New full-time ministry for Catholic Women

This week CathNews presents the top stories from 2006. This story was originally published on 18 May 2006

Bishop David Walker of the Sydney Diocese of Broken Bay has recently announced that he is creating a new full-time ministry for celibate, ecclesial women.

He told the ABC's Religion Report yesterday that celibacy would be essential to this ministry but unlike religious life, this group of people would not take a vow of poverty.

He says celibacy will help people in this ministry "to be at the service of others in a radical way".

The Bishop also said that while the idea applies equally to men, the focus on a women ministry is to help "draw them to a greater degree into the life and leadership of the church."

He said that he is unsure whether or not this ministry will "appease" women who want a "priestly style of life", but made it clear that the move is not meant to be a "back door" approach to women's ordination.

Bishop Walker says that he is not aware of similar models elsewhere and that he is responding to the demands of the local Church.

"What I'm trying to do is to focus on the diocese, the local church itself," he said.

"Religious, for example, belongs to their religious congregation and they're quite independent of the diocese in their way of life. What I'm trying to do is to establish a group of ministers who will serve within the local church, and be part of the ministry of the Bishop."

He said that as committed people, these ministers will be able to "fit into many of the works of our diocese, any of our agencies, thinking of schools or of Centacare, working in our parish in a number of pastoral areas."

But preaching will not be part of their ministry.

"The bishop could give approval for that, but I wouldn't see them as preaching," he told the ABC.

"I would see these people often in service areas, of actually working with people who are deprived or with disabilities, social ministries, I would see them being on committees that would be helping to resolve issues for the church," he said.

"I think that's a way of working with young people," he said. "So they're a ministry force that are very adaptable I think."

Meanwhile the Ordination of Catholic Women in Australia, a group of women not connected with the official Church, has issued a statement ahead of today's release of The Da Vinci Code film.

The statement released yesterday says that Dan Brown's book "is truthful in one regard: it reveals the extent of the church's suppression of women."

According to Marilyn Hatton, President of the Ordination of Catholic Women, women played an essential role in the early church and until the early ninth century it ordained women as priests.

"At [The Da Vinci Code's] heart there is a profound truth: that the church suppresses the feminine," Ms Hatton said.

"This suppression has extended even to re-writing the church's own history - that is, the current ecclesiastical spin that claims the church has only ever ordained men."

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, has described the fictional work is a "crude fantasy" but the Ordination of Catholic Women disagrees.

Ms Hatton said archaeologists had recently discovered several images of early church women dressed in priestly vestments. She says one mosaic uncovered in the Church of St Praxedis in Rome showed a woman wearing the same kind of cross that bishops wear today.

"The Da Vinci Code gives us an opportunity to reconsider the church's exclusion of women, and the justification it gave to reduce women's rights and freedoms," Ms Hatton said.

New full-time ministry for Catholic Women (ABC Radio The Religion Report 18/5/06)
Why Catholic women are getting cross (Sydney Morning Herald 18/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Ordination of Catholic Women | Church should 'fess up' on the truth of women's ordination in history (Ordination of Catholic Women Australia 16/5/06)
Diocese of Broken Bay

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