My first instinct was to write ‘picking up the pieces’ of last week’s Australian Plenary Council. It certainly would have a ring of truth. I have received many emails and phone calls expressing pain, disillusionment, anger and even trauma. There was a midweek crisis in which the motions relating to “Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men” did not pass. Not only the voting, but the conversation in the room highlighted strong and perhaps irreconcilable stances. As I have written elsewhere, I started to question the value of my baptism. Other women needed to debrief about being relegated to menial silent roles in church simply “because I am a woman.” Men also told me that they doubted their own place in this boys’ clerical club.
But that was not the endpoint, and we have come through the crisis to a new place. Let’s call it the ‘peaces’ of the Plenary Council instead. In the room, a diversity of people made their presence felt: women, men, lay, ordained, Eastern and Western. The Council had to stall. The vote had to be revised and re-presented. And it did pass. As those who were there have told me, it truly was a movement of the Spirit.
Most relevant to this blog, one of the successful motions states, “That, should the universal law of the Church be modified to authorize the diaconate for women, the Plenary Council recommends that the Australian Bishops examine how best to implement it in the context of the Church in Australia.” It is a step forward. We are talking about this topic on a much bigger stage now, and we are contributing to the global discernment on women and the diaconate.
I have received so many messages, phone calls and emails of support, affirmation and encouragement for this article and other mentions in the media. It has been overwhelming, and perhaps I’ve been surprised that the worst backlash has simply been the recommendation to switch denominations. Many people seem to think that the time for this conversation has come. It is for the sake of future generations of Catholics, for people suffering for want of appropriate ministry, for witness value in a world that needs hope.
This weekend we will hear of Mary of Bethany sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his words. Well, one of the most touching emails I received brought this image to mind. I saw myself sitting at the feet of another rabbi, listening and learning from words of wisdom and faith. The email was from Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky, a friend from my past of interfaith organising. She had seen the article and wanted to say that she was thinking of me.
That is one of the ‘peaces’ that I would like to gather at this time. I want to celebrate the quiet ones everywhere who have shared faith, hope and love despite power plays and obstacles. I want to herald the defenders of women in our Church, who have stood silently or spoken openly. I want to cherish all those who, in the name of Jesus, have gotten on with the business of tending and empowering those who suffer, and seeking justice for the oppressed. I want to highlight the moments of deep listening and reconciliation with those of different opinions. Finally, I would like to thank God for bringing us on this journey, through the ups and downs, in all of our glorious unity amidst diversity.