“Ultimately, with more prayer and reflection, we came up with a much improved chapter on the dignity and role of women,” he said.
The decrees of the council include the creation of diocesan pastoral councils across Australia, diocesan synods to be held over the next five years and wide consultation on the creation of a national synodal body for church collaboration.
The plenary council’s closing statement said members “sought to be true to their mission to listen and hear ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches'”. He acknowledged the disruptions to daily life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters and war.
Some moments of the council’s final week were “calm and harmonious,” while others were “tense and challenging,” the closing statement said, adding, “every moment was blessed; the whole week has been filled with grace, though never cheap grace. The statement hailed “listening and discernment practices” as “essential dimensions of the implementations of this plenary council.”
“They will reshape our engagement with the world, our mission of evangelism and our works of service in a rapidly changing environment,” the statement said, adding that “the work has only just begun.”
Implementation will be reviewed by the Commission of Bishops for the Plenary Council. Interim reports will be published in 2023 and 2025, with a final review report expected in 2027.
Archbishop Fisher spoke about the achievements of the full council and any shortcomings in his remarks to The Catholic Weekly.
“There was direct engagement with some of the really ‘difficult’ issues, like Indigenous issues, child sexual abuse and the place of women in the Church,” he said. “These discussions were sometimes very emotional and potentially very confrontational. Yet, in the end, there was a high level of agreement on most of them.
“It is much better for these issues to be addressed directly rather than presenting a sort of false unity by avoiding the difficult questions,” the Archbishop continued.
He praised the assembly’s work in offering “some good reflections on liturgy, marriage catechumenate, youth ministry, formation programs for lay leaders, including those in rural and remote areas, and management of the earth”. He also welcomed his appreciation for the place of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia.
However, Fisher worried that there wasn’t enough content dedicated to “the missionary impulse” and “a passion to bring people to Christ, to conversion, and to new life in Him.” He said there was too little attention given to people on the margins and that there was “no practical proposal” to promote religious freedom at a time when it is “clearly under threat”.
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He feared that “ordinary” priests and lay Catholics, including those born abroad, were underrepresented in the assembly, which could have had a distorting effect on the debates.
Still, he said, most of the proposals had “a very high acceptance rate among lay members and pastors.”
“All will find good things in the final decrees when they come out, and people should look for them, look for inspiration and encouragement in their own lives of missionary discipleship,” Fisher said.
People will also find gaps and topics they think should have been addressed, Fisher said. He wondered why so little attention was paid to lay people, mothers, consecrated nuns or “Catholics whose main vocation is in the world”.
“There is very little that speaks of the crisis of vocations to marriage and parenthood, and priestly and religious life,” he added.
Although there is a whole chapter on the importance of the liturgy, in particular the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, Fisher said, he had wanted to see “positive proposals” on how the Church can guarantee the priests who can celebrate these sacraments.