Australian Catholics are preparing for a ‘plenary council’. But the Church is in danger of encouraging false expectations

Jump on to any diocesan website in Australia and there will be a tab, a fact sheet or a snazzy revolving banner informing you about the Plenary Council 2020. The event is the latest initiative of the Australian bishops’ conference. The first complete gathering of the Australian Church since 1937, it will begin in October 2020 in central South Australia – close to the heart of the country.

Plenary 2020 is the Australian version of the October 2015 family synod in Rome. The main instigator is Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the bishops’ conference, who took part in the synod and was inspired by Pope Francis’s vision of a “synodal” Church.

Since Pentecost a team, led by plenary council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins, has been asking parishes and groups across the country to respond to the question: “What do you think God is asking of the Church in Australia at this time?”

The agenda for the Plenary 2020 will be set by the responses they receive to this question. So far, Turvey-Collins has received more than 500 responses.

For Archbishop Coleridge, the Plenary 2020 is a chance to move the Church beyond sexual abuse scandals and steer it in a more positive direction. For others, it is an opportunity to take the pulse of the Church, while still others believe that the Holy Spirit will speak through this process – and good fruits will flow from it in proportion to good will.

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