Perth Archdiocesan Assembly

Archbishop Tim Costelloe of the Archdiocese of Perth, Western Australia, has announced the holding of an Archdiocesan Assembly on Saturday 23 September 2023.

A key objective, +Tim says, will be to consider the establishment of an Archdiocesan Council.

After Vatican II, Perth did have a Diocesan Pastoral Council but it was discontinued in the late 1990s.

“Our recent Plenary Council has called for the establishment or re-establishment of such Councils in every diocese, and I believe it is appropriate for us to decide whether or not the time is now right to make such a move,” Archbishop Costelloe explained in a pastoral letter explaining the initiative to call an Archdiocesan Assembly.

This of course raises the question of what kind of structure might be adopted for a new pastoral council?

Fortunately, the Vatican II Decree on the Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem, offers excellent guidance here.

§10 calls on lay people not just to become more involved in parishes but also at a diocesan level. It says:

They should develop an ever-increasing appreciation of their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, ever ready at their pastor’s invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, to fulfill the needs of cities and rural areas, they should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries but strive to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national, and international fields.

§18 expands on this idea, emphasising the community nature of the apostolate to be fostered:

For this reason the faithful should participate in the apostolate by way of united effort. They should be apostles both in their family communities and in their parishes and dioceses, which themselves express the community nature of the apostolate, as well as in the informal groups which they decide to form among themselves.

Perhaps even more importantly, §26 sets out the aims of such councils, emphasising that they exist not so much to assist in the management of the diocese but to “assist the apostolic work” of the Church:

In dioceses, insofar as possible, there should be councils which assist the apostolic work of the Church either in the field of evangelisation and sanctification or in the charitable, social, or other spheres, and here it is fitting that the clergy and Religious should cooperate with the laity.

In other words, the focus of diocesan councils must be outward-looking and mission-oriented rather than inward-looking and preoccupied with the status quo. They must take a broad view of the Church’s apostolic activity, fostering it in every dimension.

Significantly, it emphasises the need to promote cooperation NOT of laity with Religious and clergy BUT of clergy and Religious WITH lay people. Lay people at the forefront, in other words.

Picking up on this apostolic and community oriented character necessary to diocesan councils, §26 also highlights the vital support role that such councils should play in promoting and assisting coordination amongst various lay initiatives and groups:

While preserving the proper character and autonomy of each organisation, these councils will be able to promote the mutual coordination of various lay associations and enterprises.

Apostolicam Actuositatem thus offers a truly bottom up vision of the role of such councils, a vision clearly founded on the principle of subsidiarity, which is the principle that states that “matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority.”

And it sees these councils as one kind of council among a whole range of councils from parish to interparish, to diocesan and interdiocesan and even national and international spheres:

Councils of this type should be established as far as possible also on the parochial, interparochial, and interdiocesan level as well as in the national or international sphere.

Sadly, much of this vision has been lost in the Australian Church. According to researcher Dr Damien Gleeson, in recent times, there have been only five operating diocesan councils. Nevertheless, he points to the solid track record of those councils that were established and did operate.

Let’s pray and work for the forthcoming Perth Archdiocesan Assembly to recover the Vatican II vision of the Archdiocesan Council as revive it as a genuine centre of apostolic cooperation between all the baptised – lay people, religious and clergy.

Stefan Gigacz