Some interesting developments in the Catholic Church Down Under.

First, tensions flared at the country’s plenary council over discussion of the role of women in the Church:

Tensions inside Australia’s plenary council have burst into the open after motions on the role of women failed to get a majority and a number of female delegates staged a silent protest inside the assembly hall.

A motion which included a resolution to consider female deacons, should Pope Francis authorize such a move, was accepted by a majority of the 277 delegates but failed to pass after the bishops did not achieve the required majority.

According to the rules of the plenary council, all motions require a two-thirds majority of delegates and bishops. The members of the council have a “consultative” vote and bishops a “deliberative” one.

The results of the voting caused upset among a number of female and male delegates who stood silently together on one side of the assembly room to make their feelings known.

Proceedings were suspended as bishops then held emergency talks to find a resolution. After the talks, the council announced that members will now reconsider the motions that failed to pass and have formed a four-person drafting committee to come up with a new text which will be then presented to members.

“Yesterday I felt overwhelmingly sad because it was some women who spoke against the enhancement of women’s roles in the Church,” Sr Patty Fawkner, the leader of the Good Samaritan sisters, the first religious congregation, founded in Australia, told The Tablet. 

“Women’s participation in leadership and governance structures should not necessarily be equated with a desire for ordination to the priesthood.”

But she added: “I do feel hopeful, however, because proceedings stopped, we paused, listened and recognized we could not leave this plenary council without saying something about women’s roles in governance in the Church.”

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Meanwhile, there were positive moves in the recognition of the country’s indigenous people:

Taking steps to address racism and abuse, the Catholic Church in Australia has officially endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which calls for a First Nations voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the nation’s constitution.

In a separate action, the Plenary Council apologized formally to victims, survivors and families of child abuse and committed to a further investigation into the systemic factors that facilitated it within the church.

Members of the Plenary Council’s Second Assembly, which endorsed the Uluru Statement, also committed to acknowledging “in a prominent and appropriate manner the traditional custodians of the land” in each diocese and eparchy.

The bishops’ Commission for Liturgy and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council will consider Indigenous “symbols and rituals” for Catholic liturgies.

The assembly also apologized to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for “the part played by the church in the harms they have suffered” and committed to working toward “recognition, reconciliation and justice.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are among those who have been abused in Australia, including by church officials and at church-run schools. In 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse issued a 17-volume report documenting abuses, including in situations involving the church.

“As a Plenary Council, we recommit the Catholic Church in Australia to responding transparently, with justice and compassion, to those who have been abused, whether they approach the church directly or through the government’s National Redress Scheme or through civil litigation,” said the Plenary Council statement on abuse.

Local memorials for victims and survivors of child abuse will also be encouraged where appropriate, “as a tangible recognition of the harm done through abuse and the need for special care for children.”

… More than 270 delegates — bishops, religious and laypeople — are participating in the Second Assembly. Rules for a plenary council are outlined in canon law, which determines who must be included as well as who may be included. The Australians sought permission to increase the number of laypeople, a spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference said before the First Assembly last October.

Later this year, Plenary Council acts adopted by the Australian bishops will be sent to the Vatican for approval. When those acts are approved by the Vatican, they will be implemented in Australia and be binding on Australian Catholics.

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