Updated: Mar 7
The New Testament witnesses to the inclusion of women in all aspects of the community’s life and mission. The Gospels tell of Jesus’ relationship with women.[i] The Acts of the Apostles and St Paul give accounts of the Early Church’s engagement with women and men.[ii] These accounts indicate the radical relationship of discipleship with Jesus, God, and one another. Those relationships challenged the patriarchy of that time and offered a different way of equal relationships.
Scriptural, theological, philosophical, and spiritual studies have drawn on and developed these understandings of the relationship of women to the Word of God within an ecclesiology of full communion, full participation and the call to mission.[iii]
In 21st Century society, women stand in a relationship of equality with men, in their family life, personal encounters and professional realities. In this change of epoch, Pope Francis has asked the question “Could the Spirit be prompting us to recognise, value and integrate the fresh thinking that some women are bringing to this moment?”[iv]
One’s images of God have powerful implications for identity, spirituality and relationship to God. These insights particularly in scriptural studies and theology demand the inclusion and identification of women in the language of church documents and rituals, and in the naming the multiple biblical images of the holy mysterious God.
Agency is the capacity to make meaning from one’s own environment and experience through reflective and purposeful action. Therefore women must be included in the ongoing discernment of what the Spirit is asking of the Australian Church and in the development of ongoing church teaching, particularly in regard to the meaning making of their faith, spirituality and theological education. All the baptised are called to participate in the priestly, prophetic and royal role of Jesus the Christ.[v]
The power imbalance within the Australian Catholic Church is irrefutable.[vi] Decision making within dioceses and parishes is held by the clergy. The laity on the whole are excluded. Within the global church, there are examples of collaborative models of governance. One prophetic model existed in the Archdiocese of Adelaide from 1986 to 2001.[vii]
The call in this section 4: Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men is to give witness by real, evidential actions to the truth of the equal dignity of all the baptised within the ecclesial community. Witnessing carries the responsibility of indicating through practice, structure and process that this truth is experienced at all levels of the Catholic community.
Sr Clare Condon sgs
26 June 2022
Sister of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, Congregational Leader 2005-2017; currently President of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, and has experienced church in a number of Australian Dioceses, in Japan, The Philippines and Kiribati.
[i] Some examples of followers of Jesus: Mark 15:40-41; Matt 27:55-56; Jn 20:17; Jn 4:7-30; Jn 11:17-34; Jn12:1-8; Jn 20:1-2; 11-18; [ii] Early Christian Community: Phoebe a Deacon, Rom 16: 1-3; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 3:1-5; Junia, Rom 16:7; Nympha Col 4:15; Acts 12:17; Gal 3:28; Lydia, Acts:16: 14-15; Pontius and Priscilla, Aquila, Acts 18:2, 19; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim4:19; [iii] A synodal church as described by Pope Francis is a church of communion, participation and mission. [iv] Pope Frances, Let us Dream, The Path to a Better Future, Simon Schuster, London 2020. P 63 [v] Vatican 11, Lumen Gentium , 12 10, 12, 13, 30–38. [vi] No 52 of the Framework for Motions states: authentic witness to the equal dignity of all baptised persons requires addressing issues of power imbalance, decision authority and agency. [vii] Archbishop Leonard Faulkner with a vision of a Community for the World, governed the Archdiocese of Adelaide with a Diocesan Pastoral Team consisting of the Archbishop, Vicar General, a woman of the Archdiocese and a women from a Religious Institute.