Australian Women Preach

Reporting on the Plenary Council

Australian Women Preach team member Patricia Gemmell offers this reflection on reports from the Plenary Council.

The week of the Plenary Council was exhilarating, fascinating, and exhausting, as I watched the livestream events, listened to almost every media podcast on offer and read all the blogs. 

By all reports, this was a historic turning point in the life of the Australian Catholic Church, the presence of the Holy Spirit was keenly felt, and even the cynics were surprised at what emerged. 

The official Plenary Podcast ( and Geraldine Doogue’s series, Plenary Matters ( are both available, as are the livestreamed events on the Plenary Council website (  There was also a nightly Plenary Tracker delivered by Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn and Garratt Publishing, for which some three and a half thousand people registered.  The ABC Religion and Ethics Report devoted a few programs to the event, the Drum interviewed Geraldine Doogue and Francis Sullivan one night, and daily blogs were delivered by both Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst.  If you are in need of a full account of all the media offerings, go to the news page of the Catalyst for Renewal website and you will find it there.

My own recommendations, if you just want a taste of the Council, would be to listen to Archbishop Mark Coleridge interviewed by Geraldine on the last day of the Council (, and to Jude Hennessy interviewing Sr Monica Cavanagh and Selena Hasham (  These are two standouts for me that really capture the spirit of the occasion.

It was also very gratifying during the course of the week to hear so much about women preaching coming up. 

On Tuesday 6 October, Day 2 of the first session of the Plenary Council, John Warhurst blogged about 16 interventions made by members, saying one thread was strong, though not unanimous: “thoughtful and passionate advocacy for women preaching.”   On that same day Geraldine Doogue interviewed Fr. Peter Williams (Vicar-General of Parramatta), who mentioned “a very interesting suggestion” around extending who should preach in the church, while David Ranson, interviewed for the Plenary Podcast, reported that there was an intervention “quite bold in its scope,” about developing the ministry of preaching and making it more inclusive.  Dr Maeve Heaney, on the Religion and Ethics Report that day, also talked about allowing women to preach, as did Francis Sullivan on the Drum the following evening, and Virginia Bourke the night after that, on the Plenary Tracker.  She even expressed surprise at how strongly that seemed to be coming through.

To what extent the joint WATAC/Grail project, Australian Women Preach, has been influential in this development is difficult to say, but we are certainly delighted that it has happened.

Patricia has a Masters in Theology, is a member of the Australian Grail National Leadership Team and has been a parishioner of St Leonard’s Naremburn for 34 years.