Thank God we are not stupid; God is an abstract idea; Lyons and lobbies and bears, Oh my!; Delivering the good

Each day as the synod comes closer to the end, the press room fills with more and more journalists.  It’s getting crowded.  But I am also finding myself grateful for all the really fine human beings trying to decipher the Vatican-lese for Catholics around the world while burrowing underneath the great wall surrounding the Vatican to get at truth in a church that is not so famous for its transparency and where church men devour each other in the bid for power.

It is also a joy to watch Paloma García Ovejero at work each day.  She is the first lay women to be appointed vice-director in Communications.  She is personable and welcoming, a truly lovely quality in a place where people are usually on guard.

Thank God we are not stupid

Today the synod featured Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, along with Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Cameroon, Archbishop Grzegorz Ryś of Poland, and Archbishop Toufic Bou Hadir, of the Maronite Church in Lebanon.

Cardinal Marx moves like a prince in the church.  Although he has often condemned clericalism, he seems pretty comfortable with it on many levels.  He sat squarely in the middle of the panel.  He gushes impatience.  And when I have seen him at these events, he is always  surrounded by a small assembly of the German press that comically looks more like a gathering of groupies.  His special 
secretary closely controls every movement of the cardinal and those around him.

I would not call him a “people’s man” but rather a German star.

Nevertheless, he has been a megaphone for the German bishops’ progress on increasing women’s participation in the church.  Germany is one of the few regions where structures have been developed to increase leadership and ministerial roles for women.

The themes of his synod intervention were repeated in parts at the press conference.

In his intervention he cited the Instrumentum laboris:  “The rage of young people in the face of rampant corruption, growing structural inequality, contempt for human dignity, human rights violations, discrimination against women [also in the Church] and minorities, organized violence, and injustice does not seem to be taken into due account, if we look at the responses given by the BC [Bishops‘ Conferences].” (IL 128)

The German Bishops, in 2013, committed themselves to, “Significantly increase the proportion of women in church leadership positions accessible to all lay people;  to further clarify the participation of women (and lay people as a whole) in the leadership tasks of the church, theologically and pastorally; and to promote a gender-sensitive pastoral care in theology and practice.”

He listed the concrete steps they taken to shore up their commitment.  In a 2015 document called Being Church Together,  the German bishops laid out the theological foundation for leadership in the Church, including women’s leadership which included
  • A mentoring programme for women in the Church (Hildegardis-Verein together with the German Bishops’ Conference) has made clear the diversity of leadership tasks in the Church and prepared almost 100 women for a leading role in the Church.
  • At a study day the German bishops dealt with the gender debate and thus discussed far-reaching questions on anthropology and sexual morals, on sacrament and office theology and on more gender justice in the Church beyond traditional gender roles and egalitarian role patterns.

Then he urges in a striking way

If, as the ‘Instrumentum laboris’ demands, the Church wants to support the dignity of women (cf. No. 158), then it is not sufficient to repeat the corresponding official doctrinal texts.

We must face up to the often uncomfortable and impatient questions of young people about equal rights for women also in the Church.

We can no longer simply stay out of the discourses of the present and have to learn a new culture of conflict in order to get involved argumentatively and in a guiding way in the social debates on central basic questions of humanity, such as sexuality, the roles of women and men and the formation of human relationships.

And for the sake of our own credibility, we must involve women at all levels of the Church, from the parish to the levels of the diocese, the Bishops’ Conference and also in the Vatican itself considerably more in leadership tasks.

We really ought to wish this and implement it!

The impression that the Church, when it comes to power, is ultimately a male Church must be overcome in the universal Church and also here in the Vatican. Otherwise the young women will not find any real opportunity for formation with us.

It is high time!

At the press briefing, he highlighted the evolving nature of the synod process under Francis as part of his effort to decentralize power within the church.

He stressed that the church is on a great learning curve when it comes to true synodality and underlined the greater involvement of the youth and laity in the process from the  survey, the pre-synod meeting, and to the synod itself.

Youth, according to Marx, are helping to shape the development of the Instrumentum Laboris into the final document because, “we are looking to the young to help us make real decisions.”

He also spoke of the need for accompaniment saying that the choices made at this time are often choices made for life.

During the Q & A, a German reporter asked if the issue of clergy sex abuse would be at the front of the final document as had been proposed by the German bishops.

Marx replied that clergy sex abuse in Germany has drawn global attention.

“We need to change our attitude.  The important thing in my mind is not jut to seek new methods, but to change the church instead.  We need to become an authentic church, open to dialogue — not a top down approach.   All our statements must be translated into structures.”

He stressed, “We need to do this together.”

But, he also resisted qualifying its importance by where it was placed in the final document.  For Marx, it must be addressed and where it lands in the document is not as important.

He was also asked if  we should expect some strong statements on women and if we would have women deacons soon.

Sidestepping the question of women deacons, he remarked that on the role of women in the church, “Thirty years ago I too may have been opposed to seeing more women in leadership,” but, “Thank God I didn’t get stuck there!”

Marx said the  Church must understand the evolution and development of women’s equality as a “gift God gives the Church in the light of the Gospel.”

He said, “We would be foolish if we did not make use of the potential that women have.”

“Thank God we are not stupid.”

He circled back around to the theme of accompaniment that is so prevalent at the synod saying that it is important to Pope Francis that, “I don’t decide for you, but we walk together.”

God is an abstract idea

The comments of Archbishop Grzegorz Ryś of Poland surprised me most.  His candor about the life in the church in Poland was refreshing.  And his willingness to poke holes in the illusion that full churches mean transformed Catholics was really refreshing.

In his opening comments he said

Just because people are in churches, doesn’t mean they know Jesus.  Catholics in Poland finish 12 years of school, but in the end,  God is an abstract idea.  

Wow!  That is powerful and powerfully true.

Then we have to ask ourselves, ‘What are the important values of the youth?’  They always say, ‘family.’

Then when you ask about faith, it is about 13th on the list of priorities.  

For youth, it is the family — it is about acceptance.  Family, friendship, and work is important.

Even though the churches were full, a measuring stick that prelates love to cite as a sign that all is well,  the truth of the matter was the  church is missing the boat and that it needed to extend the acceptance and love of family, community, and friendship to all in order to make Catholicism a transformative experience.

The reporter from LifeSite asked if they might do better if they had more Eucharistic Cenacles, even creating a kind of global structure for it, but the archbishop wasn’t impressed with the idea.  Instead, he re-emphasized the need for acceptance, accompaniment, and friendship.

Lyons, and lobbies and bears! Oh my!

Marx and the German bishops are always a target of organizations such as LifeSite, Church Militant, etc.  The German bishops’ strong influence at the 2015 Synod on the Family which helped open the doors to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, their recent position on intercommunion, and a whole host of others reforms makes them personae non gratae to many ultra right Catholics.

So today, Marx was clearly getting frustrated by the ideologically driven question from LifeSite news that was directed to Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Cameroon.

LifeSite posed,

The issue of LGBT or other similar language would make into the final document has been something that has come up.  You had stated publicly that the bishops of Africa will not vote for any point that uses LGBT or other similar language, are you or the bishops of Africa concerned that there is a move to do so, to use other language that isn’t Catholic teaching?  And are you concerned that if the bishops of the world do not resist the LGBT lobby which is powerful in the world, then maybe it will make it to the doors of Africa and perhaps aid would be dependent on whether Africa accepts such an ideology?

The archbishop’s answer was telling.  It was a bit of a side step,  but an interesting dance as he tried to make space for his cultural biases at a world summit where the need to embrace the full  and equal dignity of LGBT people continues to garner more and more support.  He even tried to talk about a time when, in reality, there would be more freedom in his country for LGBT people, although he still framed it like it was a disease.

He said, “If I come back to my country and tell 1000 youth that we now have pastoral care for LGBT, they will raise their hands and ask, ‘What’s that?'”

At that point, Cardinal Marx muttered an unintelligible comment.

The archbishop went on,

The synod cannot solve the problems of each particular country. We are looking at the church from a global point of view. And that was my sense when I said I would not vote for any article that said LGBT, because I would have to explain this to my young people.  And I would have to take my time to explain something I am not conversant with.  

The second problem you have raised is about aid to Africa.  We are dealing with the government in Africa where the Church is the only voice that can oppose some of the policies.   And if we begin to use certain language, they pick on this and play it back to the Church.

Some of the governments and funding groups of the West bring aid to Africa and they tied it to some of these things, some of these acronyms.  Funding groups were forcing  it, ‘If you don’t accept abortion, if you don’t accept, we will cut aid.’  These are the things that play into the hands of these kinds of groups. 

And that is why we are saying, ‘Society is evolving’.  We can say that this doesn’t exist in Africa.  But an association is not existing.  But with evolution, the way things are evolving, they may get there. As of now, it is not yet. And we cannot play into the hands of governments and funding groups because they want to pass on their ideas.

Marx jumped in at this point with a bit of a bluster.

We have to be careful about the question of sexuality, it should not be exploited and used in an ideological battle. We have lobbies on all different sides, but it is necessary to identify a way that is understandable to everyone, to accompany the young trying to understand them without telling them.  When we use words, we should not take a stand that could be misleading.

It is not clear what he meant by the last part of the statement, but I have to wonder what that means in terms of what the document will say since young people themselves have been strong on using the language that describes who they are on their own terms.

Delivering the goods

While we have made one delivery to the office of the Synod of Bishops, today, Kate and I are beginning to deliver the petition online to bishops and cardinals, and to also put it into the hands of some key prelates.

Today, I saw a young auditor reading Visions and Vocations, the voices of Catholic Women Speak. I am loving it!

And I am reminded how much has changed under Francis.  That Paulist Press and Tina Beattie can have this book in the synod hall where our prelates can read the witness and wisdom of Catholic women, is another reminder of how much women have accomplished!

In the end, this church will open to women’s full and equal participation.  We are all doing our part to make that a reality.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome