Plenary motions too constrained by equality-as-power paradigm, say women

Catholic women have responded to the disruption of the Plenary by a protest over votes on women and the Church

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A Plenary facilitator lights a candle symbolising the light of the Holy Spirit sought by the Plenary. After the loss of votes on two motions covering mutliple issues to do with women and the Church, including support for admitting women to the diaconate, a protest on Wednesday 6 July threw the Plenary into disarray. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Women reported that a distressing day which disrupted and altered the Plenary Council process left them ultimately with a sense of hope that unity would prevail despite the differences among them and that the Holy Spirit is truly working in this historic event.

The third working day of the Plenary Council began with a reflection on the account in Acts of the Apostles of a violent wind that filled the room during the Pentecost event.

It was apt, then, that the day saw a disruption in the painstakingly-planned schedule, which erupted after voting concluded on the motions pertaining to the equal dignity of men and women in the Church.

Equality doesn’t come from power: bioethicist

At roughly the midway point of this final assembly of the council, at issue were questions over women’s participation in the Church’s life and ways in which women are recognised, or not recognised, as they seek to fulfil their mission as baptised Catholics.

The national bioethics convenor of Catholic Women’s League Australia, Dr Deirdre Little, told The Catholic Weekly that the organisation has always been mindful of the equal dignity of men and women, and that those “who work humbly and consistently in the vineyard are not concerned with titled roles or power or expensive committees”.

“We are all equal in value and dignity, as sons and daughters of God. That dignity does not reside in power or in governance roles. We are in the greatest crisis of faith and belief that Christianity has ever faced and it is certainly not a time to be idle,” she said.

‘A hard and heavy day’

“As it was said in the Second Vatican Council’s closing message, women imbued with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling. There are so many who are waiting for the Word of God, whether they know it or not. We mustn’t be distracted from the mission of the Church by any conflict or divisions. We must be bound with the love and unity and prayer that underscores the Plenary Council [to date].”

Erin Gillard, an active parishioner at St Mary MacKillop Parish in Oran Park said that it had been a “very hard and heavy day”.

“For me there’s a lot of pain in hearing that the bishops voted down the motion to approve the introductory statement of Part 4 but I also want to understand why there was the 10 who voted yes but with reservations.

“There’s been a lot of pain but I do feel that the Spirit is definitely moving here, it’s very tangible,” she said.

“The scripture we were reflecting on today the ferocious wind that came through in a sense that’s what we felt here today. And we now are at a place of trying to heal and it’s moved forward.

“We want to make sure that we have something to say to the men and women of Australia, particularly the women, as the equal dignity of men and women is a very important part of the Plenary Council.”

Plenary members relax during a break. The loss of two votes bundling together numerous issues to do with women and the Church resulted in a protest that disrupted the planned agenda of the Plenary on Wednesday 6 July. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Creating roles for women?

Marie Shaddock, a Victorian member of the Catholic Women’s League, said that people with distinctly different views were nevertheless “very gracious and mature, and we were able to discuss”.

“Overall I am positive, I think that while today was quite distressing for some, for those outside the Church and those not involved in the Plenary, it shows the transparency of the Plenary and that the process actually does work,” she said.

“The bishops called the conference, they want guidance from women on what to do, within the parameters of the Church, so we shouldn’t be fearful or hold them in suspicion because they are genuine in wanting the Church to flourish in Australia. And it can only flourish with the help of women.

“At the CWL and a great many women groups within the Church we quietly get work done without causing any fuss and bother and do it well.  That’s what women do in the Church on many different levels.

“I think it’s misleading and wrong to say we’ll create roles for women, as there are many roles already being done from the ladies running the tuck shop up at school to advising bishops, on boards of Church organisations, working in seminaries, and on so many levels the Church has been benefitting from the work of women.

“I think it’s misleading and wrong to say we’ll create roles for women, as there are many roles already being done from the ladies running the tuck shop up at school to advising bishops, on boards of Church organisations, working in seminaries, and on so many levels the Church has been benefitting from the work of women.”

Mothers the unsung heroes

“We have to accept our diversity as women in the Church, and see that we are all on the one side and need to be united and in the Church.  We all don’t want to be in governance roles; women dedicated to motherhood and the family need to be supported in the work they do too, they are the unsung heroes.”

Co-director of the Marriage Resource Centre Francine Pirola said that by the end of the day she thought there was a “sense of satisfaction that we are working towards something we can all embrace”.

“I hope that we can give our full participation to the remaining agenda items, and feel confident enough that we can now move forward,” she said, adding that she also had a sense that the Holy Spirit had been working through the day.

Discussion ‘too constrained’

A member of the Plenary Steering Committee, Monica Doumit, said she felt “overwhelmingly positive” about the table discussions among members in the later part of the difficult day.

“In listening to people’s reservations about Part Four they weren’t saying that they wanted to take the material about the female diaconate out, or to reject the conversation about women in leadership in governance in the church,” she said.

“What they were saying is that only represents a very small measure of the desires of some women and how some women serve.

Desire for focus on motherhood, women in lay roles

“In the conversations this afternoon there was a sense that we want to hear more about motherhood, about women as carers for parents or children with, women who are excelling as lay professionals in various workplaces, about the women running parish bake sales and starting mothers’ groups and things like that.

“We also want to hear about lay men and where they are in the Church, about women and men in religious life, not only the contributions they have made historically but also in the context of today and of hopes for new vocations to the religious life.

“These were some of the beautiful things coming out of table conversations today and also in some of the interventions made. The hope is that we will end up with a much richer Part 4.

“One that will reflect the great diversity of all the different roles and vocations that men and women hold in the Church and that respects their equal dignity so that no role in liturgy, in Church agencies or bureaucracies has more dignity than all of the other ways that people contribute to the Church and to the world.”

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