A former New South Wales Premier has told a large gathering of Catholic women to hold their ground in leadership roles.
The Hon Kristina Keneally, the 42nd premier of the state from 2009 to 2011, told a women’s evening at St Ambrose Catholic Primary School, Concorde West, that if women had formal leadership roles in the Church our understanding of God would be different.
“If women did more of the theologizing and preaching in the Church our understanding of God might be broader,” she said.
St Ambrose Family Educator, Tania Chahoud, who organised the evening called “Family, Faith and fitting it all in”, said it was about hearing someone speak and being inspired.
“The point is, you don’t have to fit it all in, you just have to live faith,” said Ms Chahoud.
Ms Keneally spoke to the group of about 80 mothers and women parishioners about the leadership of the Church and her understanding of God.
She said she doesn’t think significant issues can be discussed without the voices of faithful Catholics “who are living commonplace, human experiences”.
“Nothing will change if we sit silently.” She said many men “fake it till they make it” in leadership roles generally while women say they’re “not ready yet” to lead.
“The point is you probably are… sometimes it’s about turning up and having the confidence to give it a go,”
In addition, she said a leader has to have a plan and communicate it over and over. “Leaders also need to be able to make decisions… and have a core group of people you can trust,” said Ms Keneally. “People want to be led, they want to have confidence they will have a fair say and meaningful input,” she said.
Ms Keneally said that her initial anger at the birth of her stillborn daughter helped her realize that if God is neither male nor female then God is a mother whose child has died. She said she would like to see women with a formal, deliberative role in the Church.
“I would like to see women ordained… only the ordained have recognized, leadership roles,” she said.
Ms Keneally said Pope Francis had done remarkable work on democratizing the Church but her frustration was that she was not sure it would have long-lasting significance to the Church.
On her American background, she was told when she was a minister in the NSW Labor Government she could never be the leader of the state because of her accent, but she never saw that as a barrier to leadership. She said she was frustrated that the media described her as “the Catholic Premier” and that “she was lead around by the Pope”.
But she found community views of her were different, where groups either had a mild interest in her American origins, indifference to it or welcomed it. She said, mostly, people were happy to be able to share a perspective with her.
Ms Keneally told the women that there have been over 2,000 men elected to the NSW Parliament – in 1988 there had been seven women elected in its history. In 2003, when Ms Keneally was elected, three of those women were still there.
There have been over 120 women elected overall, she said.
Funds raised for the evening were donated to Opportunity International Australia, which microfinances people living in poverty in India, Indonesia and the Philippines to start their own businesses.
Ms Keneally is Ambassador for Opportunity Australia, Patron of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia, Ambassador for John Berne School at Lewisham for Year 7-10 students struggling in mainstream classrooms and a host on Sky News.