The Fifth Plenary Council of Australia began with a general consultation in the country, from which a instrumentum laboris – a working text – has been prepared. According to a commentator, there would have been 17,500 suggestions presented by 220,000 people consulted.
This working paper contains several issues, such as co-responsibility in mission and governance, a response to the Royal Commission on institutional responses to child sexual abuse, church solidarity with early Australians and those who are on the margins of society and the promotion of an integral ecology for all towards our common home, the Earth.
The council held a first plenary assembly from October 2 to 10, 2021 in Adelaide. Then a second from July 3 to 9, 2022 in Sydney. Eight texts were approved at the end of this last assembly, which will have to be examined in Rome before being approved.
Each text is accompanied by a decree. The first text deals with reconciliation: it is a question of making repentance in relation to the aboriginal populations of the Torres Strait. The decree calls for the development of a liturgy with “culturally appropriate use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander symbols and rituals.” An inculturation with pagan rites…
A second text makes repentance for abuses and the decree provides a liturgy to express it. The third text evokes the mission: education, social apostolate, ecumenical relations and interreligious dialogue.
Strong dispute over the female diaconate
The fourth text, “Testifying to the equal dignity of women and men”, gave rise to a most interesting and revealing episode. A motion committed the Church of Australia to “consider women for the ministry of deacon – if Pope Francis authorizes such ministry in light of the findings of the reconstituted Study Commission on the Female Diaconate”.
The motion obtained a qualified majority – two thirds or more of the voters present – among the participants present as advisory. But it did not meet the qualified majority among the members having a vote deliberative – in other words the bishops.
Faced with this result, around sixty delegates refused to return to their seats after the morning break. Biting comments began to flow: “We’re supposed to be here to listen to the Spirit, that’s what everyone keeps saying. But it does seem that at least a few people arrived with a pretty clear sense of what the Spirit was supposed to say. »
Eventually, the bishops gave in, and they introduced the rejected motion in a conditional form: “That, if the universal law of the Church is amended to authorize the diaconate for women, the Plenary Council recommend to the Australian bishops to consider how best to implement it in the context of the Church in Australia. »
This episode calls for several remarks. On the one hand, the inconceivable pretension to think that the faithful united can bring a kind of new revelation: the teaching Church remains the episcopate; the faithful represent the Church taught. On the other hand, putting the truth to the vote is an aberration: it is not the majority that makes the truth.
Then, the cowardice of the bishops before their sacred duty to teach the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the same vein, the episode gives us the future of the Church under the regime of synodality towards which Pope Francis is tending with all his might.
Finally, the negation of a truth revealed in the text of a plenary council is the crowning achievement of this attitude. The female diaconate is an aberration for several reasons. A historical reason: there has never been a diaconate given to women by an order, throughout the history of the Church, although history knows of deaconesses who provide various aids. However, in the tradition, the practice has a capital value.
But there is a deeper reason. The Council of Trent recalls that the sacrament of Holy Orders is composed of at least three degrees: episcopate, priesthood and diaconate, not wanting to decide for the other degrees conferred in the Church. If they are essential degrees – and they are – they are under the same law.
However, it has always been accepted, and this was recalled by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that the priesthood can only be conferred on men. The proposition therefore necessarily applies both to the episcopate and to the diaconate. No theologian worthy of the name, no bishop can ignore such a thing. But the Australian episcopate, which had blocked this erroneous proposal, yielded to numbers.
A decree calls for a review of the directives concerning the participation of the laity in preaching – according to c. 766 of the new code, which admits it in “certain circumstances”. The bishops refused to endorse a broader proposal. Another decree calls for the widening of the use of penitential ceremonies.
Finally, in connection with the eighth and last text which deals with governance, the synodal couplet is widely intoned: “May dioceses and eparchies help parishes to establish and strengthen appropriate synodal structures by developing guidelines and providing resources for the development of parish pastoral councils (…) and other parish bodies. »
“That representatives of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Catholic Religious Australia and of theAssociation of Ministerial Public Legal Persons form a working group (…) to establish a round table structure, to foster, evaluate and report periodically on the development of synodal leadership across the Church in Australia. »
With such results, it is not even necessary to launch into the synod on synodality: the faith is already auctioned off by the voices of the “People of God” who feel animated by the Spirit to evacuate all which embarrasses the modern apostate spirit.