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