Day: October 16, 2018

October 16, 2018

UISG and USG join forces to get the vote for women; Excluding women is indefensible; Recognizing St. Therese of Lisieux’s call to priesthood and, I admit I am struggling

Today, we were met at the press briefing by Sr. Maria Luisa Berzosa Gonzales who also spoke at the press briefing last night, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Archbishop Jaime Spengler, O.F.M. of Brazil.

There was a very interesting exchange between Cardinal Sako of Iraq and Cardinal Turkson about the complexities involved in providing aid to Iraqis whose lives have been destroyed by war.

There was also more on synod procedures.

Prefect Ruffini reiterated the following:

The regulations and voting procedures are published.

There will be a provisional draft that will be read with simultaneous translations and discussed in the aula.  It will be possible to propose changes.

The written document will be in Italian.

On the morning of the last day, there will be time to re-read the final draft with all the modifications.

Then it will be voted on, paragraph by paragraph with a two-thirds majority needed for the entire document.

UISG and USG join forces — Let women vote!

Joshua McElwee reported that the International Union of Superiors General and the Union of Superiors General are joining forces to find a way for women to vote in the synod.

Here is a big excerpt of his exciting report.

The two Rome-based umbrella groups representing nearly a million members of male and female Catholic religious orders around the world are planning to present Pope Francis with a proposal to give women a larger role in the Synod of Bishops.

Both the Union of Superiors General, representing about 185,000 priests and brothers, and the International Union of Superiors General, representing about 600,000 sisters and nuns, are working together on the initiative, a member of the Union of Superiors General’s executive council told NCR.

Lasallian Br. Robert Schieler, one of two non-ordained religious brothers serving as members in the ongoing Oct. 3-28 synod on young people, said the proposal is “to consider how, in future synods going forward, we can get more voice from the sisters.”

Schieler, who leads the global De La Salle Brothers, said in an Oct. 15 interview that the umbrella groups are planning to ask the pope about both participation of more women religious and the possibility of giving those who take part the power to vote in the discussions.

“It’s only right,” said the brother superior, one of 10 members of the Union of Superiors General’s council. “I mean, my God, the sisters are the ones who are every day with young people, more than any other group, in all kinds of capacities.”

Although seven women religious have been allowed to take part in this month’s synod, they are serving in non-member roles, meaning that while they can participate fully in the monthlong discussions, they are not being granted a vote on the gathering’s expected final document.

According to the Catholic Church’s theology, brothers and sisters have analogous roles. They are each non-ordained, professed members of religious orders.

Schieler said that members of his umbrella group had asked synod officials about the discrepancy of allowing non-ordained men but not non-ordained women to have a vote at the gathering.

He explained that two of the people who helped draft the synod’s working document, known as the instrumentum laboris, came to the biannual meeting of the Union of Superiors General last May.

“One of them did get the question about what the Vatican is saying about why the sisters cannot vote,” said Schieler. “And he said, ‘Well, because you have to be ordained to vote.’ “

“I’m not ordained,” Schieler said. “So I’m wondering, is that the reason or not?”

Excluding women is indefensible

Jesuit Thomas Reese has always been a voice of reason within the Church, and sometimes his special talent for calling out the oddities and contradictions we observe at the Vatican is, as my son would say, “sweet.”

Tom writes:

For one thing, all of the voting members of the synod are men, with women present only as nonvoting experts and auditors. Outside the Vatican, Italian police broke up a demonstration where women were chanting: “Knock, knock. Who’s there? More than half the church.”

The problem is that while the synod includes mostly bishops, there are also a few priests and two religious brothers. While the bishops and priests are “ordained clerics” under church law, brothers are laypersons. The only theological or canonical difference between a religious brother and a religious sister is gender.

Excluding women is, therefore, indefensible.

If you can’t have women, it only makes sense to get rid of the priests and brothers. In fact, get rid of the cardinals and bishops from the Roman curia, so that only diocesan bishops are voting members of the synod.

Despite these problems, the synod does perform a valuable function.

Having bishops from all over the world come to Rome provides input from outside of the Vatican. All the bishops testify to the positive experience of hearing from bishops of different countries and cultures talk about the situation of the church.

Recognizing St. Therese of Lisieux’s call to priesthood and, I admit I am struggling

I have been reading the reports from the fourteen small language groups after week two.

The reports from the first week evoked hope in so far as the groups seemed to capture and expect the exciting possibility of a new kind of church — a listening church.

And the second week reports focusing on vocations do offer a surprise.

English Group C moderated by Cardinal Joseph Coutts, recalls that St. Theresa of Lisieux felt her own call to priesthood.

The greatest sign of holiness is, of course, charity (agape). We propose that the story of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was attracted to all particular vocations (even priesthood) but found the unity of all of them in love as a wonderful illustration of this principal.

And the German report seems to retain something of the magic of this moment of new possibilities.

But, I admit I am struggling.

I know I am not in the small groups so I cannot really capture the felt spirit that is woven into the words offered by the committed, dedicated people in each group who I believe are genuinely connecting and are genuinely joyful about that connection.

But, beyond this authentic and joyful meeting of Catholics, the second week reports are surfacing the defects in this synod process.

I am concerned anew about what will be produced, or more importantly, reproduced in the wider church.

The second week English group reports strike me as flat — more like required homework assignments completed by eager students to be turned in to the very unimaginative teacher who assigned them.

Complete with modi (proposals) for the final document, charts, and organizing schemes, they do not reflect the efforts Sr. Sally Hodgdon reported; that those in her small group dialogued about women in the Church and went through the Instrumentum Laboris paragraph by paragraph weeding out patriarchal language.

And they do not address the lived realities of our LGBT Catholic sisters and brothers who have often turned away from the church which has done them harm.

And where the word homosexuality is used, as in Spanish Group A, led by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga and in the  Portuguese Group led by Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz, the words are either offensive or confusing.

Which brings me back to the process in general.

I know from the press briefings and other interviews and reports, that synod participants,  young and old alike, are discussing topics like LGBT inclusion, women’s roles in the church, the clergy sex abuse crisis and other critical topics.

The promise of a “listening church” is born out of a critical need to renew the Church so that it can better love and embrace all God’s people today and partner with them in the work of the Gospel.

So, why is the language so bland?

Why do the ideas that show up in the reports read more like the work of a word smith rather than the poetry of risk taking — of cracking open the heart of a church that for too many decades was rigid and cold?

And maybe, most importantly, why has the church not been more courageous in bringing — front and center — right into the heart of the synod hall — those who no longer consider themselves part of the church…the voices in the wilderness…our friends and loved ones in the diaspora who have migrated away from the behemoth that they feared (with good cause) would rather chew them up than tender and love them.

We miss them so much.

So I am struggling.

And, maybe, grieving a bit.

Still I know that if this effort fails — and I hope it does not — we, the People of God, will not fail in our efforts to call the ones we love into our open arms.

We are the People of God and we aren’t finished yet.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

P.S. We have nearly 7,000 signatures on our “Votes for Catholic Women” campaign.  Please sign and share.  We will start delivering the signatures this week!

October 15, 2018

Hot potatoes everywhere; The sign that something is not right; The “yes” that sparked glee

Last week I expressed astonishment that so few journalists were asking questions about the role of women in the church today.  I love being proven wrong.  Today, three journalists, Iacopo Scaramuzzi, who writes for Vatican Insider, a female Italian journalist whose name and organization I could not decipher no matter how hard I tried, and Cindy Wooden from Catholic News Service pressed questions about women voting at the synod.  I felt gratitude for all three as the continuous line of questioning raised an interesting  display of responses from the three superiors general on stage — everything from a kind of  dancing around the indefensible and stammering phrases from an institution in need of change — to the hopeful.

In front at the press briefing were four  synod participants; Silvia Teresa Retamales Morales, an attorney from Chile; P. Bruno Cadore, O.P., the Superior General of the Dominicans; Arturo Sosa Abascal, S.I., Superior General of the Jesuits; Marco Tasca, O.F.M., Superior General of the Conventual Fransciscan Friars.

Jockeying for position

Prefect Paolo Ruffini started by clarifying some of the questions posed about  synod processes.  Although, of interest to all, these questions often come from those who believe the synod is rigged by Pope Francis and company — the less than faithful who are rebranding Catholicism in some demonic light.

  • What rules have been established for the voting procedures?
  • When will the fathers receive the final documents?
  • Will the document be translated?
  • And how will they vote?

The prefect answered that the commission is working on determining some of the processes now.  He also stated that the drafting commission is working on sections one and two of the original Instrumentum Laboris, “upgrading” it to reflect small group input and floor interventions as part of the mix.  The drafting of part three will be on the table soon.

Ruffini stated that the synod fathers will have every opportunity to understand what is being stated in the final draft, although he did not know at this time whether the texts will be translated into other languages.

Finally he said the voters will vote paragraph by paragraph with a two-thirds majority needed for passage of the entire final document.

“Then it will be up to Francis to decide how the document is published,” said Ruffini.

Hot potatoes everywhere

During the question and answer period, Iacopo Scaramuzzi asked the first of what would be a 3-part exploration on women voting by reporters,

“If I am not mistaken, men religious have a right to vote.  Women cannot vote. Can this be changed?”

There was a tellingly long pause by the panelists who seemed afraid to pick up this hot potato.   Greg Burke intervened by making a joke and after some nervous laughter, the priests started cautiously moving toward visions that were more hopeful.

The superior general of the Domincans, P. Bruno Cadore, O.P, began.

This is a synod of bishops, in its law and regulations, have stated that in addition to bishops, there are [male] representatives of consecrated life.   Of course there are women also, but we have this rule, and because the church is marked by its culture, it has always been men.

The synod is mostly bishops, and men – and so it is a synod of bishops — but there should be greater cooperation with women.  We are well aware that 80% of consecrated life is women.  Since this activity is a synod,  hopefully there will be a synod in the future that will ask the views of all, including women.

Who knows when this might happen. I believe women should be represented and should be able to speak.  Wome religious worldwide are directly involved in the lives of youth and the first vocational promoters are the sisters.  I believe it is the same in other orders as well.

A sign that something is not right

An Italian journalist asked the next question.

She asked, “There is a petition that collected thousands of signatures that is being shared online.  They have also published the comments by Cardinal Marx, that including women in governance is necessary.”

Pointedly, she asked, “Is this malaise and discomfort necessary?”

In other words, why are you persecuting my people?

In response, Fr. Sosa danced a bit, then got down to the signs of  hope.

I would like to stick to the words of Fr. Bruno.  It is a synod of bishops.  This one is a synod of bishops.  In local synods, the entire People of God take part — with equality. But the synod of bishops is different.  Still, I believe Francis would like to deepen the synodality of the church and perhaps changes are coming in the way we look at the synod.

This malaise is helpful. It is a sign that something is not right.  This malaise must be felt in order to change things.

Cindy Wooden then asked if the USG had intentionally elected two brothers to show that ordination and leadership are not necessarily connected and that, in fact, leadership can be exercised by lay men and women.

Fr. Tasca responded clearly that within the Franciscans, the objective is that any friar could become a leader and that rooted in their history is equality between ordained and those not ordained.  He stated,

Franciscans are working to loosen up the connection between ordination and leadership.  It is a sign that is being sent out to the entire church — ordination is not automatically attached to leadership.

In the last synod [2015], this theme had already surfaced. A brother who was not ordained obtained the right to vote.

In our community non-ordained as well as ordained can take up leadership, but  in order to do so, we need permission from the Holy See.  We have asked that this  be changed because our history is very clear. We want to go back to our roots . We want every friar to have the opportunity to become a local superior.  

In March, we had a meeting with Pope Francis and we asked him what to do.  So, now, we will prepare a proposal to bypass this need for permission.

 This is our dream and we are working hard to make sure this dream can come true.

I loved this testimony because it parallels the work of women and their allies who seek true equality in the Church.  We want to go back to our roots where Mary of Magdala and Peter, Phoebe and Paul, women and men were co-partners in the work of salvation.

Fr. Sosa added, “Personally I believe Vatican II introduced a model that is not a reality yet.  At tiems we have taken a step back.  But the model of church proposed at Vatican II has not yet come to life.  This model is looking for an opportunity to move into fullness.  So while it seems long, I realize from another standpoint, 50 years in not that long.  Still, the Vatican II model holds as its center, Church as the People of God .”

Moving from the philosophical to the concrete, Fr. Cadore suggested,

From the standpoint of young people, the important thing is the place where young people can feel welcomed — where they are important and relevant.  If the church is more like a family, a family will hold family gatherings.  Some will turn out well and some will not.  We are a church and we are a family.  Bishops are heads, but they will involve everyone.

Still, if a synod is to reflect the People of God,  there will be more lay people than priests and more priests than bishops.  I hope that this will happen by welcoming the testimony from religious life because it  has a particular meaning and role in the church.

We see friars as brothers.

Fr. Tasco added that he is “wary of mandated things from above.”  He said would like “change to come from the grassroots.”  He believes it would better if these changes to the way the synod functions would first begin within local bishops’ conferences.

This path is already there but it should be encouraged at the grassroots level.  The things imposed from above are kind of scary.

Cindy Wooden conducted an interview with Fr. Tasca after the press briefing and ascertained more important and hopeful information on who gets to vote at the synod.

I include new information in her report about the joint work of the USG and the UISG to expand voting to women religious..

Although bishops should make up the majority of voting members at a Synod of Bishops, the fact that the body is only consultative means women should be included as full members just as priests and religious brothers are, said three priests who are voting members.

The superiors general of the Dominicans, the Jesuits and the Conventual Franciscans — all priests who are voting members of the synod — spoke to reporters at a Vatican briefing Oct. 15.

When the men’s Union of Superiors General chose two religious brothers to be among their 10 voting delegates at the Synod of Bishops, they consciously made the choice to emphasize that men’s religious orders include both priests and laymen, the minister general of the Conventual Franciscans said.

“Obviously it wasn’t an accident” that two brothers were elected, Father Marco Tasca, the minister general, told Catholic News Service after the briefing. “Consecrated life is made up of priests and laypeople, so it is only right that there also be lay superiors general at the synod.”

When the superiors elected a brother to the 2015 synod, he said, “there were some doubts about whether or not the synod office would accept him, but the pope intervened and said, ‘Let him come.’ Case closed.

“This time we didn’t ask,” Father Tasca said.

Now, he said, that choice “should raise the question of the presence of the sisters, the women. That is the great challenge.”

The men’s USG and the women’s International Union of Superiors General are now asking that question together, Father Tasca said. “We had a meeting last week — a small group of superiors from both — and we asked, ‘How can we move on this together?'”

The two organizations of superiors, which hold a joint meeting each November, will get together again, he said, to try to move the question forward. “I think the correct path is to present this together, not ‘we men’ or ‘we women’ like children, but together.”

The effect of clergy sex abuse on Chileans

When asked about the effect of clergy sex abuse on the Chilean youth, Sylvia Morales responded that there are two reactions.  First, there is “A crisis of trust has emerged and youth have trouble trusting in the church and its representatives.”  But she also what she believes a majority are more proactive.  “Young Catholics  will not turn a blind eye to the crisis, but they also believe the church can rethink how it is organized so these crimes can be ended and what kind of structures can be introduced so these can be avoided,” she stated.

“Pope Francis’ work has inspired a lot of trust for most Chileans and many share this view,” according to Morales.

Photo by Frances DeBernardo

Discussions related to LGBT people at the Synod

Frank DeBernardo also asked her about the experience of LBGT Catholics in Chile and if this issue was being discussed in the synod.

She responded

They are people who have the same rights we have.  They too live their faith within the church.  They should feel as children of God not as problems.  And this is important. Sometimes I see this discrimination happening,   People do not open their arms wide.  This happens in my country.  They hold their arms close to the chest instead of strweatching them out.  The church must recognize these sisters and brothers. The church has to be more inclusive. We must help our sisters and brothers who want to be a part of the church and this was discussed in the synod for sure.

The “yes” that sparked glee

In the evening, I attended a press conference sponsored by the International Union of Superior Generals with panelists of women religious who are participants at the synod.

Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, the vice-president of the International Union of Superiors General moderated.  As part of the executive team for UISG she is working with the executive members of the USG  (Union of Superiors General) to open up the synod so that women superiors general can vote along side their co-equals.

She was accompanied by other sisters participating at the synod including Sr Nathalie Becquart of France, Sr. Mina Kwon of S. Korea, Sr. Lucy Muthoni Nderi of Kenya, Sr. María Luisa Berzosa of  Spain, and Sr. Alessandra Smerilli of Italy.

Sr. Sally began by describing her experience at the synod.  She used terms like, “wonderful”, “filled with great hope”, and “good energy.”

Lest you imagine those words betray a push over, you would be wrong.

She prefaced those descriptors by giving us a shorthand map for understanding her doubts going in.

“When I was asked to represent UISG, I wondered what I would do in a room with all those men,” said Hodgdon.  “But within the first three days, I could see the cardinals, bishops, and youth, came with the sense of wanting to do something new.”

She offered a bit of an insider’s view.

Each one of us that participates, has 4 minutes to speak.  In my intervention, I spoke about the first part of the ‘Instrumentum Laboris’ on  listening differently.  I suggested how important it is for our church to listen different to  those who will create our future.  I asked if we could we let go of our ideas and stereotypes about youth, that they are not ready, they are not mature, etc..

And, I have to say, I have experienced that in the synod room and in our small groups.  You can tell who is connecting by the response of all of us to a given intervention.  When some people speak, they might get a little longer applause, but when young people speak they get an even longer applause.  Also the some of the bishops get a longer applause.

Many are speaking of the role of women in the church, as well as the youth.  There is a spirit of real openness.  

Some bishops have used the term “call to conversion,” but in fact, that after two weeks, I have seen people in my small group  converted to a new way of thinking.

The youth have offered great insights and told us about their context.  Unfortunately the church and even religious congregations make decisions for others even when they don’t know the context.  

They have shown us how important it is to be transparent and honest.

One of the youth spoke about how coming together with youth is ‘holy ground’. 

In the small groups, we have dialogue time.  In our small groups, great moments of dialogue, theological reflections, banter. The youth are heard at the same level of bishops, cardinals, sisters.

I had my doubts about the experience, because if you read the paper (the rules) you would wonder.  But, instead, what I have experienced is the freedom of dialogue.  

And when the youth offer ideas, they are accepted as amendments of the documents.

Sr. Lucy, Sr. Nathalie, and the other sisters also gave a positive accounting of their experience.

When it came time for questions, Nicole Winfield, of Associated Press asked, “We know there has been a lot of discussion about greater participation and the question about the two brothers who are voting has come up time and time again. Do you think women religious will finally have the vote?”

Get ready for the glee.

In a voice that betrayed no doubt, Sr. Sally simply said, “Yes.”

I think my chair must have lifted a few inches off the ground as my heart jumped in recognition of her certitude.

She went on.

I believe in future synods, we will probably see a change as to who votes.  A synod is a synod of bishops.  Now that the synods have been opened and expanded, we believe the church will look at that in the future.  The two brothers from USG, they will be voting.   In theory, you think I would have the vote too.

But, what we really want is  greater participation of the church in synods, in  places of decision making in the church. 

It is a church of the people.

The other point that is important is that  voting is just  one moment in time. 

It is what happens in the small groups,  how we talk in the small groups, the conversations we have during coffee breaks, etc.  that is important because those influences ultimately shape the document.

In my group, we do speak about women.  We have looked at the ‘Instrumentum Laboris’ paragraph by paragraph.  If we sense it is too male centered, we ask for changes. 

Ultimately the focus is on youth.

There was a questions about women deacons from journalist, Dario Menor Torres.  I could not understand the exact question, but certainly understood what had been asked by Sr. Sally’s response.

Sr. Sally responded to Dario by saying,

The  UISG was instrumental in moving forward the question of women deacons, but as far as any discussion about it in the synod, it came up only once in my small group.

In the large aula, it may have come up three or four times, but  not 300 times.

I think the tone in the aula is greater participation in general, but as far as women deacons, it has not been so specific.

As Sr. Sally looked to others on the panel, it seemed as if no others had spoken about it.

Another question came up about the abuse of women religious around the world and what the UISG did in response.

Sr. Sally said that when the UISG receives  reports about sisters being abuse, they “refer that abuse to the appropriate congregation or dicastery.”

Elise Harris of Crux asked if they were optimistic about the way things are going?

Sr Sally responded saying

I am very optimistic about youth and about a greater participation of our youth in the church.  As far as the women’s issue, this is not the focus.   Since I come from a country where women’s issues are at front, when I first came, I felt Rome was less women friendly.  But that is changing.  Is there a woman cardinal?  No.  Is UISG pushing for more women.  Yes.  But it is slow.  Small steps.  But definitely there is a change.

Swiss Nuns sign on

Priorous Irene Gassmann and her Benedictine nuns from their monastery in Switzerland have signed on in support of our campaign #votesforcatholicwomen

More essential reading:

Bishops asked to explain why women can’t vote at youth synod by Nicole Winfield.

Thomas Reese’s comments on the basis for women voting. 

Gundrun Sailer at Radio Vatican Germany on the Swiss sisters.

Sinodo: petizione on line per il voto alle donne

If you have not signed our petition, please do so.  We are building pressure to open the vote to women at the synod.  It will only happen because you made your voice known.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome