At the conclusion of the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II encouraged the Church in his Apostolic Letter ‘Novo Millennio Ineunte’ (2001) to discern what the Spirit has been saying to the Church and to put into practice resolutions and guidelines for action that fit the context and culture of each place (§3). Reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God, he exhorted “the Pastors of the particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God’s People”, to plan for the future in a collegial way that harmonises among the dioceses the work of pastoral revitalisation (§29).
Pope Francis has encouraged and fostered the same collegiality among bishops and synodality throughout the whole Church. In his address last October commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, he stated: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening ‘is more than simply hearing’. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7).” Speaking of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Regions, Particular Councils and Conferences of Bishops, the Holy Father went on to observe that, “We need to reflect on how better to bring about, through these bodies, intermediary instances of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and updating certain aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical organisation. The hope expressed by the [Second Vatican] Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realised. We are still on the way, part-way there.”
The circumstances of the Church in Australia in our time, including the patterns of change that are evident within the community of the Church, the issues confronting the Church in modern multicultural and secular Australia, the increase in entrusting responsibility for and leadership of the Church’s mission to laity, and even the changing face of the Episcopate, prompt the Church to review, analyse, and discern the signs of the times, to listen anew to the Spirit, and to chart its course into the future.
Accordingly, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has decided to celebrate a Plenary Council for the Church in Australia in 2020.
1. Membership and Meeting
1.1 The Commission shall comprise six (6) Members of Conference as determined by the by-laws of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
1.2 The Commission shall meet prior to the biannual plenary meeting of the Conference as determined by the Permanent Committee.
1.3 The Commission shall meet triannually at a time and place of mutual convenience.
1.4 The Commission may make use of video or teleconference facilities when the agenda or circumstances warrants.
2. Areas of Responsibility
The Commission promotes the life and mission of the Catholic Church in Australia in overseeing the planning and preparation for the Plenary Council 2020.
3. Particular Functions
In particular, the Commission performs the following functions:
3.1 Clarifying and communicating the purpose of a plenary council, with reference to the provisions of the Code of Canon Law, the intentions of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in holding a plenary council, the modes of consultation and participation in preparatory stages, and the composition of the Plenary Council 2020.
3.2 Providing advice to Members of Conference regarding methods and processes of consultation and discernment in preparation for the Plenary Council.
3.3 Proposing practices and initiatives which will foster synodality during the preparation for and celebration of the Plenary Council.
4. Advisory Role
The Commission advises the Bishops and the Conference on issues that arise in the areas of its responsibility and, where appropriate, makes recommendations for action that might be undertaken at a national level.
5. Advisory Bodies
The Commission establishes, in accordance with the mandates in Schedule 1, the following advisory bodies to assist it in its responsibilities:
5.1 Plenary Council Executive Committee
The Secretariat for the Plenary Council assists the Commission in fulfilling its tasks.