Experts to assist Plenary

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A Plenary candle stands in St Mary’s Cathedral, symbolising the light of Jesus. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Two theological experts in synodality and advocates for reform have been appointed to assist the Plenary Council drafting in the lead-up to the publication of the final agenda for the Second Assembly in June.

Dr Elissa Roper, who last year completed a PhD at Yarra Theological Union on synodality, has been appointed to the Drafting Committee to process feedback received on the Toward the Second Assembly document, which contains draft propositions to be voted upon in July.

The Catholic Weekly understands that Dr Roper’s appointment involves the weighting of the large amount of feedback received by the Drafting Committee.

Both Dr Roper and the chair of the Drafting Committee, Bishop Paul Bird of Ballarat, were approached for comment on the appointment.

“The Drafting Committee and other committees regularly draw on people with relevant skills to assist in the journey of the Plenary Council,” Bishop Bird said.

“Dr Elissa Roper has been engaged by the Drafting Committee to provide assistance with the task of processing Members’ feedback on the Towards the Second Assembly document. She is working under the direction of the Drafting Committee.”

“If synod and council members work to weed out clericalism and identify those factors which diminish the power of their activity together … then authentic synodal participation can take place.”

Dr Roper declined to comment due to time constraints around her work for the Drafting Committee.

In a recent article published in the Australasian Catholic Record prior to the Plenary Council, Dr Roper described synodality as “an opening to the possibility of a new experience of transformation on all levels of being Church”.

Synodal reforms are a responsibility for the Church, she writes, adding that “taking any other path, or to remain standing still, will bring not progress but decline”.

In February 2022 Dr Roper presented on synodality at the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform webinar, Our Voices.

“If synod and council members work to weed out clericalism and identify those factors which diminish the power of their activity together, and if they identify, plan for, and foster the value of synodality then authentic synodal participation can take place,” Dr Roper said in February.

Well-known Australian theologian Father Richard Lennan, who lectures in systematic theology at Boston College in Massachusetts in the US, has also been engaged to assist with drafting work prior to the Second Assembly.

Father Lennan and Dr Elissa Roper will assist preparations for the Second Assembly of the Plenary.
Father Lennan and Dr Elissa Roper will assist preparations for the Second Assembly of the Plenary.

Fr Lennan is already one of the Plenary periti, or theological experts. Bishop Bird told The Catholic Weekly that Fr Lennan is “continuing in his role as a theological advisor to the Plenary Council” and has not been appointed as a member of the Drafting Committee.

The Catholic Weekly understands that he has been asked to lead the preparation of a statement for the Second Assembly on ecclesiology, or the nature and mission of the Church.

Fr Lennan is the author of Risking the Church, a well-regarded academic work on contemporary ecclesiology, and was a consultor on the preparation of The Light from the Southern Cross (LSC) report that undergirds much of the reforming trend in the Plenary Council.

As reported in The Catholic Weekly in March, LSC’s recommendations on governance have been translated substantially into proposals for the Plenary Council’s Second Assembly.

The Towards the Second Assembly document details the establishment of Parish and Diocesan Pastoral Councils, a National Catholic Synodal Leadership Council and a national centre for Catholic leadership and governance.

“LSC’s ‘immediate stimulus’ was ‘the recent history of catastrophic failures in myriad elements of the Catholic Church’s structure and governance’.”

Fr Lennan recently published an apology for LSC in the Australasian Catholic Record, in which he predicted that “efforts to reconsider and reframe episcopal prerogatives are likely to evoke strong reactions, not least from bishops”.

LSC’s “immediate stimulus” was “the recent history of catastrophic failures in myriad elements of the Catholic Church’s structure and governance”, Fr Lennan wrote, in reference to the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse.

“[E]cclesial corruption attests unequivocally that a healthy future for the Catholic community necessitates an end to ‘business as usual’ in matters of governance.”

He also recommends a more open attitude to civil society governance practices, writing that LSC highlights “the graced nature of this ‘worldly’ wisdom”.

Fr Lennan was also critical of the response of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to LSC, writing that the Bishops read the document with “suspicion” and sought to “correct” the document, “rather than establish a dialogue with it”.

Fr Lennan also declined a request for comment from The Catholic Weekly.

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