Plenary Feedback: Bishop Richard Umbers

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‘There is no mention of Our Lady in the entire document, despite many good proposals about Marian devotion coming from the previous documents.’

The Plenary Council’s working document, Towards the Second Assembly’, was circulated to members for feedback by 4 April. Although Towards the Second Assembly has not been circulated for the wider Church to read, The Catholic Weekly will publish the feedback of members between now and the release of the final Plenary Council documents, in the interests of transparency, openness and co-responsibility.

General comments

Purpose of the Council

Canon 445 reads:

A particular council, for its own territory, takes care that provision is made for the pastoral needs of the people of God and possesses the power of governance, especially legislative power, so that, always without prejudice to the universal law of the Church, it is able to decide what seems opportune for the increase of the faith, the organization of common pastoral action, and the regulation of morals and of the common ecclesiastical discipline which is to be observed, promoted, and protected.

The next iteration of this document should make clear the purpose of the Council, so that all members are focused on what they are aiming to achieve when gathered at the Second Assembly.

Additional bureaucracy

Too many of the proposals contained in the document are focused on the creation of additional layers of bureaucracy, rather than an outward-looking evangelisation.

This is problematic for two reasons.

The first is that the multiplication of bureaucracy usually detracts from mission, rather than adds to it. It also fails to recognise the potential of, or focus on supporting, family, schools, universities, seminaries, parishes and existing diocesan structures.

This is especially clear when we consider what is missing from the papers.

There is nothing at all about social media, which has become the main form of communication for those under the age of 40 (which is also the demographic of those who are more likely to identify as having no religion.)

There is nothing about specific ministries to lay men, who are significantly underrepresented at all levels of the Church, but especially in the parishes.

There is nothing really about the support of family life as the domestic Church, or any real attempt to grapple with the challenges facing families today.

There is only a tokenistic mention of youth ministry, and nothing at all about university chaplaincies.

The document needs concrete proposals about all of these if it is going to provide serious input into evangelisation.

The Blessed Mother

There is no mention of Our Lady in the entire document, despite many good proposals about Marian devotion coming from the previous documents.

Thematic Focus A: A Deeper Communion Enriched by Diversity

A3 – Instruments that care for the communion of the Church

The note on cultural diversity is beneficial, but should not be used to suggest that people will not feel at home in the liturgy unless it reflects part of their cultural background. The beauty of the Catholic Church is that no matter which country you are in, or in what language the Mass is celebrated, Catholics are able to participate.

Similarly, the focus on going to the peripheries focuses on certain groups to the exclusion of others. There are many groups who are not listed who can often be overlooked by the Church and who have been overlooked in the Plenary Council, eg those with mental health issues, those with carer responsibilities, families etc.

Thematic Focus B: Ecclesial Leadership and Governance

B1 – Sacramentality and the Church’s witness

Proposal 3 speaks of “increased access to the Eucharist” but does not clarify what is meant by this. It would be good if this was specific and preferably, if this “increased access” was linked to greater catechesis, increased opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and other devotions, in anticipation of the 2028 International Eucharistic Congress.

B2 – The practice of Synodality

There will be a universal synod on the theme of synodality occurring, so it is perhaps premature for the Plenary Council being too specific about this. Many of these recommendations seem to make “synodality” synonymous with “bureaucracy” and it is not clear that this is what is intended by the Holy Father when he speaks of synodality.

B3 – Women and the Church

This section begins with noting the need to establish a due place for women in the Church and society, but then only focuses on the participation of women in liturgy and Church governance. There are no proposals to deal with the role of women in society, nor in the family.

The contribution of women to the life of the Church is not only about liturgy and governance, but most women make immense missionary contribution in these other spheres as well. This must be recognised and celebrated in this section.

Additionally, this section takes a “black armband” view of the role and value of women in the Church. This is not the experience of many women who participate in the life of the Church, formally and informally.

The assertion that women are not valued and do not have a significant role is contrary to the experience of many women, some of whom expressed this during the First Assembly, but whose voices have not been listened to in the preparation of this document.

Thematic Focus C: Missionary Disciples in the World

C2 – Missionary Discipleship in Australian Culture

This section would benefit from concrete proposals greater than studying and listening.

University campuses across the country are a great mission field; it would be good for the Plenary Council to support the establishment of a Catholic chaplaincy in every university campus, and to consider ways of evangelising other tertiary education institutes.

It would also be good for the Plenary Council to propose investment in social media as well, as it is the main form of communication for the majority of people we are seeking to evangelise.

Bishop Richard Umbers is an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

The Catholic Weekly will publish the Plenary Council feedback of members online in coming weeks. Some submissions may be edited for style and length, compared to the original versions submitted to the Drafting Committee. Plenary Council members who wish to share their feedback may email [email protected].

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