Dear Parishioners

Last June, our Diocese celebrated its first Synod as envisaged by the Second Vatican Council and encouraged by Pope Francis.  The purpose of this Pastoral Letter is to share with all the fruits of our Synod.

The Letter is in three parts.  The first responds to the many who began to focus on the forthcoming Synod and ask only towards the end of the preparation process.

The second part of this Letter outlines the Synod preparation and celebration process. 

The third part discusses the Synod recommendations.



Jesus Christ, who is Risen, is the Head of his Church.  It is he who guides and strengthens members through the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of a synod, therefore, is to listen so as to discern the Spirit’s guidance about the questions and issues the synod has been called to discuss.

Synods have been celebrated throughout the Church’s history.  The word ‘synod’ derives from two Greek words, which mean ‘coming’ or ‘joining together’ – not just a physical coming together, but an ever increasing spiritual unity. 

A synod, therefore, is a process for discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  And there are different levels of synod – from synods of Bishops to diocesan synods.


What is a diocesan synod?

A diocesan synod is a discernment process to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for diocesan pastoral questions and issues. It begins with the Bishop seeking views of parishioners across the diocese as to what pastoral questions and issues the synod should be about.

A diocesan synod is the highest level of consultation possible for the Bishop of a diocese.  Its process from preparation to celebration includes prayer, listening and the sharing of reflections and views in a spirit of service. 

A diocesan synod, therefore, is not simply a meeting where people come with firm views to be argued.  Delegates are conscious that they, with other delegates and the Bishop, need to be seeking together the Spirit’s guidance, which emerges gradually from all that is shared.

A diocesan synod can make recommendations about any matter within the jurisdiction of a diocesan Bishop.  Conversely, it cannot make recommendations about national or universal Church matters.  There are other fora for these, such as the coming Australian plenary council in 2020. 

A ‘synodal’ diocese

To be fully effective, a synod needs to be part of a wider diocesan ‘synodal’ process – that is, a continuing dialogue at all levels of a diocese as laity, consecrated religious and the ordained share insights gained as they participate in the life and worship of their parishes, as well as of the wider Diocese.  This includes active listening, both to and by laity, priests, people in different ministries, consecrated religious, deacons and the Bishop.  In the words of Pope Francis  [1]

The journey of synodality is the journey God wants from his Church in the third millennium.

A synodal Church is a listening Church, aware that listening is more than hearing.  It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.

We will be a synodal diocese only when priests, deacons, consecrated religious, laity and Bishop seek together to discern the Spirit’s guidance at every level of our Diocese through dialogue and reciprocal listening.  This includes parish and parish ministry levels, as well as at diocesan level.

How does the Spirit guide through synodality?

As St Paul taught, the Church is the Body of Christ in the world. [2]  He is the Head and his members are charged to continue his mission to the world.

As Jesus in the gospels cared for the sick and those in need, there are members through whom he does this today.  The same is true of all the other ways he went about his mission, as outlined in the gospels. 

We are all called too to share in his ministry of prayer.  Some are called to witness to this in special ways, such as our Carmelite Sisters.

We all have received charisms from the Spirit

St Paul highlighted how the Spirit gives members of Christ different spiritual gifts (called charisms) to equip them for the specific ways each is called to fulfil his or her part in the mission of the Church, his Body, to the world.  [3]  The charisms of married people, for example, are different from those called to be consecrated religious; of parents, from those called to celibate love; of priests, from lay faithful; of deacons, from bishops. 

Charisms of the lay faithful relate to proclaiming the Gospel in the cities and towns of our Diocese ‘by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. [4]  The charisms of the ordained, on the other hand, are to serve the lay faithful in the Person of Christ by forming them for this mission.

The ordained do this by teaching the Gospel; helping lay faithful to grow in holiness through the sacraments; and serving faith communities through their leadership in love. [5]  In ours, as with all dioceses, Christ, through the charisms of the ordained, seeks to serve and build up lay faithful to serve as his missionaries in society.

 The need to strengthen charisms

Church members find their charisms strengthening as they strive to fulfil their missionary roles and live as Jesus taught; as they pray and receive the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist.  Similarly, as they strive to overcome challenges and temptations against living as Jesus taught, they find themselves strengthened to do what in conscience they know to be right.

As their charisms strengthen, Church members find thoughts and insights arising from within which they may or may not recognise as stirred by the Spirit.  A parent, for example, may gain insight from the Spirit into how to challenge a drug addicted child; a bank worker, into how to be kind to elderly customers despite time pressures; a teenager, into how the Church could reach peers more effectively; a priest, into a new way to reach out pastorally to the alienated – and so on.

A diocesan synod, therefore, comprises representatives of the various callings in a diocese ‘walking together’ with the Bishop.  Each offers insights and other experiences, which they may or may not actually realise have been stirred by the Holy Spirit.  The various insights and opinions related to the questions and issues the synod is focusing on come together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and so the Spirit’s guidance becomes clear.

‘Synodality’ grows in a diocese as members dialogue together, each listening to the other, at the different levels of the diocese.  Through synodality, the Spirit guides and gifts parishes, organisations and the wider diocese.


In November 2016, during the second of two conferences on strategic planning, the priests of our Diocese indicated their belief that a gathering of priests and laity was needed to reflect on the future direction of our Diocese.  The Bishop was hearing the same suggestion in parishes also.

Various options were explored in the first months of 2017, and the practical experience of other dioceses sought.  In June 2017, the Bishop proposed to the annual Priests’ Conference that a synod would be held in 2019 and that synods needed to become a regular part of the life of the Diocese.  Over the following two years

  • the idea of a synod was worked through with priests
  • the 2020 Australian Plenary Council organisers encouraged the celebration of a diocesan synod, which could be coordinate with the Plenary Council process
  • a small Synod planning group fleshed out a draft of how our Synod process would work
  • the Bishop consulted the Council of Priests about a Synod, as required by Church Canon Law
  • the plan to celebrate a Synod was announced in every parish by lay delegates of the Bishop
  • the Bishop travelled to regions across the Diocese to explain the Synod and to seek views for the improvement of the draft process
  • a Synod Commission was established to manage the Synod process, as required by Canon Law, and Mr John Borsario was appointed Synod secretary
  • the Synod facilitator, Ms Lana Turvey-Collins, the facilitator also of the 2020 Plenary Council, was appointed
  • the first diocesan consultation across all parishes was held to hear what could be the diocesan issues or questions the Synod should consider, the consultation question being negotiated with the Plenary Council organisers
  • the Synod Commission proposed four themes for the Synod from the results of the first diocesan consultation These were accepted by the Bishop
  • a second diocesan consultation across all parishes was held to hear parishioners thoughts on each theme
  • Synod delegates were nominated by parishes and appointed by the Bishop
  • the Synod working document, which recorded every comment made in the second consultation, was finalised and sent to delegates
  • the Synod was celebrated on 1-2 June, with the Opening Mass celebrated in the Cathedral on May 31st
  • the Bishop summarised the actions he ‘heard’ the Synod recommend and sought delegates’ views whether he had heard accurately.

The next steps

The next steps will focus upon implementing Synod recommendations.  These will include

  • a priests’ conference to consider opportunities and challenges to implementing Synod recommendations at parish level
  • a meeting of parish representatives to discuss the planned way forward
  • the establishment of work groups to draft plans for implementing Synod recommendations
  • consultations of delegates, Parish Pastoral Councils and others who are interested about the draft plans.

An important feature of the Synod was each delegate writing thoughts and insights into a personal Synod booklet.  These have been typed and will be given to work parties to consider.

Why have a Synod?

During the preparation stages many questions were asked about why the Diocese needed to celebrate a Synod.  In response, it was explained that

  • the need for representatives of priests, religious and lay faithful to meet was emphasised by the priests of the Diocese, along with many parishioners during parish visitations by the Bishop
  • Pope Francis was encouraging synods and synodality in dioceses
  • the context in which the Diocese needs to fulfil its mission has changed with the growth of atheism in Australian society
  • the Diocese needs to rethink how it goes about proclaiming the Gospel, given the decline in religious practice
  • the loss of young people to the Church needs to be addressed
  • the rapid ethnic and cultural demographic changes in the Diocese have meant that many parishioners have come from different experiences and ideas about the Church, and this could lead to divisions unless there was a coming together
  • the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse was affecting parishioners and priests in a variety of ways.

An invitational process

Every person who is seeking to develop their charisms will receive insights from the Holy Spirit.  However, not all will be moved to share these at diocesan level.  Some, for example, will relate to married, family, parish and wider community life. 

The Synod process these past two years intentionally has been invitational.  Parishioners across the Diocese were invited to participate without any pressure.  Nor were meetings organised as group responses can ignore the prophet.

Sincerest thanks

At this point, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all who participated in the Synod process 

  • to parishes and individual parishioners, who prayed the different prayers for each of the Synod consultations and celebration
  • to Synod delegates, who graciously gave of their time and insights over the long-weekend
  • to the initial members of the Synod planning work party
  • to the members of the Synod Commission
  • to Ms Lana Turvey-Collins, the Synod Facilitator
  • to John Borserio, the Synod secretary
  • to all involved in the preparation and celebration of the Masses and organised prayer.

The composition of synod delegates

Synod delegates came from the range of ministries across the Diocese, as required by Canon Law.  They included representatives from parishes, consecrated religious, deacons, specific diocesan and parish ministries, priests and the Bishop.

Delegates listened and discerned in groups related to the four synod themes.  They also were invited to write their reflections in their booklets, and also indicate where they had gifts which could help with the implementation of Synod recommendations.

As well as sharing and listening in groups, there were plenary gatherings of all delegates together.  These were led by the synod facilitator.


As mentioned already, a diocesan synod is the highest level of consultation a diocesan Bishop can call.  Consultation in the Church is not like consultation as generally understood.

In the Church, consultation is a discernment process which seeks the Spirit’s guidance and gifts.  It has a moral dimension, whether it be at diocesan, parish or any other level.

The Bishop’s role

Every Bishop, along with the Pope and every other Bishop, is a member of the College of Bishops within the Church.  Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they inherit the pastoral responsibilities and charisms needed to lead the Church as Christ intended when he first gave them to Peter and the Apostles.

These charisms do not mean that Popes and Bishops are holier than anyone else – or that they won’t make mistakes, even grave ones (as the Royal Commission showed some Bishops have made in our history).  The charisms of bishops bear fruit as they exercise their pastoral calling to serve as the first proclaimers of the Gospel in their dioceses; the nurturers of the holiness of the baptised through the Mass and the other sacraments; and the ultimate leaders of their dioceses.

Synodality calls for Bishops, and all others in the dioceses they serve, to dialogue and reciprocal listening.  Having listened, I need now to respond to the Synod recommendations.  The reciprocal dialogue will continue as recommendations are implemented in the steps of the post-synod process.

Building on past diocesan formation initiatives

Here, I need to acknowledge that the fruits of the Synod did not emerge from a vacuum.  The work of those in the past for the formation of our laity, including those who laboured in adult faith education and programmes such as ‘The Mustard Seed’ and ‘Church Alive’, must be recognised with gratitude.

My reflection on Synod consultations and recommendations

The recommendations by the Synod were categorised under the four themes drawn by the Synod commission from the first consultation.  However, some related recommendations were proposed under more than one theme. 

This duplication would make implementation challenging.  For implementing purposes, it is easier to consider the recommendations under what seem to me to be the priorities which emerged from the whole Synod process.

The four priorities

Over the past two years, I have listened to all that has been said in regional and parish meetings; read everything written as part of the two consultations; listened to what was said during the Synod; and studied all Synod recommendations.  In the light of all this, it seems to me that four priorities for the Diocese have emerged.  These are

  • To proclaim anew the Gospel to all in today’s Australian society, but especially to those disconnected from parish and Church life and worship

For participants in the Synod process, the decline in religious practice by children, grand children and other family members was a major heart-felt concern, the cause of heart-felt sadness.  There was the sadness too of the decline in religious practice in Australian society.

An essential requirement for responding to this situation is parish renewal for, with the family, the parish is a community of faith.  Reaching out to the disconnected is to seek to rebuild and strengthen parishes for this mission.

  • Structuring our Diocese for greater synodality

For a variety of reasons, Synod delegates urged that there be greater lay participation in parish and diocesan initiatives and decision-making.  For this, the need for communication and collaboration was stressed by Synod delegates.

  • Nurturing leadership

Empowering parishioners for leadership to play their roles in synodal parishes and the diocese was a key theme.  This is essential for proper participation.

  • Supporting our priests in their ministry in the parishes of today.

Synod delegates appreciated their priests and want to support them in fulfilling their ministry in challenging times in the Australian culture.

First priority: To proclaim anew the Gospel to all, especially the disconnected

This priority was reflected in the following Synod recommendations that there be

  • Faith formation

– for individuals to invite others (to the faith)

– formation materials in parishes for parishioners to use

– a diocesan internet platform to facilitate faith formation

  • Programmes of formation and education in the Mass and the liturgy, relevant to the 21st century
  • (Programmes which will empower) initiatives for small groups and families, laity and clergy working on this together

A new evangelisation strategy

The Church has three broad strategies for proclaiming the Gospel.  One is for where people have not heard the Gospel: the second is for people whose faith is supported by a Christian culture: the third is for where the baptised have drifted from the faith, even rejecting I, and a previously Christian culture is being replaced by a non-Christian one.  The pastoral strategy for this third situation is ‘new evangelisation’.

These recommendations need to be understood within the context of new evangelisation – not the other two pastoral strategies.

Two further suggestions

Finally there were also two suggestions for consideration during the implementation of these recommendations.  These were that

  • Bible study groups, using Pope Francis’ materials be established
  • a Youth Diocesan Evangelisation team to work in parishes and schools, bringing these together, be established.

Second priority:  Structuring our Diocese for greater synodality

Four recommendations related to promoting the practice of synodality.  These recommended the development of structures to facilitate synodality:

  • The development of a commonly shared diocesan vision

– developed collaboratively through a process of listening and discernment, reaching out to all.

  • Greater communication, coordination, collaboration and creativity through

– the development of a diocesan network, especially to promote success stories

– individuals being creative in sharing their life stories.

  • Inter-cultural celebrations.
  • Inter-parish social events at cluster, regional or diocesan level.

Two recommendations expressed the hope that

  • people get to know each other’s stories
  • there be greater communication at all levels of the Diocese, and between parishes across the Diocese.

Third priority: To nurture leadership

Thirteen recommendations related to leadership.  They are divided into ‘Structures and formation’ and ‘Ministry leadership’.

 Structures and formation

  • To have active Parish Pastoral Councils.
  • To have Parish Pastoral Council leadership formation.
  • To have leadership formation, especially for young leaders in parishes so they can contribute at the parish level.
  • To have an evaluation and review process for the performance of (parish) leadership teams.
  • To have a parish – Catholic school youth group which will make possible parish and school collaboration.
  • Role of women: spiritual education and escalate their contribution in leadership.
  • For each parish to develop a plan for youth.
  • To have a young person on every Parish Pastoral Council.
  • To have youth representatives on Councils and other diocesan bodies.
  • To re-establish a Diocesan Pastoral Council, an active body to lead and communicate.

Ministry leadership

  • To have faith formation for ministry leaders.
  • To have Parish Pastoral Council members appointed to be ‘go to’ people for all parishioners who will take up issues with the Council and respond from that level.
  • To develop leadership teams in parishes and find ways for all people to offer their gifts.
  • To invite diverse individuals to join parish ministries.

Fourth priority: To support priests in their ministry in parishes

Several recommendations related to the Priestly Life and Ministry Programme, which is being developed already in the Diocese.  These related to

  • ministry appraisal, including parishioner feedback as well as self appraisal by the priest
  • supervision
  • ongoing acculturation
  • personal support.

Welcoming of new Parish Priests

Synod recommendations related to a process for the support of priests starting in new parishes.  These recommended that this process include

  • a parish welcoming committee
  • support to help priests develop relationships beyond being made to feel welcome
  • an introduction of the priest to the parish culture
  • an introduction of the parish to the culture from which the priest has come
  • a parish hand over process.

Implementation considerations

Recommendations will need to be studied by the various implementation groups.  Not all can be implemented in 2020.  Also, we are a small Diocese with limited resources.

Some recommendations, such as those to do with presenting the Gospel anew, cannot be implemented fully in 2 to 3 years.  However, a start can be made on all.

Finally some suggestions were quite specific.  However, even if these should prove not to be achievable, it will be important for us all to listen beyond words to hear what really is the issue to be addressed.

Diocesan mission and vision

The Synod called for the development of a diocesan vision statement ‘developed collaboratively through a process of listening and discerning, reaching out to all’  At this stage of our Synod process, it seems to me that the content for draft diocesan mission and vision statements has emerged through the Synod process. 

If my reading of this is correct, there is no need to begin developing statements from scratch.  With this in mind, I offer the following tentatively for consultation, beginning in February 2020.

Mission and vision statements

Different planning approaches have different views on what is mission and vision.  In what follows, vision follows mission

  • mission referring to how the mission given to the Church by Christ to ‘go, make disciples of all nations’ will be applied to our pastoral situation over the next 2 to 3 years
  • vision referring to what we hope the Diocese will look like over the next 2 to 3 years.

A draft mission statement


Our mission will be to collaborate to serve Christ, the Good Shepherd, by forming ourselves as missionaries who proclaim the Gospel to all, but especially to family members and parishioners who have become disconnected from parish and Church life.

 A draft vision statement


Our Diocese will have developed parish based faith formation initiatives, including in the Eucharist and liturgy; achieved greater participation, greater communication and coordination at all levels of the Diocese; the renewal of consultation structures; the nurturing of greater leadership; and greater support for our priests. 


It seems to me that the Holy Spirit has called us back to basics through our diocesan Synod process.  As lay, consecrated religious and ordained members of the Body of Christ in the southern portion of our State, we are being called to serve as the voice, arms and legs of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who seeks out those who have drifted from the life of our faith communities.

What could be more basic than re-proclaiming the Gospel?  To formation in the Eucharist and other liturgies, communication and leadership?  What would be more essential than seeking to discern the guidance of God through Christ and the Holy Spirit?

Let each of us respond in faith to where the Spirit is leading us, therefore, sincerely and generously.  Let us remember the words of St Paul [6]

Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.


Bishop Gerard Holohan


30 October 2019


[1] Address, 50th Anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015

[2] 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

[3] 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

[4] Vatican II: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church 31#2

[5] See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1547

[6] Ephesians 3:20