Bishop David Walker of the Sydney Diocese of Broken Bay has recently announced that he is creating a new full-time ministry for celibate, ecclesial women.
He told the ABC’s Religion Report yesterday that celibacy would be essential to this ministry but unlike religious life, this group of people would not take a vow of poverty.
He says celibacy will help people in this ministry "to be at the service of others in a radical way".
The Bishop also said that while the idea applies equally to men, the focus on a women ministry is to help "draw them to a greater degree into the life and leadership of the church."
He said that he is unsure whether or not this ministry will "appease" women who want a "priestly style of life", but made it clear that the move is not meant to be a "back door" approach to women’s ordination.
Bishop Walker says that he is not aware of similar models elsewhere and that he is responding to the demands of the local Church.
"What I’m trying to do is to focus on the diocese, the local church itself," he said.
"Religious, for example, belongs to their religious congregation and they’re quite independent of the diocese in their way of life. What I’m trying to do is to establish a group of ministers who will serve within the local church, and be part of the ministry of the Bishop."
He said that as committed people, these ministers will be able to "fit into many of the works of our diocese, any of our agencies, thinking of schools or of Centacare, working in our parish in a number of pastoral areas."
Sounds like a diocesan religious order. There have been religious orders started by a diocese like the Sisters of Life, but this sounds different in that they remain under diocesan control. It will be interesting to hear the actual details about this. What the heck is an ecclesial women? Is is a modern term for a church lady, just full time? Could be an interesting idea depending on how it is implemented.