There may be hope yet that women will play a greater role in the Catholic Church, says a representative body.
Chair of the Concerned Catholics Canberra/Goulburn, Professor John Warhurst said he was "cautiously hopeful" following Australian Catholic leader, Archbishop Mark Coleridge's comments that issues concerning women would be fundamental to deliberations at this week's Plenary Council.
"When it is considered that Catholic bishops have hitherto rejected giving women any decisive or liturgical role in the church, comments by Archbishop Coleridge, who is President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, indicating possible reconsideration of the position is heartening," Professor Warhurst said.
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Speaking on the ABC's Religion and Ethics program on September 29 September, Archbishop Coleridge said: "The question of women is absolutely fundamental and it will be central to the deliberations and discussions of the Plenary Council. That much is certain."
"While the archbishop did not give any indication on what issues the 'question of women' might be discussed, we must hope it will reflect the possibility of debate about real change," Professor Warhurst said.
"Other comments the Archbishop made on the program also indicate that Archbishop Coleridge at least is signalling a position that might be more open to change in how the church reaches out to the community.
"While defending the episcopal powers of the bishops, he did say the 'monarchical' exercise of power and the culture of secrecy exposed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 'has to go'.
"The Archbishop said that all of the bishops were concerned about how the church continued its mission and had to accept the facts on the ground that the church did not have the social profile and public voice that it once had and to presume it still did would be 'frankly foolish'.
"He said the church had to ask the question about what it meant to be a poor, humbler and simpler church... that was reaching out in all kinds of new and perhaps hitherto unseen ways into the culture of the society.
'Archbishop Coleridge was asked how happy he was that despite the majority role women occupy in many church agencies, they would not have a deliberative vote at the Assembly. That is restricted to the 45 all-male bishops at the assembly while the remaining 235 members of the Assembly, which includes women members, are only allowed a 'consultative vote'.
"Perhaps we have got to look to the future whether that may change," Archbishop Coleridge said.
His hope was that the consultative vote would be "very, very influential."
Professor Warhurst said that having received so few overtures from the bishops that the Assembly would consider real change in issues such as gender equity and governance, it was hoped the Archbishop's comments might be a harbinger of "a real rethink by the bishops."
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