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A place for women in church leadership

  • 01 October 2014

For two weeks from this Sunday, the much anticipated Synod on the Family will be held in Rome. Those attending include around 150 bishops, some specially appointed clergy, a number of lay experts and 14 married couples, a total of about 250 participants from all corners of the globe. Only the bishops and clergy will have voting rights at the Synod. 

The deliberations will be in two stages: this first gathering will discuss the multiple issues and problems surrounding contemporary family life – issues such as contraception, cohabiting couples, same sex unions, whether divorced Catholics who remarry should be allowed to receive communion – and in a second meeting twelve months later in 2015 they will formulate and vote on Church policy about the family.

Of course it is lay Catholics – not the bishops and clergy – who are living contemporary family life, and who will be most affected by Church teachings on the family. It seems obvious their expertise, experience and insights should be central to the upcoming Synod.

The Australian lay delegates to the Synod are: Ron and Mavis Pirola, chairs here of the bishops’ Catholic Marriage and Family Council and one of the married couples chosen; Christopher Meney who is director of the Sydney Archdiocese’s Life, Marriage and Family Centre; and Joan Clements, co-director of the World Organisation of Billings Ovulation Method Australia.

Several progressive Australian Catholic groups under the umbrella of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal made a push for women’s participation in the Synod. They nominated former NSW Labor Premier, Kristina Keneally as a possible participant, but she was not chosen. In this interview, she talks about her hopes and frustrations with the Synod, and more broadly about women’s and lay leadership in the Church.

Kristina Keneally is one of the most prominent lay Catholics in this country. She was born in the USA and met her Australian husband at the World Youth Day Congress held in Czestochowa, Poland in 1991. After they got married she moved to Australia, and became an Australian citizen.

She has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of Dayton, a Catholic university in Dayton, Ohio. In 1990 she was elected President of the National Association of Students at US Catholic Colleges and Universities, and was chosen by the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference as one of eight delegates to attend the 1991 World