Overcoming ‘the snag’ in Plenary Council discussions

Plenary Council consultant Shane Dwyer (ACBC)

If you haven’t heard that the Church in Australia is preparing for its first Plenary Council since the 1930s you may not have been paying attention, writes Shane Dwyer. Source: Catholic Voice.

You might recall the Year of Grace in 2013, which was held as a way for us to begin to prepare for this event. So, we have been on the road for at least five years now. In the last year, it is has gone up a notch, with the formal launch of the preparation and dialogue phase occurring at Pentecost this year.

Since the formation of the Plenary Council Planning Committee I have acted as a consultant providing assistance on any theological matters that arise.

A guiding conviction that has emerged from this committee is that all people, no matter their degree of affiliation with the Church, be welcomed to the discussion and have a voice on who we are as a Church into the future.

Having sat with a number of groups throughout Australia as they seek to prepare their submission to the Plenary Council, I have come across a recurrent snag. It relates to how groups instinctively go about the listening and dialogue process.

From what I have seen it comes down to the basic predisposition of the more forthright members of the group.

For those where the dominant figures are comfortable with prayer and open dialogue, the group functions more or less as the planning committee has intended. The discussion begins with prayer and silence, where each person present attempts to get in touch with what they believe God is asking of us today.

Because the discussion is grounded in prayer, people then more easily share their stories and insights, knowing that while not everyone might connect with what they are saying, they will be heard and respected.

It becomes another matter altogether if the dominant figures either foreshorten the prayer and silence, or dispense with it altogether. In those circumstances, I notice a more adversarial approach.

Instead of focusing on what each of us believes God is asking of us, the question much more quickly becomes, "What do I think is wrong with the Church?" Or, "What are my personal opinions about what ‘the Church’ should be doing?"

– Shane Dwyer is the Director of the National Centre for Evangelisation and the Catholic Enquiry Centre.


Get over yourself: the only way to prepare for the Plenary Council (Catholic Voice

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