A breach of faith with many thousands of Catholics.

Leading church renewal group, Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn, has called on Australian Catholic bishops to release an essential document for consultation with the broader Catholic community before the bishops finalise it and send it to Rome ahead of the historic Plenary Council.

The Plenary Council announced last week that work recently began on the development of the instrumentum laboris, the strategic working document central to the Plenary Council process. It relies heavily on the first two preparatory phases of the Council journey: Listening and Dialogue and Listening and Discernment.

It is striking that nowhere in the media release is there mention of any participation by the wider Catholic community in the preparation of this working document. And there’s no indication that the bishops will take the Catholic community into its confidence before or after the working document is presented to the ACBC.

The absence of transparency in the drafting of the document at this critical point in the Plenary Council process is deeply concerning.

I raised these concerns in a letter to the Plenary Council Chair, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe last week, noting that such secrecy is a breach of faith with the many thousands of Catholics who have invested heavily in time and effort, through discussion, meetings, submissions and prayerful discernment in the Plenary Council process so far.

It is essential for the integrity of the Plenary Council that a draft of the working document be published and made widely available prior to its consideration by the ACBC in November.

It should certainly be made widely available before it is sent in its final form to the Holy See.

Such transparency should be a hallmark of the Plenary Council, yet in many ways, including the failure to publish the 17,500 submissions and the secrecy surrounding the choice of diocesan delegates, it has not been.

The preparation of the working document offers one last chance for the bishops to demonstrate openness and accountability to the Catholic community. This opportunity is so important that the success of the whole Plenary Council may well depend upon it.

Certainly, the publication of a draft Working Document, offering the opportunity for feedback, will build up much needed trust in the process within the Catholic community, many of whom are yet to be convinced.

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John Warhurst AO is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University. He is a regular columnist with the Canberra Times and Eureka Street.

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