October 18, 2018

Pontifical council composed of youth proposed again; A letter to youth from the synod; More woman talk; Coming soon!  My interview Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ

First off, we are getting ready to deliver our petition urging the Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis to make room for women religious superiors to vote!

We are nearly 8000 strong!  But we want the strongest voice possible!

If you have not signed the petition or shared it, please do so!

The Synod office and many others inside the Synod hall know about this petition.  Help us do our part to further full equality for women in the church.  SIGN and SHARE!

The briefing

Today, we were joined by Sr. Alessandra Simerilli, a powerhouse advocate for the poor and the earth, based in Italy; Archbishop Matteo Maia Zuppi of Italy who has been called the "Bergoglio of Bologna", and is known for his peace activism and the preface he wrote for James Martin's book on building bridges with the LGBT;  Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M. of Ethiopia;  Fr. Alexandre Awe Mellow, secretary for the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life; and instead of Greg Burke conducting, we had Paloma Garcia Overjero, the first lay woman appointed as Vice Director of Communications.

It was gratifying to see her in action with her very relaxed and easy going style.

Sr. Alessandra Smerilli began her comments by saying that she "dreams of a prophetic church" where economics and ecology are addressed recognizing they are inextricably linked to the suffering of the poor.  Citing the importance of Laudato Si, she said that if we don't work together as a church to address the ills in our  environment we will generate a whole new poverty.

Pontifical council of youth proposed again

Early on, when Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, the Vice President of the UISG, proposed that there be an International Pontifical Council made of young people during her four minute intervention, she was cheered by the young people sitting in the synod hall, a phenomena that has marked this synod as a very different experience from others.

Prefect Paolo Ruffini mentioned it again today as part of his press report and it seems the idea has come up quite a number of times at the synod, properly encouraged with the "woo-hooing" from the young auditors.  In addition, Ruffini mentioned that "a woman could head up the council."

To which I say, "Woo hoo!"

The idea of a council has traction and could serve as an important vehicle for creating a church that is, not only more fully engaged with youth, but more in touch and empathetic to the variety of problems they face, including those who have moved away from the church because of its rigidity and exclusive ways.  It could also serve as a vehicle for addressing the gap in equal opportunity for roles for women in the church.

The other idea that has gained traction and is popular with the young adults attending the synod is the idea of creating a digital platform for engaging youth.  Over and over again, this idea has been applauded by the youth at the synod whenever it is introduced.

Part three of the Instrumentum Laboris is being discussed this week and the focus is on developing concrete strategies for engaging young Catholics, not only here at the synod, but in the wider church.

That will be the real test of this month long adventure.

A letter to youth from youth

It has been decided that a group of people from the synod will compose a letter to young people, separate from the final document which will be longish, and probably ignored by too many Catholics, young, old, ordained, and lay.

The elected group of eight participants to begin drafting a message are youth auditors  Briana Santiago of the United States, Anastasia Indrawan of Indonesia along with Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Auxiliary Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard of Lyon, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, and Bishop Eduardo Horacio Garcia of San Justo, Argentina.  Fr. Alois, prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taize, and auditor Michele Falabretti, leader of the youth pastoral care office at the Italian bishops’ conference are also part of the group.

To add some context, while there has been a lot of good feelings about the connectedness people feel at the synod, there are those who seem to be unshakable in their demands for a new way.

In an interview with Mary Rezac from Catholic News Agency, Sister Benedicta Turner of the Daughters of St. Paul hopes that the synod fathers recognize young people’s desire for clarity and truth, even when it is difficult.

“It is a generation that strongly values clarity and authenticity, perhaps to a fault.  Slick, expensive presentations go ignored while raw, sincere testimony is held with reverence,” she said.

Turner said that Church leaders need to return to an authentic presentation of the totality of the Gospel, and to challenge rather than compromise with the current culture.

“I think we need leaders who are willing to answer the hard questions young people are asking, who are more inclined to engage the culture than to make excuses for it, and who are willing to admit mistakes and failure with honesty and humility,” she said.

“We need leaders who are unafraid to give us the Gospel in its most intense, undiluted form; the Gospel for which the martyrs offered their lives and whose beauty has inspired countless works of art over the centuries,” she added.

Only this kind of engagement with the Gospel and the hearts of young people will be effective in calling them out of complacency and into relationship with Christ, she said.

Br. Neil Conlisk, a 30 year-old Carmelite brother, told CNA that he feared the synod’s bishops would not listen to young people’s desire for authenticity and truth and that they would continue on with “business as usual” and talk past young people.  

“No one wants a worldly Church,” he said. “I fear that the Synod Fathers will try to change the Church in the name of the youth, but this ‘change-the-church’ fever is a symptom of the illness that has caused the long decline, and we simply cannot afford to destroy the Church any more.”

“We are hearing, from many bishops, moralistic therapeutic deism, but we want the fullness of the faith within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” he added.

In addition to speaking the truth, Johnson said that what he hopes arises from the synod is a greater recognition throughout the Church of the need to live lives of holiness, so that young people have examples to follow in the Christian life.

“Young people need to see examples of holiness so that they know that Christianity is true, it’s beautiful and its attainable,” he said.

When young people need to see that there are Christians who “weren’t born perfect, but there are people who admit their weaknesses and rely on the Lord’s strength and are able to lead lives of holiness,” whether that person is a bishop or a priest or a lay member of the Church, he said.

This need for examples of Christian holiness is not new, Borsellino told CNA, but it is a constant need throughout the history of the Church.

They are getting real and I love it!

More woman talk

Paolo Ruffini also shared the ongoing dialogue about the role of women.

He said synod participants say that there needs to be a "cultural conversion" in the Church when it comes to the role of women.

Further, there is agreement that they need to be given an equal place, not only in society, but in the Church.

He also reported that there was a proposal that a Synod on women should be convened.

Let's get some dates on the calendar for these proposals and make it happen!

Coming soon!  My interview with Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ

Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, is Vice President of the International Union of Superiors General and one of women who could vote along with her male counterparts at the synod if all things were equal.

While I will post the whole interview in full this weekend, I just want to report that, Sr. Sally confirmed that the USG and the UISG will be developing a proposal and strategy for getting women the vote at synods.

Wouldn't it be great if that were in place for the next synod in 2019?  Of course, it would have been better if it had been in place a long time ago, but this is progress.

The walls around the Vatican that have kept women out are crumbling as we speak!

An important voice at the synod coming from Nigeria

Vincent Paul Nneji of Nigeria urged the church to be more just in its treatment of lay people in his region.  His message moved beyond what has become the usual deference displayed, to an authentic cry that shed light on the real experiences of youth.

He talked about survival.  And basic needs, like work...and food...and shelter.

And his pointsare really worth repeating.

A lot of us work as volunteers in the church (with our talents and time) because we derive joy in God's service.  

However, instead of feeling part of her, we feel used by her as many of us have little or no means of livelihood and we have little or no choice other than to 'depend on the scraps that falls from the master's table.'  

We have talents, but there is little or no platform to express the same, even as church volunteers.

  • The church should pay apt attention to our upbringing, especially with choosing our career path.
  • The church should deliberately outline the steps for vocational discernment in the catechism.
  • We ask for a church that prioritizes more the capacity for development for young people rather than structural or institutional development.

We want to start dreaming again with firm hope that they church will pay more attention to our individual dreams, encouraging and accompanying us in the process of achieving them.

To that the whole church should say, "Amen!".

Possible progress in Vatican-North Korean talks


In case you didn't see it, Pope Francis and Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin met with the president of South Korea today, Mr. Jae-in Moon.  It has been reported that the pope received an oral invitation to visit North Korea through President Moon, but that they will look for an formal invitation before responding.

I am recalling the joyful face of Sr Mina Kwon of S. Korea and  the Archbishop of S. Korea,  that I heard in the first week of the press briefings and can only imagine the hope they feel at these developments.

May the voices of faith, reason, and hope fill the airwaves and help drown out those that stoke hatred and fear.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 17, 2018

My mistake and my apology; Brother Alois as the model for a renewed church; Sometimes it is hard to listen

A colleague contacted me to tell me that I may have misunderstood the exchange between Cardinal Bruno Forte and Greg Burke regarding a two part question on Humanae Vitae that I wrote about last week.  I asked that person to go back and check the original exchange in Italian which I heard through a simultaneous translation.

Today, I learned that I was wrong about the sequence and thus, I was wrong about Greg Burke’s professionalism. In that, I maligned my brother’s reputation.  It appears that the veil of objectivity that I originally suggested had slipped was mine, and not his.

For this I apologize and as we say when entering into the sacrament of reconciliation, I am sincerely and heartily sorry.

And now the politics

John Allen writes a superb column on what’s at stake in the synod process and why the process is contentious. An excerpt of his article is below.

According to Allen

Crux learned that a preliminary version of that final document has been prepared and given to members of a drafting committee. selected last week, with five members elected by the synod, two sitting on the body ex ufficio, and three appointed by the pope. Though it’s not clear who wrote the preliminary version, it was presented to the drafting committee by the synod office headed by Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.

To understand why they matter, both developments require a bit of explanation.

First of all, talk of “rigging” of the process probably has been a little overheated from the beginning. As Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles pointed out in a Rome event Oct. 4 sponsored by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, every meeting is at least a little “rigged,” in the sense that organizers wouldn’t call it without some basic sense of desired results.

That said, Church conservatives often can’t help but suspect that the deck is stacked against them, and it didn’t help this time that Pope Francis introduced a new set of rules, one element of which is that the synod will no longer end with a series of recommendations which usually lay the basis for an eventual apostolic exhortation.

This time, the synod will produce an integrated final document that will be presented to the pope. If he gives it his approval, then it would become part of the Church’s ordinary magisterium, meaning the routine exercise of its teaching authority.

That new codicil, naturally, raises the stakes a bit in terms of the importance of the document, and bishops participating in this synod want to be sure that the final version genuinely reflects their input. If there had just been one sweeping vote at the end, it would have been much harder to flag which parts of the text were troublesome; now, with paragraph-by-paragraph tallies, it should be easier to know where consensus does and doesn’t exist.

Some observers had floated the possibility that if the only option was an all-or-nothing vote on the final text, some pocket of bishops might actually refuse to sign the final text, in an effort to demonstrate that it wasn’t really the product of genuine consensus.

Of course, ultimately all the synod can do is advise the pope, and it remains up to him what to do on the basis of the advice. In theory, even if a given paragraph doesn’t obtain a two-thirds majority to be part of the text, the pope could decide to revive it; and even if a paragraph does cross the threshold, a pope could still nix it.

Under these rules, however, at least bishops won’t be able to say they didn’t have the opportunity to make it clear where both their support and their concerns reside.

On the other hand, it may not do much among those already inclined to skepticism to hear that rather than waiting for the drafting committee to do its work, the synod office prepared its own working text to put before the group. To some, that’s likely going to sound like an exercise in stacking the deck, essentially confronting the committee with a fait accompli.

In all fairness, one could make the argument that the idea of ten exhausted and frazzled prelates drafting not just a set of recommendations but an entire, cohesive teaching document in just three weeks, ex nihilio, was a fantasy. They need something to start with, and theoretically it makes as much sense for the synod office to provide that base text as anyone else.

As one synod participant put it on Monday, “The thought that somehow [a few] selected people would sit down, craft and write many pages of material … a whole document … is not exactly realistic.”

Further, the great likelihood is that most of the material in the preliminary version of the document is drawn from either the instrumentum laboris, the working document for the synod, or from the early round of discussion inside the assembly.

In other words, there doesn’t have to be anything especially nefarious about it.

The problem is that however logical that explanation may be, it wasn’t made public before the fact. Certainly, synod officials understand by now that there’s a certain constituency, including a bloc of bishops, inclined to see the entire exercise through a hermeneutic of suspicion, and the idea that a pre-fabricated text was waiting for the drafting committee immediately after the body was assembled is unlikely to help.

Brother Alois as a model for a renewed church

Today, the panelists who briefed us included fraternal delegate Pastor Marco Fornerone of World Communion of Reformed Churches, Brother Alois, Prior of the Taize Community, Fr. Mauro Giorgio Giuseppe Lepori, O. Cist., and Archbishop David Bartimej Tencer, O.F.M. Cap. of Iceland.

Archbishop Tencer from Iceland held our attention as he talked about the obstacles of distance and climate he overcomes in order to form community there.  In that, the digital world has created new opportunities for community and for education.  So instead of cursing the abuses of the internet, he suggested that the Church make full use of the opportunities presented for strengthening community, especially among young Catholics.

Two other exchanges that point to the gifts that ecumenism offers the Catholic Church stood out.

Fraternal delegate Pastor Marco Fornerone of the World Communion of Reformed Churches explained that within his tradition, the process for developing a consensus on pastoral practices is inclusive and fully representative of all members.  As such, there are more lay persons involved than ministers.

And he brings that experience to the synod where he explained that his intervention on the floor and his suggestions in his small group are treated with the same deference given to each and every person in the group.

And while we long for a synod process that is fully representative of the entire People of God, it is also important to remember the step Pope Francis took in 2015 that revolutionized the synod process.

Instead of an endless stream of interventions in the aula that had been the norm under previous popes, Pope Francis restructured the synod creating a space for authentic dialogue and exchange in small language groups.  And while these exchanges have been revolutionary in and of themselves, it is also important to understand the impact it has on the final document to flows from the synod.

While the role of auditors is limited in that they cannot vote on each paragraph of the final document, nonetheless, their influence regarding what goes into the final document has absolutely been strengthened with Pope Francis’ reform.

In that context, it was heartening to hear that the wisdom and experience of another tradition and the way they have learned to build a structure around what they value is being heard within the synod.

Brother Alois of Taize

If there has been one voice at the synod that serves as a model for how to be church together and how to walk humbly and together with our younger sisters and brothers, it is Brother Alois.

His radiant love filled the room — a love  that can only come from knowing and deeply trusting God  and the God within each person he meets.

I’ll take a triple scoop of that, please.

When asked what the bishops might learn from the way the people of the Taize community meet those who arrive at their doorstep, he suggested that each parish should be a place of sharing of our spiritual lives, but also material sharing.

He said, “When the young see there is an authentically loving community, they are naturally attracted to it.”

He also said that we don’t pray for young people, but that we pray with them, walk with them and learn together with them.

And finally, and most importantly, he said that we must let them be free — free to choose what they can embrace and what they cannot in the life of love that is offered.

Somedays, God delivers an infusion of grace directly to the heart.

Today, that happened for me.

As I sat in the press room, I couldn’t stop the flow of tears that streamed down my cheeks as I thought about what I and all my/our children could learn from a man and a community such as this.

This is the profound love that changes the world.

I included Brother Alois’ intervention at the synod below.  It is also on the Taize website.

Responding to the spiritual thirst of the young and to their search for communion

Articles 68 and 69 of the Instrumentum Laboris express the desire for a “more relational” Church, capable of “welcoming without judging in advance”, a “close and friendly” Church.

My brothers and I are often surprised to hear young people we welcome in Taizé say that they feel “at home” there, and we wonder why. It may be that, to be truly themselves, they need to feel useful, to see their creativity encouraged, to receive responsibilities.

Then their spiritual thirst awakens and it is important to go patiently, together with them, to the sources of faith. They know that they are welcomed by a community, first in the common prayer where all participate actively, by singing, listening to a brief biblical reading, a long moment of silence. And often they deepen a personal relationship with Christ.

We make sure that the liturgical signs avoid formalism, but are beautiful and simple. For example, we see how deeply young people participate, every Friday night, in a prayer around the cross, to lay down before Christ what is too heavy for them.

We say to ourselves: like Christ, let us listen to them with our hearts, reminding ourselves that he is already at work in their lives – and let us respect the sanctuary of their conscience. Those who listen must be accompanied themselves. There is a lack of accompaniers in the Church: could a ministry of listening be entrusted not only to priests, men and women religious, but also to lay people, men and women?

In Taizé, young people also discover that the Church is communion. Without creating an organized movement, we always send the young people back to their parishes and the places where they live. So many of them like to pray together with others of different faiths. They understand, if only implicitly, the call of Christ to be reconciled without delay.

We have recently experienced such a communion at an Asian young adult meeting in Hong Kong, a stage in our pilgrimage of trust. Of the young participants, 700 came from mainland China – it was the joy of the Holy Spirit.

I would now like to make a concrete proposal. Often, the words used and the manner of speaking are obstacles that prevent many young people from hearing what the Church says. Could not the final document be accompanied by a short letter, written in a simple style, addressed to a young person looking for meaning in his or her life?

I would like to summarize what I just said with a few words from Brother Roger, the founder of our community:

“When the Church listens, heals, reconciles, she becomes what she is at her most luminous, a communion of love, of compassion, of consolation, a clear reflection of the Risen Christ. Never distant, never on the defensive, freed from all harshness, she can radiate the humble trusting of faith into our human hearts.”

Like I said, I’ll take a triple scoop of that.

Sometimes it is hard to listen

Tonight the BBC produced a show with a panel of five young Catholics talking about their faith and their experience in the Church along with comments and discussion with members of the audience.

Nuala McGovern was the host and the participants came from a variety of regions such as Samoa, Nigeria, the United States, and Italy.  Some of the panelists are also auditors at the synod.

First of all, I thought Nuala was brilliant as the host.  She really understood the lay of the Catholic land.

Also, the questions and responses were quite lively and free flowing.  It seemed that everyone had a chance to speak their mind.

Still, I wish the BBC had be able to achieve more balance in the panelists they chose.

Four of the panelists appeared to espouse varying degrees of what I would assess as a Pope John Paul II view of Catholicism complete with a strong defense of complementarity, the Catholic Church’s “separate, but equal” framework.

Just one, a young self-identified lesbian Catholic from Rome, spoke of her love for the Catholic Church despite the discrimination she faced.  Although her family was very supportive, she spoke of the Church as a Mother and how painful it was to feel rejection because of her identity.

Ultimately, she feels the church is changing on this issue and will grow into a more welcoming place for LGBT sisters and brothers.

As I walked back home, I pondered Brother Alois’ words as I reflected on what had been said.

It is difficult to listen to those who are convinced that women and men should be take up certain roles in accordance with their God-given biological sex and all the assumed advantages attached to each sex.  I thought of the suffering of the women, including some women religious, who know they are called to the priesthood and to other ministries that are simply not available to them within our church.  And I thought the social assignment of certain characteristics based on sex and how that has been turned on its head in so many ways.  Most close to my own heart is the way my sons-in-law exhibit what would at one time been thought of as maternal tenderness toward their children, as well as, vulnerability and a deep respect rooted in a firm sense of equality with my daughters that was practically absent in many men of my parent’s and grandparent’s generation.

It was hard to hear them say that women should not be priests because Jesus chose 12 male apostles.  The lack of exposure to biblical criticism or to our long history of interpretation of the tradition as part of our life in God’s Spirit was manifest.

It was troublesome to hear them say that having women priests would just add to clericalism, a logic that most would probably never apply to any other sector.  And when it has, such as in the days when many thought women were too delicate to be involved in politics, it simply exposed a sexist impulse to keep women out.

It was painful to hear them  brush aside the stories of deep human pain in the inability to conceive children and simply reaffirm the church’s teaching on in vitro fertilization.  I thought about one of my daughter’s friends who felt crushed by those in her community who simply repeated church teaching without ever understanding her suffering.

As I tried to imagine what Brother Alois would think and say given his deep ability for embracing all, I recognized that I share a passion for justice and a love for the church with these young people and that this forum was not a place where we might all go deeper or share our own evolving spiritualities and come to a better understanding of each other.

Still, I wished Brother Alois could have been sitting center stage, offering his understanding of God’s radical and “foolish” love in a world where law trumps generosity and rules are used to divide.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

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

October 14, 2018

Canonizations; What are the oxygen levels up here?;  Who drives the PopeMobile?; The sun is shining and the voices of children are everywhere

Today I attended the canonization Mass for saints Oscar Romero, Paul VI, foundress Maria Katharina Kasper of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, Ignacia Nazaria March Mesa, Nunzio Sulprizio, Francesco Spinelli, and Vincenzo Romano.

It was an extraordinary celebration of the lives of these workers in God’s field, to say the least.

Finding one’s way through the crowd and finding out which gates open when you have a press pass was an adventure in itself.  I found another priest flashing his press pass and being directed and redirected, so we decided to stick together until we got to our destination.  He was kind enough to share his pictures of the day which were much superior to mine.

There is a special terrace for members of the media.  And to get there one has to climb up a dark, ancient
circular stairways made of endless stone steps.

I know I have a lively imagination, and I couldn’t help but feel I was ascending into a chapter of Eco Umberto’s novel –  The Name of the Rose — where, at the top of the staircase, we might find a monk bent over a parchment with his inked pen in hand – or worse . . . (background music crescendos…).

Once at the top, the heights felt a little dizzying and, I amused myself with thoughts of the air quality up there — if there was really 21% oxygen — and if not, how it might be more understandable to see how people in high places who are slow to interpret the “signs of the times.”  Maybe, they really just need more of the big O.  But alas, science assures me that the percentage of oxygen does not change with altitude, so my theory falls flat – again.

Jokes aside, most significant to me, was learning that Pope Francis wore Romero’s blood stained cincture (rope belt) while presiding at the Mass.  If there was one icon of the importance this day, it was that one.

Still, I couldn’t help regret  the reproduction of clericalism I witnessed at the Mass with cardinals, bishops, priests and dignitaries at the front.

Truer to Romero’s memory and martyrdom, I would have loved to see those front rows filled, not with bishops and cardinals dressed in their finery, but with the homeless of the streets of Rome (those who often walk without shoes and who don’t get the daily grace of decent food), along side the poor of El Salvador who know the healing and life giving power that emanates from those who stand with them against the powerful interests that rob the them and their sisters and brothers of their God-given dignity and right to a decent life.   I would have loved to have see this day celebrated with each of them treated to a Romero-inspired meal, a new set of digs, and a safe place to sleep.

Still, it was inspiring to see the thousands of pilgrims in attendance.  And Pope Francis thanked those pilgrims, but also the dignitaries in attendance such as Queen Sofia, the President of the Italian Republic, the Presidents of Chile, El Salvador and Panama, as well as His Grace Rowan Williams and the delegation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In his homily, Francis recalled that Jesus was a radical in the way he loved.

You can read some excellent accounts of the canonization Mass coverage by CNS, NCRNPR, and Vatican News, to name just a few.

You can also read Australian theologian and commentator Paul Collins’ sober assessment of the experiences and forces that shaped the man, Paul VI, here.

Following the Mass it was a joy to see Pope Francis move through the cheering crowds on his PopeMobile.

As I watched security escort him up the steps of the vehicle, I wondered who gets the job of driving him around. So the geek in me did some reading.  There is a really good article about the history of popemobiles here, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the picture of Pope Francis in a little Fiat — his determination on full display to let the air out of papal pomposity where ever he can.  Early on, he decided to do away with the luxury, bullet-proof versions of the popemobile of his predecessors, an aspect of the Pope that I and so many other Catholics, love and admire.

As he moved through the crowd, he extended his hand so that he could connect with people.  At times, he stopped to kiss little bambinos and share the sunlight of his smile even as it was returned back to him a thousandfold.  I’m sure it renews him as these encounters allow him to share what is deepest in his heart — his love for each and every person.

So far, I have not been able to find out who drives the popemobile.  It may be, to quote Bob Woodward, “deep background” knowledge, but since I consider this newsletter a space for crowd-sourced news, please send me your best hunches or evidence on this — encrypted of course.

After the Mass, I had the good fortune of running into some of the pilgrims who travelled to Rome to celebrate the sainting of Maria Katharina Kasper, the foundress of  The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.  They came from Dernbach, Germany, the town where she grew up.

Provincial Sr. Judith Diltz led a pilgrimage from the United States  and I was aware that canon lawyer, Sr. Kate Kuenstler, who works with parishioners whose parishes are being closed or merged in FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community work, was in town for the celebration.

So, a big congratulations to Sr. Kate and all those who model their life after Catherine Kasper.  You inspired us with your generous service and work for the Gospel.

After the Mass, I spent time in a Piazza near me watching children run and play games with their parents cheering.

It was a good way to finish the day and to remember God’s joy, laughter, and playfulness so apparent in the faces of Her children.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 13, 2018

Groceries; laundry; and inspiration

It is Saturday, and the streets are packed with tourists – those who have stopped to dip their feet in a fountain; those who are following guides holding brightly colored flags; and, most humorous of all, a young child who has gone limp to protest his parents’ directives — an effective tactic — if just for the time it takes for the parent to get a firm hold on the slippery little body and carry them along.  Oh, the memories.

The whole city is gearing up for the canonization of Oscar Romero and Paul VI tomorrow.

I am looking for carrots.

And laundry soap.

Of course, I will be there for the canonizations which include women religious superiors, men, and even a young lay person.

But, today, I am sweeping, shopping and reflecting.

Jesuit Luke Hansen’s interview with Chicagoan Yadira Vieyra, an auditor at the synod, is compelling reading. Yadira, the daughter of immigrants who is inspired by the example of Oscar Romero, is fearless in her condemnation of the xenophobic hatred on display in the U.S.  And she is a fearless advocate for women and LGBT people, groups that aren’t getting enough attention at the Synod in her view.

Here is part of the interview:

But Ms. Vieyra said she has not agreed with everything the bishops have shared.

“The role of women in the church can be overlooked,” she said. “When a church leader tries to undermine the spiritual power that sisters in the church bring, it is discouraging.”

She described a sister in Chicago who is the epitome of what a sister should be: “She exudes so much peace and so much joy for the community and for God. I tell my husband: I want to be more like her. I really do. So to hear that some members of the synod feel that only priests can bring spiritual guidance to our youth robs our sisters” of what they can do.

“The role of women in the church can be overlooked.”

“A lot of people in the room agree that we need to minister to our youth today,” she said, whether they identify with the L.G.B.T. community or they are being raised in a household where it is two fathers or two mothers. I feel very passionate about that because if Jesus were here right now, he would walk away in shame knowing that we are pushing away our brothers and sisters.”

Asked about how God is at work in the synod, she spoke about the change she has seen among the bishops. Early on, she said, many of the bishops were “more guarded” around the young people. More recently, however, the interactions are “more relaxed” and the bishops are showing more interest in the views of young people and their experience of the synod.

“I think God is doing a lot of work in their hearts,” she said. “They are human, and they were once young, so they should be able to connect with us without having that fear that we might not take them as seriously anymore.”

“I envision a church that is joyful, alive, on fire and just thrilled to communicate the Gospel and who Jesus was.”

“Pope Francis was so happy when he received the letter,” she said. “Seeing this joy in something so small is exactly what our youth need. The interaction will stay with her. His genuine and joyful response will be a reminder that God loves her so much.”

“I envision a church that is joyful, alive, on fire and just thrilled to communicate the Gospel and who Jesus was,” she said. “He loved people deeply.”

“The nun at my parish is always so happy, smiling. People love working with her because as a leader she is kind, directive and so loving. We need a church like that, with priests who are so happy to share the Gospel, they just can’t wait to do it, to rush to the pulpit and share the good news.”

In her speech to the synod, Ms. Vieyra invoked the legacy of Óscar Romero, who will be canonized on Oct. 14, and called upon the church to emulate his courage. Romero reminds us that “the true home of the church is not where she is comfortable and clean but instead with those afflicted by institutions that threaten the human life,” she said. “Our mother church desires to be where she is uncomfortable, dirty and sweaty, relentlessly washing the feet of her most vulnerable children.”

We need a church that “concretely and innovatively” models the truth that “each of us has been called by our name” and that “not one of us, including our migrant young persons, is forgotten.”

Thank you Yadira.  The carrots from the grocery are exploding in my mouth with flavor.  But it is you who made my day.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

 

October 12, 2018

Youth speak up for women; Why are women not voting at the synod?; A “joke” that sucks the air out of the room;

As most may have already learned, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl yesterday.

We received the news just before the press briefing and, of course, there were many questions directed to the panelists, especially U.S. Bishop Robert Barron.

In Wuerl’s resignation, there is a decided lack of triumphalism by those who have been most hurt by his actions or inactions.

Instead, there is a deep sense of sadness for the victims and for the great loss we have all felt in the fallout of this massive coverup.  The ignorance — some of it willful — some not — along with the outright bullying and coverup of some corrupt bishops and cardinals has come to roost in the heart of our church.

Many critical reforms have been put at risk due to the decimated credibility of the leadership and thus, creating platforms where the opportunistic foes of Francis to beat their chests and their drums in the march for a smaller, purer church.  Of course, their lens for viewing the crisis is conveniently, willfully rose-colored as they call out Pope Francis but forget how deeply Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict contributed to the problem.

So today, I sit grieving for the harm that has been done to so many victims; for the people who have rightly stepped down in the spirit responsible leadership; for the church that took too long to understand how corrupted it had become; and for the work of the Gospel which can more easily be called into question and undercut its enemies because of that corruption.

There is no fist-bumping, no chest-thumping. . . just a sober and sad heart.

Youth speak up for women

As I reported over the past few days, Catholic auditors like Briana Santiago and Percival Holt suggested that the topic of women in the church has not been discussed.  But it looks like there are young Catholics who are talking about it.

Elise Harris at Crux reported on what some young Catholics at the Synod are saying about women.

Silvia Teresa Retamales Morales of Chile said that when it comes to the role of women in the Church, “we always need more. For me, it’s a very important idea, and I always try to speak about that.” She believes the Church needs a structure that will allow women to have “more representation and more space to think and to speak. Without expliciting mentioning women’s ordination, she said it is important to include women “in the institution as a whole, with a principal role in the institution in the same position as men.”

Auimatagi Joseph Sapati Moeono-Kolio from Samoa, said that although the topic of women has surfaced in some of the four-minute speeches, “it needs to come up more.”  Bishops can talk about the role of women, he said, but stressed that he and other participants are looking to young women in the room, religious and lay, to push the topic forward. Moeono-Kolio noted that when talking about women, specifically their roles in the Church, there are some who “try to conflate the language of empowering women in the Church with, ‘we want women priests.’”

Women inside the synod, Moeono-Kolio said, “will bring a lot more clarity and nuance to what they want in terms of what women’s roles are in the Church, and I think it’s good for our men here to stand in solidarity with them and to enable that conversation here as well, especially because the ones making the decisions are guys.”  “I think the boys here need to step up a bit and go to bat for the sisters,” Moeono-Kolio said.

Crux also reported that at least one youth delegate from Germany also brought up women on the synod floor, calling on the Church to change its stance barring women from the priesthood.  She did not actually name the person, but the only auditor from Germany is Thomas Andonie.  There are also fraternal delegates such as Ms. Julia Braband and Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson who may also be delivering those messages.  So there is more to learn here.

A “joke” that sucks the air out of the room

At the press briefing, Sr. Mina Kwon from Korea, Bishop Robert Barron from the USA, and Archbishop Everardus Johannes de Jong of the Netherlands sat between Greg Burke and Paolo Ruffini and reviewed the synod happenings and took questions.

Sr. Mina gave a beautiful account of her work in Korea and the beauty of a Catholicism that, 200 years ago, was attractive precisely because women and men were seen as equals in a very traditional world where women were rated third class.  Her voice and words were strong in her critique of the return of hierarchy, and her appeal for a return to those beginnings.

I just wanted to hug her.

South African journalist Sheila Pieres of Radio Veritas, asked the panelists, “You’ve spoken about this synod having the spirit of democracy, you’ve spoken about one the key concepts being the role of women in the church, and I see we have Sister [Mina Kwon] here, who is one of the eight women in this synod, and she is not allowed to vote.  How can it be a democratic environment if women are not even allowed to vote?

Archbishop Johannes de Jong answered first.  He said, “the presence of women is so clear” that so many voices are being

heard comparing it to his home where they have relationships with all kind of women and where women speak up.  He joked, “my three sisters tell me what I should do” saying they are very adamant and “very vocal about the issues in the church that they don’t believe.”

“We listen to women, I think.”

“But it is not so much about having power and steering roles, because there, women and men are different.”

Then the archbishop began a descent.

To illustrate how women and men are different, he told a “joke.”  Prefacing it with, “Maybe you won’t like it, I’m sorry,” he rolled on.

“We say that man is the head (as he holds his head with his hands) of the family, but the woman is the neck (as he places his hands around his neck).”  Using his hands to turn his head from side to side, he than said, “And they turn the head where we [men] go.”

His attempt at comedy bombed.  No one laughed.  Indeed, there was a sense that the air had been sucked out of the room as attitudes of sexism surfaced and exploded on a synod stage.

He continued, “If you think about voting, its about who is in charge.  And of course, the cardinals vote for the pope.  But this is an advisory synod, that tells that Pope what we might be thinking.”

Full stop:  I wonder if the archbishop has had a chance to read Epicopalis Communio. This is not just an advisory, rubber stamping synod as in previous papacies, but the final document will likely become part of the ordinary magisterium.

The archbishop offered evidence of how well women were heard at the local level, at the pre-synod and at the synod.  “And I don’t think as long as I have been here that we don’t take what women say seriously,” said the archbishop.

“But Jesus chose apostles who are male.  And if you have a synod, this is a bishops’ synod, we have to listen to women, but there are no women bishops or cardinals.  So, we have to live with that,” he finished.

Bishop Robert Barron agreed that it was a synod of bishops, and went on to articulate all the ways women do exert their influence at the synod.

His remarks are a good reminder that women auditors do have a much more influential voice now that Francis changed the synod process using small groups to flesh out various issues.

Still, at this point, both men seemed to be unaware of the fact that non-ordained men were also voting at the synod.

As a young woman, when a man in my world made a sexist joke, I was expected to laugh along.

Well, I don’t laugh anymore and I call people on the carpet when a “joke” demeans  women.

So I admit, that after the “head of the family” demonstration by the Dutch archbishop, I really wanted to get another question in.

Let’s say it was the tiger in me.

I directed my question to the whole panel.

I want to go back to the voting question.  One of the things that came out yesterday – the German bishops and Cardinal Marx offered a very very strong statement about the need to bring women, and especially young women into positions of real authority and governance within church.  This is not opposed to what Pope Francis has been saying for a very long time.  

So, I am thinking about this synod.

In 2015 one non-ordained male religious superior voted.  This year, two non-ordained male religious superiors are voting.  

Now it seems to me, that it is so logical that women religious superiors should also vote.

If ordination is not so much a barrier now with non-ordained members voting, why are women religious superior not voting alongside their brothers as equals?

By the way, I loved what you wrote Sr. Mina about equality in Korea.  It read like a Gospel account.  

So, I ask you, why would we not be able to create a structure were women are voting alongside their male counterparts?

Women religious are the largest group of pioneers we have in the church reaching out to people on the margins.  Surely they ought to have a vote in these bodies that make pastoral decisions about youth and family.

It seems logical to me and I would like your impression.

Greg Burke joked that my question was long and could only really be answered by Cardinal Baldisseri inviting me to come back with the shortened form for him.

Then Archbishop Johannes de Jong answered, “I think you are right.  Women’s voices should be heard and taken into account in the final document.”

Then he made an amazing suggestion, “But nothing is against women organizing themselves and saying, ‘Pope, here is what we think.'”

He went on to say that the bishops were trying to do what they could to listen to women, but he could not help what Jesus had done in choosing only men to be apostles.

“There is something to the church that apostles are males,” he reminded us.

Then he changed direction and decided to point to me personally, in what became the “are you just an angry woman” question – a tactic that is employed against women who speak up all the time.

“We should discern here too, what is the question behind your question? There is something behind your question that I would like to address.”

Acknowledging that this was not the time and place for that, he went on, “Is it the feeling that you feel excluded and that women are excluded in general from the decision making processes of the church?”

“I would like to clarify why you feel so much (reaching for a word)…..feeling…like the church is the male castle that you want to conquer it, or whatever…or is it the case that the real issues of women are not being addressed?”

“Please tell, tell me what issues that we don’t address.  Please make it known.”

Referencing 30,000 women who signed the letter to Pope Francis about clergy sex abuse coverup, he said, “Let women speak up.  Don’t be suffocated.  Please stand up for your important cases.”

And of course, this is not a forum where follow up responses and questions are entertained, so having heard his invitation, I went up immediately after and he gave me his phone number so that we could meet and have a dialogue.

I have since made an invitation so that we can have an exchange of ideas.

More to come!

Why are there no LBGT Catholics in the synod hall?

Frank DeBernardo is my colleague from New Ways Ministry, but I also think of him as my super smart and big hearted brother.  He finally arrived in Rome and immediately started asking critical questions of the bishops regarding the lack of LGBT Catholics in the synod hall.

Directing his question to Bishop Robert Barron, Frank asked that given the way youth perceive the Church as being negative towards LGBT people, and given that he [Barron] has stressed the need for love and inclusion, did he think it would have been good to extend that message of inclusion to the synod itself by inviting Catholic youth who are LGBT to be among the young people participating in the synod discussions.

As Frank reports, Bishop Barron responded by saying that he would reaffirm his 2017 message that “The church’s first move in regard to everybody,” including gay and lesbian people “is to reach out and say just that, ‘You’re a beloved child of God.’ ”

However, he then added to his 2017 message by stating, “Having said that, the church also calls people to conversion. So, Jesus calls but then he always moves people to fullness of life. And so, the church also has a set of moral demands to everybody and it calls them to conversion.”

He further elaborated:

“My hesitation is that inclusion is more of a secular term. I’d use the word love. The church reaches out in love, and love is willing the good of the other. Sometimes that means calling people to a change of life. So I think that’s where the church’s attitude is situated is including both those moments, of course outreach and love, but acceptance and inclusion doesn’t mean we don’t call to conversion.”

As I sat there watching Bishop Barron call LGBT people to “conversion”, that well honed sense of protectiveness rose up again (seems to be getting a work out here) as I thought of all the people who have suffered at the hand of bishops and other Catholics who, may have learned to say some of the right things such as, “you are a beloved child of God”, but who don’t really believe it in their hearts, and still smugly judge LGBT people as sinners to be converted.  Oh, the mama/sista gene in me just rises up…

Contraception – the source of all evil

The reporter from Lifesite news asked a question, prefacing it by recognizing Paul VI as a great prophet who knew the evils that would enter the world with contraception, including narcissism, pornography, human trafficking, and “many of these issues could not be possible if there were not widespread contraception.”      It was interesting to watch Bishop Barron smile and shake his head in what appeared to be agreement as she asked if the silence at the synod on these matters was “reflective of the silence of the last decades” and if there would be discussion about the “truth” of the downfalls of contraception.

Bishop Barron agreed that Paul VI had made such predictions and that they had a new resonance today.  He suggested that with the canonization of Paul VI, it is a moment to dial up the conversation about Humanae Vitae and that the synod should be discussing it.

I have to admit, I do enjoy this crazy Catholic family of mine even when they find the root of all evil in the act of contraception.

For another take on today’s events, read Heidi Schlump’s account in the National Catholic Reporter.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome.

October 11, 2018

The Belgians push for married priests; I survived the last synod; Namibian, German bishops take a stand for women; Petitions, petitions, everywhere!

This week, synod participants are talking about vocations. And yesterday, we received a nice surprise from the Belgian bishops.

The Belgians push for married priests

On October 10, Belgian Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols, spoke to the synod assembly on behalf of the Belgian conference of bishops suggesting that young married men would become priests if they were asked.

Bishop Kockerols, a representative for the Catholic Church in the European Union, wants to see both celibate and married vocations equally valued. He also wants the Church to see that a call to one vocation does not preclude the other.

He commented that young people who felt a vocational call to marriage would also answer, “Here I am” if the church were to call them to priestly ministry as well.

I survived the last synod

Archbishop Bruno Forte, of Chieti-Vasto, Italy who serves as a member of the synod’s ordinary council and who was elected by synod members to help draft the final synod document, a role met with suspicion by those who do not trust Pope Francis, started his remarks today with a line that could have been on a t-shirt.

“I survived the last synod.”

Chuckles could be heard from those who remember the old guard fury with what was perceived to be his ‘Francis bias’ at the 2014 & 2015 family synods.

The man has a pastoral heart. Who could fault him for that?

Unfortunately, a smallish, but vocal group who believe that he, like Francis, is just too soft on sin. And they see plenty of sin.

The archbishop made a couple of important observations about the synod.

First, he spoke as “a man, a believer, and a pastor,” he wants a church that “really believes in and loves young people.”

He remarked on the presence of young people with their generosity and enthusiasm, but also their fatigue with a church that does not see them as protagonists in their own future.

Archbishop Forte suggested there are two kinds of plagues bearing down on young people. First, is war and poverty. And the second is loneliness.

The archbishop knows the church “doesn’t have ready made answers” but can offer accompaniment, companionship, mentorship and intergenerational collegiality along the way.

After the presentations, Archbishop Forte received a pointed question from conservative National Catholic Register on the promotion of chastity and Humanae Vitae with young adults attending the synod.

I was amazed to watch director of the Vatican Press office, Greg Burke, go out of his way to intervene on behalf of the Register reporter.

Archbishop Forte, who had answered the Register’s question by saying there had been little to no talk about chastity nor Humanae Vitae thus far, was redirected by Burke to respond further to the Humanae Vitae part of the question.

A telling moment, the veil of objectivity slipped a bit with this very unusual intervention on the director’s part.

I was touched and inspired by the love on display today by Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik, of Daejeon, Korea. I tried to capture his animated spirit on camera, but this picture falls short.

His utter, child like joy was contagious as he spoke of his relationship to youth, to other bishops, to the two Chinese bishops who were able to come to the synod for the first time, and to Pope Francis.

I was moved to tears as he made real for me the hope he feels for his country — to avoid a deadly conflict with North Korea and to move toward greater cooperation.

He was genuinely hopeful.

And his love for his people just came beaming in — streams of sunlight and life — in a world I know primarily through the darkened, distorted, and narrow lens of U.S. politics and media coverage.

Today, I met the people of Korea through one luminescent heart.

What a gift to be in the same room!

The last to speak was auditor Percival Holt, who is the National Youth President, ICYM of Conference of Catholic Bishops of India [C.C.B.I.]. When asked what would come out of the synod, he was careful to note the need for the synod dynamics and discussions to play out until the end.

After the panel, I approached Mr. Holt to ask what he thought about the effectiveness of the Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India. I also asked what discussions were taking place in terms of women’s roles in church, society, and in the synod.

He said he knew about the policy and felt it had had a good effect in bringing more women into ministry and leadership at the local level. According to Mr. Holt, women were faring much better now.

In responding to my question about discussions about women’s roles in the church inside the synod, he said that there had been none. He followed by saying he did not believe that gender was not much of a problem in the Church today, and therefore was not being discussed.

That was an enlightening exchange for me. And I found myself wishing that Voices of Faith panelist, Gaya Gajiwala could have been part of this synod. Her experience would have served as a good reality check for everyone at the synod.

Among Prefect Paolo Ruffini‘s various line items from his report was the fact that 14 prelates offered interventions that day, including Cardinal Kevin Farrell and Cardinal Vincent Nichols. That could be useful information as we move forward.

Namibian, German bishops pushes for fuller participation by women

Some years ago, when I worked for Catherine of Siena College, I flew to Namibia to promote women and gender studies courses there. I still recall the beauty of the countryside as my plane made its landing with fields and fields of blue-violet wildflowers everywhere. It was breathtaking.

So I was especially joyful to know that another kind of beauty exists in the efforts of a Namibian bishop attending the synod.

Bishop Willem Christiaans of Keetmanshoop, Namibia, one of the youngest Synod bishops, expressed the urgent need to have more women in places of authority in the Church. With gender issues at the forefront in his country, he recognizes the deficit of women’s leadership and decision making in the church.

“Women need to play a vital role in all spheres of leadership, and they are not being recognized in many spheres, also in the life of the Church,” he told Linda Bordoni of Vatican News.

Bishop Christiaans knows women and youth need opportunities to lead and shape the future of the Church, but beyond words, he promises action.

“As the bishop of the diocese this is something I am going to push for: I am going to work with the priests in all the parishes of my diocese to make sure women and young people can play their roles: this is important”.

In another part of the world, the German bishops, let by Cardinal Reinhold Marx, are speaking with greater urgency and authority on the need to build a church where women are full and equal partners at every level.  (Thanks to my German colleague Christian Weisner for drawing my attention to it.)

In a published statement to the Synod of Bishops in Rome, the cardinal writes:

The Instrumentum laboris criticizes: “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)

It then builds to a crescendo:

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!

And to that, the People of God say, “AMEN!”

Petitions, petitions, everywhere


As most of you know, Kate McElwee and about thirty of us across organizations and regions of the world, protested at the gates of they synod on the first day calling for women to vote at the Synod.

Many of the women and men were surrounded as police in bullet proof vests bullied Kate and this bunch of praying and chanting women and men.

Male power is too often asserted by force, and the power of a patriarchal church and the forces that protect that power were made all too real that day.

Still, “She persists.” And, not only persists, but thrives! Decidedly, we are #stayinginbutspeakingout!

In that Spirit, the work for women’s equality rolls on.

Yesterday, a number of organizations launched a time-sensitive petition calling for Catholic women religious superiors to take up voting positions at the synod along with their non-ordained religious brothers.

We are asking everyone to sign and share the petition, which will be hand delivered to as many prelates as possible beginning October 18, 2018.

Here is the petition language – please sign and share!

Two religious brothers but no religious sisters are voting members of the current Synod on youth. We urge bishops, cardinals, the Synod of Bishops leadership, and the Pope to make a path for women religious superiors to work and vote as equals alongside their brothers in Christ at meetings of the Synod of Bishops.

Why is this important?

The XV Ordinary Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment brings together bishops, auditors and experts from around the world to collaborate and discuss the urgent needs of the Church for three weeks in Rome (October 3 – 28, 2018).

Voting on the final documents at these meetings was reserved for ordained men until 2015, when one religious brother (a non-ordained man) was given permission to vote.

This year, that number has doubled. Two non-ordained male religious superiors have permission to vote on the documents that, if approved by Pope Francis, could become ordinary magisterial teaching.

This is an encouraging opening. Representation from non-clerics adds diversity to one of the institution’s primary decision making bodies and helps the Church move closer to the essence of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio which aims to more directly involve the People of God.

While we welcome voting for non-ordained male religious, it does not go far enough.

If male religious superiors who are not ordained can vote, then women religious superiors who are also not ordained should vote. With no ontological/doctrinal barrier, the only barrier is the biological sex of the religious superior.

In St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women (1995), he made clear the “urgent need to achieve real equality in every area…” He also stated, “This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future…”

We believe this is especially true of Synods. Women are part of the solution to the serious problems facing the Church.

Thus we urge all of you bishops, cardinals and other ordained and non-ordained members who have the authority to vote in this Synod to make a path for women religious superiors to work and vote as equals alongside you — sisters and brothers — in Christ.

Leaders in serving the world’s most marginalized communities, women religious largely outnumber male religious and could bring underrepresented experiences of accompaniment, leadership, and pastoral care to the Synod. In 2016, there were 659,445 religious sisters worldwide and 52,625 religious brothers (CARA).

As Pope Francis calls for “a more incisive female presence” in the Church while calling the Synod “a suitable instrument to give voice to the entire People of God…“ (EC 25), we urge you to bring women into meaningful decision-making in every body of the Church, including the Synod.

Since the beginning of the Synod on youth, women from many backgrounds and countries have spoken up in support of voting rights of religious sisters at the Synod. We may have differing opinions on many of issues but one thing unites us: We believe that our Church can overcome the current crisis only if women have a voice and a vote.

How it will be delivered

We will hand deliver the petition to bishops, cardinals, and all voting members attending the Synod in Rome, as well as to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops beginning October 18, 2018.

Partners in the Initiative:

Catholic Women Speak

Donne per la Chiesa

FutureChurch

New Ways Ministry

Quixote Center

RAPPORT

Voices of Faith

We Are Church International

Women’s Ordination Conference

Women’s Ordination Worldwide

PLEASE SIGN AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO SIGN!

Another petition from la Conférence des baptisé-e-s (CCBF) calls on Pope Francis to bring women and men into governing bodies as co-equals. The world is speaking in an ever greater #MeToo, #CatholicToo moment.

If you are interested in reading another article, here is a good one.

Why Can’t Women Vote at the Synod? 

This is a lovely article from America Magazine, but I wish the writer had interviewed some of the women she referenced in the article — especially those who took risks and faced police bullying so that women could vote in the synod.

In all things, together, we do and we shall persist!

#VotesForCatholicWomen #StayingInAndSpeakingOut

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 10, 2018

The cast of characters writing the final document is chosen; Auditor says no talk of women; Archbishop says I would welcome women voting

The cast who will draft the final document for a vote has been chosen, some by election by the synod participants, some chosen by Francis, and others structurally part of the process.

Elected by synod fathers

Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico, a friend of Francis who worked closely with him on the Aparacida document, and, chosen by Pope Francis to be at the synod.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, Prefect of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India and C9 advisor.

Archbishop Bruno Forte of Italy, a member of the synod’s organizing council.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, also chosen by Francis to attend.

Part of the synod structure

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops,

Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha of Brazil, general relator of the synod.

Chosen by Francis

Father Giacomo Costa was chosen by Francis to attend and will serve as a secretary.

Father Rossano Sala will also serve as secretary.

Brazilian Father Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary for the Vatican’s dicastery for Laity, Family and Life was also chosen by Francis to be on the writing committee.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was chosen by Francis for the committee work.

Father Eduardo Gonzalo Redondo, head of vocations ministry in Cuba was chosen by Francis for the committee work.

As Elise Harris reminds us, the names on the drafting committee were a major point of contention during the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the family.  Those who did not want to see concessions  to divorced and remarried Catholics on communion accused Pope Francis of stacking the deck.

Today’s Press Briefing

Today, along with bookends Greg Burke and Paolo Ruffini, Briana Regina Santiago, a 27 year old auditor from San Antonio, Texas,  Cardinal Aguiar Retes of Mexico, and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.I. of Luxembourg sat at the briefing table.

Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of Communications, offered a few extraordinary phrases gleaned from the morning meeting.

He said synod participants were concerned about seminary formation and the need for  seminarians to be rooted in community life.  They noted that parents do not want their children to become priests.

In terms of accompaniment of young people on their faith journeys, Ruffini quoted a participant saying, “Jesus is a demanding friend.”

In speaking about the digital age, some asked,  “Where is the search engine for God?” and that “God should not be reduced to a Google God.”

Ruffini also reported that synod participants want to expose the God who is not tamed nor domesticated.

When asked about whether the two Chinese bishops who had been asked to come to the synod would be able to stay until the end, Ruffini replied that the Vatican always knew they would not be able to stay for the entire month.

Briana Regina Santiago, who gave the inaugural address to synod participants on the opening day, struck me today with her utter composition and confidence.

She spoke of a joyful collaboration among the 22 synod fathers, 7 young people, and 1 fraternal delegate in her group. She said their laughter could be heard down the hall.

Briana also said that she was surprised by the level of input young people could give in the small circles.  She described discussions that were “varied with vast participation of young people.”

In describing the experience, Briana used the words, “camaraderie, respect, wisdom, and truth.”

Sh emphasized that she was learning a lot, especially from those whose experiences were vastly different from her own.

She finished her comments saying, “We young, are a people full of hope.  I hope this spreads out through all the world.”

After the press briefing, I had a chance to ask Briana if young people were talking about the roles of women in the church and women’s participation in the governance structures.

She said that she has not heard anyone talking about it at the synod.

When I asked how she felt about the level of women’s participation in the Church, she said she is quite satisfied as she is quite involved in the church.

She also said she believes the synod process is a sign that the church is very interested in what young people and what young women want.

I reflected on her words and recognized that I was hoping she would be more aware of the gulf between consultation and authority; the privilege and excitement of being chosen to be a part of  a synod and the experience of many young women who stand outside seeking so much more in their church; and, the chasm between women’s opportunities in society and women’s opportunities in the church.

And, even as those thoughts filled my mind and heart, there surged in me feelings of protectiveness for her and for each young person as they sort out their life path. I realized that above all, I felt admiration for her — the kind I have felt for my own children — as they test the wisdom of their parents and other adults against their own life experiences.

Cardinal Aguilar Retes is a Francis cardinal, appointed in 2016.  He was vice-president of CELAM from 2003 to 2007 and worked closely with Jorge Bergoglio to develop the Aparecedia document, said to be the forerunner of Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope’s blueprint for the Church with its laser beam focus on the needs of the poor, exhortations for Christians to establish and maintain just economic, political, and legal structures; and the necessity of  pastoral care for God’s people over doctrinal rigidity.

Today, the cardinal made some general comments about the synod proceedings, but when asked about the level of violence in his country, he made some interesting observations.

Retes agreed that violence arises where there is so much social inequality — where some can grow and others cannot.  The lack of constant justice, and the lack of trust in those to whom we are to report crimes, makes it possible for delinquents to not restrain themselves.

Retes noted that Mexico “does produce weapons,” but “the country north of us keeps them flowing.”  He pointed to some of the horrors the Mexican people face  such as drug trafficking, child prostitution, human trafficking, people are kidnapped, and organ trafficking where human organs are smuggled into US hospitals.

Those descriptions of hell-like conditions got people in the room squirming.

I would welcome women voting

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich holds a position of regional power far beyond his leadership in Luxembourg.  He succeeds Cardinal Reinhard Marx who served as president of the Catholic Church in the European Union (COMECE).  His term will last until 2023 (he could serve a second term) where he will influence EU policy on issues close to the heart of Catholicism including the treatment of immigrants, the rise of right wing populism and the xenophobia that drives it, etc.   He hopes to strengthen the Dialogue between the EU institutions and the Catholic Church on the basis of Article 17 TFEU.

His general comments about the synod proceedings included personal anecdotes from his own experience.  He said that some young people live in his house with him, and that they live very differently than he.  He listens to them and learns from them.

“They never read a book, but they can quote from movies and Netflix”

Hollenrich believes that has implications for the proclamation of the Gospel.

Hollenrich also cautioned about the dangers of populism in Europe where migrants are increasingly under attack.

After the press briefing, I had a chance to ask the archbishop about how women were faring at the synod, women’s roles in the church, and how he felt about the fact that non-ordained male religious superiors could vote, but women could not, especially in light of Episcopalis communio where the pope seems to want more synodality.

The archbishop responded with a smile saying that “he would welcome anything that could bring women into the vote.”  He referenced the middle ages where abbesses had a lot of authority.

Hollenrich also said, “he feels truly sad when women see that their baptism does not afford them the same opportunities” as their male counterparts.

When asked if he thinks Francis is moving toward opening the synod to more non-ordained voters, including women, Hollenrich replied that he wants women to vote at the synod, but he is not sure Francis is moving that direction.

“I hope so,” the archbishop chimed.

Filling in the gaps slowly on who’s who in the small language groups

This is what I know so far on who is in each language group.

  • English Group A:  Cardinal Oswald Gracias
    • Secretary: Irish Archbishop Eamon Martin.
    • British Cardinal Vincent Nichols
    • Australian Archbishop Anthony Fisher
    • USA Bishop Frank Caggiano
  • English Group B:  Cardinal Blase Cupich
    • Secretary:  Australian Auxiliary Bishop Mark Edwards
    • Australian Archbishop Peter Comensoli
    • USA Archbishop Charles Chaput
  • English Group C:  Cardinal Joseph Coutts
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Thomas Dowd
    • Brother Alois of Taize
  • English Group D:  Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo
    • Secretary: USA Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron
    • South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier
    • Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna
    • Philippines Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
    • Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez
  • French Group A:  Archbishop David Macaire, OP
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Laurent Percerou
  • French Group B: Archbishop Bertrand Lacoombe
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Gaspard Beby Gneba
  • French Group C:  Cardinal Dieudonne NZapalainga, C.S.Sp.
    • Secretary:  Rev. Bruno P. Cadore, O.P.
  • Italian Group A:  Cardinal Angelo De Donatis
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia
  • Italian Group B:  Cardinal Fernando Filoni
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Bruno Forte
  • Italian Group C:  Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Pietro Maria Fragnelli
  • Spanish Group A:  Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga
    • Secretary:  Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, O.A.R.
  • Spanish Group B:  Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Mariano Jose Parra Sandoval
  • German Group:  Archbishop Felix Genn
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Stefan Oster, S.D.B.
  • Portuguese Group:  Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz
    • Secretary:  Archbishop Joaquim Augusto Da Silva Mendes, S.D.B.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 9, 2018

More on who’s who in the small groups; Zilch on women’s full participation in English speaking small group reports; Cardinal cites Francis — no cosmetic changes for women

Finally, we have a list of the moderators.  Apparently the list of secretaries of each small language group has also come out and I will add those names on Wednesday.

I have been told by those who have a lot more pull than I that the list of all the members of the small groups “is not available.”   It is not clear why since those lists were available at the 2015 Family synod, but I wonder if there is an impulse to protect younger Catholics from undue media exposure. It is impossible to know right now, and my conjecture could well be the protective mom in me bubbling up.

Joshua McElwee of NCR was able to ascertain the names of some of the small group members.  And I also understand that Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has gone back to the states for a few days for the funeral of retired auxiliary bishop Louis DeSimone, is in Cardinal Blase Cupich’s group — and intereting dynamic.

Where ever I have found information about each group’s composition, I have included it below.

  • English Group A:  Cardinal Oswald Gracias
    • Secretary: Irish Archbishop Eamon Martin.
    • British Cardinal Vincent Nichols
    • Australian Archbishop Anthony Fisher
    • USA Bishop Frank Caggiano
  • English Group B:  Cardinal Blase Cupich
    • Secretary:  Australian Auxiliary Bishop Mark Edwards
    • Australian Archbishop Peter Comensoli
    • USA Archbishop Charles Chaput
  • English Group C:  Cardinal Joseph Coutts
    • Brother Alois of Taize
  • English Group D:  Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo
    • Secretary: USA Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron.
    • South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier
    • Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna
    • Philippines Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
    • Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez
  • French Group A:  Archbishop David Macaire, OP
  • French Group B: Archbishop Bertrand Lacoombe
  • French Group C:  Cardinal Dieudonne NZapalainga, C.S.Sp.
  • Italian Group A:  Cardinal Angelo De Donatis
  • Italian Group B:  Cardinal Fernando Filoni
  • Italian Group C:  Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi
  • Spanish Group A:  Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga
  • Spanish Group B:  Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer
  • German Group:  Archbishop Felix Genn
  • Portuguese Group:  Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz
Zilch from English speaking groups on women’s roles in the Church

Small group reports today arrived today with a summary of the discussions in the first week. You can read them for yourselves here (along with the Pre-synod document and the Instrumentum Laboris or working document), but I have added some observations and bulleted highlights below.

It is interesting to see the variety of emphases coming from each group.

Still, I want to know if the groups are talking specifically about women’s participation, women’s rights, etc. in the Church.  In the summaries by the four English groups, it was not explicitly mentioned.  Still, Thomas Leoncini, an auditor from Italy who spoke at the press briefing on Monday, said women’s rights and participation are coming up in his group.

English Group A:  Cardinal Oswald Gracias

I find it really interesting to see the emphasis on “right and wrong” that came out on in this group’s report, although there is also language that suggests the Church should avoid a “moralistic or polemical approach” in offering young people reasons for hope. It also singles out Texas-based auditor Briana Santiago’s witness on the first day for praise.

  • The faith dimension of our reflections should be clearer illustrating that relationship is at the heart of all encounters with youth.
  • Language of the IL, paragraph 3, needs to be more decisive — not only recognizing and discerning spirits,” but also “– “choosing movements of the spirit of good and rejecting those of the spirit of evil” (EG 51).
  • The section on sexuality (IL 52-53) is “muddled” and should include “a proclamation of chastity, as achievable and good for our young people.”
  • Young people want to be active, part of the synodality of the church at all levels.
  • Child sexual abuse and the “shattered trust” cannot be “skimmed over.”

This report suggests the clergy sex abuse crisis can only healed by “walking more humbly,” and that, “holiness and fragility” are closely linked.

The report also offers one of the most memorable quotes to date for a Church crippled by clergy sex abuse  coverup.  “Trust arrives slowly, on foot, but Trust leaves on horseback!  Trust must be rebuilt, one person at a time.”

English Group B:  Cardinal Blase Cupich

This group offered an outreach plan for getting the synod messages out to young people.  It also offered a Francis-inspired take on content with a strong “don’t judge” emphasis.

  • Short weekly texts, videos, etc. on the messages coming out of the synod in order to reach youth prepared by two Synod fathers and two youth.
  • Honest, inspirational messages that say:
    • We want to listen to you
    • We are sorry for our failures
    • We love you and have faith in you
    • We want to walk with you in hope
  • Developing a study guide

In terms of content, they want the final document to:

  • Recognize the way young people are already agents of the Gospel
  • Uphold the many other forms of family in the world besides the nuclear and extended family.  Clerics should not deny these families.
  • Emphasize that young people are hungry and thirsty for true faith.
  • Include the need for friendship and community for young people.  It is missing from the IL and should be included in the final document.

English Group C:  Cardinal Joseph Coutts

Cardinal Joseph Coutts is from Pakistan, and to his surprise, was made a cardinal this past June.  Brother Alois of Taize is part of this group.

The report critiques Western cultural influences, focuses on traditional families, and lays out the concerns families face in terms of working outside the home, divorce, out migration in regions where employment opportunities are limited.  The report singles out the “emancipation” of Ukraine, where “half of families fail,…where fathers left for jobs…where young people have money, but are “social orphans”, and where people have “churches and parish priests, but not parishes.”

Here are some report highlights:

  • The fastest growing ecclesial movements referred to as “new movements” of traditional family-centered groups.
  • The problems in counties where children are often parents, or put into parental roles.
  • The need to define terms such as traditional family, nuclear family, extended family, non-traditional families, etc.  They suggest additions about the transmission of faith through families in IL 12.
  • There is a need for additions regarding intergenerational relationships.  The report critiques of “old age homes” as solutions for dealing with older generations.
  • The need for Catholic schools need to be affordable.  Also, education has become a tool of globalization.
  • The Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all but should be included.
  • There needs to be a prescriptive text saying the church is a school of discipleship.
  • Many youth don’t have access to internet.
  • Many people want the church to listen, not just young people.

English Group D:  Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo

Cardinal DiNardo’s group summarized their report with 7 points.

  1. The final document should begin with a Biblical icon, not sociological analysis.
  2. The opening of the IL is too negative.
  3. The IL is too Western.
  4. The final document should emphasis the desire of young people for mentors.
  5. The final document should bring all discussion about the digital culture under one heading.
  6. The final document should be more expansive in its treatment of the effects of clergy sex abuse.
  7. The final document should not downplay the authentic teaching mission of the Church.

I will explore some of the other language group summaries, and especially where there has been discussion of women’s participation and rights, in my reports in the next few days.

Cardinal quotes Pope Francis insistence  —  no cosmetic changes for women in the Church

Today, Cardinal Desire Tsarahazana of Madagascar, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, Cardinal Gerald Cypriaen Lacroix, I.S.P.X., of Quebec, and Sr. Nathalie Becquart of France summarized their experiences of the synod and answered questions.

One of the most interesting responses of the panelists was that of Cardinal Gracias who confessed that he was surprised by the number of young people who want better liturgies.

In 2015 and today, I have been surprised by how little sustained interest there is from the press corp regarding women’s full participation in the church.  So far this year, only Sheila Pires of Radio Veritas in South Africa and I have approached these questions.

So today, I posed my question to the panel asking how young women at the synod are addressing women’s participation in the Church and the lack of opportunities there given the growing opportunities for them in society.

I received three responses.

Sr. Nathalie Becquart 

At the Pre-synod meeting of the 300 young people, half were women. It was quite natural to be together.

Young women have expressed very strongly that nowadays in society they do not yet feel it is easy to have equal place. And also in the church I think that many young women express that it is difficult for them to imagine what could be their place. We discussed this topic in our small group. It is a question for discernment. It is not a question of the organization of power. Yes, young men and young women would like to be protagonists in decision-making, leadership, but it is more complex for young women because they do not have role models in their local church.

Now I hear and understand that it is a question for young men too.

Cardinal Lacroix

Among the young women at the synod, many are holding important responsibilities for episcopal conferences and in dioceses as youth ministers and in other important posts. There is a lot of joy to see that. They speak with authority. Two in our small group are from Africa. They are not just spectators but part of the parade and they have influence in their episcopal conferences.

Cardinal Gracias

It has come out very clearly that this is a concern. I know that Pope Francis has been insisting that there would not only be cosmetic changes but that women would be in roles of decision making.

In our bishops’ conference, when we worked for the protection of women in the workplace, we worked together with the women’s group. I felt that they were happy and satisfied, but we have not come to the end point. We must search for more possibilities about the involvement of women in the church, especially in positions of responsibility.

I appreciated Sr Nathalie’s observation that while both women and men want to be in decision-making roles, it is more difficult for women.  They face greater barriers.  And it is important that women like Sr. Nathalie help young women understand how our foremothers in faith shaped our tradition, and how women today should be confident in their baptismal claim to fully participate in all areas of church life, ministry, and governance.

Cardinal LaCroix’s response points to the general lack of imagination that surrounds the issue of women’s full and equal participation by those in governance.  While youth ministers have important influence, the issue of full participation in decision making and governance is not on the radar screen.  There is still an unquestioned assumption that ordination is the path to authority in the institution and that women will be assigned roles of influence but not decision making.

Cardinal Gracias’ animated response was hopeful.  He cited Pope Francis saying that we don’t want cosmetic changes, but changes in governance that include women in decision making roles.  The cardinal’s response also shows he is listening to women and wants to satisfy their call for progress in this arena.

Whether women in India are satisfied with the progress of the church is certainly another topic.  My colleagues there are undoubtably calling for more.

But at least the cardinal seems to be tuned in.  Let’s hope that is contagious here.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

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