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

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


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 to become the direct superiors of ordained priests is a significant change, arguably separating the link between ordination and the automatic exercise of authority in the Church. This follows the Pope’s Praedicate evangelium, which highlighted that ordination is not a necessity to the exercise of authority in the Church and represents the realisation of the reform of the Curia.

These initiatives have been decisive steps in the Pope’s move towards greater inclusion of the laity and women in positions of authority. Ongoing consideration of change is vital lest the Church also witness its own mass exodus of lay women and the men who are supportive of female leadership. As Christians, we are called to a life of ‘metanoia’ or transformation. As the disciples were before us, we are continually being called into a process of repentance, change and renewal.

‘Walking the talk’ was another key issue in the election. Voting patterns demonstrated that previous Liberal voters stopped trusting that the party’s rhetoric and actions were aligned. At the same time, concern for the Church’s approach to LGBTQIA+ peoples became an issue of increasing concern within the Church, voiced in the First Assembly of the Plenary Council and the preparation for the Second Assembly. The Church professes that all of God’s children are to be cherished and welcomed. Yet, the elephant in the room for the Church has been the exclusion of LGBTQIA+ peoples from our community and their demonisation from the pulpit as ‘intrinsically disordered’.

We assert the fundamental truth that all human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, while concurrently continuing to deny that LGBTQIA+ peoples have the right to live as God has created them, fulfilling their God-given humanity. Perhaps when we instead affirm their full inclusion in the Church, we can truly claim to be a Church of integrity, one that practises what it preaches. To become a genuinely inclusive Church, the embodiment of Christ, with all its many diverse parts, these exclusionary teachings and practices must be transformed.

While the Plenary Council is not, and should not be, trying to win votes, there are lessons that can be learned from this year’s Federal election. Like never before, Australians moved towards justice for people and the planet and a more inclusive society. As the Australian Church continues the ongoing journey of living up to its own mission, is it taking note? Can we, as a Church, dare to venture on the synodal journey towards an inclusive, participatory and evangelising Church with ‘one listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit’ (Pope Francis 2015)?




Anne Walker is National Executive Director of CRA. 

Emma Carolan is Justice Research Officer of CRA.

Main image: Line art of a group of friends talking. (Tetiana Garkusha / Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Anne Walker, Emma Carolan, Plenary, Election, Inclusion, CRA



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Existing comments

It is interesting that this synodal process, one of the fruits of which you refer to is the ongoing business of the Plenary Council, resulted from the good work Pope Francis is doing to clean out and modernise Church procedures and administration. In any sane Church, the voices in the pew must be listened to. That does not mean they must be automatically followed in areas outside the remit of this Council. Properly ministering to LBGTIQA+ people is an extremely thorny moral question. I am unsure the direction the Anglican Church in Australia in the majority of its dioceses has dealt with this is the road to go down as that would seem to be in sharp contradiction to what is believed to be traditional Christian morality as exemplified in the Magisterium. Pulpit fulminations are probably best left aside and matters dealt with on a one-to-one basis. Transgender and gender dysphoria are still intensely contentious issues and I don't think muttering 'acceptance' in very complex psychological circumstances is the way to go blindly down. I am afraid the Church may need to remain countercultural on this, as well as other matters on the sharp edge of reality.

Edward Fido | 01 July 2022  

There are echoes of the famous line from the movie “Network” - I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore - in the recent election result. Voters deserted the major parties to increase the vote for the Greens and the teal Independents. Even as Labor attained a majority to govern they must work with the Greens and cross bench in the Senate to pass legislation. The Church is not a democracy however dynamic leadership is being shown by Pope Francis and the Bishops on the Plenary Council would do well to emulate this dynamism. Before more people vote with their feet.

Pam | 01 July 2022  
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People who 'vote with their feet' to move out of the Church are, by definition, snubbing the sacraments of forgiving and consecrating, even if they think they're still in the tent by decamping to St Mary in Exile, South Brisbane, or wherever. That's pretty much like renouncing Australian citizenship when you have no other. Very odd behaviour.

Of course, in one case you think you can get away with it because it appears that you can without cost to your quality of existence and in the other you know that you can't. However to do something in a situation simply because you possess the force majeure is bullying and, yes, God can be bullied in this life but, in the nature of things, what goes around in this life comes around in the next where Principle or Logic governs everything.

Catholics should take their cue from their alter egos as voters. It doesn't matter how disgruntled you are, the keys to the Lodge (or the White House, or Downing Street) will belong to one of the two blocs which monopolise access to the keys.

Squawk if you must but, because of the sacraments, stay inside the Tent.

roy chen yee | 01 July 2022  

Democracy, autocracy, theocracy, whatever; one can only lead with the consent of the led.

Ginger Meggs | 02 July 2022  
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Active or inert consent? A population is always (many times) larger than the caste of elites which leads it.

roy chen yee | 15 July 2022  

The incoherent, ever-shifting demands of various diversity, equity and inclusion activists was exposed by Amanda Houdeschell of the US Women’s Liberation Front. Challenging the Education Department’s proposed regulatory changes to “strengthen protections for LGBTQI+ students” she argued the changes would deny opportunities to women and girls declaring: “This is not inclusion, this is misogyny.” Indeed, the same ideology that cancels daddy-daughter dances for being exclusionary, puts men into female prisons making women sleep with men and shower with nude men in communal showers, possibly for the rest of their lives.

Australia’s health chief Brendan Murphy takes 78 words to define a woman; US Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown can’t define a woman; UK Labor leader Keir Starmer says it’s “not right” to say only a woman can have a cervix; Toronto police advertise for a “missing woman” with “a full goatee”; and a Manly resident tweets that action on climate change will “ensure we never have bush fires, floods or earthquakes ever again.” St Paul wrote: “Thinking themselves wise they became fools”. (Romans 1:21)

Yet some think the Church must reject its 2,000-year-old “exclusionary teachings and practice” and endorse the new moral order to become a “Church of integrity”?

Ross Howard | 03 July 2022  

Two of the above responses are significantly flawed in the following respects. The first is tendered by a heterosexual male who cannot by virtue of his orientation speak with a epistemic voice on matters of gender minority. What he offers instead is a conservative view, based upon what any respectable scripture scholar would recognise as a misread condemnation of homosexuality. Moreover, the messenger on this issue consistently offers a viewpoint that is 'conservative', which suggests a faulty basis upon which to support a theological position. The correspondent in question also frequently declares himself to have 'traveled' from Anglicanism towards Catholicism and now Russian Orthodoxy.

The second opinionator bases his judgments upon 'ever-shifting demands', thereby simply confirming that his position is not for budging. This static view of the world, famously enunciated by the politician, Margaret Thatcher, eventually turned against her and she was thrown out, indicating that, at least in matters of policy, it helps to maintain a balance between the old and the new. It being that politics and theology are not exactly correlative, a glimpse would reveal that much has changed over 2000 years of Christianity, which fundamentally claims that Jesus lived and died for us to flourish.

Michael Furtado | 06 July 2022  

"Can the Church learn from the federal election?" Depends on what message one chooses to learn from. The outstanding lesson from the last federal election is that a group can rule when only 4 people in every 10 vote in favour of that group while 6 out of 10 vote in accordance with disillusionment with the status quo which doesn't suit their personal agendas or in accordance with an agenda which serves themselves rather than the whole. Mind you, however, Albo and his people are doing a remarkable job and seem to have won over more support than their primary vote indicated.

john frawley | 10 July 2022  

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