This article was written by Kerry MacFarlane and Scilla Stack

Catholic Women Speak proved a popular social event in the Archdiocese of Perth on Thursday evening. Members of the national advisory body, Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW), welcomed the opportunity to meet Perth Catholic women prior to a National Council meeting on Friday 19 October 2018. Over 80 women and a lone Bishop gathered for much lively discussion at James Nestor Hall Leederville. Bishop Michael Morrissey of Geraldton, acting as Bishop Delegate, was warmly welcomed by the facilitator of the evening Ms Andrea Dean. Andrea is Secretary of the Council and the Director for the Office for the Participation of Women (OPW) based in Canberra. Local Perth CACW Council member, Ms Victoria Burrows and Dr Gemma Cruz of Melbourne, Council member and a member of the Plenary Council Executive Committee were among the participants.


The evening commenced with a talk about the women of Vatican II given by the Chair of CACW, Dr Trish Madigan OP. Sr Trish recalled the words of Cardinal Suenens of Belgium at the end of the second session of the Vatican Council “ Why are we even discussing the reality of the church when half of the church is not even represented here?”

Paul VI first appointed fifteen women as “auditors” in September 1964. By 1965, a total of 23 women were officially attending the Council. Most were General Superiors of religious congregations or single with only one young married woman attending as an equal participant with her husband. The women were a minority among the 2500 Council Fathers and the 500 male theological experts. While they were unable to speak on the floor of the Council, they served actively on sub-committees. Sr Trish noted when the women extended hospitality towards 1000 of the bishops over the course of the sessions, with their influence shaping debates and the ensuing documents. Australian Catholic intellectual, Rosemary Goldie, the first woman to hold an official post of authority in the Roman Curia was one of the auditor/observers. Rosemary contributed a significant clause to Gaudium et Spes (29). 

For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honoured. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.

After the presentation women formed small listening and discussion groups. What could we learn from the women of the Vatican Council? What changes would women welcome? Most women thought although church membership is predominately female women’s voices were still not being heard and their gifts for ministry were greatly under-utilised. Women have successfully supported each other through membership of small groups and formed constructive “communities of faith.” Hearing Catholic women preaching was valued.

A few women advocated female deacons and/or female ordination. Many saw structural change to be essential to allow a useful mix of women and men; lay and clerical co-operation. Pope Francis’s emphasis on love and tenderness is regenerating the original ethos of Christianity. Women welcomed the Plenary Council 2020 process as an opportunity to contribute to positive change and healing for the fractured church in Australia.

The evening was a great success and a vote of thanks for organising the event was given to Dr Pina Ford and Ms Mildred Rego from the Catholic Education Office. Recommendations were passed on the Council for Australian Catholic Women, an advisory council for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.



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