Where to now?

Last November, when most of us were revving up for Christmas and end-of-year festivities, the Australian Catholic Bishops had a meeting. High on the agenda was finance. By the time the meeting came to an end and the bishops all went back home they had made decisions that would cut jobs in research and journalism, reduce funding to many offices and commissions and decided to abolish the Council for Australian Catholic Women and the Office for the Participation of Women.

Twenty years ago these last two Offices were concrete signs that the bishops of Australia recognised the changing role of women with a national body of women who would provide them with advice and recommendations. They seemed to be genuinely committed to change. Forward twenty years to the eve of the 2020 Australian Plenary Council, and it’s hard to believe that the bishops’ commitment remains.

These same bishops, well, with a few exceptions, talk the talk when they publicly affirm the equality of women and occasionally invite women’s involvement in decision-making, but on a day-by-day level, the level that’s important to most catholics, nothing changes very much.


If I want to hear the Sunday Scriptures preached from the perception and lived experience of a woman I would have to attend a non-catholic church. Female hospital chaplains are not free to extend God’s forgiveness to a dying person who has just entrusted her with their sinfulness. Women enthusiastically and creatively prepare young parents for the baptism of their precious baby, then feel the need to apologise for a baptism liturgy distinguished by speed and a celebrant whose zest has slid off into familiarity and tiredness.

My life as a catholic woman has involved me in many different facets of church life teacher – missionary, pastoral associate, catechist, liturgist, spiritual director and now writer. At the same time it’s been hemmed in by a long list of “no-go” areas – restrictions, rules and unchallenged and out-of-date traditions.

When I think back over the role of women in the church over the 20 years of this millennium the word diminished comes to mind. So many possibilities, so many dreams of how it might be, gradually fading away. That diminishment has deepened since the one recognizable avenue which gave a voice to Australian catholic women, was closed.

Now, more than ever, women need to trust their own peculiarly feminine experience of God and how they live out that relationship. When community and spiritual nurturing are hard to find in the local church, then there are many other groups where women and men are able to talk calmly, and sometimes passionately, about the things in Church that disturb and challenge them.

Such groups are part of our catholic history. The early Irish newcomers to Sydney gathered in their homes to pray and support each other during the years when there was no priest in Australia. Maybe the future of the church in Australia doesn’t lie solely in a plenary Council where attendance is strictly limited, but in small groups.

Ongoing support can be found in small faith-sharing groups, in spirituality centres that offer prayer groups, retreats and opportunities to grow in knowledge and adult faith, in Australian spirituality writers and in websites like the one you are reading now. My readership would double if every one of you emailed this post to another woman who, like you and I, sits on the edge, knowing what it is like to feel diminished.

Judith Scully

Nothing stays the same

Nothing stays the same – but knowing that doesn’t seem to stop my expectations that I am in control and some things will stay as I want them. Then In mid- January there was a hail storm that knocked out the bathroom skylight, peppered our flat roof with tiny dints and left cracks and holes in the laser light that runs the length of the back veranda.

The storm over, we cleared the veranda, secured a tarp over the hole in the bathroom ceiling, discovered a length of guttering swinging from the car port, and finally looked up at the sweep of hailstones littered with leaves and twiggy branches covering the rocky space we call our garden.

Hail storm

The little shrubs had a squashed look, the bigger ones like they’d had a raggedy home haircut. The one wattle tree and two bottle brushes that I had nurtured for their first couple of years, now stood nakedly amid the leaf litter, while the upper branches of the many gum trees that shield and protect the houses scattered through our little valley, had been shredded.

Now it’s not the same. We’ve kind-of lost our privacy – and instead of leafy trees, the back of the house behind us has been revealed in all its one-day –they’re- going –to fix –this state.

I’ve spent the days since wondering why I feel so bereft. Unlike people whose houses and belongings were swallowed up by bush fire, I’ve lost nothing. Insurance will fix the damage to the house and the garden will recover, as will our bushy surrounds – but unexpectedly something as small as shredded gum leaves moved me out of my comfort zone.

That happens a lot in the second half of life and revs up the older one gets. Nothing stays the same, and certainly not the weather Some of the changes are big, like relationships that don’t seem to balance the way they used to, physical strength levels that begin to dip and what used to be a too-full life can begin to feel a bit empty. We might even decide that now we have time for God, only to discover that the comforts of childhood religion are nowhere to be found.

Then there are the small challenges, pin pricks really, and they can be much harder to accept.

Whatever it is that pushes us out of our comfy spot has the potential to edge us further into a life that is less selfish, moving us ever closer to the God blueprint impressed on our soul. Or we can complain, endlessly mulling over the unfairness of whatever it is, letting it dominate our conversation and disturbing our sleep. I can be good at that.

For the next few months, or even longer, I know that I will miss the thickish leaf canopy that filtered the sunlight and gave me the impression that I lived in a screened garden. I’ll fill green bin after green bin with the left-behind leaf litter and try to thank God for the damaged beauty around me.

Judith Scully