Australia's Catholic bishops on Thursday issued a working document ahead of the first assembly of a landmark plenary council in October.

The text, released on Feb. 25, will inform discussions at the first plenary council of the Australian Church since 1937.

The document, entitled "Continuing the Journey," calls for a sweeping renewal of the Church in Australia. 

It highlights a series of "major topics," including "strengthening practices of discernment and synodality," "co-responsibility in mission and governance," "renewing the Church's solidarity with First Australians and those on the margins of society," and responding to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It says that these topics will help to form "the skeleton of an agenda" at the plenary council's first assembly.

Australia's Catholic bishops formally announced their decision to hold a plenary council in May 2016. Pope Francis ratified the plan in March 2018.

According to the plenary council's website, "a plenary council is the highest form of gathering of local church and has legislative and governance authority. The decisions that are made at the council become binding for the Catholic Church in Australia." 

The organizers were forced to change their plans for the plenary council because of the coronavirus crisis. 

The first assembly was originally scheduled to take place in Adelaide in October 2020, followed by a second assembly in Sydney in July 2021.

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The first assembly will now be held "via a multi-modal format" on Oct. 3-10, 2021, followed by a second assembly in Sydney on July 4-9, 2022.

In the plenary council's first phase, known as "Listening and Dialogue," more than 222,000 people took part, making 17,457 submissions. In the second phase, called "Listening and Discernment," Catholics across the country participated in "writing and discernment sessions."

Plenary council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, S.D.B., said on Feb. 25: "This is an exciting step forward and we take it together, amidst a time of great change. More than 220,000 people participated in the first stages of Listening and Dialogue, and those voices can be heard clearly in the working document."

Organizers have also issued a reflection guide to accompany the working document, known in Latin as the "instrumentum laboris."

Costelloe, the archbishop of Perth, said: "Every part of this journey so far has been embedded in prayer and, similarly, I invite people to recognize the need to engage with the instrumentum laboris with an open heart, an open mind, and a receptive spirit."