Australian plenary council proposals call for secular homilies as part of evangelism push

Draft proposals circulated by officials of an ongoing plenary council in Australia include a call to increase lay participation in church life and governance, in part by asking the Vatican to allow lay people to preach the homily at Mass.

The proposed measures also include a call for more frequent use of a communal form of the sacrament of penance, despite strict canonical limitations on its use.

If adopted by the full council, these proposals would see the Church of Australia requesting from the Vatican derogations from canon law governing the liturgical discipline of the universal Latin Church.

Logo of the second General Assembly of the Plenary Council of Australia.

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The proposals are contained in the Council’s Plenary Framework for Motions, a document from the council’s drafting committee, drafted for circulation this week among council members ahead of its second general meeting, to be held July 4-9.

The text contains draft motions to consider for a vote, drawn from discussion at previous meetings of lay and clerical council participants.

The committee is made up of both bishops and lay experts.

The text, obtained by The pillarpresents prepared texts, resolution statements and motions for council consideration in eight areas of church life, including healing historical injustices and moral failings of the church, sacramental life, church governance , formation and mission.

Quote from 2007 Aparecida document produced by the bishops of Latin America, the framework proposes that the plenary council affirm that “we must move from a pastoral care of simple conservation to a pastoral care that is resolutely missionary”.

While much of the text is unlikely to be controversial, there are some ideas that are likely to cause disagreement among Australian Catholics.

Part of the framework states that the Church should separate sacramental power from administration and governance in the life of the Church where possible, and a draft motion proposes that the council commit the Church in Australia to “consider women as deacons if Pope Francis authorizes such a ministry. ”

Noting a “concern” about the “state of preaching in the Church in Australia,” a draft motion proposes seeking a dispensation from the Vatican that would allow lay people to preach homilies during Mass – a form of preaching restricted by canon law to priests or deacons.

This proposal comes amid a wider call that “the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops establish provisions and guidelines for the laity to participate in a formal preaching ministry, as provided for in canon 766 of the Code of Laws. canonical”, which allows lay people to preach in churches or oratories “when the need demands it” or in particular cases.

The draft measures also call on Pope Francis to be asked to allow wider use of general absolution in the Sacrament of Penance “on occasions when it is particularly appropriate” and pending “understanding among the faithful.” its nature and its distinctive requirements”.

The “third form” of the rite of penance, called for by a motion in the text, provides for the general absolution of a whole group of penitents at once, a general act of contrition.

Canon law states that general absolution can only be granted when “a danger of death is imminent” or in carefully defined cases of “grave necessity”.

Individual confession and absolution are the “only ordinary means” by which the sacrament can be transmitted, says canon law.

The proposed draft measures would also call on the Church to formally recognize the need for liturgical and scriptural translations to use “inclusive language.”

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Proposed measures in the text less likely to provoke disagreement focus on the call for “missionary discipline” and a renewed “baptismal identity” in Australia.

The framework also suggests that the council encourage bishops to foster a greater appreciation of the Eucharist, ahead of their bid to host the 2028 World Eucharistic Congress, including by “committing to planning and promoting public community events focused on the Eucharist, at the service of formation Catholic belief, culture and identity.

At the first plenary meeting, held last October, the executive notes that council members spent time “thinking and praying for those who have experienced marginalization within the Church,” especially Indigenous peoples. , “women, divorcees, those who identify as LGBTIQA+, and those who have experienced abuse in any form,” and offers the council to express “deep sadness to those who have been hurt by a encounter with the Church”.

At the same time, the framework affirms the need to better educate the faithful to serve as missionary witnesses to the truth of Church teaching on a range of sensitive pastoral issues.

On these issues, the framework calls for the development of “a long-term plan to evangelize the community and catechize the faithful on the sanctity of life, the nature of the human person, sexuality, marriage and family; to help people live healthy sexual and marital lives; and for the proclamation of the Gospel through Catholic engagement in the public arena and contribution to public debate on issues relating to human sexuality and marriage.

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In pursuit of this goal, the proposals suggest that the council commit to “a culture of synodality for parishes and dioceses”, in order to foster a relationship between clergy and laity that recognizes “different but complementary charisms and opportunities for co-responsibility,” and “consultative and collaborative approaches to governance at all levels of the church.

The framework includes proposals that the style of collaborative governance should build on existing canonical structures, including finance committees, pastoral councils and other bodies already established at the diocesan and parish level.

Particular emphasis is placed in the framework on the recognition of the equal dignity of women in the Church.

“Today, although some women are satisfied with their role in the Church, the attention of the Plenary Council has been frequently drawn to the task that remains, particularly with regard to the participation of women in leadership structures and of governance,” the document said.

“Authentic witness to the equal dignity of all baptized persons requires addressing issues of power imbalance, decision-making, authority, and agency.”

The framework includes proposed motions to address these issues, including ensuring greater representation of women at all levels of church governance, national, diocesan and parochial.

Discussing the principle of synodality, the cadre notes that Pope Francis has often spoken out against “a culture of clericalism that promotes privilege and permits the abuse of power,” and stressed that such a clerical culture “can be prove particularly divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.

Draft measures propose that the plenary council undertake to respect the principle according to which “that decision-making is not reserved to those who exercise sacramental power” and that, since “the power of decision in the Church is most often exercised by men, care should be taken to pay attention to women’s voices when discussing all matters.

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Australia’s bishops announced the plenary council, Australia’s first since the 1930s, in 2018.

A plenary council is a regional assembly — one for the whole territory of an episcopal conference — which, according to the canon law of the Church, meets to discuss “the growth of the faith, the organization of the pastoral community and the regulation of morals”. and of the common ecclesiastical discipline which must be observed, promoted and protected. It can only be convened by a conference of bishops, with the authorization of the Vatican.

Like a synod, plenary councils often involve the presence of various types of experts, lay and clerical, although only serving diocesan bishops, auxiliary bishops, and coadjutor bishops in the territory have a deliberative vote on the proceedings.

Unlike a synod, which is a purely consultative process, a plenary council can establish canonical norms binding for the entire region on anything that does not contradict the universal law of the Church, or divine and natural law – although its decisions are submitted to the Vatican Review.

The council’s second General Assembly is due to meet in the first week of July and the council’s final acts should be ready to be sent to Rome for ratification by August.

There are nearly 5.5 million Catholics in Australia, which is the largest Christian denomination in the country and constitutes almost a quarter of the country’s population.

A study 2016 found that less than 12% of Australian Catholics attend Mass on a typical weekend. The same study found that a growing share of Mass attendees in Australia were immigrants to the country, with less than 10% of Australian-born Catholics typically attending Mass. More than 40% of Mass attendees in 2016 were at least 65 years old, according to the study. .

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Ed. note: This report was edited shortly after its publication to clarify that the proposals circulated by the editorial board were formulated in response to previous meetings of council participants.

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