Pushing for Catholic Women Leaders

Australia’s Catholic bishops have taken a cautious step to give women a greater role in the church.

At last week’s Fifth Plenary Council, the bishops initially blocked a gender equality initiative but then gave overwhelming support to a proposal to consider the possibility of women being appointed as deacons.

Professor John Warhurst of Worried Canberra Goulburn Catholics said it was a welcome move “by a group of men who hold the ultimate power in the church and who have previously resisted any effective recognition of women’s ministries”.

He said Canberra City News: “This development has also demonstrated the need for reform in church governance. The dissenting bishops gave in to the views of a clear majority of lay people and non-bishops, supported by a silent protest from 60 members inside the assembly. If business had been business as usual, the initial position of the bishops would have prevailed.

Catholic leaders acknowledged that the initial failure to pass the original motions damaged the Church’s reputation, giving the impression that its leaders were indifferent to the concerns of observant women.

After the motions were slightly redrafted, the Full Council voted overwhelmingly that every Catholic diocese in Australia should commit to creating new opportunities for women to participate in ministries.

Plenary Council vice-chairman Shane Mackinlay said the church had averted disaster by accepting the reworded motions, saying: “I believe that in time we will look upon this as a tremendously significant event in the lives of of the Church in Australia”.

Catholic feminist Marilyn Hatton was thrilled that the Church recognized it needed to make improvements to gender equality.

But she was disappointed that the motion on women deacons was “watered down”.

Pope Francis has launched a commission examining whether Catholic women should be able to serve as deacons.

Deacons are ordained ministers who do not intend to become priests but may perform baptisms, attend weddings, perform funerals and burials outside of Mass, and distribute Holy Communion.

Women are permitted to serve as Anglican deacons in most dioceses in Australia, but not in the Catholic Church.

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