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Towards inclusivity: Can the Church learn from the Federal election?

  • 30 June 2022
Last month’s Federal election has delivered what is being considered as the most progressive parliament that Australia has witnessed for some time; a heavy representation of Independents and Greens MPs on the crossbench, with a Labor government. Such a change represents a shift in values, experiences and priorities held by everyday Australians. Significantly, the major hot button issues said to have motivated voters in this election are climate change, women’s rights and political integrity.

What might this powerful move in Australian society signal for our Church? As the Australian Catholic Church continues its process of self-examination through the Plenary Council, what can it discern from this election result?

Scott Morrison’s underlying message was that there would be no unwanted surprises in keeping the Coalition in government, that it was ‘a safe bet’, a position that was rejected by voters. As has been said multiple times about the Plenary Council, the Church likewise cannot go on with a ‘business as usual’ approach. Australians walked away from a political party that took this stance, and interestingly, the demographic that most highly represented a switch in political allegiance this election, according to pre-election polling and surveys, was professional women.

Not only did professional women change their voting habits, but many stood up as Independents, running for a seat in parliament themselves, being proactive when the government failed to take action on major issues impacting Australians. Men and women, young and old, voted for them, believing them better able to represent their concerns. These women have gained an incredible number of seats, reflecting a secular society that has confidence in women’s leadership abilities.

'Like never before, Australians moved towards justice for people and the planet and a more inclusive society.' 

There is no suggestion that the Church makes decisions or takes positions based on popular opinion. In fact, rightly, often the standpoint held by the Church is counter-cultural. However, the Church must also re-imagine its own leadership structures so that female and lay voices are no longer confined to consultative, management or administrative roles. A growing recognition of the need for these voices has been reflected in the initiatives taken by Pope Francis, who has begun to make significant changes by appointing women to some positions of authority in the Vatican previously only held by ordained men.

The Pope’s mid-May Rescript decreed that non-clerical members may be conferred the office of Major Superior in clerical religious institutions. Permitting non-ordained brothers