Can the Catholic Church find salvation in a greater role for women?


For committed Catholic Kate Englebrecht, most days at her home in Mudgee in the central west of New South Wales start with a simple routine — quiet reflection and prayer.

It is in stark contrast to the recent turbulent times for the church, including a royal commission which exposed widespread sexual abuse, and the conviction of Cardinal George Pell.

Those events have not made her question her faith, but they have made her question the future of the Catholic Church and changes it must make to embrace the role of women.

“If not after this catastrophe, then when?” Ms Englebrecht said.

Englebrecht does not say these things easily. Until a few months ago she worked for a nearby Catholic diocese, visiting parishioners and assisting the Bishop.

Now she has moved on and is free to speak about what she believes must happen in the wake of the Pell verdict.

“I think it was a moment of absolute clarity,” she said.

“The culture of secrecy … those days have gone. They have to go.”

She and others believe a greater role for women in the Catholic Church would have changed the culture that allowed sexual abuse to flourish.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reached a similar conclusion.

It recommended women be given decision-making roles at all levels of the church after evidence suggested dioceses where women played a larger role had lower levels of sexual abuse.

But Ms Englebrecht goes further. She wants women to have a place in the highest role in the church. As long as she has been a Catholic, she has felt the calling to become a priest.

She knows due to Vatican law, that is unlikely to happen in her lifetime.

“It’s very painful,” she said.

“I live with the longing to serve in a way that I’m not going to be allowed to.”

‘It’s about feeling equal with the priests’

The Catholic Church in Australia is preparing for one of the most important gatherings in its history next year, when it holds its first Plenary Council meeting since 1937.

The ordination of women priests will be on the agenda, but most agree there is no likelihood they will be sanctioned here.

That would directly contradict more than 1,500 years of canon law — the rules that govern the Catholic Church.

“It’s based on the view that Jesus ordained the 12 apostles at the last supper … and therefore only men can represent Christ,” Professor Dorothy Lee of the University of Divinity in Melbourne said.

“At mass, behind the altar, they are standing in the place of Christ. Therefore, the argument is they have to be male.”

It is a belief fundamental to the Catholic Church and Pope Francis has been clear that, on this point, there is no room for negotiation. Continue reading

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