Plenary Council Process

Plenary Council Submission 2019

This is the first ACI submission to the Plenary Council 2020 currently being prepared by  the Catholic Church in Australia.

Australian Cardijn Institute Submission to the Australian Plenary Council

6 March 2019.


The Australian Cardijn Institute Cooperative Ltd was founded in 2018 to promote and carry out research and studies based on the methods developed by Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) movement, and to provide education and training programs for community leaders and organisers and others based on this. Our submission seeks to highlight several key issues and points that Cardijn fought to promote at Vatican II, many of which were ultimately adopted at the Council. We propose that the Australian Plenary Council take up these points in formulating its vision for the role of the Australian Catholic Church during the 21st century.

2. The lay apostolate

In his first (written) intervention for the Council, Cardijn offered the following definition of the lay apostolate.


  1. is the lay (secular) life of lay people, the problems of that life, at every level: local, regional, national and international;
  2. is the divine value of this life to implement the work of God and Christ, in order to transform life and the world;
  3. is a transformation that must take place with, by and in Christ and the Church, with the resources of the Church (prayer, sacraments, etc.) but which are incarnated in the affairs of the world, the institutions of the world, in view of the inseparable goals that are the happiness of humanity and the glory of God.

This corresponds closely with the vision ultimately incorporated in Lumen Gentium §33, which defines the lay apostolate as “a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself.” “Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself,” the document continues.

Moreover, just as Cardijn advocated, this lay role is specific. Thus, “the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth” and to act as “a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself,” Lumen Gentium says.

Reinforcing this, Gaudium et Spes §43 also insists that “secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laypeople.”

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, (§1) explains this further, noting that modern conditions require no less zeal from lay people that at the very beginning of the Church.

“With a constantly increasing population, continual progress in science and technology, and closer interpersonal relationships, the areas for the lay apostolate have been immensely widened particularly in fields that have been for the most part open to the laity alone… This apostolate becomes more imperative in view of the fact that many areas of human life have become increasingly autonomous,” Apostolicam Actuositatem continues.

3. “Lay apostolate” or “lay ministry”

Astonishingly, in the decades since Vatican II, however, the Australian Church appears to have largely lost sight of this specifically lay vocation of lay people to transform the world.

A striking indicator of this can be found in the relative abundance of the use of the terms “lay apostolate” and “lay ministry” on the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Here, we find a total of 39 largely inconsequential references to “lay apostolate,” In contrast, there are a total of 160 references to “lay ministry,” the first of which is a reference to “Lay Pastoral Ministry News.”

While it is true that many dioceses have social justice councils and that many Church organisations do great work in the charitable and social welfare fields, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the Church has lost its Vatican II focus on the importance of the role of lay people in transforming the world, beginning from the every day circumstances of their lives at work, in the home and the local community.

4. Lay formation for a Church focused on the world

ACI therefore calls on the Australian Plenary Council to shift the focus from an inward-looking Church-centred concern with ministry to an outward-looking world-centred approach based on the lay apostolate as understood and embodied in the documents of Vatican II. Given the events of the last few decades, a lot of ‘repair work’ also needs to be done to help the Church regain its status amongst Catholic and non-Catholic communities; and how else to achieve this but by means of the lay apostolate? In line with this vision, ACI also calls for a renewed focus on lay formation at every level of the Church that will enable people to grasp the importance of their Christian mission in transforming the world beginning with their every day lives.

Practical measures to achieve this could include:

a) Promoting more organised courses of study on the lay apostolate and Catholic Social Teaching, particularly at Catholic tertiary institutions;

b) Greater support of all kinds (personnel, resources) for the lay movements, such as the YCW, YCS and others, including new movements or initiatives, that are committed to this Vatican II vision of lay apostolate;

c) Making more priests, religious and lay people available as chaplains, mentors and assistants.

Click here to open and download as PDF.