Plenary Council: The Next Phase

I’ve spent the last few days sifting through the data that has emerged from more than 200,000 pieces of input from across the country who have answered the question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” Collecting that information and shaping it into a number of key themes has been the work of the Plenary Council Executive Commission together with the Bishops’ Commission and the Facilitation team as we launch into the next phase of preparation for the Plenary Council 2020.

In the near future, key themes will be released for further study and discernment as we seek to understand how God is leading us at this point of our history. The last Plenary Council in Australia was held in 1937 and the delegates were priests and bishops. The 2020 Plenary Council is very different in that the priests and bishops will be joined by lay men and women together with religious sisters and brothers. The conviction behind such a gathering is that we need to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit together, prompting us to remember the words and way of Jesus Christ who is the foundation of our identity and mission. When we gather together, we have an anticipation that God will lead us. However, before we gather in 2020, it has been absolutely essential to listen and to listen well to the experience and insights from people across the country in all their diversity.

Having listened and responded with some key themes, there will be a further sifting – discerning our way forward. I’m sure the Plenary Council website will clearly articulate this next phase of the journey and how everyone can still have a voice into this process (

Sometimes people ask me whether I think anything will change as a result of the Plenary Council. My simple response is the same – “I think its worth it to try and move forward inspired by the Holy Spirit.” I think we all want a better future for the Church in this nation; we all want to see the Church shine the light of Christ in this nation; we want to be the best that we can be both on a personal and communal level. However, we need an opportunity to do this together – not just in our parishes/communities or even in our own dioceses. We need to be prepared to lay aside personal agendas and open ourselves to God’s leading. Sometimes those personal agendas are exactly what God is asking while at other times they are simply efforts to reform the Church according to my own agenda. This is where discernment becomes critical.

What I do know is that nothing is ever achieved by cynicism and negativity. Of course, we can offer a critique of certain things and feel impatient with the slow movement of the Church, but cynicism is a destructive force which we should resist both in ourselves and in others. In whatever ways we can, let us work that the light of Christ might shine more brightly in this nation. As always, our starting point is prayer. Below is an excerpt from the opening prayer of the Second Vatican Council:

We stand before you, Holy Spirit, conscious of our sinfulness, but aware that we gather in your name. Come to us, remain with us, and enlighten our hearts. Give us light and strength to know your will, to make it our own, and to live it in our lives. Guide us by your wisdom, support us by your power, for you are God, sharing the glory of Father and Son

Shayne Bennett

Queensland delegates to the Plenary Council. From right: Fr Orm Rush, Sally Hood (with Ananias) and Shayne Bennett


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