Australia: End of the Fifth General Council (1)

The Fifth General Assembly of Australia, launched in March 2018, held its first meeting from 3-10 October 2021 and the second from 3-9 July, 2022. The two sessions were shaken by heated disagreements, particularly over the female deacon.

What is a general council?

Canon law distinguishes public councils from private councils. The first group is all the bishops belonging to the Catholic Church, so they are called “ecumenical”, which means according to the etymology: universal.

The latter are of different types:
– they can assemble a diocese, that is, a diocesan assembly, which gathers the clergy around the bishop;
– they can gather the bishops of an ecclesiastical province, and they are summoned by the metropolitan;
– they can also gather the bishops of different ecclesiastical provinces together to form a district;
Finally, they can gather all the bishops of a country, and they are called national councils or general councils. This is the kind of advice in question here.

A Brief History of Public Councils in Australia

Before holding general councils, Australia and New Zealand, being one province, held county councils.

General Councils were held in 1885, 1895, 1905 and 1937, and are known as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sydney Councils, with Sydney as the country’s headquarters. It should be noted that the first was the Australian General Council, the second and third were the full councils of Australia, and the fourth was the Australia and New Zealand General Council.

Basic rules applicable to the whole council

It must be convened by the Episcopal Conference, which must specify all the material conditions, as well as the issues to be discussed.

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The rules also specify the members who must be called to this council: diocesan bishops, auxiliary bishops and auxiliary bishops, and other honorary bishops. All of these members have a trading vote.

Procurators-general and vice-archbishops, rectors of seminaries, rectors of ecclesiastical universities, and some deans of major seminaries must also be summoned by an advisory vote.

Other members may be called to a particular council, by consultative ballot only: priests and faithful, “though their number shall not exceed half the number mentioned” in the first two points.

Finally, the decisions of the plenary must be endorsed by the Holy See.

Invitation to the Fifth General Assembly of Australia

At the first assembly, 266 delegates were appointed: 180 of them were part of those to be summoned. The others were in the third category. During the second gathering, there were 277 delegates, and the composition remained roughly the same.

The reasons that called for the convening of this council in its entirety were: Pope Francis’ call for dialogue; changes in Australian society; And the results of the Royal Commission’s investigation into violations. This last point appears to be decisive and similar to the German synodal method. However, the latter chose the path Farida, while the General Council is one of the traditional instruments of the Church. Apart from the fact that the new canon law mentioned above allows the incorporation of a number of persons in addition to the bishops, who are the only ones convoked before this reform.

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