What did women at the synod say and will it matter?

October 20, 2015


Deb Rose-Milavec

Today, the small group discussions ended just after noon and the relators of the 13 language groups are presenting their reports to the plenary assembly along with each group’s agreed-upon amendments.

According to Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Holy See Press Office, those reports will be published tomorrow.

In the next part of the work the relators (see the names below) will identify common amendments and look for points of consensus. Their final consolidated report will go to the ten-person drafting committee appointed by Pope Francis.  The names of the drafting committee are listed below as well.

French Group “A”: S.E. Msgr. Laurent ULRICH
French Group “B”: Rev.do P. DUMORTIER, SI François-Xavier
French Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Paul-André DUROCHER
English Group “A”: S.E. Msgr. Joseph Edward KURTZ

English Group “B”: S.E. Mgr. Diarmuid MARTIN
English Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Mark Benedict Coleridge
English Group “D”: S.E. Msgr. CHAPUT, O.F.M. Capt. Charles Joseph
Italian Group “A”: P. Rev.do ARROBA CONDE, CMF Manuel Jesús
Italian Group “B”: Card. Mauro Piacenza
Italian Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Franco Giulio Brambilla
Spanish Group “A”: Card. LACUNZA Maestrojuan, OAR José Luis
Spanish Group “B”: S.E. Msgr. PORRAS CARDOZO Baltazar Enrique

German Group: S.E. Msgr. Heiner KOCH

Drafting Committee for final document

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General
Cardinal Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, relator general;
Archbishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina
Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan, Bishop of Mouila, Gabon
Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Bishop of Albano, Italy

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, head of the global Jesuit order

October 20:
Small group work is complete.
Thirteen relators share small group reports and amendments with synod assembly.
October 21:
Relators finalize report showing where there is a consensus among the 13 small groups.  That report will be given to the drafting committee who will finish the final document.
October 22:
Cardinal Erdo will present the first draft of the final document to the plenary assembly on the morning of Oct. 22. The plenary assembly will discuss this draft text at the afternoon session. The fathers will then have one last chance to submit observations in writing.
October 23:
The drafting commission meets for the last time to incorporate final observations into the document.
October 24:

Cardinal Erdo will present the final document to the synod for a paragraph by paragraph vote.  A two-thirds majority among those voting is required for the approval of the text.  The approved text will be handed to Pope Francis and will be made public shortly thereafter.

What did women at the synod say and will it matter?
If you have a sleuthing instinct, you will be able to trace the influence of the women who participated in the synod by comparing their interventions to the small group reports and then to the final document.

Here are a few women to follow:

Sr. Maureen Kelleher (English group “D”)

I ask our Church leaders to recognise how many women who feel called to be in service of the Kingdom of God but cannot find a place in our Church. Gifted though some may be, they cannot bring their talents to the tables of decision making and pastoral planning. They must go elsewhere to be of service in building the Kingdom of God. In 1974, at the Synod on Evangelisation, one of our sisters, Margaret Mary, was one of two nuns appointed from the Union of Superiors General. Today, forty years later, we are three.

Sr. Carmen Sammut (French group “C”)

When the Instrumentum Laboris speaks of the Church it sometimes refers to the People of God, that is to all of us, and more often refers to the hierarchy. This is not without significance. If the image of Church is the People of God, then we, the laity, would be expected to bring our knowledge to the discernment processes of the Church, in view of decision-making, always in union with the Pope and our Bishops.
This would influence the way dioceses and parishes work. The diocesan budget would include the formation of women, men and youth to be leaders in the Church. On most of the issues raised here in the Synod, such as bio-technology, it would be useful to have teams of clergy and laity (from all walks of life and in their capacity as theologians, biblical scholars, scientists, sociologists, pastoral workers canon lawyers) bring their lived knowledge and scholarship and reflect together in the light of the Gospel. I see this as part of the Mission of the family in the Church.

One area where such interdisciplinary teams made up of couples as well as religious would bring a change is in the formation of ordained ministers.

Another particular area where much discernment is necessary is with respect to responsible parenthood. In our pastoral, health and education ministries we are called to listen to and accompany women who have children and know they do not have the financial and other resources to bring up another child. Natural family planning methods are not always useful for a couple’s growth in mutual love nor are they always possible, especially if the husband is not cooperative or regularly absent. My hope is that the Church engages in this discernment with couples and with scientists, so as to rethink how to put together her very essential teaching of openness to life, the prohibition of abortion and the plight of these couples.
I really dream of a Church where each one is called to give his or her part for the construction of the whole.

Lucetta Scaraffia (Italian group “B”)

The Church needs to listen to women … as only in reciprocal listening does true discernment function.  Women are great experts in the family: leaving abstract theories behind, we can turn in particular to women to understand what must be done, and how we can lay the foundations for a new family open to respect for all its members, no longer based on the exploitation on the capacity for sacrifice of the woman, but instead ensuring emotional nourishment and solidarity for all. Instead, both in the text and in the contributions very little is said about women, about us. As if mothers, daughters, grandmothers, wives – the heart of families – were not a part of the Church, of the Church who encompasses the world, who thinks, who decides. As if it were possible to continue, even in relation to the family, pretending that women do not exist. As if it were possible to continue to forget the new outlook, the previously unheard-of and revolutionary relationship that Jesus had with women”.

Families throughout the world are very diverse, but in all of them the women play the most important and decisive role in guaranteeing that their solidity and duration. And when we speak about families, we should not speak always and only about marriage. There is a growing number of families composed of a single mother and her children. It is almost always women who stay by their children’s side, even when they are ill, disabled or afflicted by violence. These women and mothers have seldom followed courses in theology, and often they are not even married, but they offer an admirable example of Christian behaviour. If you, Synod Fathers, do not pay attention to them, if you do not listen to them, you risk making them feel even more disgraced as their family is so different to the one you focus on. Indeed, you talk too readily of an abstract family, a perfect family that does not exist, a family that has nothing to do with the real families Jesus encountered or spoke about. Such a perfect family would almost seem not to be in need of His mercy or His Word: ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’.

Maria Harries (English group “D”)

“For most of them [marginalised Aboriginal people], the idea of the family as it is represented by our Church teaching is alien. For some, the matrilineal system means that they have many mothers. The child is reared in a kinship group, not by a mother and father. Women play a dynamic role in their kinship world and they expect them to be visible. In the words of one of the aboriginal leaders, ‘By not having women visible on the Altar and in the life of the Church, we are concealing our mothers, our sisters and our daughters from view’. In welcoming the Gospel, they ask not to be recolonised by our Church as they have been by our nation’s forebears. The challenge for our Church is to formally and institutionally incorporate cross-cultural dialogue and adopt systems with indigenous Australians that honour and do not violate their culture”.

All sexual abuse is connected to the abuse of power. … The horrific evidence of abuse of children in families and institutions and our failure to respond adequately to this has left the Church in Australia and of course elsewhere in very deep pain. … In the words of Pope Francis, as we all pray for and ‘receive the grace of shame’, we need local and collective ways of meeting all these victims and their families and each other in our garden of agony and to listen deeply, very deeply. From our failings and the accompanying pain, we have the opportunity to learn collectively and perhaps even doctrinally, and to re-engage with and accompany the thousands of families whom we have lost.

Sharron Cole (English Group “C”)

When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?”, he replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Have we as a Church failed to practise this charity? The experience of many lay people has been of being judged, of being labelled as “intrinsically disordered” and of being rejected by their Christian community. There are those who have walked away never to return and the others who are just waiting, hoping to again be fully in communion with the Church. They say that this failure to love enough is the reason. The Catechism says “The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy”. Charity demands beneficence, friendship and communion. When we as Church are not merciful and in communion with our own, is this not a failure of the virtue of charity?

The exercise of charity and mercy requires deep insight into the reality of a person’s life. That reality is best understood by those who live it. However many lay people believe the Church does not understand the realities of their lives. Lay people are not trusted to make good decisions in conscience and they often feel subjected to exacting rules which take no account of context or of stages of spiritual development.

The Church’s vision on conjugal love and responsible parenthood as expressed in Humanae Vitae has great beauty and depth. However its declaration that “sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive [is] so intrinsically wrong provoked massive dissent from the moment the encyclical was promulgated. Many Catholic married couples have made their own decision in conscience about how to exercise responsible parenthood which may mean the use of artificial contraception. For some, this has meant leaving the church. Others remain but often with a sense of unease.
As an ex board member of Natural Family Planning, I know that this method of contraception permitted by Humanae Vitae is an effective method for motivated couples. However for many couples, the method is simply not practicable -they may hold multiple low-wage jobs, have mental health problems, or struggle for diverse reasons. Every family has difficulties which might lead them for a period of time to use artificial contraception in the interests of responsible parenting. Marriage naturally leads to a desire for children which is a biological imperative and a great grace of the sacrament. In my experience, very few couples suppress this desire with its constraints tending to be the couple’s resources to cope, not selfishness.
The response of the Church to this unsatisfactory situation has been for better catechesis or to ignore the dissent. This “paralysed status quo” cannot continue. The matter must be discussed afresh because lay people will not be content to leave it to clergy alone. Too many in authority responded to clergy sexual abuse in a way which demonstrated that they lacked the expertise in sexuality and psychology to make good decisions, with the result they became complicit in perpetuating enormous harm, harm done to lay people.

It will take not more catechesis but rather listening with deep empathy to restore the credibility of the Church in matters of sexual ethics. The time is now for this synod to propose that the Church re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuality, and its understanding of responsible parenthood, in a dialogue of laity and bishops together.

Archbishop Durocher (French group “C”)

Of course it will be useful to see if any part of Archbishop Durocher’s intervention makes it into the final document.  Here is the original report of his intervention.

The synod should reflect on the possibility of allowing for female deacons as it seeks ways to open up more opportunities for women in church life. Where possible, qualified women should be given higher positions and decision-making authority within church structures and new opportunities in ministry.,

“I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church’s tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry.”

The working document, which is guiding the first three weeks of the synod’s discussions, proposed giving women greater responsibility in the church, particularly through involving them in “the decision-making process, their participation — not simply in a formal way — in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers.”

He said the World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide experience violence by their partner.

He reminded the synod fathers that in the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” in 1981, St. John Paul II basically told the church that “we have to make a concerted and clear effort to make sure that there is no more degradation of women in our world, particularly in marriage. And I said, ‘Well, here we are 30 years later and we’re still facing these kinds of numbers.'”

He said he recommended one thing they could do to address this problem was, “as a synod, clearly state that you cannot justify the domination of men over women — certainly not violence — through biblical interpretation,” particularly incorrect interpretations of St. Paul’s call for women to be submissive to their husbands.

In his presentation the archbishop also noted that Pope Benedict XVI had talked about the question of new ministries for women in the church. “It’s a just question to ask. Shouldn’t we be opening up new venues for ministry of women in the church?” he said.

In addition to the possibility of allowing for women deacons, he said he also proposed that women be hired for “decision-making jobs” that could be opened to women in the Roman Curia, diocesan chanceries and large-scale church initiatives and events.

Another thing, he said, “would be to look at the possibility of allowing married couples — men and women, who have been properly trained and accompanied — to speak during Sunday homilies so that they can testify, give witness to the relationship between God’s word and their own marriage life and their own life as families.”

Will women be heard?

In an interview with Joshua McElwee of National Catholic Reporter, Sr. Maureen Kelleher said she faced “condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife.”

“I see a high level of non-acceptance of us as holding up half the sky,” she said, referring to some bishops’ difficulty in working with women.

“It’s very clear that I’m not speaking with one iota of formation on some of the teachings that have formed these men in the seminary,” said Kelleher. “Some of it is, ‘Oh, here comes the bleeding heart. Well, she’s a woman what else would you expect?’, kind of thing.”

Whether her experience was the exception or the rule, remains to be seen.  We can look at the evidence, the final document that will be completed on October 24, to judge if women were able to influence it in any significant way.

Vatican melodramas up close and personal
Today, Cardinal Napier was asked about his signature, one of 13, on a letter to Pope Francis signaling concerns that the synod process was rigged.  Stating that last year’s mid-term document did not reflect the viewpoint of the synod, but instead the viewpoints of just a few (Cardinal Tagle disagreed with that characterization), he stated that his concerns have been addressed.
Grant Gallico of Commonweal exposes some of the questionable maneuverings of Sandro Magister, the Italian journalist who leaked the letter.
Say YES to women deacons!

Support Archbishop’s Durocher’s proposal to begin discussions on women deacons and women’s leadership.

Please do your part and sign our petition!
The numbers are climbing (almost 6,000) and we want to deliver at least ten-thousand signatures to the synod bishops asking them to take up Archbishop Durocher’s proposal!

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