Vote on women throws Plenary into crisis

A protest over the fate of votes on women and the Church has thrown the Plenary Council into crisis

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Plenary members gather for the Second Assembly of the Council in St Mary’s Cathedral College Hall on 5 July 2022. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The agenda for the Plenary Council was thrown into crisis and disrupted on Wednesday morning after more than 60 of the 277 members formed a protest over issues regarding women in the Church, including the defeat of a motion to formalise support for the ordination of women as deacons.

The members left their seats and stood together at one side of the assembly hall about 11am following the announcement to members of the bishops’ deliberative vote on the two motions relating to women. The Catholic Weekly understands some participants felt aggrieved by the bishops’ vote and that deep divisions were being voiced. Some felt the crisis was partly due to the process itself.

As the scheduled lunch break commenced, the Council’s Steering Committee met with the bishops to discuss the next steps, while an alternative meeting was held by more than 60 members in a separate room.

All four motions in Part 3 of the guiding document, entitled ‘Called by Christ – Sent Forth as Missionary Disciples’ achieved qualified majorities on both rounds of voting. Two-thirds of voters present must support a motion to archive a qualified majority.

The protest was formed after the outcome of the deliberative votes by the bishops on Part 4 of the document, entitled ‘Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men’.

One motion, including the consideration of women for ministry as deacons – should Rome agree – received a qualified majority among consultative voters but fell just short of a qualified majority among deliberative voters – bishops – and did not pass.

The numbers on the consultative vote for that motion 4.5 were: placet (assent) 148, placet juxta modum (assent with reservations) 27 and non placet (no assent) 36. At the deliberative vote 25 bishops voted placet, 10 voted placet juxta modum and 8 voted non placet.

The other motion, 4.6, did not receive a qualified majority on either the consultative or the deliberative votes, and so was not passed.

It was much shorter, proposing: “That each Australian diocese and eparchy foster new opportunities for women to participate in ministries and roles that are stable, publicly recognised, resourced with appropriate formation including theological education and commissioned by the bishop. These ministries and roles should engage with the most important aspects of diocesan and parish life and have a real impact on those communities.”

It received a consultative vote of placet 84, placet juxta modum 31, and non placet 97. At the deliberative vote it got 27 placet votes, 5 placet juxta modum and 11 non placet.

Plenary Council vice-president Bishop Shane Mackinlay addressed the assembly after the outcome of the votes was announced. He proposed that members spend additional time discerning what reservations and concerns are being expressed in the placet juxta modum (assent with reservations) votes.

Mr Sullivan told The Catholic Weekly that a “palpable division” in the Plenary assembly room was evident from the previous day’s discussions.

“There was a lot of anger and frustration particularly on behalf of women but also the LGBT or rainbow community if you will,” he said.

“This to my mind goes to the deeper issues confronting the Church over this period of listening and dialogue. Lots of voices have come forward and there is frustration that not all those voices are not actually in the room.

“The second thing is, are we actually being attentive to what those voices are saying to us.

“Underneath it all, I have to say even from my own experience, there is a deep grief I think that we all feel about where the Church is at, not just for ourselves personally but collectively there are generations of people who are no longer able to identify with the Church.”

A statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ media office late on Wednesday said that in the first afternoon session, a majority of Members backed a motion to reconsider the two motions from Part 4 of the Council’s Motions and Amendments document.

A four-person writing group has been established to receive recommendations from Members for the drafting of revised motions. The new motions are expected to be considered later in the week.