Announcement of Plenary Council Delegates

Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has written to more than 250 other Catholics across the country, calling them as delegates for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.

Those canonically mandated to be present at the Plenary Council are Bishop Tim Harris and Vicar General, Fr Mick Lowcock. Joining them will be two delegates appointed from the Diocese: Ms Louise Vella-Cox and Miss Stephanie Sullivan.
Bishop Tim said that Louise and Stephanie were chosen after a call to the community to nominate as representatives of the Diocese. “After receiving some excellent nominations, I called a small group of advisors together to assist me in selecting our preferred nominations to be sent to the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council for final approval” Bishop Tim said.

These advisors were drawn from various areas of the Diocese including Executive Director of Catholic Education, Jacqui Francis, Trudy Clarke a member of the Diocesan Plenary Council Coordinating Group and past Director of Mission at the Mater hospital, others included Diocesan Plenary Council Coordinators Geoff Gowdie and Neil Helmore.


“Both Louise and Stephanie bring exceptional experience of the Diocese to their appointment,” said Bishop Harris, “as well as proven demonstration of leadership in faith.” He congratulated Louise and Stephanie on their appointment and looks forward to collaborating with them in the discussion at the Plenary Council for the benefit of the People of God in both the Diocese of Townsville and the Church in Australia.

Louise Vella-Cox is well known to many having been an educator in Catholic Education for many years and now as a senior leader in Townsville Catholic Education. Louise is a passionate parishioner and has been very active in the Plenary Council process both in her Parish and also as a member of the Diocesan Coordinating Committee. As an experience educator, facilitator and communicator in the Catholic System, she has expressed a commitment to be an agent of change while understanding the strength in a person's ability to discern with an open heart.

Miss Stephanie Sullivan has displayed a dedication to the development of the youth movement in the Diocese and has been a dedicated member of the Diocesan Youth Leadership Team. Her genuine ability to articulate the voice of the younger person in a larger Church setting has been a gift to the Diocese and represents the future of our Church for many years to come.

“I am confident that our diocesan delegates will serve the people of our Diocese well at the assemblies of the Plenary Council,” says Bishop Harris. “Their understanding of the life of the Church in Australia is not only informed by their deep affection and familiarity with our own Diocese but also by their national and international perspectives.”

Bishop Tim thanked the many people in the Diocese recommended for nomination as diocesan delegates. He expresses his gratitude to their generosity and keen interest and is confident of their ongoing engagement in the progress of the Plenary Council.

First assembly of the Plenary Council postponed

In response to the dramatic changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bishops of Australia have made the “difficult, but necessary” decision to postpone the first assembly of the Plenary Council.

Changes in the ways people live, work and communicate due to the pandemic led the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council to consult with the advisory and planning teams, as well as the wider Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

The decision was made to postpone the assembly scheduled for October this year. 

Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said in a time of such upheaval, including severe restrictions on travel and group meetings, the postponement was unavoidable.

“Even though it is possible Australia may have moved through the worst of this health crisis by October, our capacity to adequately continue the process of discernment and formation – for everyone in the Church and in particular for the delegates – is severely compromised,” he said.

Archbishop Costelloe said the Church’s focus at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, is ensuring people continue to be cared for pastorally, spiritually and emotionally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bishops will consider proposals for an alternative timeline for the Council’s two assemblies at their biannual meeting in May.

“The bishops remain committed to the Plenary Council journey and affirm that two assemblies will take place. This allows for the maturation of the discussions and discernment of the first assembly to develop with clarity and lead into the second gathering,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“The timing, the order and the location of the two assemblies will need to be re-examined, but it is hoped that having one assembly in Adelaide and the other in Sydney might still be possible.”

Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins said work has already begun to consider how the changed timeline provides opportunities to embed the practices of dialogue, listening and communal discernment.

“There is obvious disappointment in the postponement of the first assembly, especially so soon after the excitement of announcing the Plenary Council delegates,” she said.

“But once the pandemic has eased, people will have a thirst to look to the future – and the Plenary Council is about the future of the Church.”

Announcements and up-to-date information will be made available through the Plenary Council website, the PlenaryPost electronic newsletter and social media channels

What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?

It is this question that has moved the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to announce a Plenary Council of the Church in Australia to be held in the year 2020.
The Bishops Conference has received approval from Pope Francis for the celebration of this Council, the first such Council to be held in Australia for some 80 years.

What is a Plenary Council?

A Plenary Council is the highest formal gathering of all local churches in a country. Our Plenary Council 2020 is being held so that we can dialogue about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia. A Plenary Council is a particularly graced instrument for seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and it has the authority to make church laws on the results of its discernment.

Although in the end it will be the bishops who will vote on any future directions for the church in Australia, they will be making those decisions in the light of a long listening to the Holy Spirit speaking through the voices of any of the faithful who wish to speak around Australia. This makes the Plenary Council 2020 different from the last one in 1937. Everyone has a chance to participate and to express whatever the Spirit is saying to them in their heart.

Why are we having a Plenary Council in 2020?

There are many reasons for having a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia: Pope Francis has invited the local church to dialogue; the contemporary society of Australia has changed significantly, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse has been a significant and influential event that requires deep consideration and response.

When the Australian Catholic Bishops announced the decision to hold a Plenary Council, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said that “the Church is not the presence in our society it once was. We need to take a measure of that and make decisions accordingly. The culture in which we have to proclaim the Gospel is very different to what it was even 20 or 30 years ago.”

It is being held in 2020 in order to give the Catholic community in Australia time to listen, dialogue and discern with one another and, guided by the Holy Spirit, about the future, the role and the relevance of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Plenary Council Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit of the great South Land.
O God, bless and unite all your people in Australia

and guide us on the pilgrim way of the Plenary Council.

Give us the grace to see your face in one another

and to recognise Jesus, our companion on the road.

Give us the courage to tell our stories

and to speak boldly of your truth.

Give us ears to listen humbly to each other

and a discerning heart to hear what you are saying.

Lead your Church into a hope-filled future,

that we may live the joy of the Gospel.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

bread for the journey from age to age.


Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us.

St Mary MacKillop, pray for us.

Plenary Council 2020: 
Listen To What The Spirit Is Saying…

In October 2020, the Catholic Church in Australia will gather for the first Plenary Council to be held since the second Vatican Council. In 2018, the entire People of God in Australia began preparing for this historic moment by listening to God, by listening to one another’s stories of faith.

More than 222,000 people participated in listening and dialogue encounters and contributed 17,457 submissions during the first stage of preparation for the Australian Plenary Council. The voices of the faithful help all of us to understand something of the historical experience and the current reality of the Catholic Church in Australia. This gathered data also reveals some deeper hopes and questions, and the diverse yearnings, that we are now challenged to consider together. The National Themes for Discernment named below are inspired by the data and call us toward the future.

Now that we are in the Discernment phase, we continue to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

We invite the groups who participated in Listening and Dialogue to now reconvene in communal Discernment on any one of the six themes. Each Discernment session is expected to result in a submission that can be summarised in 1000 characters and that can be submitted through a form on the Discernment page (to be opened September 1). Our Writing and Discernment Groups will then meet and discern on these submissions, with prayer and from their own theological knowledge, towards publishing thematic papers and fleshing out the agenda for the first session of the Plenary Council in October 2020. This period for group discernment and submissions will be open until the first few months of 2020.

National website -

For more information about the Plenary Council and how you can be involved, please contact the Townsville Diocesan Office on 07 4726 3200 or email