‘Walkout’ over role of women at Australia’s Catholic plenary council

plenary Council

The Second Assembly of Australia’s Plenary Council was disrupted on Wednesday when a vote to include women as deacons failed to attract enough support from Australian bishops.

As a result, some delegates protested – they refused to take their seats and stood at the back of the meeting room.

The Catholic Weekly understands the protest was led by Francis Sullivan AO and John Warhurst AO.

Sullivan is Chair of Catholic Social Services Australia and the Mater Group of hospitals. He was previously CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University, and chair of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn.

Sullivan told The Catholic Weekly that a “palpable division” in the Plenary assembly room was evident.

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

The Council had been discussing a two-part set of documents called ‘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.

However, it fell just short of a qualified majority among deliberative voters – the bishops – and did not pass.

The other motion asked: “That each Australian diocese and eparchy foster new opportunities for women to participate in ministries and roles that are stable, publicly recognised, and 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.”

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

During Plenary Council assemblies, consultative votes are exercised by the 277 lay, religious and clerical members and deliberative votes are exercised by the Australian bishops.

Acknowledging the embarrassment the result had caused, Plenary council vice president Bishop Shane Mackinlay said: “This is not the way we were anticipating or hoping the process would go.

“It is disappointing and a lot of people – women and men, priests, laypeople and bishops – were very distressed.

“It was clear our members were not ready to put this to one side and move on to other things.”

Mackinlay said council members were trying to redraft the motion so that a new version could be approved on Friday.

“Everybody is absolutely adamant we need to say something about the equal dignity of women and men, and the way we recognise this in the life of the Church,” he said.

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.


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