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Good news or bad news for women in the Australian Church?—by Andrea Dean

5 June 2017 | Mission and Spirituality News

Lay-women-in-churchI’ve thought long and hard about what to write with regard to Women and the Australian Church. The direction I’ve decided to take is the result of two emails that I received this morning. They are, clearly, bad news. However I also have another two emails that are clearly good news for women in the Australian Church.

Firstly, some context. Following the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocesan Synod in 2004 a Commission for Women was formed. The Commission operated successfully until last year when several members wished to conclude their generous time of service. They went to see Archbishop Prowse with a proposal to revitalise the Commission by appointing younger members. After some consideration, the Archbishop responded to the members with this message:

“I think it’s best for us to place the Commission for Women in abeyance until the creation of a newer commission on marriage, family and youth begins to take form over the next twelve months. I'm certain with this newer initiative, a more satisfactory place for the particular concerns of women might be addressed. We'll take it step by step with the Lord's help.”

All women are members of at least their birth family but not all are married, not all are young and not all are mothers. This sounds like bad news to me.

Secondly, there was an email that told a personal story. A mature Catholic woman, Ellen, wrote of her grief over her sister’s decision to leave the Catholic Church. Both have been active in the cause of increased participation of women in leadership and decision-making roles in the Church. Gwen though (not her real name) despairs of seeing any change and has begun to seek a new spiritual home in another Christian church. Ellen grieves over Gwen’s decision and grieves further that Gwen is now a spiritual nomad, an itinerant Christian. This sounds like bad news to me.

Thirdly, the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Commission for Women instituted an award to recognise a woman who is an active member of her parish community and who has made a positive contribution within the diocese to one or more of the areas of decision-making, leadership, active service and lay pastoral ministry. Margo Nancarrow from Rutherford received the Magdalene Award for a lifetime of service to the church through various groups and councils. The award and Margo herself are good news but would you believe there were 25 high quality nominees! That’s super good news!

The fourth example is close to my heart. Some of the graduates of the Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship are developing a mentoring program for Catholic women. The Australian Catholic Women's Mentoring Program aims to build the skills, confidence and networks of Australian Catholic women and increase their capacity to use their gifts and talents for the Australian Church and Australian society.

The program builds on the idea that women all over Australia are already doing incredible things in the Australian Church and Catholic communities. Women have unique skills and gifts to offer and every opportunity should be taken to help develop these to their fullest potential. This simple but potentially influential initiative offers a concrete way of taking action to increase women’s engagement in the Church and broader society. The launch will be in May and I’m already rating this good news.

As you can see it is impossible for me to write about women in the Australian Church in a general way. Each person’s experience is significant and unique. Some women are worn out from trying to make a difference while others are just beginning to bring their creativity and energy to the service of Church and society. Some are recognized and honoured for their service while others despair and drift away. 

Some dioceses are enabling and celebrating the contribution that women make and others are stepping back from rich initiatives. Many women experience the support of others, receive rich formation in their faith tradition and collaborate in ministry. Others yearn for access to community, mentoring and the opportunity to serve the Church.

There is both good news and bad news concerning women and the Australian Church. Please if you can, enable the flourishing of another, enable the good news of Jesus to come to life in all the women in the whole Church in Australia.

Editor’s Note: CathNews had a news item recently which relates to Andrea’s article. To read article in CathNews

If you wish to comment on this or anything in the Newsletter, please email me, Carmel Duffy, at carmel.duffy@dbb.org.au. Your words may be published in later editions of the Newsletter.

Andrea-DeanAndrea has been involved in leadership, facilitation and teaching through the Catholic Education Office, the Australian Catholic University and the University of Canberra. In 2004, she received a Churchill Fellowship and visited the USA to investigate programs in teacher formation. Since 2009, Andrea has worked as an independent consultant and life coach in her business which is called Future Matters. She offers retreats and spirituality days for Catholic schools and organizations as well as supporting the implementation of mentoring programs and collaborative development of Vision and Mission Statements. Currently she is training as a spiritual director, coordinating a national Catholic leadership program for young women and acting director of the Office for the Participation within the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

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