On Catholica today we're going to take you away from our own website to bring to your attention some information that we think is valuable and provides considerable food for reflection. The subject is Synods — those meetings at the grass roots level of the Church that are supposed help with the guidance and governance of the Church. We draw your attention to a detailed study that has recently been published by Peter J Wilkinson into the history of Synods in Australia; and we also direct your attention to the Synod presently underway in the Diocese of Broken Bay here in New South Wales.
Did you know that...
"since the establishment of the Catholic Church in Australia in 1834, at least 145 Catholic synods — 3 provincial, 4 plenary and 138 diocesan — have been held throughout the nation. However, in the 46 years since the Second Vatican Council, which explicitly called for synods 'to flourish with new vigour' [Christus Dominus, n. 36], and insisted that the laity have an active role in them, no plenary or provincial councils or synods have been held, and only five Australian bishops have convened just six diocesan synods"?
I've lifted that interesting pearl of information from an essay Peter Wilkinson has just drawn my attention to that he published on Vatican II Catholic Forum yesterday [LINK].
Instead of our own lead commentary on Catholica today I principally want to draw your attention to Peter's essay and also to the work of a Synod that is presently underway in the Diocese of Broken Bay here in Sydney. While I personally grow more despairing with each passing day for the future of Catholicism under the direction of its present leadership and the various crises it is facing, I do continue to have faith that Catholicism does have something to offer to the world and whatever might emerge from the ashes of where things are presently heading may owe much to some of these initiatives some are still engaged in. Perhaps the information Peter Wilkinson conveys in the quoted paragraph above is significantly symptomatic of the reason why the institution is in a state of crisis with fewer and fewer bothering to participate any longer?
Peter's essay contains a valuable trove of research he has undertaken into all the Synods that have been help in Australia since the Church was formally established in this country in 1834. Diocese by diocese he provides a breakdown of the synods that have been held and what they were convened to discuss. Prior to the changes unleashed by Vatican II most of them were essentially just meetings of priests. Of the total 145 Synods Peter mentions, 139 of them were held prior to 1960. Partly offsetting that is the fact that the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops was only established in 1976 — another initiative inspired by Vatican II — and the Conference has some features similar to a Synod. (Peter expands on that further in his essay.) The Synods that have been convened involving lay people have all occurred in the 21st Century with the exceptions of one held in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese in 1989 and another in Maitland-Newcastle in 1992-92. It might also be mentioned that the maligned Bishop Bill Morris of the Toowoomba Diocese convened five diocesan assemblies from 1998. Peter Wilkinson explains further in a footnote to his essay: "four Australian bishops have also convened eight non-canonical assemblies, including five 'Diocesan Gatherings or Assemblies' in Toowoomba, one 'Diocesan Assembly' in Maitland-Newcastle, a series of 'Diocesan Consultations' in Wollongong and a 'Synod of the Laity' in Perth, all with elements of a diocesan synod, but without the canonical restrictions."
I commend to you Peter Wilkinson's essay for the wealth of valuable knowledge that it contains on the raison d'etre for Synods and the history of the part they have played in this country:
The Broken Bay Synod presently underway...
Most lay people in this country would probably not know what a Synod is and how it operates. Thanks to the wonders of these new communication technologies all of you can perhaps get an overview by looking at the videos from the first Diocesan Synod gathering held in Broken Bay on held on 3rd and 4th June last year. That Synod gathering was itself the culmination of some 18 months of preparation and a lengthy series of parish level meetings that provided the groundwork for what was brought to the meeting in June 2011. The good people of the Broken Bay Diocese are presently engaged in reflection of the outcome of that meeting and this coming May [25-26 May 2012] a final Synod gathering will be held from which "a list of vision statements and actions will be presented to Bishop David Walker for the future of the Diocese".
The second commendation I'd like to make today is a perusal at least of the Diocesan of Broken Bay website Synod pages and perhaps especially the videos which are available on a separate site that give a flavour of the process that has been undertaken in that Diocese:
The videos of the First Synod Gathering held 3-4 May 2011 can be viewed at: synod.vividas.com
Perhaps on Catholica those readers who were involved in any of the other recent Synods — Brisbane in 2003, Canberra and Goulburn in 1989 and 2004, Maitland-Newcastle 1992-93, Cairns 2008-11, as well as the current one being held in Broken Bay — or the Diocesan Assemblies mentioned above might provide some kind of feedback on what they felt was achieved.
Brian Coyne, 28 Feb 2012
Brian Coyne is the editor and publisher of Catholica.
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