Doggedly pulling for reform, we need more women and “the Church has to change.”

October 23, 2015
by Deb Rose-Milavec

Change comes painfully and slowly in this Church. Too slowly.  As a mother of five and grandmother of eleven, I have very little patience with the snail’s pace of reform in my Church or for those doctrinal police, the pharisaical crop, who would like nothing better than to keep the people I love at bay in order to keep their world of who-is-in and who-is-out neat and clean.

We have lost a generation of young people, many who are my children and grandchildren, who will not be eating at our Eucharistic table and who will not find the nourishment of the Gospel in one of our local parishes because they are so turned off — not by some entrenched secularism and individualism — but by the hard, sometimes cold hearts of the pastors they meet in a Church that has wanted to be “smaller and purer” for far too long. I raised them to love, to nurture and to have open hearts. And that is what they do. And when they don’t see that love incarnated, modeled in the priest and people they meet in a parish, they stay away.
Tell them that LGBT people are “intrinsically disordered” and they will roll their eyes. They know better. Tell them that a divorced and remarried person can’t receive the sacraments and they won’t give you another look.  Tell them that women can’t be priests or deacons or make important decisions in our church, and they will stay home on Sunday mornings, make a big breakfast, play with the kids and make their own world of love.
We can no longer afford to be the Church we have been.
Personal conscience and private confessions are not enough.  While the don’t ask – don’t tell model of Church may have sufficed for my generation, it just doesn’t cut it with the next.  The next generation do not bite their nails trying to think of how to get to Communion if they are divorced and civilly remarried, or LGBT and married. Somewhere deep down their instinct tells them that the Church doesn’t know God’s heart and doesn’t practice God’s love.
We need to come clean.
This is personal.
Doggedly pulling for reform
That is not what I see. Others agree.
No one, certainly not a few crusty bishops and cardinals, can stop the God who loves her people with such ferocity and such tenderness.
The good news is that Pope Francis is attuned to that God.
The world knows it.
My stay-away-from-Church children and grandchildren know it. Francis touches their hearts and they are hungry for that kind of presence in their lives.
And in the short term, if this synod does not produce the reform we need, we will still get there.  Pope Francis knows that he was called to reform the entire Church and not just the bishops.  And that is what he is doing.
Steve Jobs step aside
Pope Francis is a master when it comes to organizational change – a Herculean task given the crop of bishops and cardinals he inherited after 40 years of retrenchment.  Some who have powerful positions want nothing to do with his idea of mercy.
He knows what he is dealing with and he is doggedly pulling this Church towards reform.
Don’t let his soft voice fool you.
In 2013, he called for a 2-year synod process.  In year one, an amazing mid-term document was produced, vehemently rejected by the ultra-orthodox, but defended as representing what the synod fathers were saying by respected leaders like Cardinal Tagle.
There was a power struggle and the final relatio was a letdown.
So in 2015, Pope Francis changed it up.  Working to destabilize the status quo, the synod process that had been in place, he switched the format.
Moving from large group dynamics where “the few” can have disproportionate influence, he did what every effective facilitator does when she/he wants to minimize the influence of the few know-it-alls in a group; he broke them up into small groups.
That served two purposes.
It contained and reduced the influence of the vocal ultra-orthodox minority who are not afraid of bullying tactics to get their way.
It created a new, more personal dynamic where people really did find their hearts opening as they listened to the stories and struggles of people’s lives.
It made a difference. Hearts were changed.  Faith was deepened. We heard it over and over.
As Archbishop Durocher said in a recent interview with Luke Hansen, SJ, “This synod is my third, and I have never felt such intensity – in the good sense of the word – a real desire to seek out the directions God wants for us.”
So, if this synod of bishops does not ultimately deliver the pastoral reforms Pope Francis wants after three weeks together, he will find a way.
Francis has already successfully engendered a whole new level of collegiality in this synod – a central ingredient for a reformed Church.
But he won’t be bound by the limitations his band of bishops impose given the makeup of the group after years under the reward and punishment system of John Paul II and Benedict.
In the not-so-distant future, he will issue some sort of magisterial document that will overcome the vocal minority.  He can do so with the backing of the majority of his brother bishops — a majority who want what he wants.
And beyond the magisterial document, as with his directive about abortion, his Year of Mercy will be the launching pad for other reforms.
His words say it all.
     I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine 
     experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the  
     Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely 
     the sin committed.
Watch the master crafter.  In the end, Pope Francis will have his way because God is calling – the same God who has been made hungry and homeless too often in the lives and hopes of her people.
This is a time of breakthrough.  Don’t be talked out of it.
They are steeped in the law, but God is far from their hearts
Rosie Scammell of Religion News Service ran a powerful story yesterday about the women who were inside the synod hall and their experiences.
It was not Good News.
The following is from her report.
Speaking on behalf of more than 8 million women who are members of the Catholic Women Organization of Nigeria, its president, Agnes Offiong Erogunaye, said the synod’s working document made little reference to the role of women.
She described women as “a strong force to be reckoned with when it comes to spirituality and economy, growth in the church,” and she urged bishops to support and encourage Catholic women’s organizations in Africa.
Sharron Cole, president of Parents Centres New Zealand, said bishops lacked understanding in a host of areas affecting Catholic people’s lives. She criticized churchmen for their lack of understanding of contraception and said their lack of expertise on sexuality was evident in their response to clerical sexual abuse.
A new approach is needed, Cole said: “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.”
Offering another perspective was Maria Harries, chair of Catholic Social Services Australia, who quoted an aboriginal leader on the lack of female participation in the church.
“By not having women visible on the altar and in the life of our church, we are concealing our mothers, our sisters and our daughters from view,” she said.
“I ask our church leaders to recognize how many women who feel called to be in service of the Kingdom of God cannot find a place in our church,” she said. “Gifted though some may be, they cannot bring their talents to the tables of decision-making and pastoral planning.”
Although such statements may appear to be a sign that women from around the world are getting their points across to bishops, Kelleher has said her view was not taken seriously in her discussion group.
There are “times that I have felt the condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife,” she told National Catholic Reporter. “Some of it is, ‘Oh, here comes the bleeding heart. Well, she’s a woman; what else would you expect?’ kind of thing,” Kelleher added.
We need more women
This treatment is troubling on so many levels.
First of all, it shows how those who consider themselves the educated elite, lord it over others.  They forget the gift and privilege they have been afforded and instead use what they’ve learned to demean. Nevermind, that their female counterparts are just as educated and accomplished — even more so.  These men are snarky, snotty and full of themselves.  Ughh.
Secondly, there is clericalization – the formula for creating a privileged caste instead of a servant class.  Be formed in a system that tells you over and over that you are ontologically more like Christ than your sisters and see what kind of spoiled human beings are produced.  Yes, the mother in me speaks. But it doesn’t take a complex theological formula to recognize this simple matter of human conditioning and training. Teach a child that they deserve everything under the sun, or that they are better than others, or that, as males, they are better than their sisters, and you will produce little monsters who will have a hard time adjusting to reality.  And they will make other people plenty miserable along the way. Double ugh.
Thirdly, combine elitism and clericalism with sexism – the pervasive, in-the-air-you-breathe kind, and watch how that ugly pollution fills the room making you want to cough up a lung. Triple ugh.
The treatment some women received in the synod hall is not surprising given the players in some of the groups, but we sure cannot accept it.
In order to get better end result at synods, we need more women.
We need them to share their stories, their pastoral insights, their theological expertise and we need them to vote.  We need more women in the halls of decision making.
We need more women from a greater diversity of organizations in the press briefing room asking better questions — working to hold this Church accountable.
Y’all come.
Women often ask different questions. They care about different issues.  The lens they use to make sense of the God’s action is different. They’ve learned to start with experience and to hold it sacred.  That orientation is reflected in their questions, their theological investigations, their practice of canon law and all things ecclesial.
We need more women.
The Church has to change
This evening I attended a press conference with three Belgian prelates; Archbishop Luk Van Looy, Bishop Johan Bonny and Cardinal G. Danneels.
These bishops carry with them unbounded hope for reform in the Church. They want the doors flung wide open.
Archbishop Van Looy was the clearest.
After making an impassioned plea for the suffering families who are fleeing Iraq and Syria, he said,  “We learned in this synod that we are not to judge.  We have tried to understand what people were saying.  I think we were an example of what we say we want in the synod – to be a listening church.”
Then he made the statement that should become the mantra for the Church and certainly this synod.
“The church has to change.”
He said, “I think tenderness is the way – how we want the church to change.  The tenderness that we exercise is what we give in the situations with real people.”

When asked if he thinks the synod will be counted a failure, Bishop Bonny replied that he will be happy as he returns home because he understands what Pope Francis is doing in this moment and in this process.

He said, “It is wise not to go to fast. . .to write things that are not correct.  The pastoral window is open.  The synod is a moment and we are in a process.  If you see what has happened under Pope Francis, you can see many things are going on.  The next step is an encyclical or apostolic exhortation.  If you ask, ‘Why didn’t he decide now?’, that would be the wrong thing.  That would put everyone under too much pressure.  I return, happy to explain to people why we have what we have now.  And I think they will understand.  People did not expect us to resolve everything at once.”
Bonny also admitted that even in a synod where people were told to talk freely, not everything can be said.

Frank DeBarnardo of New Ways Ministry asked him, ”Bishop Bonny, in December 2014, you became perhaps the only Catholic bishop to call for the Church to bless gay and lesbian couples.  Has your experience here at the synod, hearing the repeated call for marriage to be limited to only a man and a woman, discouraged you from that request, and if you haven’t been, then how should we proceed to make that request a reality?”

Bonny replied, “I will take it up at home.  Just to clarify, I didn’t ask for the blessing.  I asked for recognition of the values.”
Going further he said, “It is true that in the synod this question was not discussed.  It was at the end of the Instrumentum Laboris.  In most groups, very little time was left.  But that was not the real problem.  The bishops were not really ready to discuss this issue.  It is true that most bishops spoke more or less the same feeling.”
Bonny worked in French Group “B” where Cardinal Robert Sarah moderated.
He explained that more would have been lost than gained by pushing this issue in his small group.
“The synod was not prepared to discuss the question,” he said.  “You need moral theologians, scientists, and others.  I think the feeling was — there was no atmosphere — better leave the question open for further study.  Something will be said on this issue, but that is a point for the next synod.  I say it in a positive way.  In my group there was no way to bring that forward. It was better to avoid it than push it.  More time is needed.”
Bonny saw his strategy as grounded in his reality.  He was working with people who were completely closed to his interventions and he did not want to lose ground on such an important issue.  For him, this conversation will take much longer than three weeks and he is in it for the long hall.
What happens next
Tomorrow the bishops will be voting on the final document, paragraph by paragraph.  Let’s see what unfolds.

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