Listen to what the Spirit is saying

The second session of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia should be remembered as an event featuring many blessed defining moments. The session, which concluded on 9 July 2022, was a success, however, there is a risk that the silent protest regarding the statement, ‘Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men’, will be remembered as having overshadowed the final outcomes of the Council. The protest was a defining moment creating a shift in thinking and a more synodal opportunity for the Church in Plenary.



The original iteration of the statement failed to meet its two thirds majority to pass, falling short by one vote. Of the remaining one third a significant number voted yes but with reservations. A scary moment for many of us. Would the Church at this most important gathering have nothing to say on the significant role that women have in our Church, or their dignity? 

Whilst a crisis at one point for the Plenary, a more open conversation was the outcome of the protest and subsequent deliberations. More interventions for each of the motions was welcomed by the Chair. A more open listening was not only the synodal process in action but also the voice of the Holy Spirit moving and guiding the members and delegates of the Plenary Council.

It takes great courage to stand for what is right, to be open to listen and to hear what others are saying and to respond appropriately takes heart. It will remain a significant and defining moment of the Plenary Council for me personally.

There is much to be proud of in the synodal journey the Church made getting ready for this Plenary and in the Plenary itself. The gathering in parish, agency and small groups of friends and family to ‘listen to what the spirit is saying’ is a significant achievement in and of itself. It will influence, shape, and define our Church for generations to come where it matters most, at the coal face of our Church communities and in our invitation to live faith more broadly.

Whilst we here in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle are well on the way to fulfilling many of the Decrees of this Fifth Plenary Council already, once they are enacted formally it will add a language and a credibility nationally to many of our statements and action plans. The declarations of the Fifth Plenary Council will help define our future and assist us to continue to develop the work first recorded in the Gospels and lived in Jesus. 

There is much in our history that brings us shame. It continues to influence and shape us as it should. However, there is also much that we as a Church can and should be proud of. We can let our good works define who we are now and into the future, without losing sight of what has been. The Fifth Plenary Council is certainly one moment we can be proud, it was wonderful work. There are many other instances where we continue to do great work and are seen as a blessing by the many communities we as Catholic Christians are a part of.

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