ABC: It is in stark contrast to the recent turbulent times for the church, including a royal commission which exposed widespread s3xual abuse, and the conviction of Cardinal George Pell.s3x
Those events have not made her question her faith, but they have made her question the future of the Catholic Church and changes it must make to embrace the role of women.
“If not after this catastrophe, then when?” Ms Englebrecht said.
“Frankly if change doesn’t come, and major change doesn’t come, then the church really is a goner. It’s irrelevant.”
Ms Englebrecht does not say these things easily. Until a few months ago she worked for a nearby Catholic diocese, visiting parishioners and assisting the Bishop.
Now she has moved on and is free to speak about what she believes must happen in the wake of the Pell verdict.
“I think it was a moment of absolute clarity,” she said.
“The culture of secrecy … those days have gone. They have to go.”
She and others believe a greater role for women in the Catholic Church would have changed the culture that allowed s3xual abuse to flourish.
“I think much of the behaviour would have been caught up and a light shone in dark corners if there’d been women around,” she said.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child S3xual Abuse reached a similar conclusion.
It recommended women be given decision-making roles at all levels of the church after evidence suggested dioceses where women played a larger role had lower levels of s3xual abuse.
But Ms Englebrecht goes further. She wants women to have a place in the highest role in the church. As long as she has been a Catholic, she has felt the calling to become a priest.
She knows due to Vatican law, that is unlikely to happen in her lifetime.
“It’s very painful,” she said.
“I love the Catholic Church. It’s my home, my spiritual home.
“I live with the longing to serve in a way that I’m not going to be allowed to.”
‘It’s about feeling equal with the priests’
The Catholic Church in Australia is preparing for one of the most important gatherings in its history next year, when it holds its first Plenary Council meeting since 1937.
The ordination of women priests will be on the agenda, but most agree there is no likelihood they will be sanctioned here.
That would directly contradict more than 1,500 years of canon law — the rules that govern the Catholic Church.
“It’s based on the view that Jesus ordained the 12 apostles at the last supper … and therefore only men can represent Christ,” Professor Dorothy Lee of the University of Divinity in Melbourne said.
“At mass, behind the altar, they are standing in the place of Christ. Therefore, the argument is they have to be male.”
It is a belief fundamental to the Catholic Church and Pope Francis has been clear that, on this point, there is no room for negotiation.
That consistency, and reluctance of the Vatican to change longstanding practices in terms of the role women play in the administration of the church, has led some Catholics to leave the faith.
That is what happened to the “dissident” congregation of St Mary’s in Exile in South Brisbane.
A decade ago, the increasingly progressive leadership of St Mary’s Catholic Church pushed the relationship with Brisbane’s bishop to breaking point.
The priest was forced out and led the congregation down the street to where they now worship — on the second floor of a trade union building.
Many of those who made the move say the role of women at St Mary’s in Exile was a big part of their motivation.
“This community has always been about the inclusion of women,” churchgoer Kate Ellis said.
“It’s not just about feeling equal with the men in the community, it’s feeling equal with the priests.”
At weekly Sunday worship, women lead many of the prayers and give sermons — something that could not happen in a Catholic Church.
“I don’t feel I have a place [in the Catholic Church] anymore,” Ms Ellis said.
“It seems that so many areas are progressing, but the Catholic Church isn’t.”
Fellow churchgoer Noelle Greenwood has similar feelings.
“The inherently patriarchal nature of the traditional Catholic Church just didn’t sit right with me for a long time,” she said.
‘We’re called to be equal in dignity, but different’
Among Australia’s 6 million Catholics, there are many women who choose to seek reform from within.
Sally Hood is a member of the committee planning next year’s Plenary Council.
She believes re-examining the role of women in the Church is vital, especially in the wake of Cardinal Pell’s conviction.
“I don’t know many, if any, committed Catholics who at the time of the Pell conviction heard that news and didn’t feel deeply saddened, betrayed, hurt — and really have a sense of kind of righteous anger,” she said.
“This is the time for us as a church to take stock, to look at what are we doing. What have we been doing and is it working?”
Ms Hood would like to see more women in leadership and governance positions in the church, but like other traditional Catholics, the desire for change does not extend to the ordination of women priests.
“For me as a young woman, I don’t look at that and feel excluded from something,” she said.
“I can understand how young women in the church, or all women in the church, could look at that and say, ‘you’re saying to me I can’t be in what is the pinnacle of the Catholic faith’.”
A church spokesperson told the ABC: “It is expected that the role of women in society generally and in the life of the church will emerge as a significant issue for the Plenary Council to be held in 2020.”
The spokesperson said discussions will take a lead from Pope Francis, who has spoken of “the legitimate claims of those women who seek greater justice and equality”.
Ms Hood believes Catholic priests “stand in the person of Christ” and so therefore must be male. Men and women have equally important roles to play, but they are not the same.
“We’re called to be equal in dignity, but different,” Ms Hood said.
“God has created men and created women very differently and for good reasons.”
Back in Mudgee, Ms Englebrecht accepts that view with sadness.
If the royal commission and the Pell verdict has taught the church anything, she believes, it is that the qualifications to become a Catholic priest should be determined by character, not gender.
“I think there’s a huge question around how we discern the priesthood of another,” she said.
“So far, it’s been as long ‘as you’ve got testicles, you’re in, you’ve got a priesthood’.
“‘But come to us as a woman, and there’s no question. You have no vocation to the priesthood.
“We won’t test it with you, we won’t explore that with you. It’s just not possible. It’s insane.”
Source: published by abc