A Laywoman’s Perspective on the Plenary Council So Far

January 31, 2019

Where are we at now with the Plenary Council 2020 process, set in motion last Pentecost The Listening and Dialogue phase is due to come to an end on Ash Wednesday, 6 March 2019? What can we say about what has happened so far? From my admittedly limited perspective, I can make a few observations.

Clearly, there is a great disparity among the dioceses as to how much support has been given to the Council. I have been fortunate to belong to one of the most proactive of the dioceses (Broken Bay) where plenty of information, resources and support were provided to enable local animators to work with their specific communities. I facilitated quite a number of conversations around the central question, “What do you think God is asking of us, here and now?”

It quickly became clear that at a grassroots level, there were strong common concerns. These headed the list:

  • The yearning for genuine community marked by inclusiveness, compassion, and care for the vulnerable and marginalised;
  • A desire for spiritual renewal; a desire to go back to the gospels for a much deeper understanding of Jesus’ life and teaching; and
  • A desire for much greater involvement of the laity in decision making of every kind.

On a broader level, reading as much as I can about what has been happening nation-wide, it seems to me that engaged Catholic women, who have for so long resigned themselves to an unsatisfactory status quo, are suddenly seeing glimpses of new possibilities. It seems that we are openly talking about women in the context of leadership in the church. It will certainly be an important topic, both formally and informally, at the Council for Australian Catholic Women Colloquium, Stirring the Waters, to be held in Adelaide in late February. Three of us from the Sydney Grail will be attending.

It’s early days yet but I have a sense that we are starting to wake up. Early cynicism is giving way to fragments of hope. There are many agendas for change being submitted to the Plenary Council, many of them critical of a centuries-old clerical and patriarchal culture on its last legs. The realisation is dawning that there are many of us “out there” who long for a different way of being a church and we are beginning to find one another and talk to one another. We need to keep the conversations going. We need to begin to imagine what the future could be.

The other side of this coin is fear – the fear of what it will cost us. As I have been impelled to go deeper and deeper in this process of listening and dialogue, it has become frighteningly clear that if we take our hopes and our responsibility to one another seriously, it will cost us dearly. It is no wonder that many of the bishops give the impression that they just want business as usual. A cultural change of the magnitude that we are hoping for is the work of a lifetime.

Are we up for it?

tricia-pngAuthor: Patricia Gemmell

Patricia recently graduated with a Masters in Theology, is a member of the Australian Grail National Leadership Team and has been a parishioner of St Leonard’s, Naremburn, for 34 years.