Plenary Council 2020

Plenary Council 2020 and the Diocese of Broken Bay 

What is God asking of the Church in Australia?

 It is this question that has moved the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to announce a Plenary Council of the Church in Australia to be held in the year 2020. The Bishops Conference has received approval from Pope Francis for the celebration of this Council, the first such Council to be held in Australia for some 80 years.

What is a Plenary Council? Put simply, a Plenary Council is the highest form of communion between the various local or particular churches of a nation. It is, then, not simply a meeting of bishops but a process that calls for the participation of the entire Catholic community. It invites the whole Church into dialogue, to discern how its communities can live the Gospel with renewed vitality amidst new questions and challenges. The Plenary Council itself will feature representation from among the laity, religious and ordained ministers, together with the bishops of Australia, as the culmination of a sustained pilgrimage in faith.

A helpful overview of the Plenary Council is shared in the following video: 

As such a Plenary Council is an expression of the ‘synodality’ of the Church, the nature of the Church as a communion of persons ‘walking together’ in faith as disciples of the Lord. The Plenary Council recognises that all the baptised have received a common vocation to be a ‘sacrament or instrumental sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all humanity’ (Lumen Gentium 1) and upholds with faith that it is by our mutual listening to the Holy Spirit – who guides the Church ‘into all truth’ (John 16:13) – that we can realise our mission most deeply as a community of faith.

As set out in Canon Law, a Plenary Council has legislative power with the final decisions reserved to the bishops by nature of their episcopal ordination as successors of the Apostles. The bishops are obliged to make decisions on the basis of their careful discernment of the work of the Holy Spirit in the minds and hearts of all the People of God, recognising that the sense of the faith of the faithful – what is known as the sensus fidelium – is a source of the Church’s life and learning as it seeks to fulfil its Gospel mission.

This means that the Plenary Council is more than a single event to be held in the year 2020 but an extended process that invites the entire Catholic community, even now, to ‘walk the path of dialogue’ and interpret what God is doing today and how God is calling the Church to live the Gospel into the future. It calls the Church to undertake a pilgrimage of listening and learning, to be a synodal and receptive church that engages in honest speaking and mutual listening to the Holy Spirit, to share insights and also hear insights shared.

Throughout this process of listening, dialogue and prayer, experiences of diverse lives will be welcomed and invited to share their sense of faith, questions and hopes for the Catholic Church – from those who are attempting to live a committed and sacramental life in the Church, those baptised Catholics with lesser involvement in ecclesial life, to those who are vulnerable in Australian society, who may be more distant from the Church, or who have been hurt and may or may not still regard themselves as Catholic in some way.

We are invited by the announcement of a Plenary Council to develop together a culture of dialogue and discernment to determine how best to ensure the pastoral needs of the people of God are provided for and, with regard for the universal law of the Church, ‘to decide what seems opportune for the increase of faith, the organisation of common pastoral action, and the regulation of morals and of the common ecclesiastical discipline which is to be observed, promoted and protected’ (Code of Canon Law, c.445).

Following their listening to and discernment with the whole Church the members of the Plenary Council will convene in 2020. This will include all active bishops, vicars general, episcopal vicars, some major superiors of religious institutes, rectors of major seminaries and Catholic universities, and deans of faculties of theology and canon law. Others that can also be called to the Plenary Council include lay persons, retired bishops, other priests, and religious. The bishops will have a deliberative vote (that is, cast a ballot to determine outcomes) while other council delegates will have a consultative vote (the right to speak about the issues under discussion). The Plenary Council will then enact laws which, subject to approval of the Holy See, will bind the Catholic Church in Australia.

In calling a Plenary Council the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has recognised that the patterns of change confronting the Church and the wider community impel the Australian Catholic Church to review, analyse and discern the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel (Gaudium et Spes 4). It has opened a pathway for dialogue, for the exchange of faith and ideas, and to encounter the Holy Spirit and the Church in one another.

Plenary Council 2020 will be the fifth plenary council in Australia’s history with the last plenary council held in 1937, some eighty years ago. Two sessions for the Plenary Council have been proposed to the Holy See, the first session in the latter half of 2020 and the second session in May 2021.

More information is available at the national Plenary Council 2020 website:

Who is involved in the organisation of the Council?

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has established a Bishops Commission to oversee, plan and prepare for the Plenary Council which will have three phases: preparation, celebration and implementation.

The Chair of the Bishops Commission is Archbishop Mark Coleridge (Archdiocese of Brisbane). Other members of the Commission include Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB (Archdiocese of Perth), Archbishop Philip Wilson (Archdiocese of Adelaide), Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFMConv (Diocese of Parramatta), Bishop Michael Kennedy (Diocese of Armidale), and Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay OLM (Maronite Diocese of St Maroun). Archbishop Timothy Costelloe will serve as President of the Council session themselves.

A Facilitation Team has also been appointed including Ms Lana Turvey-Collins, Fr Noel Connolly SSC, and Mr Peter Gates (Catholic Mission) together with an Executive Committee for the Plenary Council which includes people with particular expertise related to the holding of a Plenary Council. The Executive Committee members have a range of backgrounds, are diverse in their experience and will offer advice and guidance to the Facilitation Team and the Bishops Commission throughout the Plenary Council journey.

Our Participation as the Diocese of Broken Bay

As a local Church, the Diocese of Broken Bay will enter into this national process of dialogue and discernment beginning with a year of listening in 2018, followed by discernment throughout 2019 and the sharing of proposals to the Plenary Council in 2020.

This local dialogue will not only inform the national Plenary Council but also the discernment of our Bishop, parishes and local communities, our schools and agencies in the Broken Bay Diocese on how best to express the life and mission of Jesus at this critical juncture of our life as Church.

Our Plenary journey in the Diocese of Broken Bay will commence formally this year at the Feast of Pentecost (20 May) with the sharing of a Pastoral Letter by Bishop Peter. We will seek to dedicate this first year to listening – listening to one another by listening to God, to grow in a sense of where the Spirit might be calling the Church to move.

As a Diocese we must first listen to understand, give our full attention to the Word of God and to each other, before we undertake a process of discernment in 2019 and propose ideas for the good of the Australian Church as a whole in 2020.

At our Pentecost launch, the call will be issued for ‘Local Animators’ in each of our Broken Bay parishes and church communities, each Catholic primary and secondary school, CatholicCare centre and network, religious order and ecclesial movement to assist in coordinating and encouraging listening sessions in their local community.

A support kit will be distributed to each parish priest, principal and local leader throughout the Diocese outlining the role of these key leaders. Briefly, Local Animators will distribute Plenary Council guides that will support local conversations, and facilitate and encourage others to lead listening sessions with these guides. They will record and collate the feedback from their local community and, together with their local leader, complete a summary of the dialogue and share this with their own community as well as our Bishop and Diocese. Training for these tasks will be provided to our Local Animators in August 2018.

These Local Animators will then facilitate and promote local listening sessions in our Catholic communities of Broken Bay from August to October. Again, guides will be provided to help with this process. During this three month period, Bishop Peter will visit many of our communities to hear firsthand the sense of faith among the people of Broken Bay.

Regional forums will also be convened in October to give our different regions of the Central Coast, North Shore and Northern Beaches an opportunity to share their experience and faith in further dialogue.

Then in November and December we will hold diocesan assemblies with our people able to choose either the 24 November at The Cathedral Parish or 1 December at The Entrance Parish. The focus of these gatherings will be on the national agenda and an opportunity to share with the National Facilitation Team for Plenary Council 2020 a sense of where and how God is calling the Church to grow. As these months also mark the end of the Year of Youth, the youth of our Diocese will also take a central place in this dialogue and be invited to share their voice with all of us as the Catholic community of Broken Bay.

More Information

To learn more about the Plenary Council process, visit the national website at We encourage you to share the videos in the “Resources” section of the website within your local parish, school or community, and invite others to share their heart and mind in the national discernment that will take place over the next three years.

Daniel Ang
Director, Office for Evangelisation, Diocese of Broken Bay
Executive Committee, Plenary Council 2020

Catholic Diocese of
Broken Bay

Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road
Pennant Hills NSW 2120

PO Box 340
Pennant Hills NSW 1715

Phone 02 9847 0000
Fax 02 9847 0001

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