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.