Archbishop George Pell has indicated the line to be followed in the Melbourne Archdiocese, regarding the Australian Bishops' Social Justice Statement on Women in the Catholic Church.
Following a meeting with representatives of WATAC (Women and the Australian Church), a group which has championed the cause of women's ordination, the Archbishop issued the following response in January. It clearly circumscribed whatever some WATAC members might have had in mind - as far as future radical reforms were concerned - with the solid reality of Catholic orthodoxy.
Archbishop Pell's letter
Archbishop Pell wrote:
"The position of women (their roles, work and nature) is of vital importance for our society and for the Catholic Church. There are many developments in contemporary society, some of which have changed the lives of women for the better, some negatively and some where the consequences are uncertain or disputed.
"It will be a long-term and challenging task to discern together what is good, bad or indifferent here, while respecting what is essential in the nature of the Catholic Church and belonging to the rights and responsibilities of women today with the responsibilities of women and men in the future.
"Men and women, Catholic and otherwise, have differing opinions on many of these issues. In fact, the clear majority of church-going Catholic women have opinions quite different from those of many of our secular opinion-makers.
"There are as many varieties of feminism as there are varieties of Christianity and not all these varieties of feminism are compatible with Catholic teaching. We need to talk together as we search for the way forward.
"Therefore, I am happy to confirm my willingness to undertake the following tasks, as agreed at our meeting:
1. Develop a database of Catholic women, noting their qualifications and particular expertise, to assist in promoting the participation of women in various capacities in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, provided this participation is consistent with the official doctrines and official pastoral policies of the Catholic Church. I will ask Mrs Anna Krohn at the Catholic Pastoral Formation Centre to undertake this work and to liaise with you and other groups in developing the database.
2. Formally request each Catholic theological faculty and adult education centre in the Archdiocese of Melbourne to explore the theological and pastoral implications of the Report and the bishops' response through public lectures, seminars and learned papers. Once again, these explorations must be consistent with the official doctrines and official pastoral policies of the Catholic Church.
3. Discuss with Centacare and other agencies ways of better promoting the range of pastoral and professional services on offer to women in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and identifying any gaps in these services which need to be addressed.
4. Promote contemporary Catholic female role models, especially for young women. These must include coherent, appropriate promotion of the role of wife and mother, especially when the birth rate has dropped dramatically (Victoria's rate is the lowest in Australia), many couples are living together, there is so much family break-up, and consistent advocacy for homosexual and lesbian lifestyles.
"Naturally, I am happy for all loyal Catholics to be involved in these endeavours."