Plenary Council 2020 – Wait, didn’t I already do this?

By Richard McMahon, 15 September 2019
Image: Plenary Council 2020/ACBC.


So, last year, there was a big flurry of activity as the bishops of Australia invited everyone to respond to the question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

Whether you participated or not, it was hard not to be aware that something was going on and we had a chance to be involved.

For those who did participate, you may have individually responded to the question, or joined a small group or larger gathering and offered a response from there.

Then everything went kind of quiet.

Some people wondered if that was it, had it all fizzled out. Others were at least content that they had their say and trusted that the plenary process would take heed of their feedback, or maybe were sceptical about whether anything would change, or even feared what might happen next.

Suddenly, in May, six National Plenary Themes were released, and with them, hundreds of topics, and a huge report detailing the feedback of over 220,000 people.

Isn’t it great that there has been feedback to everyone about what happened? One would be mistaken for thinking they – whoever they are – would now get on with it and take all this feedback, shape it into an agenda for the Plenary Council, and then after the council, we would hopefully hear what decisions have been made for the Catholic Church in Australia.

But wait! That is NOT what is happening. Our Australian bishops are not done with us yet. Not at all. They want to consult with us again.

About what, I hear you ask? Haven’t I had my say? Do they want me to repeat myself? No.

Let’s think of it this way. If we went out and asked everyone in our extended family or workplace or social group where we wanted to go for an outing together, we would get a whole lot of feedback. The coordinator of the outing could then go off and decide. But they could also do something else. They could share all the feedback back to the group – arranging it in themes for the outings. Then they could ask us to consider what everyone has said, and offer our final thoughts on what would be a good outing – now that we know the opinions of the whole group.

In a similar way, our bishops are sharing with us what everyone has offered in light of the question of “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

Now that we are informed, we are invited to come together again.

The question becomes: Given what everyone has said, and in light of the wisdom of scripture and our Catholic tradition, how might we be a Christ-centred church in each area of these National Themes for Discernment?

Isn’t it good when people value our wisdom so much, they want to ask us again? They want to deepen their listening and bring our wisdom into the efforts being made to shape the agenda for the Plenary Council.

So please, let us respond to this invitation, whether you participated before or not.

Another opportunity is here, new questions are being asked, and if we really want to “Listen to what the Spirit is saying?” then we need to listen to everyone, for the Holy Spirit resides in each of us.

Richard McMahon is the Director of Pastoral Planning & Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta.

You can contact the Pastoral Planning Office at or phone (02) 8838 3441.


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