ADELAIDE, South Australia (ChurchMilitant.com) - At a much-anticipated meeting next year, Australia's bishops will consider ideas such as ordaining women, giving Holy Communion to non-Catholics and supporting same-sex marriage.
In October 2020, the Church in Australia will have a Plenary Council, at which all of Australia's active bishops will convene. Organizers are also scheduling a second session for mid-2021, likely in Sydney.
The website for the Plenary Council lists a series of "National Themes for Discernment" that will guide the discussion. These themes, the website states, are extrapolated from input given by the laity in a large-scale survey.
In preparation for the Plenary Council, dioceses throughout Australia have been gathering survey responses and hosting events called "listening and dialogue encounters." Participants were asked to reflect on the question: "What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?"
The council's website states that there have been more than 12,000 individual submissions and more than 4,000 group responses.
One of the "National Themes" listed on the site is titled "Inclusive, participatory and synodal." The webpage describing this theme states, "This National Theme for Discernment is inspired by the voices of the People of God who expressed a desire for individuals and groups within and also beyond the Church to find a better welcome and be incorporated more into her life and mission."
It also says, "There was an expressed need for stronger connections across the many parts of the Church, and with other Christian traditions."
Under the heading of "inclusive, participatory and synodal," some of the specific subjects listed for discussion are LGBT inclusion, ending priestly celibacy and female ordination.
These subjects appear in a "word-cloud" graphic on the council's website, which presents phrases from the survey responses in a jumble of bright colors and different font-sizes.
Included in the graphic are the following phrases:
Another phrase included in the word-cloud graphic is "Restore the Third Rite of Reconciliation." This is another name for general absolution, where a priest gives the absolution without penitents confessing their sins.
This is only supposed to be done in extreme circumstances, especially where there is a threat of death — such as with a group of soldiers before battle. But in some parts of Australia, general absolution was used broadly after the Second Vatican Council until the Vatican cracked down in the 1990s when Church authorities deemed the practice an abuse. Some have pointed out that those who were guilty of mortal sin were still supposed to go to confession the normal way as soon as they were able.
But there are some less controversial phrases as well, such as "better use of finances," "right-to-life issues," "care for the family" and "better preparation and support for married couples."
Regarding the nationwide opinion survey, several of Australia's bishops have said that they want feedback from vast numbers of people with diverse viewpoints — including viewpoints that may be at odds with Catholic teaching.
Archbishop Tim Costelloe of Perth is president of the Plenary Council. He said in a video about the council, "Before everything else, our job is to listen."
He added, "We will need to listen to many different voices, for God speaks in many different ways, some of them likely to surprise us."
Archbishop Costelloe also said in that video, "No matter where you might find yourself in relation to the Church — deeply involved, only partially engaged, uncertain or disillusioned or even angry, on the margins, or perhaps a friendly or critical outsider looking in — we need to hear from you."
Likewise, Bp. Vincent Long Van Nguyen of the Parramatta diocese once said about the "listening" process in preparation for the council, "[T]here must be space for everyone, especially those who have been hurt, excluded or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians, women, disaffected members."
Bishop Long argued that the Church "will be less than what Christ intends it to be when issues of inclusion and equality are not fully addressed."