Dear Brothers and Sisters


With other Australians, we Catholics these past five years have been learning as a result of the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about evils committed against children and teenagers – mainly between the 1960s and 1980s – by a small percentage of priests, religious and laity, and by bishops who did not act to stop these crimes   Both with other bishops, and on my own behalf, I have apologised both publicly and privately on several occasions to survivors, to their families and to Catholics in general for all that has happened.


Our need to seek the Lord’s guidance

The impact of the Royal Commission over the past five years has led to calls from across the Diocese for opportunities for us to reflect and respond to all that has happened; to refocus on our mission as a Diocese.  There have been other stimuli too.


These include the growth in the percentage of Catholics in our Diocese from other cultures and the need to care for each; the different background experiences and expectations of many of the Church from other countries; the decline in population in some inland towns; the changing contexts of our parishes – to name a few.


Calls have come from parishioners and parish leaders during parish visitations; from priests when considering the need for a strategic pastoral plan for the Diocese; from those involved in various ministries in the Diocese.  The Church is the Body of Christ in the world today, and we, his members, must all listen to the Holy Spirit in the life and mission of our Diocese.


Gathering with the Lord for guidance through the Spirit

Since earliest times, the Church has recognised its need to turn to the Lord, seeking his guidance through the Holy Spirit.  It has remembered his challenge to keep faith in himself.


In the gospels, for example, we remember the Apostles being afraid their boat would sink in a storm while Jesus was asleep.  Many may feel he is asleep in the present storm our Church in Australia is experiencing.  We need to remember the words of Jesus when the Apostles woke him. [1]


Why are you so frightened?  Have you no faith?


We remember too the two disciples on their journey to Emmaus after Jesus’ death. [2]  They were depressed and despondent and did not recognise the Risen Jesus as he walked with them, helping them understand the meaning of his death.  They did not realise he was with them until he repeated his Last Supper action of breaking the bread.


A diocesan synod

There are several different ways the Church, since its earliest times, has sought the guidance of the Lord through the Holy Spirit.  At the national level, one is a Plenary Council – one of which is being held in Australia in 2020.


At a diocesan level, one way the Lord’s guidance is sought is a diocesan synod (‘synod’ deriving from the Greek word for ‘meeting’ or ‘assembly’).  A diocesan synod process, as set out in the law of the Church, requires a preparation stage, and its process is based upon the promise of Jesus [3]


… where two or three gather in my name, I am there among them.


Together, this stage, and the synod itself, allows everyone in a diocese – priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful – to participate in discerning the Lord’s guidance.


A synod process provides different opportunities at different levels in the Diocese for people to dialogue and discern together.  These levels include parishes, Catholic schools and ministries.


Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, all involved in a diocesan synod process walk together with the Lord – priests, people and bishop.  Pope Francis has proposed that dioceses hold synods regularly.


A Bunbury diocesan synod in 2019

The purpose of this Pastoral Letter is to announce that there will be a diocesan synod for the Bunbury Diocese in March 2019, with the preparation stage being held in the second half of 2018.  I ask every priest, deacon, religious and lay person in our Diocese who feels moved by the Spirit of Christ to participate.  The more who do so the clearer will be the Lord’s guidance for us all.


How are we being moved by the Spirit?

Jesus is present in every baptised person in the Diocese.  The synod process is for all who answer ‘yes’ to the test of faith of St Paul [4]


Examine yourselves.  Do you not realise that Jesus Christ is in you?


All are members of the Body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus shares and moves us from within, guides by stirring thoughts and feelings as we pray about our daily lives.


In all of us, concerns and ideas will arise which, in isolation, we can do little about.  These may be stirrings by the Spirit for our Diocese.  As I have gone around the Diocese over the years, I have been struck often as I have recognised the Spirit moving people from within.


As baptised people, we share in Jesus’ roles as priest, prophet and king.  The Spirit stirs thoughts and feelings about how each day we are called to fulfil these roles.


The Spirit is moving parishioners

The Spirit today is moving many parishioners to fulfil their share in the role of Jesus as priest.  Their thoughts and feelings about the decline in religious practice; the sufferings of survivors of abuse; the disinterest of their children and grand children in the Church – and many other examples – move them to pray for those who are the focus of their concern.


The Spirit is moving parishioners to fulfil their share in the role of Jesus as prophet.  They seek to develop relationships which make it easier for them to share their faith.  They seek too opportunities in conversations, discussions and debates in their families and other settings to present teachings of Jesus and to counter ideas, attitudes and trends which conflict with the Gospel.


The Spirit is moving parishioners to fulfil their share in the role of Jesus as king.  They are troubled by injustices and other institutional practices in society which conflict with the values Jesus taught to be part of the kingdom of God and feel moved to challenge these even if they do not know how to do so.


The Spirit is moving the ordained

Jesus instituted the ministries of the ordained – deacons, priests and bishops – so that, through them, he could minister to his people. [5]  Through the Spirit, Jesus is moving the ordained in our Diocese so Jesus himself as teacher, loving community leader and sanctifier can meet parishioners’ needs.


As teachers of the Gospel in the Person of Jesus, they are being moved by the lack of understanding of the Gospel in many – particularly the parents and young people of today.  They are being moved too to question how the Gospel may be proclaimed more effectively in an increasingly atheistic society.


As those called to lead Christian communities in love, they are being moved by the decline in active members of parishes and the faith life of families.  They are being moved to find ways to rebuild the faith communities in the Diocese.


Being called to serve in the Person of Jesus, the One who nurtures holiness in faithful followers, the ordained are finding thoughts and feelings are being stirred related to the current decline in prayer and worship – especially the Mass.


We need to listen to each other

As Jesus is moving the ordained and lay faithful in our Diocese in different ways, we can only discern his guidance by sharing together.  He is stirring the lay faithful to continue his mission to the world, and the ordained to minister to them in this mission.


Parish pastoral councils are meeting places where priests and people can listen for the Lord’s guidance as they share ideas on the pastoral needs and issues parishes face.  The two stages of a diocesan synod process fulfil the same purpose at a diocesan level.


A diocesan synod, therefore, is not a political process.  It is not about lobbying or ideologies or fixed ideas; nor is it about majority and minority views.  Its concern is to listen, to pray, and always to be open to the individual prophet


A diocesan synod is a discernment process.  It is a means for all in a diocese who are being moved by the Spirit to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns so that the guidance of the Lord emerges.


The first stage: Sharing as the People of God

This is the preparatory stage for the actual synod itself.  It is open to all who are moved by the Spirit to participate, and will comprise three basic steps.


The first will be to seek factual background information from parish pastoral councils on the situations and challenges our parishes are facing today.  This step will begin in March.


The second step will be to consult all who are willing to participate across the Diocese about what they see to be the most import questions or issues the Diocese needs to face between 2020 and 2022.  This step will begin in June.


The third step will be to establish a Synod Commission, as required by Church law, to help discern the topic the 2019 synod should focus on.  When this has been decided, everyone across the Diocese will be invited to share their views on the topic.


This step will begin in September.  All views will then be collected and become the working document of the 2019 synod.


A spiritual discernment process

As mentioned earlier, a synod process is a spiritual discernment process.  All in the Diocese will be asked to pray a synod prayer related to the current step in the process from June.  There will be special petitions too for Prayers of the Faithful during Sunday Masses.


The climax of this spiritual preparation will be the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in the Diocese – and the State – on Sunday the 4th November.  There will be a diocesan pilgrimage to the Mass Rock in Albany, the site of that first Mass.


Hopefully, every parish and Catholic school will be represented in this pilgrimage.  There will be special Masses also in parishes that weekend to mark that historical occasion.


Stage Two: the synod itself

Diocesan synods are held in or near the Cathedral, so our synod will be celebrated in Bunbury.   Its purpose will be to reflect upon all that has been heard in the consultation of the people of the Diocese this year, and to recommend practical proposals in the light of consultation.


Synod delegates will include the Council of Priests along with representatives of deacons, religious, parishes, ministries, youth and Catholic schools.



The 2019 diocesan synod, along with its preparation process, will be an historical event in the history of the Bunbury Diocese.  It is my prayer that all who are being moved by the Spirit will participate.


Let us pray together that our synod process will be an effective event, helping us discern through the Holy Spirit so that we can all recognise the Lord walking with and guiding us as he did the disciples on the road to Emmaus.



+Gerard J Holohan


15th January 2018

[1] Mark 4:40

[2] Luke 24:13-35

[3] Matthew 18:20

[4] 2 Corinthians 13:15

[5] Catechesis of the Catholic Church  154