The Independent Newsweekly
|January 16, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 40
Geraldine Hawkes chairs the Commission for Australian Catholic Women. She also coordinates St Paul's City Ministry, an ecumenical centre that works with business people to bring ethics alive in boardrooms and workplaces across South Australia.
While the active involvement of women in the life of the church and in all aspects except for the ordained ministry is very considerable and significantly greater than that of laymen, the roles they fill are secondary, ancillary, and even menial, resulting in feelings of deep pain, anger and alienation.
Sharing hopes: healing priesthood
By Geraldine Hawkes
ADELAIDE, Australia -- Whenever we share our hopes about new possibilities, we take a step towards realising those hopes. When the hopes are shared across cultures and countries, new insights are generated, points of convergence are discovered -- and changes occur.
It was this framework that prompted me to accept an invitation from the National Board of Catholic Women (England and Wales) to contribute to their book, Healing Priesthood: Women's Voices Worldwide (Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2003). The words "healing priesthood" conjure up many images and they spoke to me of the healing ministry of Jesus which serves as a model for daily life for all the baptised. One story that is particularly meaningful in my reflections is that of the woman with the haemorrhage. The mere gesture of coming up behind Jesus and touching the fringe of his cloak was sufficient for Jesus to notice her, to recognise her hope and for the woman's life to be changed, enabling her to live in peace.
However, radical change such as this doesn't seem to happen quickly in the institutional church, and when change does happen, often it is superficial.
"I can accept that it might take a long time to bring about the change, but making cosmetic changes (e.g., declaring equal numbers on the parish council), while indicative of goodwill, are entirely inadequate in bringing about the sort of change that is needed. It has to be fundamental change, a change of the heart, a change of mind set, a change of paradigm." Such was one of many responses received during a research project into the participation of women in the Catholic church in Australia undertaken in the late 1990s by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
The research followed suggestions and representations to the Australian Catholic bishops during the 1970s, 1989s and 1990s from a range of individuals and groups concerned about the role and status of women in the Catholic church. They were calling for the role and status of women to be considered as a matter of social justice.
The project was a major event for the Catholic community across Australia and thousands of women and men participated. There was a variety of ways in which people could contribute their views, including written submissions, contextual papers, public hearings and meetings with targeted groups. Many reflected that having their stories listened to and acknowledged was healing in itself.
The findings of the research were published in the report Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus and presented to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in 1999. The research indicated that there was a wide range of views on women's participation. However, the major findings showed quite clearly that while the active involvement of women in the life of the church and in all aspects except for the ordained ministry is very considerable and significantly greater than that of lay men, the roles they fill are secondary, ancillary, and even menial, resulting in feelings of deep pain, anger and alienation. Both women and men called for women to have leadership roles and a real voice in the decision-making processes of the church.
The bishops made their response in September 2000, in the Social Justice Sunday Statement, describing nine decisions for action at the national level, particularly by the various bishops' committees, and 31 proposals for consideration within dioceses across Australia.
One of those decisions was the establishment of a Commission for Australian Catholic Women. Its role is to act as a focal point for ongoing dialogue, theological reflection and pastoral planning on women's participation on the Catholic church in Australia and to facilitate the implementation of the decisions and proposals arising from the report and contained in the social justice statement (See www.cacw.catholic.org.au).
Since its establishment in 2001, the commission, in addition to some joint projects with various organizations, has worked extensively on communication, meeting with people in dioceses across Australia and the formation of networks.
Its particular focus for the next three years is to foster the participation of young women in leadership in the Australian church in. It will do this by nurturing women's participation in inter-faith relations at various layers of the church, with a particular emphasis on assisting young women to contribute, over a period of time, at the national and international level. The commission will develop strategies around education, formation (including mentoring and apprenticeships), training in media relations and the practice and processes of dialogue across the church.
Through these initiatives, the commission anticipates that women, and young women in particular, will be able to come to a deeper knowledge and experience of faith, make richer connections between faith and life, share the skills they already contribute as young women at work and in the community, participate more equally/fully in the mission of the church alongside men and with ordained and religious and demonstrate the leadership role that women can play in the Church in Australia.
It is hoped that through this major project, much needed healing and a "fundamental change, a change of the heart, a change of mind set, a change of paradigm" will occur and so lead us to the deep, inner peace that, like the woman with the haemorrhage, we each long for.
* Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus, Harper Collins, 1999 p.103.
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