Dr Patricia Brennan AM, whose name for many was synonymous with the struggle for the ordination of women in the 1980s and early 1990s, has died in Sydney after a brief illness. She was 66.
More than any other single individual she put the ordination of women on the agenda of the Anglican Church and kept it there, in full public view. She was publicly recognised for this by several awards, including an Order of Australia in 1993.
In 1985 she brought together various groups around the country to form the national Movement for the Ordination of Women, and became its founding president. She was appointed to the first General Synod Women’s Commission in 1986.
Patricia was frequently in the media, in Australia and abroad. She led a delegation of Australian women to challenge their bishops at the Lambeth conference in 1988.
A year later, she was in Boston, reporting widely through the media on the consecration of Barbara Harris as the first woman bishop in the Anglican communion – ironically on the same day as the Diocese of Sydney ordained its first women deacons.
Like Germaine Greer, Patricia was challenging, provocative, talented and slightly eccentric. She had a way with words and debate.
Like Germaine, she was often called strident. Criticisms like that stung her, but she broke the word “strident” into two words, “stir” and “tend”.
Those two words symbolised Patricia Brennan’s life. She did stir up and irritate ecclesiastical liberals. She dared to challenge the sincerity of their commitment to women, in the same way as she challenged the overt opponents of women’s ordination in her home diocese Sydney and elsewhere. And she tended to those who were distressed and harmed by the Church and its leaden, sometimes cruel ways.
As a ground-breaking forensic and medical sexual assault clinician, she was exactly the same: outspoken, courageous and uncompromising in her quest for true justice for women.
In 1989, she wrote: “To have gone to the press and onto the streets and declared publicly in front of our cathedrals that a great wrong was being done to women in the Church, put our hearts into our mouths. But, in the prophetic tradition, it isn’t a bad place for the heart to be kept.”
Dr Janet Scarfe was National President of the Movement for the Ordination of Women 1989-95.