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Australian plenary council finishes with united vote

Members of Australia’s plenary council backed 18 out of 19 motions Friday, the final day of voting during a sometimes tense week-long meeting.

Participants at the gathering in Sydney backed revised motions on female deacons and women’s participation in ministries that were initially rejected by the country’s bishops, provoking an angry protest.

They also voted on July 8 for wider use of general absolution instead of individual confession and called for a new English translation of the Roman Missal to succeed the version introduced in 2011. But the assembly rejected a motion to call on the Vatican to allow lay homilies during Mass.

The final acts of the council will now have to be compiled and sent to Rome for ratification.


How they voted: Women in the Church

✔️ Women deacons: Members voted on a reformulated motion saying “that, should the universal law of the Church be modified to authorize the diaconate for women, the Plenary Council recommends that the Australian Bishops examine how best to implement it in the context of the Church in Australia” - a step back from the original motion which would have effectively called on the pope to allow female ordination. 

The motion won a qualified majority (at least two-thirds) among both consultative voters (the bulk of participants) and deliberative voters (the bishops).

✔️ New opportunities for women: Another initially rejected and then revised motion - that dioceses commit “to supporting, with appropriate formation and recognition, new opportunities for women to participate in ministries that engage with the most important aspects of diocesan and parish life” - also achieved a qualified majority second time round.

✔️ The equal dignity of women and men: Voters backed an introductory statement asking the Church in Australia to act “in ways that witness clearly to the equal dignity of women and men,” “enhancing the role of women in the Church,” and “overcoming assumptions, culture, practices, and language that lead to inequality.”

✔️ Hearing women’s perspectives: A motion also passed committing the Church to ensuring that “the experiences and perspectives of women, including women who exercise ministry, are heard, considered and valued at local, diocesan and national levels.”

✔️ Implementing documents: The 277 council members called for two previous Australian bishops’ documents - Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus (1999) and Woman and Man: The Bishops Respond (2000) - to be implemented “more fully.”

How they voted: The Sacraments

✔️ New English Mass translation: The gathering backed a request for the bishops’ liturgy commission to prepare “a new English translation of the Roman Missal that is both faithful to the original text and sensitive to the call for language that communicates clearly and includes all in the assembly.”

✔️ Lectors, acolytes, and catechists: Participants asked dioceses to promote the “exercise of and formation for the ministries of Lector, Acolyte, and Catechist.”

✔️ Reviewing guidelines on preaching: Council members supported a motion saying that, given changes in the past 20 years, the bishops’ conference should review its 2003 guidelines “for lay people to participate in a formal ministry of Preaching in the Latin Church, as provided for in canon 766 of the Code of Canon Law.” 

  Lay homilies: The assembly rejected a motion seeking “an amendment to canon 767 to permit in the Latin Church, where appropriate, those entrusted with this ministry of Preaching to preach in the Eucharistic assembly, under the oversight of the local ordinary.”

✔️ Catechesis on Confession: Participants asked the bishops’ liturgy commission to devise “a sustained program of catechesis of the Sacrament of Penance to promote an understanding of the conditions for and appropriate practice of each of the three forms of the Rite of Penance.”

✔️ General absolution: The council invited the pope to “consider whether the Third Form of the Rite of Penance might have wider use on occasions when it is particularly appropriate, granted an understanding among the faithful of its distinctive nature and requirements.”

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How they voted: Formation

✔️ Youth ministry: Members backed an introductory statement asking for “ongoing support and strategies for those who minister to young people,” as well as the promotion of “the rich variety of spiritual and devotional traditions of the Church” and “synodal practices such as encounter, accompaniment, listening, dialogue, discernment, and collaboration.”

✔️ Strategic policies: Delegates endorsed a motion asking dioceses to promote “strategic policies” to “identify and support ministry and leadership formation.”

✔️ Cooperation: Members urged the bishops’ conference, the Australian Catholic Biblical Association, and the Australian Catholic Theological Association to help develop formation programs.

✔️ Working group on formation: Voters asked the bishops to “establish a working group with expertise in formation to develop national Formation for Leadership strategies and guidelines designed for clergy, religious and lay leaders to address the possibilities and challenges of synodal leadership.” 

✔️ Working group on Catholic social teaching: The council asked the bishops’ conference to create a working group to “develop a national framework for formation in Catholic Social Teaching.”


How they voted: Closing motions

✔️ Five-year review: Members backed plans to monitor how the resolutions are put into practice during a five-year “implementation phase.” There will be interim reports in 2023 and 2025, and a final one in 2027.

✔️ Review of previous decrees: A motion passed calling for a review of the decrees of the Fourth Plenary Council of Australia in 1937, “to determine those whose validity may endure” following Vatican II and changes to Church law.

✔️ Closing the council: A final motion approved the plenary council’s closure on July 9.

What’s next?

Following the mammoth day of voting, the plenary council will end with a Mass on Saturday at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. 

In August, the acts of the second general assembly will be finalized and need to be sent to Rome for ratification. Back in Australia, there will be a “discussion of the way forward.”

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