AUCKLAND New Zealand’s first woman ombudsman has said the Church probably needs to have another Vatican II-type council to look afresh at the many ethical issues that have arisen in the past 50 years. Nadja Tollemache, speaking at Good Shepherd College’s graduation ceremony in Auckland on June 3, described the future challenges in the world the new graduates would live in.

She started by recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Pope Pius XII supported, leading to major changes in the place of women in society, based on the idea that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender.

The Church has made slow progress in this area, although some change has been seen in liturgical and administrative practice, Ms Tollemache said.

She recalled the Made in God’s Image document of 1990, sponsored by the Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, which set out a rich variety of views put forward on a number of areas affecting the life of women in the Church. Ms Tollemache said that 20 years later all this seems to have been virtually forgotten.

She read out the first conclusion of the theological reflection group convened by Bishop John Mackey in 1990, which requested the New Zealand bishops keep alive the reflection on the ordination of women.

Ms Tollemache said this issue is tearing other denominations apart and wondered how the Catholic Church would respond. It is an issue that will not go away, she added.

(In 1994, Blessed Pope John Paul II stated in the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.)

Ms Tollemache also spoke about social mores and law changes relating to areas like abortion and prostitution, noting that it is much harder to teach the young about morality if the law allows such things.

Ms Tollemache, who also works on a Unesco committee, said the Church has a vital role to play on climate change issues, given the ethical matters involved and the resistance by some states to buying into international agreements.

But an elephant in the room, that the Church has shied away from, is the issue of population, especially with increasing costs of fuel threatening modern methods of food production and distribution, she said.

When oil becomes too expensive, it is likely millions will starve, she said, although there is already the contradiction of widespread malnutrition in some regions and obesity in others.
“We probably need a new Vatican II-type council to take a fresh look at all the ethical issues that have arisen in the last half century and that is where I hope some brilliant theologians will reassess the old answers that no longer answer the new, different questions,” Ms Tollemache said.

“After all, the Church has managed to do this before.”