We’re not factions. Listen humbly to the Spirit, President tells Plenary members

As the Plenary Council of the Church in Australia began its first session on Monday 4 July, Council President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth urged members to overcome divisions, be humble and listen to what the Spirit is telling the Church at this time.

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Members listen as announcements are made at the opening session of the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of the Church in Australia in Sydney on 4 July. Photo: Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly.

We are “not enemies or combatants seeking to prevail over others”, Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth has told members in his introduction to the opening session of the second assembly.

Archbishop Costelloe emphasised the unity of the Church as an image of the Holy Trinity in his address to the 277 members of the Plenary Council, exhorting them to be open to dialogue and listening.

“Although each of us belongs to one or other communities of faith and mission, we are not here as representatives or spokespersons of any particular community, tasked with advocating for any particular interest group,” he said.

Presiding members of the Plenary Council of Australia talk as members seated at tables discuss business at the opening session of the Plenary’s Second Assembly in Sydney on 4 July. Photo: Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly.

‘Where we would rather not go’

Archbishop Costelloe said that members’ passionate desires may not necessarily correspond to the will of God for the Church, a “discomforting truth” that should lead them to listen humbly to others to communally discern the will of the Spirit who may, like St Peter, take us “to places we would rather not go”.

“This is the great challenge and the unsettling nature of Christian discernment,” he said.

He added a cautionary note for members who wished to see certain outcomes achieved by the close of the second assembly.

“Cherished hopes, dreams and projects may not have been realised, or not in the way we had hoped and presumed had been the case,” he said.

“For each of us as individuals, and each of us as members of a variety of communities within the Church, who knows what the Plenary Council may be asking us to let go of, or asking us to embrace?

“Who knows what might have to die in order to for something new to spring to life?”

Members seated at tables discuss business at the opening session of the Plenary Council of Australia’s Second Assembly in Sydney on 4 July. Photo: Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly.

30 motions to be considered

Archbishop Costello also acknowledged the failure of the Church to live up to its calling, and foreshadowed the Plenary’s acknowledgement “in sorrow and shame” of the effects of child abuse.

Archbishop Costelloe also welcomed those attending the Council as observers: Archbishop Charles Balvo, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia; Cardinal Charles Bo SDB, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar; Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington; Rev. John Gilmore, President of the National Council of Churches in Australia; and Ross Castle from Catholic Church Insurance.

The first day will see the members cast a non-binding “consultative vote” on the introductory preamble and two further topics: “Reconciliation: Healing Wounds, Receiving Gifts”, looking at how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can fully contribute to the life of the Church, and “Choosing Repentance – Seeking Healing”, on the Church’s ongoing response to the sexual abuse crisis.

More than 30 motions in eight topic areas will be considered over the next week.

Despite persistent rainfall and wind, the first day of the second assembly opened with an Indigenous smoking ceremony and welcome to country from Dr Lisa Buxton, Executive Officer of the Sydney Aboriginal Catholic ministry.

The Plenary Council candle was lit from the coals of the smoking ceremony’s fire, and was processed with the Gospels into the hall at St Mary’s Cathedral College where the assembled members awaited.

Prayers to open the council were led by liturgical artist and director of Litmus Productions, Anne Frawley-Mangan.

A band performed the contemporary composition “Hearts on Fire” by Ms Frawley-Mangan’s husband and co-director of Litmus Productions, Michael Mangan, and led the members in other prayers and reflections.

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