First Plenary Council Assembly mixes in-person, online format

Media Release | December 2 2020


The first assembly of the Plenary Council will take place with a combination of online and face-to-face participation as uncertainty remains over restrictions on travel and gatherings.

The decision to hold the October 2021 assembly in a “multi-modal” format was reached last week based on feedback from a number of groups, including the steering committee for the Council assemblies, the Plenary Council’s facilitation team and risk assessors.

Plenary Council president Archbishop Costelloe SDB said while COVID-19 travel restrictions might be lifted by the time of the first assembly, ongoing social distancing requirements and questions around flight schedules and costs were concerns.

“In announcing earlier this year the postponement of the first assembly for 12 months, we were confident that by October 2021 restrictions in relation to travel and public gatherings would have largely disappeared,” he said.

“This now appears much less certain. Among other concerns, the Adelaide venue we had selected was unlikely to be able to host the gathering of more than 300 people due to social distancing requirements.”

Archbishop Costelloe said the bishops, during their biannual meeting last week, wrestled with the decision before conceding that the move to a multi-modal gathering was the only realistic option.

Under that format, delegates will gather in local groups – diocesan, inter-diocesan or provincial – and participate in some Council sessions within those groups. Other sessions will take place with those groups engaging in conversation, prayer and discernment with other groups around Australia.

“We recognised that in order for this to be a true plenary council, it couldn’t solely take place within geographical regions,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“It’s clear this isn’t the preferred way forward, but there was a sense that we couldn’t just postpone the Council for another 12 months and hope for the best.”

Peter Gates, from the Plenary Council’s facilitation team, said while contingency planning for an online assembly began as the pandemic’s second wave in Victoria unfolded, the decision to move to a “multi-modal” gathering means the planning can now proceed with urgency.

“We had essentially been preparing for an in-person gathering, while at the same time trying to devise a backup plan if COVID-related restrictions remained in place,” he said.

“Now we can focus solely on ensuring that the first assembly can honour and carry forward the listening, dialogue and discernment that has already taken place, albeit in ways we couldn’t have imagined a year ago.”

Archbishop Costelloe said it is important to remember that the Plenary Council is a years-long journey and that there will be a second assembly in Sydney in July 2022.

“The first assembly will inevitably take on a somewhat different flavour because of the multi-modal format, but the key principles of prayer, of discernment and of renewal in Christ remain central,” he said.


Adelaide to host Plenary Council in October 2021


Adelaide has been selected as the venue for the first of two historic national gatherings to consider the future of the Catholic Church in Australia. Adelaide will host the opening assembly of the historic Plenary Council from October 3-10 2021 with the second assembly to be held in Sydney from July 4-9 2022.

Two members of the Adelaide Archdiocese have been appointed to a committee that will work closely with the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission to prepare for the 2020 Plenary Council. Sarah Moffatt (acting chancellor) and John Lochowiak (manager of Aboriginal Services at Centacare Catholic Family Services) together with 12 others from around Australia have accepted an appointment to the Plenary Council Executive Committee.

The Council recently released six thematic Discernment Papers which have been distributed to parishes and communities for discussion. 

Click here to read the six thematic Discernment Papers

Click here to read the latest Plenary news stories.

Click here to read the final report of the Listening and Dialogue phase Sunday July 28 2019.

Click here to email Sarah if you have any questions.


Discernment for schools

Discernment for schools.jpg

A Plenary Council is the highest formal gathering of all local churches and is an opportunity for bishops and other representatives of dioceses and eparchies to discern what God is asking of us in Australia at this time. It has the authority to make Church laws based on the results of this.

The FIRST PHASE involved asking the question: What is God asking us in Australia at this time? Approximately 222,000 people participated in this dialogue phase and 6 themes emerged. Namely, how God is asking us to be a Christ-centre Church that is:

  • Missionary and evangelising
  • Inclusive, participatory and synodal
  • Prayerful and Eucharistic
  • Humble, healing and merciful
  • A joyful, hope-filled servant community
  • Open to conversion, renewal and reform

The SECOND PHASE involves further discerning these themes. We would like to involve staff and students in this process and have developed an alternative way to engage them in the phase 2 process.

How? Download the pdf below for information on how to encourage discussion, collect shared ideas and submit to the Plenary Council.

 Discernment for Schools.pdf



What have we accomplished together so far?


Plenary Council Journey in 2019


  • March 6 – Ash Wednesday marks the close of the Listening and Dialogue stage.
  • April / May – National Centre for Pastoral Research collates and analyses all responses. A draft preliminary National Report is developed, with emergent themes for the Plenary Council identified.
  • June – Pentecost marks the launch of the next stage of preparation - Listening and Discernment - with the themes for national discernment announced.
  • July – First meeting of Working Groups and local small group discernment to begin.
  • September – Nominations open for the lay delegates of the Plenary Council 2020.
  • October – National Centre for Pastoral Research will publish Diocesan qualitative reports.
  • April 2020 – At Easter, draft Plenary Council papers discerned by the Working Group become available for download and discussion.
  • October 4-11 2020 – The first session of the Plenary Council 2020 will be held in Adelaide on October 4 - 11, 2020.
  • May 2021 – The second session of the Plenary Council will be held in Sydney.

 Plenary Council Journey 2019 Timeline.pdf



Looking Back at the Listening and Dialogue Phase


Your Voice creates the Plenary Council 2020 Agenda


Adelaide will host the opening session of the historic Plenary Council in October 2020 with a follow-up session in an eastern state in early 2021. Now is the time for Catholics like you to help shape the process by taking part in a Listening and Dialogue session.

A Plenary Council is the highest formal gathering of all local churches and is an opportunity for the bishops and other representatives of dioceses and eparchies to discern what God is asking of us in Australia at this time. A brochure describing the process of the Listening and Dialogue process and how to feed into the national picture is attached below. We encourage you to consider hosting a conversation with those in your local community and have your voice heard.

Your online submission will help to develop the agenda for the Plenary Council in 2020.

For more info and to access resources visit the national website – click here.