Australia’s Plenary Council votes yes for Women Deacons


Australia’s fifth plenary council (PC) finished on a united note on the final day of voting last Friday. The PC’s final acts will now be compiled and sent to Rome for ratification.

PC vice president Bishop Shane Mackinlay says he believes “in time we will look back on this as an extremely significant event in the life of the Church in Australia”.

The initial failure of the motions about women deacons and opportunities for women was a “terrible look” for the Church, he says. “It was perceived as a rejection of the legitimate concerns women and men in the Church have had for so long.”

John Warhurst, a church reform advocate calls it “an encouraging step forward from a group of men who wield ultimate power in the church and have resisted any effective recognition of ministries for women in the past”.

“Now we have some hope that the Australian Church can move towards meeting the ideal of gender equality accepted in other parts of society.”

While Catholic feminist Marilyn Hatton says she’s delighted the Church sees it must improve gender equality, she’s disappointed the motion on female deacons has been “watered down”. “It would be much better if our bishops were on the front foot on this issue”, she says.

Conversely, Maeve Louise Heaney from the Australian Catholic University says the revised motions are superior to the originals.

After two motions were redrafted, 18 of the 19 PC motions were passed.

How they voted

✔️ Women deacons

✔️ New opportunities for women

✔️ The equal dignity of women and men … including “enhancing the role of women in the Church” and “overcoming assumptions, culture, practices and language that lead to inequality”

✔️ Hearing women’s perspectives: Ensuring “the experiences and perspectives of women, including women who exercise ministry, are heard, considered and valued at local, diocesan and national levels”

✔️ Implementing documents: Previous Australian bishops’ documents will be implemented “more fully”

✔️ New English Mass translation

✔️ Lectors, acolytes and catechists: Formation ministries to be promoted

✔️ Reviewing guidelines on preaching: “For lay people to participate in a formal ministry of Preaching in the Latin Church, as provided for in canon 766 of the Code of Canon Law.”

❌ Lay homilies: The assembly rejected a motion seeking “an amendment to canon 767 to permit … those entrusted … to in the Eucharistic assembly …”

✔️ Catechesis on confession

✔️ General absolution

✔️ Youth ministry: “Ongoing support and strategies for those who minister to young people”, the promotion of “the rich variety of spiritual and devotional traditions of the Church” and “synodal practices such as encounter, accompaniment, listening, dialogue, discernment and collaboration”

✔️ Strategic policies: to “Identify and support ministry and leadership formation”

✔️ Cooperation: to “Help develop formation programmes”

✔️ Working group on formation

✔️ Working group on Catholic social teaching

✔️ Five-year review: plus interim reports in 2023 and 2025 with final in 2027

✔️ Review of previous decrees: “To determine those whose validity may endure” following Vatican II and changes to Church law

✔️ Closing the council


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