Discernment in Changing Times

By Clare Shearman, Director at Heart of Life – written at the time of the Plenary Council

I have been listening to the outcomes from the Plenary Council, the legislating body of the Catholic Church in Australia, via the ‘Plenary Tracker’.  As I write, I have just listened to episode 4.

The failure of two Plenary motions to pass made national and international headlines recently.  These motions included:

  • “ensuring that women are appropriately represented in decision-making structures of Church governance at the parish, diocese or eparchy, and national level, and in Church agencies” and
  • “ensuring, through formal policies and intentional practice, that the experiences and perspectives of women are heard, considered and valued”

The subsequent protest of women and men at the Council – they moved to the back of the room and stood in silence – seemed to parallel what happened in Australia following the perceived poor response by the Australian federal government to the reporting that a political staffer, Brittany Higgins, was allegedly abused in Australia’s parliament house in Canberra.

The boldness and bravery of people like Brittany Higgins in calling out and standing up against inequality and injustice began a wave of action, which led to a tipping point for me personally.  I have never been so moved to action.  I took a stand and participated in the March for Justice in 2021.  Enough was most definitely enough.  In my personal opinion, the actions of one person, in Brittany Higgins, ultimately began the turn of a tide towards the change in Government we have just experienced.  The rise of the ‘Teal’ independent women who swung the balance of power in Australia.

Surely the action of the many bold and brave Council members who stood in silence and effectively stopped the business of the day on Day 4 of the Council is another such ‘enough is enough’ moment.  Only time will tell if their action has the same effect in turning the tide towards the change to a more inclusive and equal role for women within the Catholic Church.

As an important aside, this episode of the Plenary Tracker involved our very own Mary Coloe pbvm, from Yarra Theological Union, who gave an excellent explanation of spiritual discernment in response to a question about the sense of the spirit in the debate (without even being in the room).  It is a good listen.  You can view this fourth episode via the Plenary Tracker page.

This is a personal opinion piece by Clare Shearman, Director of Heart of Life Centre for Spiritual and Pastoral Formation and does not necessarily represent the views of Heart of Life, YTU, University of Divinity or the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.




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