The recently appointed members of the new Council for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry believe their role advising several Australian Catholic bishops is “groundbreaking” and an enormous source of hope for future collaboration between clergy and laity.
The Council is an advisory body to the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, which consists of eight bishops from around the country. In March, the nine-member Council met with the bishops for the first time in Sydney, with most able to attend in person.
Adelaide’s Peter Bierer said the gathering was very encouraging and demonstrated the collaborative spirit he hoped for.
“There wasn’t a separate meeting for the bishops prior to the gathering where they decided what we should be consulted on or what we shouldn’t hear about,” he said.
“It was refreshing to be part of the meeting as a whole, to be able to listen, share and reflect as equals around the table. The openness and candidness of the bishops as well as the Council members was wonderful.”
There was also a sense of “mutual respect” between the bishops and the Council members at the gathering, Mr Bierer said.
“Respect opens the door to being able to listen deeply to the other. Through listening, thoughtful sharing and Spirit-led discernment, the Commission and Council will be able to collaborate effectively,” he said.
“This may sound idealistic, and it is a slower path than what we may want sometimes, but it will likely have longer lasting effectiveness. The Council is eager to be involved, to be consulted, to raise questions and challenges, and to propose new ideas. I think the bishops are equally eager to engage in this way.”
Fellow Council member Kylie Cullen agreed there was a great spirit of synodality present at the meeting.
“Everyone got a space to speak, and all were listened to respectfully,” she said. “I think it’s groundbreaking in the Catholic Church in Australia that we have bishops sitting at the same table with lay men and women truly wanting their input.”
The Council’s purpose is to assist the Commission with insights, experiences and consultation with local Catholic communities. It will also advise the Commission in planning and developing strategies related to outreach, evangelisation and formation, among other tasks.
Bishop Michael Morrissey, a member of the Commission, said the gathering of the bishops with the Council members was a time of grace where a genuine care and commitment to the wider Church was on display.
“The members of the Council reflect a wide variety of our Church’s life from many places in Australia,” Bishop Morrissey said.
“[They] will provide grounded advice in faith and life for evangelisation initiatives, and this will allow the gifts of the non-ordained to flourish in our Church as we work with each other in a synodal way.”
The Council members were appointed late last year after an expressions of interest process was completed. Ms Cullen, who was greatly surprised to be chosen for the Council, said she had high hopes for its work and involvement in the life of the Church.
“My hope for the Council is to be an enthusiastic, truthful and inspirational voice to the Bishops Commission,” she said.
“We are all very different and have varying backgrounds and different levels of expertise. I hope we will be able to provide the Bishops Commission with a fresh view and a truthful outlook.”
Melbourne’s Catherine Cooney said she hoped the new partnership would create a supportive structure for the bishops to “consider and deliberate on their areas of responsibility”, as well as enabling transparency in decision-making.
“I also hope that it provides the bishops with a sense that they are supported and valued,” she said.
Mr Bierer said the collaboration between the Commission and the Council had the potential to “transform the way we are Church together”.
“I think this form of collaboration will result in initiatives, programs, documents and statements from the bishops that reflect more closely the everyday realities of the diversity of Australians,” he said.
“I also think it will be a model for all levels of Church in Australia, from parishes and dioceses, to agencies and even households and families.
“I hope that the Council and Commission will be able to bring new energy and life to our shared work in evangelisation and ministry which reflects the realities of people in all aspects of Australian life and culture.”
Image: Left to right: Clara Geoghegan, Jwan Kada, James Camden, Bishop Brian Mascord, Malcolm Hart, Lisa McKerr, Shayne Bennett, Catherine Cooney, Fr Chris Ryan MGL, Bishop Gregory Homeming OCD, Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, Kylie Cullen, Bishop Shane Mackinlay, Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Fr Khalid Marogi, Bishop Mychola Bychok CSsR.
Words: Matthew Biddle