The Plenary Council prepared to draw to a close on 8 July after two days of catch-up in an altered voting format, passing almost all of the motions in its guiding document including a revised version of the section on the equal dignity of women and men in the Catholic Church.
Members were tired after a long week but the general mood in the assembly hall was buoyant as the final full day ended.
The co-director of the Sydney-based Marriage Resource Centre, Francine Pirola, said that the Council had produced a “vastly improved” revision of section 4 of the Motions and Amendments document on women which had been the focus of a major disruption mid-week.
“Instead of being comprised of only two motions, all of the action items were separated out, so that was really good and felt a lot more respectful,” she said.
“The document was theologically more concise and accurate as well, so I think that made it easier for people to swing behind it,” she said. “Mostly the women who had previously been very distressed seemed to be happy with it.”
Oran Park parishioner Erin Gillard said in a media briefing that the revision by a four-member committee, presented to members on the previous evening, was a better reflection of the experience of women broadly in the Church.
“Where ever they find themselves on the spectrum of what it is to be a Catholic woman we’ve found a mid-point,” she said.
“It was an opportunity for a foundation and a starting point. I feel like I can go home to my daughter now and say yes, the Catholic Church values women and men, and it is a good day in that respect.”
Committee member Canossian Sister Melissa Dwyer, who served on the committee along with University of Notre Dame Prof. Renee Kohler-Ryan, National Head of the School of Philosophy and Theology, told the Catholic Weekly that she was pleased they both had also been part of the original drafting process.
“So I’m confident that it’s a document that really honours the spirit in the room,” she said. “At the same time I’m also confident that we’ve taken into consideration the original inspiration that came from those thousands of people that have been part in this journey all the way from the beginning of the different phases of listening and discernment.”
Prof. Kohler-Ryan said the greatest challenge and responsibility was trying to do justice to such a diverse range of views expressed in discussion and written feedback.
“The wisdom of Christ’s Church, her Scripture and tradition, shines a path that actually places demands on all of us,” she said.
“Catholics are still to realise the ‘hour of woman’ that Paul VI spoke about at the close of the Second Vatican Council.
“As the drafting team has expressed: there is still much work to be done.”
Following an emergency meeting of the bishops and the council’s steering committee on 6 July, the Council members agreed to change to a more flexible format allowing for greater discussion and consideration of the issues presented in the guiding document.
Eighteen of the 19 motions considered on Friday passed including all five motions in Part 4 of the document, entitled ‘Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men’.
Earlier in the week, two motions in that section received simple majorities, but not the necessary two-thirds to achieve a qualified majority, and so did not pass.
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB addressed the assembly at the time acknowledging it was a challenging moment for the Council.
“There is a long way for the Church to go in the understanding of the proper role of women in the life of the Church,” he said.
“The way we move forward to properly understand God’s plan in relation to women is important. As the People of God, we should understand that this moment is one of the calls of God to us.
“It is clear from the Plenary Council journey that the Church, the People of God, is committed to understanding the proper role of women.”
After overwhelming support was given for the Council to reconsider Part 4, the four-person writing group began work on preparing a new draft. That draft was published on Thursday evening, after all Members spent time discerning a path forward and providing feedback to the writing group.
Sr Maeve Heaney VDMF said that it had been “a tough week, but also a very graced one”.
“Tough, because we are all invested in this beautiful yet shadowed Church Jesus called us into, but we are so very diverse as well,” she said. “Graced, because we did not step back from the cross but stepped into it.
“I am hopeful it will mark a ‘before and after’ for the Church in Australia, but I also pray this will be so.”
The Council members also passed a series of motions in Part 5, ‘Communion in Grace: Sacrament to the World’, and Part 6, ‘Formation and Leadership for Mission and Ministry’.
Among the motions in those parts of the document were ones related to the sacrament of penance, review of the ministry of preaching and the development of formation programs.
They include a request the Council will make that the Pope consider whether the Third Form of the Rite of Penance “might have wider use on occasions when it is particularly appropriate, granted an understanding among the faithful of its distinctive nature and requirements”.
The one motion that did not pass was that the Plenary Council request an amendment to canon law to permit laity to preach in the Eucharistic assembly.
“The one motion that did not pass was that the Plenary Council request an amendment to canon law to permit laity to preach in the Eucharistic assembly”
On the previous day members passed all six motions they considered in the areas of Church governance and ecology.
On integral ecology the Council formally recognised both the sacred duty to care for and protect the Earth as a common home and to affirm the promotion and defence of human life from conception to natural death.
It also encouraged the Church across the country to join Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ Action Platform and either develop or participate in existing Laudato Si’ Action Plans.
Included in the area of Church governance was a call for the establishment of diocesan pastoral councils across the country, the hosting of diocesan synods within five years of the conclusion of the Plenary Council and the undertaking of broad consultation about the creation of a national synodal body for Church collaboration.
Selina Hasham, the CEO of Harvest Journeys pilgrimage operator, said there was “undeniable grace present” throughout the week’s conversations and voting deliberations. “We were 277 in number, imperfect people, bishops, clergy, men and women, enacting an imperfect process, but through that great frailty I think the Holy Spirit was able to work,” she said.
“People with many divergent views and myriad expressions of the way they live church, but with faithfulness nonetheless, and that allowed God to work and let us reach a resolution, particularly on the women’s issue. I think everyone was happily surprised that we journeyed through the chaos [of Wednesday] and were able to emerge and find a way forward, so it was really good outcome.”
After a four-year journey the Plenary Council officially closes with a Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 9 July with principal celebrant and Plenary Council celebrant Archbishop Tim Costelloe SDB.
Details on the final wording of the motions and on the voting outcomes of the second assembly are at the Plenary Council website.