Plenary voices: Monica Doumit

Here is the text of an intervention by Monica Doumit on women and the Church at the Plenary Council on Tuesday 5 October

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A woman and child attend Pope Francis’ celebration of Pentecost Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 23 May 2021. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

Greetings from Gadigal Country.

I am a proud Maronite Catholic, who, like much of my generation, has strong connections to the Latin Rite as well.  I’m humbled by the opportunity to represent women from both Rites at this Council.

I am conscious that no one can claim to speak for all women and I would be wary of anyone who claims to do so. Catholic women are a diverse group with a wide range of gifts, struggles and desires.

To prepare this intervention, I asked members of the Maronite Women’s Movement what they desire from this Council. While answers varied, they all centred on one theme: more support for the domestic Church.

They asked for initiatives to assist women experiencing the pain of infertility or miscarriage, of raising children with special needs and caring for ageing parents, for those trying to raise their children in a faith to which the world around them is indifferent or even actively hostile. They want support in the challenges of the ‘hidden’ years of transition from being single women to wives and mothers. I hope this Council can assist.

I didn’t plan to address the issue of women’s Ordination as it isn’t an issue for any Maronite woman I have met, nor for my contemporaries or those younger in the Latin Rite. But I felt called to speak on it after it was raised in the opening session.  As I said, I do not purport to speak for all women in the Church and I would only like to offer another view to that which has already been expressed.

Suggesting that women can only be equal in the Church if we are admitted to Holy Orders diminishes the extraordinary contribution women have made and continue to make in the Church. It is an example of the same clericalist attitude ironically so opposed by those who advocate for women’s Ordination.

Lay women and lay men, for that matter, serve the Church daily in a variety of roles, using a variety of gifts, as St Paul writes. The Church is much richer for their presence and fidelity.

We do not need to replace the clergy in order to be equal in the Church, because Catholicism is not a zero sum game. We thrive when serving in collaboration and not competition with the Priesthood. Consider St Mary of the Cross and Father Julian Tenison Woods, Servant of God Eileen O’Connor and Father Ted McGrath as two wonderful, Australian examples of this collaboration.

To the Catholic women listening, I say: please, my sisters, do not listen to anyone who tells you that you are less valued or your service less important than ordained ministry. Please do not let these voices keep you from serving the Church with everything you have. The Church in Australia desperately needs and desires your wisdom, your empathy and your genius.