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The agenda is public – here comes the Plenary

Now that the Framework For Motions document is out we can get an idea of what the deliberations of this historic milestone in the life of the Church in Australia are going to look like

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A Plenary candle stands in St Mary’s Cathedral in 2021, symbolising the light the Plenary hopes to bring to the Church in Australia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Framework for Motions (May 2022) has appeared. This document is supposed to guide the July session of the Plenary Council.

I’ve read it, and am very disappointed in the huge gusts of hot air that hit me when I opened it. There are sections that could power entire wind farms.

And it’s not the wind of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is remarkably quiet and efficient. Where He goes, you can see the effects, because He actually achieves something.

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That’s one of the signs that He’s been around – things and people have changed for the better.

Good in places …

The kind of afflatus in the Framework for Motions doesn’t achieve anything except solipsistic self-satisfaction and a waste of paper. Sadly, both of these are likely to be the only measurable and lasting outcomes of the entire Plenary Council process.

There’s not too much to argue with in the front end of this document. It’s all about apologising to Aboriginal people and people who’ve been abused in the Church. This is all good.

I’m hesitant to get excited about the greater inclusion of Aboriginal ritual and symbol, because that usually reeks of tokenism. It doesn’t tend to make Aboriginal people flock into church either.

In fact, we currently have no idea how many Aboriginal people are actually turning up at Mass or the sacraments on a regular basis. It would have been helpful to have a recommendation about finding some answers to these questions.

But then …

The section on Catholic education is the same delusional corporate jargon that this sector has been churning out since 1980. Let’s have a national forum! Conferences! Workshops! Committees! Round tables! That will fix everything!

The Plenary Council – whose faith in the Catholic education system is pretty much at Nicene Creed level – has not come up with a single new approach to solving this problem. This sector has poured billions of dollars poured into ‘leadership’ training for decades.

In that same period, youth Mass attendance rates have plunged. The data speaks for itself.

What’s also missing from the ‘missionary disciples’ part of this document is the call to repentance. The word ‘repentance’ occurs just five times in the whole document.


We’re back in #ThingsJesusNeverSaid territory again. We are to call the nations – that’s everyone around us – to repentance, and to believe in the Gospel. Without repentance, there’s no reconciliation.

The document is good on asking us to say sorry – but no one else seems to be expected to say sorry. Especially not for their personal sins and bad lifestyle choices.

Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair, because there is some talk of ‘formation for the sacrament of Reconciliation.’ Unfortunately the Third Rite diehards continue to grind their axe – cheerfully unaware that you could fit most parish penitents each weekend into a telephone box.

Lay preaching

Speaking of diehards, the lady deacon cheerleaders have also managed (mysteriously) to make it through to the final edition of this document. This is despite there being pretty much zero chance of this ever happening.

It’s funny how some people’s voices are louder than others, isn’t it?

And speaking of louder voices, the parish windbags – who I suspect are the same people – also got their campaign for a ‘ministry of preaching’ included in this document. And yes, it includes a request that we amend canon law to allow lay preaching at Mass.

Apparently this is also to be inflicted on the Eastern Rite communities – who I hope respond with a polite but firm no, in the name of cultural sensitivity.

A de-catechised Church

The most honest part of the entire document was Section 61, where someone actually admitted that the Church in Australia has failed epically in its core business. We have a de-catechised Church with people routinely receiving sacraments they don’t understand or care about.

Right at the end, I had a huge belly laugh. The original planned national Catholic leadership centre got knocked back by the ACBC, but its fans remained undaunted.

They’ve managed to squeeze in a working group, leading to “a roundtable structure, with the proposed name of the National Catholic Synodal Life Roundtable, to foster and assess the development of synodal leadership across the Church in Australia.”

This is the exact same thing they originally wanted, but with a different name. Hooray! Lots of interstate travel and good hotels for these lucky professional Catholics!

What a wasted opportunity this whole Plenary Council has been. And what a waste of money. I’m dying to see the financials. But I bet I never will.


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