The role of the laity
Our starting point is the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). In paragraph 37, the Council states that the laity in the Church have an obligation to express their opinion on matters related to the good of the Church. The same paragraph also requires ‘spiritual shepherds’ to ‘willingly employ their prudent advice’ and to consider the ‘projects, suggestions and desires’ proposed by the laity.
[The laity] should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. (Paragraph 37.)
Pope Francis has regularly made a similar point, demanding that all sections of the People of God speak and be heard, and emphasises the need for a synodal Church. Given the failings of the Australian Church in recent times, there is an urgent need for the faithful here to speak and be heard.
Discerning the sense of the faithful: the limitations of a vertical consultation process
While the consultation process administered by the Plenary Council (PC) Secretariat is thorough and tightly planned, one limitation is that is vertical one, with few links across parishes and other communities. It funnels information from parish consultations to a central point, the PC Secretariat, with only very limited, highly summarised, feedback to the grassroots. This has not allowed other parishes in the same diocese to find out what these consultations are revealing, or helped us to understand what the ‘sense of the faithful’ is in Australia. We, and many others, believe that horizontal processes to discern the sense of the faithful (e.g., by dialogue across parishes), are urgently needed.
What are parishes are discussing and proposing? Is there a shared view among the faithful about necessary changes in the Church?
Arising out of Stage 1 of the Plenary Council 2020 process, many of us came to think that there may be a highly consistent view across many parishes about the issues which PC2020 needs to address. There might indeed be a distinctive ‘sense of the faithful’. Lay people from five Victorian parishes – Cheltenham, Grovedale, Kilmore, Lower Templestowe and Parkville – decided to test this view. To this end, they analysed 22 parish submissions to Stage 1 of PC2020 and convened a meeting of about 60 people representing 30 parishes in Melbourne on 13 April 2019.
This process, limited as it was, provided some confirmation that there was a strong, coherent view about the changes necessary in the Church, widely shared by the faithful in many parishes. These discussions led to the Joint Parish Statement of May 2019, endorsed at that time by 27 parishes. The text of the statement is provided on the back of this brochure. This statement has continued to receive strong, but not of course unanimous, support in many quarters.
Promoting parish conversations about change
To explore further the shared sense of the faithful in the Australian Church, a number of parishes have established this website to foster greater communication between Catholic parishes in Australia. Our aim is to encourage parishes in Melbourne and elsewhere to share information about their parish discussions and recommendations for the Plenary Council 2020. We also hope that the website will become a valuable way for parishioners in the future to exchange information about the reforms that are taking place in their parishes. We invite all parishes across Australia to use it and to participate in its work.
How can you support us?
Sense of the Faithful is funded by donations from individuals, and we are seeking support from individuals to continue the operation of this website. Please contact us, or email us on this address , if you are able to offer support in the form of funds or help with the administration of the site, which would be most welcomed.