint 'aspirations' to inter the Church in ecclesiological aspic.

Michael Furtado | 04 December 2018  

Michael, I imagine the only strains of requiem I'll be hearing apropos the Plenary Council will be those playing for the demise of naive or misguided hopes as to its powers to effect substantive change in defined Catholic teachings. I hope and pray that the Spirit the Church invokes in the "Veni Creator" will be the One who inspires and guides preparations and proceedings, and that the exercise will produce a strengthening and unity of faith, as well as the intended and needed personal and ecclesial renewal.

John | 05 December 2018  

Crikey, Michael Furtado! I hadn't realised that the "crisis in Australian and global Catholicism" resulted from Archbishop Fisher taking his eye off the ball!

john frawley | 05 December 2018  

Sorry. Too irresistible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6s6YKlTpfw. Never lose hope. Thank you Beethoven.

AO | 05 December 2018  

John, Immense Thanks for reminding me that defending the sensus fidelium was a matter of Archbishop Fisher's and your most essential prerogative. Fool that I was, I had thought that the Council was about consultation. I hope that your joint self-appointed role as gate-keepers is known to all who participate, just in case, like me, they turn up expecting their voices to be heard. De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine!

Michael Furtado | 06 December 2018  

Michael Furtado: “….after a couple of million being wasted on a fruitless and supposedly 'consultative' exercise, your joint preconceived outcomes, as yet unannounced but no doubt already there in Archbishop Fisher's mind, will have remained intact and set in stone….” It’s occasionally useful to have the laity come together in a democratic setting – democratic in being free to ask questions in public - to be taught by their apostolic successors as to why the seductiveness of what Archbishop Fisher calls "tiresome secular-sociological analysis" is, like that apple, only seductive, but certainly not fit for consumption. Mrs. May meets the Queen every week because the Queen has the right to be consulted so she can exercise her right to warn. The wisdom of the laity in practical life also gives them the right to be consulted by their executives so they can warn, as not all matters are doctrinal and many important ones are, in fact, prudential, and, in a setting planned to discuss important doctrinal and prudential matters, as opposed to a setting like a youth day which is designed to produce emotional unity, is what “supposedly ‘consultative’” means.

roy chen yee | 06 December 2018  

I like your 'Mayan' analogy, Roy, but take issue with your depiction of World Youth Day as an exercise in emotionalism and no other. I have two bright children, one of them a refugee lawyer, who attended. They were passive recipients at an Elder's Forum and went away deeply disappointed. Perchance this had something to do with the stamp of our last two papacies. If so, I am anxious to save the Bishops from a repeat of such an abject disaster. Better still, the Bishops should be mature, wise and humble enough to learn from it, rather than reach for the drawbridge as +Fisher seems to have done. Frank Brennan's as well as +Fisher's focus on the Youth Synod, as a precedent for the 2020 Council, highlights the importance of youth to the Church. Everywhere I look we seem to have lost them. If we abandon our youth and don't give them a voice we have no future, no Church, and indeed no life-giving legacy to pass on. Let us suppose, as the catastrophists here present warn, that the 2020 Council is no more than a talkfest. If so, it will have been at least unprecedented. Imagine what could follow!

Michael Furtado | 06 December 2018  

The concern with the laity being the prime movers in re-definition of the Church through democratic discussion etc is that we might end up with the "non sensus fidelium" and Christ pleading "de profundus calami ad te, me populi".

john frawley | 06 December 2018  

Thoughtful article Frank. I hope the plenary process is a little more considered than the egotistical posturing that exists in the comments above. The conservative bishops and clergy will of course retain their primary goal, power. I'm afraid that the loud voices will be the only ones heard and listened to. So little hope for change, sadly.

Damien | 08 December 2018  

Well, John (Frawley)! What is so wrong with politics and democracy? The Church considers and, indeed, teaches that Politics is a noble profession. People who aren't political or who subscribe to a kind of anti-politics are, by definition, conservative. Indeed, both nowadays, as well as in the past, such sentiments as yours emerging from a Catholic would have been called 'corporatist' and been configured very closely with fascism. Which then brings me to my second point, which is about the importance and value of democracy, not simply as a means of bludgeoning minorities (for democratic theory endorses the lofty views of John Stuart Mill, who enshrined minority rights in his coda) but because such a discourse emerges out of scholasticism and the scholastic method, which is the antecedent for our parliaments. Perchance those who don't like this or are unused to it have grown fat and lazy on the backs of autocratic systems, many of them clerical, and which have thrived on their pay and pray social practices. Unfortunately, the dividends from such practices are plainly to be seen as succumbing to the laws of diminishing returns. Its time for everyone to be free to speak up. Quod erat demonstrandum!

Michael Furtado | 08 December 2018  

Michael Furtado. There is nothing inherently wrong with politics or democracy, Michael. It's just glaringly obvious that today's human beings are no bloody good at either of them!

john frawley | 08 December 2018  

Michael Furtado. What profit is there in judging Bishop Fisher, or any other man? Judge yourself, and beware of passing judgement on others. In judging others, we expend our energy to no purpose; we are often mistaken, and easily sin. But if we judge ourselves, our labor is always to our profit. Our judgement is frequently influenced by our personal feelings, and it is very easy to fail in right judgement when we are inspired by private motives. Were God Himself the sole and constant object of our desire, we should not be so easily distressed when our opinions are contradicted...This is great wisdom, not to be hasty in action, or stubborn in our own opinions.

AO | 09 December 2018  

John Frawley, I am compelled to say that I cannot in good conscience disagree with your latest post. Our politicians are no exemplars and, on the global scene, there is only one - Angela Merkel - who stands out in terms of her courage, Christian values and leadership. As for AO, of course you are right, but Archbishop Fisher's primatial positioning accords him power and authority over all others in the Australian Catholic context that begs the question of how he is to exercise it. In the current crisis, and given the Bishops' call for an extraordinary council, his first duty is to listen, rather than to warn. A most fundamental flaw in leadership, whether ecclesiastical or otherwise, is an inability to consult. Effective Listening is critical, as well as crucial for good leadership decisions, enjoying the support of those who have had a say, to be made and enacted. It wouldn't take a cultural anthropologist to tell the good archbishop that. And the Church has many very fine and highly qualified 'process persons' in its ranks, including the inestimable Marist priest and Cambridge scholar, Gerald Arbuckle SM, who presented the Martin D’Arcy, S.J. Lectures at Campion Hall in 2011.

Michael Furtado | 09 December 2018  

Michel Furtado, what makes you think your voice won't be heard in the Plenary Council - whether it becomes accepted teaching, church law or policy is, of course, another thing. On this we're in the same boat.

John | 10 December 2018  

Michael Furtado . I certainly agree with you that the inability to consult is a serious flaw when it comes to leadership. But it is also irresponsible for a leader, privy to knowledge and possessed of experience, not to warn of damaging consequences of certain actions conjured up by those without the same breadth of knowledge and experience. And you would have to admit that the vast majority of today's laity under the age of 60 years or so possess little if any knowledge of Church teaching and less than 10 % have any experience of the practice of Catholicism. To them the Archbishop might well owe the obligation to warn.

john frawley | 10 December 2018  

John Frawley and John. Points taken, agreed with and accepted! Reflecting on them, I'd say that they emerge out of a view that the Bishops are custodians of the Church. This is undoubtedly true but just one of the many roles they must play. Among other things, our Bishops are called to be Prophets, as well as, in light of numerous global cases of non-reporting of child abuse, humble and public penitents (which I know many to be). In particular, John F., I note that in the lengthy billy-doos exchanged between us, you return ad infinitum to definitions and associations of Catholic practice, knowledge and sentiment as if these were immutable and packaged in easily digestible parcels from times immemorial, as if they lack context and differentiated emphasis for the young and, inevitably, the disheartened. I accordingly humbly recommend to two fellow lovers of the Australian Jesuits the Summer 2018 edition of Companions, which celebrates 25 years of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, which may help explain why. although many of our youth are disengaged with the official Church and its practices, younger Jesuit-educated Australians are to be found in all walks of public life waving the banner of social justice.

Michael Furtado | 10 December 2018  

It seems to me that Frank Brennan has raised valid concerns about who will be heard at the Plenary Council, what filters will be made of the suggestions from the laity and in particular the minimal voice that will be given to women. I have a far greater concern. What if after the dust has settled and certain teachings and maybe even new approaches to “be Church” are promulgated many are left cynical and unmoved because they believe the whole exercise was a sham? We have to get it right. It seems to me that many of the responses to this article by Brennan completely miss the point. We are being challenged as individuals and as a church community to live our Baptism : to accept that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and that we have both the privilege and the responsibility to show Christ to our world. Of course that is the calling of all Christians in every age. Sadly we live at a time when the non observance of that calling has quite rightly brought the church into disrepute. Change has to start from the bottom up rather than from the top down. It’s time we started living as the body of Christ, as a servant gift to society prepared to wear the criticisms of those who have no faith in God. As it was in the first century, so is it now: witness wins even if the witness dies.

Ern Azzopardi | 11 December 2018  

Michael, it's certainly heartening to see young people educated in Catholic schools (and not only Jesuit ones) emerging with a strong sense of social justice, usually expressed in active concern for indigenous people, refugees, the poor and homeless. However, this commendable expression of a social conscience in many instances requires integration with Catholic social teaching and recognition of the importance of participation in sacramental life, especially the Eucharist. This, to my mind, is one of the most important considerations for the Plenary Council and its follow-through. The facile slogan, "You don't have to go to Mass to be a good Christian, is regrettably too common among young Catholics of undoubted good will, and seem to reflect a paucity in sacramental theology and/or its communication grounded in an understanding of sacraments as encounters with Christ and efficacious signs of his kingdom's presence in the world.

John | 11 December 2018  

One other thing, Michael. I regard bishops as more than custodians: they are pastors and teachers whose faith-nurturing ministry of service is expressed in these vital functions. I'd be confident Australia's bishops are well aware of the need for consultation, especially in our current circumstances. I believe, too, that credit should be given where it is due in the initiatives taken by bishops to encourage fuller lay participation and doctrinal formation of the kind John Frawley identifies as urgently needed.

John | 11 December 2018  

John Frawley, I accept that we share an identity of opinion on the Philip Wilson issue. However, that issue relates entirely to Mgr Wilson's status as an individual and a person (and not as a Bishop) and I would have gone in to bat for anyone in similar unjust circumstances, whether s/he were episcopal or not. To that end, I take issue with your continued association of a clericalist argument with the consultancy and representativist question in which John Warhurst's latest article on the extraordinary Synod is framed. As for John's entreaties, all I ask is: why call an Extraordinary Synod or Council if the purpose of it is simply to iterate the authoritative voice and decisions of the Bishops?

Michael Furtado | 13 December 2018  

Michael, in the Plenary Council I expect the bishops to do what they are called and competent to do, and likewise the Catholic laity. This is clearly articulated in Vatican II. So I don't expect a changing of ecclesial roles, but rather, a constructive exchange of ideas compatible with scripture and tradition that will advance the knowledge and love of Christ in today's Australia, and the collaborative effort between laity and clergy required for this.

John | 17 December 2018  

And that won't happen, John, until Archbishop Fisher gets off his high horse and truly listens, especially to those who in his own terms he has already marked out for criticism and exclusion.

Michael Furtado | 17 December 2018  

Fr Brennan, your article does not do justice to the restoration movement that is underway in the world. Secularisation used to be a "sign of the times" but the fraud has been exposed and if you have your ear to the ground you will hear the rumblings of a people who know they have been cheated by their grandparents' generation. It will be interesting to see how much of a voice will be given to those who want to put the house back in order.

Bruce | 08 February 2019