Bishops Conference publishes its 2021 annual report

Former president Archbishop Mark Coleridge says the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s second annual report is “much more than a company report or a bureaucratic manifesto”.

The report, which has now been published online, covers the 2021 calendar year. It outlines some of the key works of the Bishops Conference, its commissions, agencies and offices during the year.

Among the highlights it chronicles was the setting of key priorities for the Bishops Conference, which were developed through a three-stage process of shared discernment.

Br Ian Cribb SJ, who had earlier led the retreat the bishops made together immediately before their 2019 Ad Limina Apostolorum visit, facilitated the task of setting Conference priorities, punctuated with prayer and conversation.

Following the three sessions, which involved the identification and ranking of possible priorities, the bishops approved three priorities at their May 2021 plenary meeting. They are: Formation; Becoming More Missionary; and Fostering Collegiality.

Archbishop Coleridge, who was president of the Bishops Conference during 2021, writes in the report’s foreword that the bishops are increasingly recognising the need to work together in new ways.

“The days of Dioceses as independent fiefdoms and the Bishops as a law unto themselves are gone. Bishops need to work with each other, and the Conference is a unique way of promoting that,” he writes.

“Given that Pope Francis wants to encourage what he calls ‘a healthy decentralisation’, passing more responsibility to the Bishops Conferences, it is clear that the profile and function of the Bishops Conferences is changing. So this annual report is a report on a work in progress.”

The report outlines various initiatives that were undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing some projects to continue in the face of challenges created by restrictions on travel and gatherings.

That included the multiple adjustments that were necessary to host the first assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, and the staging of other events using online platforms.

General secretary Fr Stephen Hackett MSC writes in the report’s introduction that much work is achieved across the various parts of the Bishops Conference, often with significant time pressures and with relatively few staff.

He noted the appointment of a deputy general secretary and the recruitment of a new chief operating officer as key internal developments during 2021.

Fr Hackett also acknowledged other key Catholic organisations with which the Conference works on important projects.

“Our shared endeavours both express and foster the co-responsibility that is vital to the mission of the Church,” he said.