“In the end with more prayer and reflection we ended up with a much improved chapter on the dignity and roles of women,” he said.
The council decrees include the establishment of diocesan pastoral councils across Australia, diocesan synods to be hosted within the next five years, and broad consultation about the creation of a national synodal body for Church collaboration.
The plenary council’s closing statement said members “sought to be faithful to their commission to listen to and hear ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches’.” It acknowledged the disruptions to daily life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters, and war.
Some moments during the council’s final week were “calm and harmonious” while others were “tense and difficult,” the closing statement said, adding, “every moment has been blessed; the entire week has been grace-filled, though never a cheap grace.” The statement praised “practices of listening and discernment” as “essential dimensions of the implementations of this plenary council.”
“They will re-shape our engagement with the world, our evangelizing mission and our works of service in a rapidly changing environment,” said the statement, adding, “the work has only begun.”
The implementation will be reviewed by the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council. Interim reports will be published in 2023 and 2025, with a final review report set for 2027.
Archbishop Fisher reflected on the plenary council’s achievements and possible shortcomings in remarks to The Catholic Weekly.
“There’s been a direct engagement with some of the really ‘hard’ issues, like Indigenous issues, child sexual abuse and the place of women in the Church,” he said. “Those discussions were sometimes very emotional and potentially very divisive. Yet in the end there was a high level of agreement on most of them.”
“It’s much better that such matters were confronted directly rather than presenting a kind of faux unity by avoiding the hard issues,” the archbishop continued.
He praised the assembly’s work to offer “some good thoughts on liturgy, marriage catechumenate, youth ministry, formation programs for lay leaders including those in rural and remote areas, and stewardship of the earth.” He also welcomed its appreciation for the place of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia.
However, Fisher worried there was not enough content dedicated to the “missionary impulse” and to “a passion for bringing people to Christ, to conversion and new life in Him.” He thought there was too little attention paid to people on the margins and there were “no practical proposals” to promote religious freedom at a time when it is “clearly threatened.”
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He worried that “ordinary” priests and lay Catholics, including those born overseas, were underrepresented in the assembly, and this might have had a distorting effect on the proceedings.
Still, he said, most proposals had “a very high rate of acceptance among the lay members and the pastors.”
“Everyone will find some good things in the final decrees when they come out, and people should look for those, look for inspiration and encouragement in their own missionary discipleship,” said Fisher.
People will also find gaps and subjects they think should have been addressed, Fisher said. He wondered why so little attention was given to lay men, mothers, vowed religious, or “Catholics whose principal vocation is in the world.”
“There’s very little that speaks to the crisis of vocations to marriage and parenting, and to priestly and religious life,” he added.
While there is a whole chapter on the importance of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance, Fisher said, he had wanted to see “positive proposals” on how the Church can secure the priests who can celebrate those sacraments.