Month: October 2018

October 27, 2018

I am sitting in the Chicago airport after a nine hour flight from Rome. One more stretch to go until I’m back in Cleveland.

But I am very happy. This final document contains many reasons for hope.

I left Rome under a cloud of apprehension. We had received a report that the final document would contain language that would prevent women religious from voting at a future synod.

Over Copenhagen, with my usual stubborn determination, I wrote a note to the Vatican.

Dear Vatican,
We won’t stop.

But as my plane drew closer to the United States, I learned that the document contained no such language.


What we did learn is that there was an effort to add language allowing women religious to vote, but that it was removed at the end. That is probably a good thing, especially if it wasn’t going to pass. The one thing we don’t want is for Francis to feel bound by a decision of world bishops that constrains future roles for women.

Beyond, the voting question, the document actually moves the conversation about women’s roles forward.

Here are some of the key paragraphs. The old constraining language of complementarity is still there, but it is a bit more balanced by the language of justice for women.

Men and women

13. We cannot forget the difference between men and women with their peculiar gifts, the specific sensibilities and experiences of the world. This difference can be an area in which forms of domination, exclusion and discrimination arise from which all societies and the Church itself need to free themselves.

The Bible presents man and woman as equal partners before God (see Gn 5:2): all domination and discrimination based on sex offends human dignity. It also presents the difference between the sexes as a mystery so constitutive of the human being as irreducible to stereotypes. The relationship between man and woman is then understood in terms of a vocation to live together in reciprocity and in dialogue, in communion and in fruitfulness (see Gn 1,27-29; 2,21-25) in all areas of human experience: the life of couples, work, education and more. God has entrusted the earth to their covenant.

Women in the Church

55. There is also a demand among young people for a greater recognition and valuing of women in society and in the Church. Many women play an irreplaceable role in Christian communities, but in many places it is hard to give them room in decision-making processes, even when they do not require specific ministerial responsibilities. The absence of the female voice and gaze impoverishes the Church’s debate and the path, subtracting from the discernment a precious contribution. The Synod recommends making everyone more aware of the urgency of an unavoidable change, also starting from an anthropological and theological reflection on the reciprocity between men and women.

Women in the Synodal Church

148. A Church that seeks to live a synodal style cannot but reflect on the condition and role of women within it, and consequently also in society. Young men and young women ask for it with great force. The reflections developed require to be implemented through a work of courageous cultural conversion and change in daily pastoral practice. An area of particular importance in this regard is that of the presence of women in the ecclesial bodies at all levels, also in functions of responsibility, and of female participation in ecclesial decision-making processes while respecting the role of the ordained ministry. It is a duty of justice, which finds inspiration both in the way in which Jesus was related to men and women of his time, and in the importance of the role of some female figures in the Bible, in the history of salvation and in the life of the Church.

This final paragraph is the most exciting. It acknowledges women’s participation as disciples of Jesus; the critical work of our foremothers in faith; and the notion that there is an aspect of justice that has been missing within the church.

In the 1971 Synod document on justice, the bishops made an important observation. In paragraph 40 they say

While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes. Hence we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting and of the possessions and life style found within the Church herself.

It is really good to see that language again. As it is applied more squarely in the life of the church, it will overcome those schemes that keep women in certain roles based on biological sex.

In terms of greater inclusion for our LGBT Catholic sisters and brothers, there are some reasons to hope, but clearly more to accomplish.

Frank DeBernardo does a beautiful job analyzing the document’s language. I don’t see it on the website yet, so I am reprinting part of it below.

The Vatican’s synod on youth has issued a final report that calls for “a deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration” of sexuality and affectivity is an important step forward for the Catholic Church in regard to LGBT issues. The statement acknowledges that the church still has a lot to learn about sexuality. If the study of these topics is done with open minds and hearts, there is potential for great transformation in the church.  

The call for more parishes to provide accompaniment to lesbian and gay people is also a positive. The words describing accompaniment seem carefully chosen to allow for wide interpretation. During the synod, a request was made to include a statement calling lesbian and gay people to “conversion,” a word used often in church discourse to mean celibacy. That language did not make it into the final document. Instead the pastoral recommendations allow for great latitude of welcome and accompaniment based on the individual person and the local pastoral community and ministers. 

The document also contains a strong condemnation of discrimination and violence against lesbian and gay people—an important message to bishops who have sometimes implicitly and explicitly supported LGBT criminalization laws with severe punishments. Catholic support for these laws must end. 

The document has some problematic elements, too. It reinforces the prohibition of same-sex relationships, though it does so in a way that has been typical of Pope Francis: it does not use condemnatory language, but instead it endorses the heterosexual model as ideal.  

The idea that “it is reductive to define a person’s identity solely on the basis of their ‘sexual orientation’” is also a problem.

Finally, the report uses “inclinations,” to describe non-heterosexual sexual activity. This term reduces lesbian and gay love and sexuality to base desires for sexual activity which. Not only is it a derogatory word, but it shows a complete ignorance of the affective lives of lesbian and gay people. Its continued use in church documents is not only an embarrassment, but is harmful. 

That the synod report would not use the ordinary terms “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” is surprising given the pope’s own use of the word “gay.”

These problems remind us that there is still much work to be done LGBT justice and equality in the church. In fact, the section that contained the most comprehensive analysis of lesbian and gay issues received the most “no” votes, and it made it to the required 2/3rds majority by only two votes. 

I agree with Frank that the power of the synod is in the process.

It was an unprecedented gathering of church leaders with youth representatives from around the globe, and unlike other synods, it gave a stronger role to the voices of the lay participants.

Regardless of the outcome, it appears that a true dialogue took place—and we hope it will be replicated. 

Listening and pastoral accompaniment have potential for changing the hearts and minds of pastoral ministers and church leaders.

The synod’s success will be judged not by what it has accomplished to this date, but its impact on shaping a more dialogical and relational church for the future. 

Thanks Frank.  I couldn’t have said it better.

I will write more, but wanted to get this out before I hop on my final plane.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

Other reports worth reading:


October 25, 2018

Bishops’ voices trump; How’s your Italian?; What’s in a name?

We are into the final days of the synod and the presentations at the press briefings are beginning to run together.

Folks continue to sing, “Everything is beautiful.”

I’m not buying it.

But I also hope I am way off base in my assessment in the end.

In the beginning of October, there was a promise of a new order — a church that received wisdom from the People of God — a new listening church.

Pope Francis had implemented pre-synod listening processes and the voices of young people were heard in the pre-synod document as well as the working document, the Instrumentum Laboris.  The real promise of this particular synod was that Pope Francis set in motion a  more synodal process, one more open to and inclusive of people who don’t wear pointy hats.

And bishops at the synod vowed to listen.   They were genuinely inspired by the candor and energy of the 30+ young people among them.

The stories of mutual admiration were beautiful.  Who wouldn’t love to be around people like Yadira Vieyra, Pope Francis, Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká, Cardinal Tagle, Brother Alois, or Sr. Sally Hodgdon?

Bishops and young people alike hailed the rise of the listening church, an accompanying church, a learning church — a synodal church.

It was exciting. It was inspiring.  It was hopeful.

I thought, “this is the genius of Francis.  Where prelates might be dismissive of older adults, who could resist vivacious and faith-filled young people filled with bold ideas about how the church could be renewed?”

There was talk of a Pontifical Council made of young people.  I was so excited because as an advisor for Voices of Faith, we had made a similar proposal to a number of cardinals with regards to women.

I thought the youth might actually be able to accomplish what their older counterparts could not.

I was practically dancing with anticipation.

Bishops’ voices trump

But as the days wore on, there were hints that the promises made were not going to be honored.  The honeymoon that had lit a fire in the hearts of so many began to lose its light.

And some bishops’s voices began to drown out, to call into question, to trump the voices of young Catholics.

And my own heart, with its almost 63 years of living, began to break a bit — for the young people there and everywhere — for the whole People of God who need a renewed, bold, Gospel infused church more than ever — for those bishops who are in some ways hopelessly lost in the clerical world they inhabit.

So my prayer today is that I will be wrong about how this will turn out.  Very wrong.

How’s your Italian?

The final draft document was handed to participants on Tuesday. It has been debated in the synod hall.  As a result, more revisions are being added today and tomorrow.  Everyone will be back at 4:30pm on Friday for a reading of the final document.

The draft document was distributed in Italian only.  The final document that receives votes from bishops around the world will be available only in Italian.

On Friday, it will be read in Italian with simultaneous translation.

The reading will occur once.

It astounds me that this crucial document — the end product of months and months of work — will not be translated in the same way much of the preparation,  the discussions, the negotiations, and the proposed amendments were transacted — according to and within the major language groups; Spanish, Italian, German, French, and English.

Now that is an absurd way to make policy.

On Saturday, the bishops, cardinals, and male religious superiors will vote, paragraph by paragraph.

Then Pope Francis will decide how he wants to use the document.  Given his new document for synods, Episcopalis Communio, it is possible the document could become part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

And maybe, the unintended consequence of Pope Francis’ new directive is that it sharpened the battle lines within the episcopate.

Maybe that is why the draft document is reported to have had language and an emphasis that did not actually come out of the synod talks.

According to Crux,

Cardinal Oscar Gracias of India, a member of the C9 council, and a member of the drafting committee for the final synod document told John Allen and Ines San Martin that the  language on “synodality” and “discernment” in a draft distributed to bishops on Tuesday came from neither synod discussions nor the committee.

Gracias believed it was inserted by officials appointed by Pope Francis to run the event including Synod head Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, and special secretaries Father Giacomo Costa and Father Rossana Sala.

Gracias presumes that Baldisseri and his aides were trying to capture the mind of the pope, even if it wasn’t a major theme of the summit itself.

Gracias said, “They’ve very heavily stressed, discernment and synodality, which really were not very much prominent in the discussions. It wasn’t very prominent in the minds of the synod fathers, but it’s come out very strongly.”

Further, Gracias told Crux, that acronym, LGBT, first adopted in the Instrumentum Laboris because it came from youth at the pre-synod meeting, will not show up in the document.  Instead language about “sexual orientation” won out.  And that language did not result from input at the synod hall, according to Gracias.

When the bishops received the document on Tuesday, there was some pushback, according to Gracias.

So after more discussion, the committee worked on revising the draft on Thursday.

That final document, will be presented on Friday for a final reading and a vote on Saturday.  Gracias believes it will sail right through.

What’s in a name

I am truly saddened by the news that LGBT — the self-chosen nomenclature of the young people at the synod and the pre-synod — who may be gay or lesbian but are without doubt advocating for and standing in solidarity their sisters and brothers around the world — has been excised.

Naming is one of the most sacred acts in our church.  God names us. We name God.  We name ourselves. We take a new name at confirmation.  We name each other, sometimes nicknames, a sign that we are known well and intimately to another.  We name our children.  They name themselves.  These are all sacred acts.

When my husband and I divorced many decades ago, we had a ceremony.  We had tried to make the marriage work, but it would not hold.  I had legally taken my mom’s first name, Rose, as part of my last name – a sign of who I was becoming as I grew into a new and sometimes terrifying awareness of my own strengths and gifts.

We set up three candles, with the middle candle lit, as we had done together on our wedding mass before Mary’s altar.  That evening we wept as we took the flame from the middle candle and relit the two separate candles.  During that ceremony, I asked him to rename me as I wished to be called – Deborah Rose.  Generous man that he was and is, a few weeks later he gave me a watch with my new name at the top and all our children’s names on the watch face.

It is still one of my most prized and precious treasures.

The give and take of naming is an act of love.

So, for me, I wouldn’t care what four letters our young people chose.  And I don’t care if some consider the political import of the acronym too controversial for the church to handle.

I just know that four letters did not win out — LOVE.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 24, 2018

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

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

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

Thank God we are not stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he urges in a striking way

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

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

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

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

We really ought to wish this and implement it!

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

It is high time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank God we are not stupid.”

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

God is an abstract idea

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

In his opening comments he said

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

Wow!  That is powerful and powerfully true.

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

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

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

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

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

Lyons, and lobbies and bears! Oh my!

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

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

LifeSite posed,

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

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

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

At that point, Cardinal Marx muttered an unintelligible comment.

The archbishop went on,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivering the goods

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

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

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

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

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 23, 2018

Delivery of the petition: Cardinal Bo elevates Catholic Women Speak: Learning from a man who wears his humble heart on his sleeve; What if LGBT doesn’t show up?

Some days are better than others here at the Synod.

Today was a very good day.

First of all, we collected over 9,300 signatures for our “Votes for Catholic Women” campaign in just over a week.

Second, Kate McElwee and I delivered the petition with signatures, a document over 200 pages long, to the Synod of Bishops office.

What we learned is that the whole staff has moved from their normal offices to the Synod hall. But the person at the door was accommodating. He dialed an English speaking staff member and I had a chance to ask to explain what the petition was about and asked if we could give it directly to Cardinal Baldisseri or at least one of his staff.

The staff person was quite responsive (put me on hold three times trying to get an answer), but told me that because they were so busy trying to piece together the final draft of the synod document, they simply had no time.

I could only imagine the pressure they are under trying to write the final draft which was due to be in the hands of the synod participants in the morning.

He suggested that we leave the petition with the person at the door, and that he would make sure it would be given directly to Cardinal Baldisseri.

We will try to get an electronic copy into the hands of every prelate at the Synod, but also hand paper copies to a select group of prelates who might be able willing to share the petition with key figures (like Pope Francis) at the synod.

Cardinal Bo elevates Catholic Women Speak

Today we were joined by some very fine synod participants including Mr. Joseph Sapati Moeono-Kolio, auditor, member of Caritas Internationalis for Oceania, Samoa, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of the Philippines; Archbishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou, of the Republic of the Congo, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., director of the journal “La Civiltà Cattolica”, Italy.

What stood out for me in these panelists was that we were in the presence of some very humble men including Cardinal Tagle and Cardinal Bo. They teased each other in a good natured way, laughed a lot and caused ripples of smiles throughout the room.

We learned that the final document was given to the synod participants. According to Paolo Ruffini, Cardinal Baldisseri and the relators spent some time explaining various aspects of the document.

Ruffini said it is a very different document from the Instrumentum Laboris, and that it is shorter the the IL but the final part contains many practical suggestions for implementation.

For me and I think many others in the room, Cardinal Tagle’s witness was powerful. He didn’t say anything that was new, but it was the way he said it, the way he wears his humble heart on his sleeve. It is transformative.

He said that every synod is unique – a space for the Holy Spirit to work and speak.

“I am learning a lot. They were teaching us.”

Here he stops, choked up with tears.

Of course, I began to cry as well taking in the beauty I was beholding in the Christ like man.

I’m crying now as I write this now, the truth of his words run deep.

Tagle continued, “If I were a twenty year old boy living in Iraq or Pakistan, how would I carry my self?”

Reflecting further he said, “I need to be humbled by that moment of unknowing.”

I need to enter into that pain and say, “I also do not know.”

This creates a moment of grace according to Tagle. “We then search with them.

Clear solutions and clear answers are not possible – for life is not clear.”

“This whole synod for me is a time of being taught; where my preconceived notions are being put to the test.”

A female reporter from the Associated Press asked a really insightful question.

She pointed out the that panelists had talked a lot about young men, but she asked, “What do you think the synod has to offer young women?”

And we received some surprisingly good responses.

Cardinal Tagle suggested that “this synod was especially sensitive to listening to the feminine voice.”

He agreed that “the experience of young women blossoming into their humanity should be heard.”

He said that there was some pointed proposals; among them the need to make women in Scripture more prominent so that all can use their experiences as an interpretive guide for life.

He said he was grateful for all the women experts at the synod for they provided “a much needed expansion of horizon.”

Next, to our surprise and delight, Cardinal Bo held up a copy of Visions and Vocations, the Catholic Women Speak book and said he was going to begin reading it. He spoke clearly about the need to put a laser focus on women because of the suffering they endure in his country and around the world.

Woo hoo! I could barely stay in my seat.

That is simply thrilling knowing that he would be reading the wisdom and candor of women like Mary McAleese, Anne Arabome, Cindy “Sam” Bowns, Gaya Lobo Gajiwala, Susan Hartford, Nontando Hadebe, and so many more.

What if LGBT doesn’t turn up in the final document?

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet asked one of the most important questions of the day. He wanted to know what the panelists thought the message would be to young Catholics if the preferred self descriptor, LGBT, doesn’t show up in the final document.

There was a bit of silence at first, but Cardinal Tagle answered that

In the interventions in my small group and in the aula, the approach of the church to the people – the so called LGBT – was present and many times raised. The call for the church as a welcoming church – that regards the humanity of each person – was always present.

We just received the document this morning.

Maybe the questions could be raised again tomorrow.

He looks at Ruffini who doesn’t shake his head in agreement.

My hunch is it will be there, but it what form I don’t’ know. But it will be there.

It was also fun to watch Cardinal Tagle respond to Edward Pentin’s question about the morality showing up at the synod with regards to LGBT people.

Pentin suggested that his brand of Catholic morality was missing and he asked if it was being discussed.

Cardinal Tagle, with a playful smile, responded simply, “Yes.”

I love this church everyday, but somedays I am in love…

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome


October 22, 2018

The talk; Trust us; We heading in the right direction; Words from woman cleric at the synod — reason for hope

First, a correction.

Apparently I elevated Peter Comensoli in my report yesterday.  He is not a cardinal, but an archbishop.

Second, you may notice that the Sunday, October 21 post is missing.  It is not missing.  It is under construction.  It contains my interview with Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, the Vice President of the International Union of Superiors General and I want to give this person the attention to detail she deserves.

The talk

This morning, before the press briefing, I met with Bishop Everard Johannes de Jong of the Netherlands to have a cup of cappuccino and conversation.

As you may recall, after my question at an earlier press briefing about women religious voting at the synod, the bishop and I had an exchange that left me in awe of what passes for humor from a pastor,  as well as the absolute claims on the story of Jesus’ chosen ones.  That, coupled with the dismissive “What can we do? We’re stuck with Jesus,” and,  “Are you an angry woman trying to knock down our castle?” — stoked my interest for further engagement.

I’m genuinely open and eager to engage in dialogue.  I am respectful and polite, but luckily I’ve lost most of my  girlish charm.  So I was happy to meet this younger brother of mine (by a few years:) on level ground.

He deserves credit for taking the risk of meeting a complete stranger that he perceived was angry.

I took no notes.  I wanted to be fully present.  So this is a summary of what we talked about.

After we ordered, we sat outside at a cafe.

Bishop de Jong, began with a bit of an apology.

He confessed that he did not know how he had been chosen to be on the panel.

I smiled.  What else is new in the Vatican?

Further, he was only prepared to talk about what he was learning in the synod hall.  He did not expect the kinds of questions he received from journalists.

I smiled again.  I’ve been there, only I stammer a lot more that he did.

So my question about women religious voting at the synod struck him as a ploy and he was suspicious that the background I was giving about the two non-ordained religious superiors who were voting alongside the bishops at the synod was simply not true.

So he answered in a way that he felt defended the Vatican and the Pope.

Good enough.

Part of the beauty of our petition and campaign has been that it has helped educate a whole bunch of people inside and outside the Synod about the fact that USG has added two non ordained men into the voting mix, the Pope has blessed it, and that has created a new opening for women religious.  It also exposes the quiet but steady revolution toward a truly Vatican II church that Pope Francis is leading.

The rules are changing and it shakes people up.

As we informally set the ground rules for the dialogue, I told him I wanted to share my own story and my hopes for women’s equality in the church.

As such, I did not wish to argue biblical theology to refute his position on Jesus (although I have six or seven academic articles in a folder I will send him).  His own education is in philosophy, so trading biblical citations or even well developed theological arguments didn’t seem very useful, nor does it create the space for grace to flow in and touch what is most human and meaningful about the issues at stake.

We started by sharing a bit about our backgrounds.  I told him about my family of origin, my small traditional Catholic community, and my own family with six children and fourteen grandchildren.

I did not make him look at pictures of my grandchildren, but it was hard to resist.

He told me a bit about his life.  You can find most of this information on wikipedia.  He is one of six children and grew up in a very traditional Catholic home where the roles of women and men were pretty rigidly set as was the case with most families in that generation.

I explained that my world was similar and that it was only in leaving that I was able to grow past the pre-ordained cultural boundaries that were to be my destiny.

Bishop de Jong is also part of a region where the Catholic church has lost the lion’s share of its influence.  As he described it, most people think religion is either too stifling or simply irrelevant.

He said he felt that way too, until one day he had a graced moment — a conversion experience — and his life began to move in another direction.

We talked about the fear our parents felt in terms of the church – the fear of hell that drove them to the church doors.  We wondered how many Catholics would have attended church in an earlier era if they had not feared committing a mortal sin if they didn’t show up.

We laughed about the scrupulosity that made taking a sip of water before communion a mortal sin.

We also talked about our differences and about the petition.

He said that he had checked with folks at the press office and learned that indeed Pope Francis had allowed and blessed the initiative of the Union of Superiors General to open the door to two religious brothers to vote at the synod this year.

Although, the bishop would be loathe to criticize the Pope, it was clear that he was a bit uneasy with this development.

When I tried to set out the logic of a growing number of Catholics who think women religious superiors should vote, he repeated that it was a synod of bishops and that it should be restricted to bishops voting. While others can and should share their experiences and wisdom as was done at the pre-synod and with auditors at the synod, only bishops should vote.  So, I gathered that if he had his druthers, we’d kick the religious brothers out and keep the boundaries clean.  But in all fairness, that would need to be confirmed.

He was also doubtful that the final document would have the weight of ordinary magisterium.  He felt there would be too many practical suggestions for that to be feasible.

So he’s not big on the Francis reforms for the synod so far.

He also pointed out that he was quite uncomfortable with some of the organizations listed on the petition.  Pointing on his phone where he had pulled up the petition he said that when he saw Women’s Ordination Conference and Women’s Ordination Worldwide, he could go no further.

I explained how these organizations coalesced around this particular issue.  It had less to do with ordination per se since non-ordained men were already voting and since there is no difference in ecclesial status between non ordained women religious superiors and non ordained male religious superiors, we believed women religious superiors should be voting.

But it was one of those moments when it is clear that the person can go no further — at this point.  Ducking down into the JPII rabbit hole he firmly reiterated the teaching that he holds dear — that the issue of women’s ordination has been decided. (I have the Catholic Theological Society of America’s 1997 response, “Tradition and the Ordination of Women”  in my file for the bishop).

Still, we talked on.  He made a really interesting comment about his experience of being at a service with a woman Episcopal priest presiding.  He said that she did everything perfectly, but he had a sense that the “holy was missing.”

Elaborating on that, he said that he feels the presence of God at the Eucharist can only be truly offered as something sacred by a male priest.

I sat in awe of this.  But also understanding how we often do not perceive the depth of some action when we are new to a culture.  It takes a while for us to learn to perceive as others perceive — to learn what is sacred, or despised, or funny, or beloved.

When I traveled to a Hindu temple, I was not able to perceive what was holy there.  I understood it would take encounter and time to learn that.

The bishop was certainly supportive of  more roles for women in governance.  It was not clear to me exactly what that meant to him.  So when I asked him what that would look like, he mostly pointed to work at the parish level.

Still, he pointed out that Pope Francis bringing more women into governance was very fine.

In the end, he said he would continue to do all he could to bring more women into governance.

I knew that his vision of women’s roles was much narrower than mine, but it was a good place to end the discussion.

He said, “You and I would make a good team in the Church.”

I replied, “Yes we might, but I would argue with you a lot.”

We laughed again.  We both knew it was true.

And on the  joke about a woman turning a man’s head…I told him it was a terrible one.

Young people who are not at the synod, trust us

Today we were visited by Fr..  Ángel Fernández Artime, S.D.B., representing the Salesians; Archbishop Paolo Bizzeti, S.J., of Turkey; Archbishop Frank J. Caggiano, of the United States of America; Archbishop David Macaire, O.P., of France, and  auditor Henriette Camara, member of the Catholic Scouts in Guinea.

The folks at the press conference did not present anything radically new, but some interesting perspectives were offered.

The young woman auditor, Henriette Camara from Guinea was there representing Catholic scouts.

Even her presence representing the scouts made me happy since a few bishops in the U.S. threw them under the bus.

She told the story of her decision to convert from Islam to Catholicism because of her involvement in the scouts.  It was a source of pain for her mother and continues to be a source of pain.

Henriette also talked about the work of the synod. She said they are working hard, expressing their deepest concerns,  and telling the Holy Father “what they expect.”

She also said she is becoming aware of the experiences of others, and that she realized that there is discrimination, “not in the synod” but elsewhere. Learning that was “very moving to me.”

She ended by saying, “I want to tell the young people at home that we are representing them.”

“Young people who are not in the synod, trust us.”

Archbishop Bizzeti of Turkey shared his initial trepidation and critiques of the process.

He started with a recognition of all that has been done by staff at the synod of bishops.

And he expressed his initial trepidation that this would be all show with no real content.   “I was concerned stepping into the hall and seeing so many dressed in way we don’t normally dress.”

But soon he realized that it meant nothing and that encountering people was the priority.

It was unusual to hear a bishop speak so clearly about this generation’s responsibility for the state of the world and the church’s limitations in addressing the challenges.

He said

What world have we created for young people?  I am 71 years old.  We have failed.  We not created a world where they can work and express their talents.

As church, we have to ask for forgiveness.  We have created a world where young people cannot find their way.

Why have young people grown up with this impression that they don’t matter?  We have given them useless things.

How can we talk about faith and vocational discernment when there are millions of young people who have no ability to choose.

We as bishops are unable to give answers.  We cannot suggest solutions.

The archbishop also said  that at the end of the second week, there were 1000 interventions.  And while it was hard to understand what was going on, there were some reoccurring ideas.

  1.  Listening is central…not talking to or doing for… but listening.
  2. There should be a document should be written with young and by young people.  Their language is different from our ‘ecclesia-lese.’  They are blunt.  They are outspoken.  They don’t mince words.  And they want a church with and for young people.
  3. All Catholics, lay and ordained, young and old,  need accompaniment.
  4. The time if over for pastors to say, “it has to be done this way.”  Perhaps we haven’t been able to pass on the faith because we kept it locked up.
  5. Young people must also be able to listen to their elders.  

He also stated that shadows are starting to emerge in the synod.  He felt that the method was lacking and that they should have taken up a few foci and “debated the issues – even in a heated way.”

“We need to dialogue.”

The archbishop’s testimony was loud and clear.  We need a new kind of church.

We are heading in the right direction

We are always working to bring about change that will broaden the structure of the church, create true equality for all to share their gifts, and address the challenges engendered by a flawed culture of clericalism.

And we have a holy impatience because people are suffering.

So, when things seem to move too slowly, I am helped when I am  reminded of the direction we are headed and the progress that is being made.

Robert Mickens helps bring us back to the big picture in a very hopeful way.  I am including most of the article below because I think it is such an important reminder of what is at stake, and what is actually happening.

After naming some of the complaints flying around in the synod hall, he writes

But what the critics (and even many people who disagree with them) have failed to appreciate is that this Synod gathering represents but a single step on a much longer and transformative journey.

Just like the two previous Synod assemblies on the family, Pope Francis has made this current assembly on youth yet another necessary juncture on the road towards radically reforming structures of ecclesial governance and effecting a “conversion” of the papacy itself.

In short, it is about the more arduous — and controversial — process of making true synodality a constituent part of the Church’s life and decision-making structures.

What is perhaps most remarkable about this project is the expanded role it has begun to carve out for ordinary Catholics — that is, all the baptized faithful and not just those who have received Holy Orders.

It is not an exaggeration to use the word “revolutionary” to describe what Francis is trying to accomplish, certainly if one looks at the post-Constantinian period of Church history. That most people have not experienced it as a dramatic event usually associated with social or political revolutions is a tribute to the pope’s skillful process of bringing about reform.

He believes the first and most important reform is to change mentalities and attitudes. And he has been surprisingly successful in doing that by excessively repeating key themes and concepts through the use of what we might call buzzwords or turns of phrase.

Some examples include his continues talk of “mercy,” “a poor Church for the poor,” “who am I to judge?” “an accident-prone Church,” “priests who have the smell of the sheep,” “please-thank you-I’m sorry” as a formula for happy marriage and so forth.

But he has also, although in a quieter way, laid the foundations for radical structural change. This has been less noticeable and disruptive to most people because it has come gradually.

Catholics in general, and popes in particular, do not like to use the word “revolution” when talking about developments in the Church. Pope Francis is no different.

He, like his predecessors, prefers to speak of “renewal” or “conversion.” He is even careful about using the term “reform,” which is often too jarring for more traditionalist-minded members of the Church.

Refounding the Synod of Bishops

The pope issued his blueprint for renewal early in his pontificate with the publication of Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). But that 2013 apostolic exhortation offers a broad vision of ecclesial reform without decreeing specific canonical or structural changes.

Like most of the documents that were ratified at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the exhortation has been greeted by reform-minded Catholics as being inspirational but lacking in force.

And so, it is surprising that so many people failed to recognize the true importance of one of the latest major document Pope Francis has issued — the apostolic constitution Episcopalis communio (EC).

This text, which was made public on Sept. 18, sets down the principles for substantially reforming the nature, purpose and function of the Synod of Bishops.

The 6,400-word document replaces all previous texts — including various points of Canon Law — that in any way pertain to or regulate the working of the Synod.

In a sensitive (some would say devious) way, Francis quotes all the previous popes who helped shaped legislation on the Synod in justifying the “developments” he’s introduced.

He respectfully and carefully cites Paul VI, who instituted this permanent institution in 1965, as well as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to show he has acted in continuity with previous papal initiatives.

But in this new legislative text he also introduces and institutionalizes major shifts and breaks from the previous popes.

For example, the extensive consultation of the baptized faithful, which Francis introduced in preparations for the 2014 extraordinary assembly on the family and utilized again for the last two ordinary assemblies (2016 and currently), is now a mandatory procedure.

It was never even mentioned in previous papal documents, let alone mandated.

The Voice of the Faithful

“The history of the Church bears ample witness to the importance of consultation for ascertaining the views of the bishops and the faithful in matters pertaining to the good of the Church.

“Hence, even in the preparation of Synodal assemblies, it is very important that consultation of all the particular Churches be given special attention,” Francis says in Episcopalis communio.

“In this initial phase, following the indications of the general secretariat of the Synod, the bishops submit the questions to be explored in the Synodal Assembly to the priests, deacons and lay faithful of their Churches…” (EC, 7).

He then sets down precise articles outlining the consultation of the faithful which is to be carried out, including the “possibility” of holding pre-Synod assembly meetings at the international, regional and local levels.

“The Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God,” the pope says (EC, 6).

Towards a new type of ongoing Synod assembly?

Many commentators have rightly pointed out that one of the key novelties in the new apostolic constitution is that, should he deem opportune, the pope — the president of the Synod of Bishops — can allow an assembly’s final document to be published as an official act of the magisterium (i.e. as official teaching).

Usually, that text has been used as the basis or draft that would then be modified, re-written and published later as a formal papal document (apostolic exhortation).

Many are anxious to see if Pope Francis will decide for this newer option at the end of the current assembly on young people.

But there is another article in Episcopalis communio that few people have commented on.

In addition to the three types of Synod assemblies that have been convoked up until now — ordinary, extraordinary and special — the pope now has complete freedom to use the Synod in a more flexible way.

“If he considers it opportune, especially for reasons of an ecumenical nature, the Roman Pontiff may summon a synodal assembly according to other formats established by himself,” the document stipulates (EC, Art. 1 § 3).

This, too, is a novelty. It is not mentioned in any other papal document regulating the Synod of Bishops. But what might it mean in practical terms?

Perhaps this line from paragraph eight in the new apostolic constitution offers a further clue: “If circumstances so suggest, a single synodal assembly may be spread over more than one session.”

This would offer a pope the possibility to change the format (and membership) of a Synod assembly. He could even use it as a sort of permanent consultative body that meets several times over the course of a year or two.

And he could also use the already existing prerogative to give that assembly deliberative power, a possibility that Paul VI foresaw when he established the Synod as a permanent institution.

Whether we’re talking about a revolution or — to play it safe — a further development of the Synod in continuity with the past, Pope Francis has put forth legislation that could allow him or a future pope to substantially transform the governing structure of the universal Church.

Right now they may look like baby steps, coming as they do during a Synod assembly on young people. But they are steps nonetheless. And bold ones at that.

They are part of an exciting and sometimes terrifying journey on which Francis has launched the Church, the entire People of God. Indeed, that is what synodos means — journeying together.

I am grateful for Mickens because he is able to keep a focus on the reforming nature of a pope who recently told the Jesuits in the Baltics to “do everything you can to bring Vatican II forward.”
Words from a woman cleric at the synod: another reason for hope
Read Luke Hansen’s interview with Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecka, the only female cleric at the synod.
It is stirring.  It is beautiful. It is hopeful!
A young priest in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church has been pleasantly surprised by the welcome and openness she has experienced at the Synod of Bishops on young people, she told America in an interview.
A fraternal delegate, Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká, 32, has the distinction of being the only female cleric at the Synod of Bishops, which is taking place from Oct. 3 to 28 in Rome.

Dressed in the liturgical vestments of the Hussite Church—a black robe with an imprinted red chalice and white stole—she delivered an address to the whole synod body on Oct. 11, emphasizing the importance of ecumenical relations, calling the synod a “sign of hope” and affirming the capacity of young people to be bridge builders.

“The true ecumenical movement must be lived and shared together,” she said.

Rev. Kopecká did not go unnoticed. She believes the cardinals and bishops “were surprised, maybe shocked” to see her clerical attire, she told America. “They recognized me as the girl at dinner and now as a priest. It takes some time, but they have accepted me.”

After my intervention, a lot of people came to me in the hallways, saying they listened to me and were inspired,” Rev. Kopecká said. “I was surprised that they even listened to me. I am quite young and a woman. I wore a white stole. They are not pushing me away. They accept me as a member of the family.”

The fraternal delegates who represent other Christian churches can make interventions in the synod aula and participate in small group discussions, but they cannot vote. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has a delegate, as do ecclesial organizations like the World Lutheran Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.

Rev. Kopecká is representing the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 350 member churches “seeking unity, common witness and Christian service.” Even at her young age, she has been entrusted with great responsibility at the W.C.C. She serves on their central committee and 20-member executive committee, and she moderates the ECHOS commission on youth in the ecumenical movement.

“When a human being meets another human being, it doesn’t matter which denomination we belong to,” she said. “We believe in Christ and can find a way—as Pope Francis says—to work and pray together. We are from different cultures and societies, but we have something in common. Young people, through friendship, are learning how to move toward acceptance and respect.”

At the beginning of her experience in the eternal city, Rev. Kopecká was not certain she would receive a welcome, she admitted. She is staying at an international house for clergy and sat alone for her first three meals. “I said: This is a disaster.” On the second day, however, a bishop from Paraguay asked if he could join her. “I said, Yes, please!”

She described the encounter as the first major “turning point” in her experience. The bishop was “really interested in who I am,” she said. “Ecumenical circles are not about papers, documents and institutions. It is about meeting people without any judgment. Yes, I am the girl. I am ordained. But he was interested in my culture and church and, later, many others joined us.”

Another turning point happened in her small group. “At the first meeting, I felt very vulnerable,” she admitted. “I’m quite introverted, so it is not easy for me to talk in a group with people I don’t know.” But the leader of the group helped create an atmosphere where she felt comfortable, she said.“I feel accepted. My voice is heard,” she said. “I can even turn the direction” of the conversation and influence decisions. “My answers are valued. We support each other.”

The moderator of the group is Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. The relator is Auxiliary Bishop Mark Edwards of Melbourne, Australia. Several young people have spoken about their high regard for the welcoming and inclusive spirit of Bishop Edwards. On Oct. 15, Bishop Edwards invited Yadira Vieyra, a young auditor from Chicago, to read part of the group report to the entire synod.

Rev. Kopecká said the W.C.C. strongly supports young people, inviting many young leaders and speakers and “trying to be inclusive.” With the diversity of 350 member churches, she said, a consensus model of decision-making is “very, very difficult” but enriching. In fact, the Synod of Bishops has reminded her of the open-minded climate of the W.C.C.

“I feel we are touching very, very sensitive issues in the synod, like child exploitation,” she said. “People are speaking to each other very openly. I would not have expected the mutual acceptance, the variety of the topics, the richness and diversity. It is not about bringing divisions and differences but charity, which builds the Christian community.”

In her intervention to the synod, Rev. Kopecká referenced her conversion to Christianity at age 20. “When I heard the voice of God, I left everything and I followed that inspiration,” she told the synod.

In the interview with America, Rev. Kopecká described her native Czech Republic as a highly secularized society in which people generally do not want to be part of any institution, especially the church. She noted that her parents, who are both medical doctors, are “spiritual” but not Christians or churchgoers.

She could not have foreseen her conversion to Christianity or call to ordained ministry. She had been working as a highly paid manager in an international company and “had everything,” except for education. She decided to go to Charles University in Prague to study theology, simply because there were no entrance exams. She explained, “I had no knowledge of the Bible or Christianity.”

She started to take classes in Hebrew, Latin, systematic theology and biblical hermeneutics. In studying Hebrew, she said she discovered the values she had always been looking for. At first, she told herself it is only a science: “No, Martina, don’t believe in anything.” But she was being drawn into a mystery.

“I could not help myself,” she recounted. “Day by day, I realized this is the way. I fell in love with Jesus. I realized this calls me to become a member of the church.” So she began visiting parishes and considering baptism. Later, the “amazing work” of priests inspired her to quit her job and pursue ordination.

She has studied theology, psychology and special education and has worked as a crisis counselor. She was ordained at age 30 and is currently working as a pastor. She is also pursuing a doctorate in ecumenical theology at Charles University, which involves attending seminars, teaching classes and writing a dissertation.

She feels strongly about the ordination of women but also understands the sensitivity of the issue in the Catholic Church.

“For me, ordination is not a question of gender but human dignity and equal possibilities,” she said. “Women do a lot of work in the church today and should be considered as spiritual leaders and servants of God. They are doing the hardest work, caring for people in miserable situations. They make the face of the church more human.”

She said her small group discussed the ordination of women deacons. “I understand it is not an easy question. It is sensitive,” she said. “Sometimes I can disagree but I am trying to accept the different contexts and backgrounds.”

The Czechoslovak Hussite Church, formally established in 1920 in Prague by members of the modernist reform movement of Roman Catholic clergy, draws from the tradition of the Czech reformation in the 15th century (a century before Martin Luther). According to the website of the World Council of Churches, the Hussite Church has nearly 100,000 members and “occupies the middle ground between the essence of the Catholic Church (liturgy and the seven sacraments) and the principles of the Protestant churches (teaching and order).” Bishops are elected by a diocesan assembly. The church values dialogue, freedom of conscience and openness to a pluralistic world.

Jan Hus, a leading priest in the movement, sought to purify the church, Rev. Kopecká explained. He criticized indulgences, wanted to preach in the vernacular and asked for theological dialogue. Under pressure, he refused to renounce what he believed. He was burned at the stake in 1415 and considered a heretic for hundreds of years until 1999 when Pope John Paul II apologized and expressed “deep sorrow” for his “cruel death” and praised his “moral courage” as a true reformer of the church.

Rev. Kopecká said she first met Pope Francis in Geneva, when the pope visited the headquarters of the World Council of Churches on June 21. When she met him again at the synod, he remembered her.

“I expressed my gratitude [to Francis] on behalf of the World Council of Churches,” she said. “To be involved in the synod is a huge step in the ecumenical relationship between the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. It is an open door and a new era, a new dimension of sharing, of becoming a family.”

In the synod hall, she said, Pope Francis “is always very relaxed, ready to smile. He accepts fun, which is beautiful. When there is a joke, he smiles. He is not rigid in any way. We feel we are at home and can speak openly.

“He is really inspiring for many youth because he is not old,” she said. “He is incredibly young. He has openness, creativity and energy, and he also brings wisdom and experience, but not in the way that he is pushing anybody to anything. He just brings his values.”

Today, I feel enriched and lifted up by the wisdom and candor of Archbishop Bizzeti, Rev. Kopecka, Robert Mickens.  And I am hopeful when a bishop such as Bishop de Jong is willing to sit down to dialogue, even when he is sure he will face opposition to his viewpoints.
Pope Francis is creating a quiet revolution.  And I feel deep gratitude for living in this moment of foment and change in the Church.
Deborah Rose-Milavec
Reporting from Rome

October 20, 2018

A separate section on LGBT inclusion?; The crucial absent voices; The church should be better than this

Early this morning, I received a phone call from Bishop Everard Johannes de Jong of the Netherlands.  And we set up a meeting to further discuss the issues around women’s roles in the church that came up last week.  We will meet Monday morning for more dialogue.  I am looking forward to it.

The streets are always crowded on Saturdays, and it is hard to stay on sidewalks because the throngs of bodies can send you tripping into the street where tour buses show no mercy.

As I made my way to the press office I took in the people around me and I thought how hard it must be to garner enough resources for the very basics.

Every ten feet or so there is a person selling tickets for sightseeing tours and museums.

Along the edges of the street people sell their wares — a wooden bowl that collapses, scarves, selfie sticks, rosaries, Pope Francis bobble heads (one of my favorites), umbrellas, and something made of brightly colored plastic that I think looks like a phone charger.

There is an old man with his colorful square clothe laid out on the sidewalk.  He squats low as he neatly arranges a variety of wooden letters on little red wheels, the kind that hook together making a train with your name.  As many times as I have passed him, I’ve never seen him sell anything which makes me sad.

A young fellow that I pass everyday plays his electric guitar all day until late into the evening.  His worn guitar case is open so that people can offer a bit of gratitude that I am sure helps him eat.  One day a small boy would not follow his mother as she beckoned him along.  I couldn’t understand the Italian, but I do understand the art of negotiating with a four year old.   She finally gave him a coin to place in the guitar case.  After dropping it in the sand colored lid, he happily skipped back to her and they walked on.

In the middle of the walkway a person sits on a chair in the sun with a costume that makes him look like he has literally lost his head.  I have to smile.  People are so inventive.

Another person hides in a large box with a variety of signs and stuffed animals sitting on it.  From time to time he jumps out of a hole at the top and scares the bejeebers out of people passing by.  I’m not sure how you make money doing that, but folks seem to be good natured about it.  I jumped.

There is a woman with her child under the cold damp bridge.  I don’t always walk that way, but when I do, she is there.  Her paper cup is always in front of her and the baby.  Sometimes she is asking for help and sometimes she is carrying on a conversation with someone else as if she is in her living room.

Living in this concrete jungle are the homeless too.  They find little patches of sidewalk or concrete benches to take a nap, or to sit with their paper cup at their feet.   Most don’t speak or they speak softy, but from time to time someone will share their anguish loudly with anyone who cares enough to listen.

I like strolling in the evening because the pace is a little slower. One night on the way to the grocery (more carrots), Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” came wafting through the air.  I followed the sound with the singular focus of a pilgrim in search of the holy.  And under a street light I found a crowd, young and old,  gathered around a young man playing the acoustic guitar.  He was singing the chorus so convincingly.  As I stood there taking it in, I knew I was on sacred ground, with a flash mob community of believers and seekers listening to a love song that only God and Leonard could have created.

Saturday, October 20th press briefing

Today, the press room was a little more crowded than usual with Cardinal Blase Cupich joining the panel.  The hot topics?  Clergy sex abuse, LGBT inclusion, with a question about lay people and women thrown in.

Cardinal Peter Andrew Comensoli of Melbourne, Cardinal John Ribat of Papua New Guinea,  and Archbishop Alain De Raemy of Switzerland joined the Chicago prelate.

The prefect reported that synod participants have finished making amendments to part three of the Instrumentum Laboris, the section on pastoral care for youth.  As the final document is being completed, the synod participants will not meet on Monday.  The draft will be presented on Tuesday morning where bishops will make final amendments.

The final document will be voted on, paragraph by paragraph with the possibility it become part of the ordinary magisterium.

The members of the writing committee are:

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
Archbishop Carlo Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Mexico City
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the India bishops’ conference
Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Vatican department for laity, family, and life
Fr. Eduardo Gonzalo Redondo, leader of a pastoral vocation program in Cuba
Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto of Italy
Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne of Australia
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod
Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, relator general of the Synod of Bishops
Jesuit Fr. Giacomo Costa
Salesian Fr. Rossano Sala

Another document is also being drafted, a letter addressed to young people, first suggested by Cardinal Cupich’s small working group.

Those who will draft the letter include:

Briana Santiago, an American consecrated women of the Apostles of the Interior Life
Anastasia Indrawan, a member of the youth commission for the bishops’ conference of Indonesia
Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic
Auxiliary Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard of Lyon, France
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia
Bishop Eduardo Horacio Garcia of San Justo, Argentina
Brother Alois Löser, prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taize
Michele Falabretti, leader of the youth pastoral care office at the Italian bishops’ conference

Use your voice for us

Cardinal Cupich explained that one of the most important things he heard was that young adults want the bishops to use their high profile positions “to give voice to their concerns…to speak out with the same energy and passion that we’ve heard from them.”

Young Catholics want the bishops to speak to world leaders and to promote the values of the Catholic Church in a world torn by war, poverty, unemployment, migration, arms trafficking that creates child soldiers, and corrupt governments whose penchant for war making comes at the cost of future generations.

A separate section on LGBT concerns?

Cardinal Cupich was asked how the issues of LGBT inclusion would be addressed. The journalist referred to the proposal by his small group that a separate section of the final document be written to address LGBT concerns.

English group B proposal: We discussed the issue of Catholics who experience same sex attraction or gender dysphoria. We propose a separate section for this issue and that the main objective of this be the pastoral accompaniment of these people which follows the lines of the relevant section of the Catechism in the Catholic Church.

To the question posed, Cupich responded,

There are a number in our group and in the reports today that wanted to make sure that we say something inclusive of everyone.  I was asked a question, What is the final document going to say about people who are homosexual, who have same-sex attraction.  My answer was I think the whole document should have something to say to everyone.  We want to make sure that people feel included.  So whatever form that takes, our small group is for it.

It is not clear from his response if he means that they backed off the suggestion of a separate section for the final document or not, but it is clear that the cardinal has influence when it comes to shaping the work at the synod.

Cardinal Cupich invited Cardinals Ribat and Cardinal Comensoli, both in his small group, to comment further.

Cardinal Ribat’s response was more robust and I think reflected more clearly what youth had been saying at the synod.

The approach of the church is to be able to welcome everyone.  And to make them feel at home.  No one is excluded, and that is the church.  We have been talking about what the document will be.

In our small groups we saying that no one is excluded.  It’s really about not excluding anyone about welcoming everyone.  The church is a home.

I think the message is going out clearly in our discussions.

From the youth we are hearing,  ‘With the difficulties we are having, the church is the place where we come home.  We should be recognized, we should be accepted, we should be welcomed, and this is where our place is.’  

This is the message we are getting. And this is the message we are sharing more.  

The youth are talking about this freely. And they want us to use their language.  

They say, ‘Address us as this because this is who we are.’

Note:  The cardinal is likely referring to the language in the pre-synod document that is being reiterated at the synod about the need for the church  to use youth’s  preferred language such LGBT, etc.

So they are very free to tell us this.  And they are also telling us that we should welcome them as they are. 

And the youth are really helping us to understand, to really see where they are  And at, and how they want to be heard, recognized and accepted.

What is clear in the responses of the prelates, is that while they have repeated their willingness to listen and to be welcoming, inclusive and respectful of all youth, none of these men used the term LGBT today as they talked about them.

And no self-identified LGBT Catholics are at the synod to share their stories of joy, beauty, and sorrow with a group of Catholic men who are profoundly in need of a conversion of the heart.

While it is positive that the young delegates there are vocal in their support for their LGBT friends and family, it is not clear from this  exchange today that the bishops have garnered the courage to use their voice as the young people have asked, to speak their concerns.

The crucial absent voices

Tom Reese, SJ posed a key question to the bishops on the soundness of the methodology used for the synod in light of the great exodus of our youth.

Reese: You’ve stressed the importance of listening to the young people at the synod, and how important that is.  We’ve also met with a number of them.  They are wonderful.  They are good Catholics.  They are ‘the saved.’  But they don’t necessarily represent the many people who have left the church, and I’m wondering what you have heard about the concerns of people who have left the church, and what you have learned about how to respond to them.

Cardinal Cupich responded,

First of all, I would say the voices we have heard belong to people who have left and found their way back to the church.  They’ve had a conversion experience.  We’ve heard people tell those stories in the aula.

Secondly, even they haven’t left, or are ‘in’ or ‘the saved’, they have given voice to family members who are no longer practicing the faith.  It pains them and they have represented their concerns quite forcefully in the discussions that we’ve had.  

Those who are either de-churched or unchurched are not underrepresented. They are very present in the voices of these young people.  

Cardinal Comensoli added that one has to consider context and regional differences when looking at the reasons young people leave the faith.  He said that the reasons young people in Australia leave the church could be quite different from other parts of the world.

One of the practical things that I hope makes it into the final document, is that what is done at this synodal level on an international level can then be taken up regionally, in terms of conferences, in terms of dioceses, so the broader questions of why people leave can be particularly looked at depending on the circumstances and realities that are particular to a locality.

Cardinal Ribat said that members of their small group are very open about why family members or friends leave.  They advocated for finding ways to make those who have left to feel a part of the church as well. The cardinal said, “There is an openness to really listen,” he said.  ” I believe something good will come, but the pain will not go away over night.”

The Church should be better than this

A reporter from EWTN asked how the clergy sex abuse crisis in Australia and the United States has informed the conversations at the synod, especially as it relates to how we will retain youth and the impact it might have on their formation.

Cardinal Comensoli responded first.

From the first day, the issue of sexual abuse, the crisis around the failure of leadership to appropriately deal with the cases of sexual abuse, the failures of brothers in the episcopacy being able to hear well and believe victims, all of these matters have come up already have come up consistently throughout the three weeks so far.

One of the key things going forward, along with apologies and better practices, there must be action associated with it.

In the Australian context we have a particular way that is being worked through.  The Royal Commission has, through a very searing grace, has allowed the church and especially us in the leadership of the church to see how better to move.  There are all sorts of dimensions that are particular to Australia.  We have our own particular civil laws and the way things will be dealt with here will be different from the way they are dealt with in Switzerland, or in Nigeria, and so forth.

With the knowledge of the upcoming gathering of bishops in February, Comensoli suggested that what is important at this synod is stating clearly that there is need to act.

Cupich added that young people want bishops to reach out to victims.

They want accountability.  No one is exempt. And that gets at a clerical culture of privilege that allowed all of this to go forward unchecked.

If we are going to call young people to be honest with their lives, which is the Gospel, we have to witness that ourselves.

While this issue may not be on the front burner in some countries, many of the heads of bishops’ conferences are here.  And they will be returning in February.  So this is a springboard for that meeting in February.

Susiey Pinto of EWTN noted there has been some criticism of the February summit by thoe asking how bishops can address clergy sex abuse in three or four days.  Asking what concrete steps can be taken to break up the clerical culture, Pinto added, “Will lay people and women be involved in that summit?”

Cupich stated he has confidence that Pope Francis will make sure the meeting is organized in a way that will make it effective to “get something done.”

And yes, there has to be the involvement of lay people.  I’ve called for that.  

I’ve called for every bishop, starting with myself to be accountable.  I’m ready to cede over my authority or right and be investigated if there is a charge against me.  I would want that to be done and I think bishops have to be willing to do that.

Men and women, lay people, have to be involved in that process. Lay people want us to succeed.  They want us to get this right.  That is where we have to start.  That is what gives me hope. There’s a lot of anger out there. But beneath the anger is a sadness — that the church should be better than this. And that we should get this right.

Later when asked again about what kind of reforms will be put in place to stop clergy sex abuse cover up, Cupich repeated that the bishops have to agree to cede authority and oversight to an outside review board.  When an accusation is made, Cupich wants the review board to examine the case independent of any bishop’s interference.

Vigano is saving the day?

The cross examination from LifeSite news was classic complete with Vigano as the hero “testifying” in the battle against the evil behind clergy sex abuse — which is not clericalism (which they love) — but homosexuality (which they detest).

Question 1:  “To return to what you said about those persons who experience same sex attraction, would you be a little more clear about what you mean by welcoming, acceptance, and inclusion?  Of course, it is a sensitive issue for many people. So I’m wondering if you are making the distinction between, welcoming everyone as a person loved by God, and welcoming the homosexual lifestyle, because people really want the truth, and they want to be led closer to the Lord.  So I wonder what you mean by acceptance.”

Question 2:  “For Cardinal Cupich, I wonder what impact you think Archbishop Vigano’s third testimony might have on the synod of bishops in which he refutes Cardinal Ouellet’s criticisms especially in light of what he says about a homosexual culture being the root cause of much of the sexual abuse.”

Cardinal Comensoli responded by saying all Christians must go to the foot of the cross and that we are called to offer the friendship of Christ to one another

Cardinal Cupich referred to Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, saying, “There is a divine pedagogy.  We have to make sure that we don’t put obstacles in the face of God’s grace. We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward. Sometimes in that journey they stray or they take a step back, but we’re still with them in order to keep that journey going. Because it is God’s grace that we should discern with them.”

He continued, “Regarding your second question, I don’t know if there is anything new in the back and forth [between Vigano and Ouellet], but what I can say is that research in the John Jay Study and elsewhere shows clearly that the cause is not homosexuality, but other factors.  I would refer people to that solid body of research.”

Edward Pentin batted clean up at the briefing asking Cardinal Comensoli,

A group of youth from Australia wrote a letter to the Synod this week calling for an end to what they called policy speak, ambiguity in church teaching, and superficial banalities. They want to have the unambiguous truth, clarity on church teaching, saying ‘we cannot help shape the church unless the church shapes us. I want to know what you think about that because we haven’t heard that much at the synod. Some people think there is too much sociological teaching and not enough theology and faith.

Comensoli answered that he was not aware of the letter but wanted to make two points.  Young people at the synod want to grow in their relationship to God, in truth and in love, and doing that within the teachings of the church both in its positive and negative senses.  And to the second point, he said that a lot of work had been done to move the document from a sociological focus to a faith focus.

Every Catholic’s opinion deserves to be heard.  But it would have been a bit more genuine for Pentin to say the letter was signed by 217 university students and professors, not 2000.  We live in an interesting and sometimes entertaining church.

Listening to the prelates today I couldn’t help but wonder about the difference between their response to LGBT inclusion and to the questions of clergy sex abuse.  There was a marked disparity.  It seems that in the case of clergy sex abuse and coverup, civil and criminal action has super charged their motivation to change.

But they are still timid in confronting the reality of LGBT Catholics and it shows in their reticence to use the language that Catholic youth and their allies want in terms of self-identification.  Not once in any of the responses did the cardinals use the term LGBT.

We have a ways to go.

In this year of scandal and pain, these words will melt your heart

Archbishop Anthony Fischer,O.P. brought many synod participants to tears with his words in the first week of the synod.  If you haven’t read them, take the time.  They will do your heart good and you’ll see that bishops can experience transformation too.

Today, in your presence Holy Father, and amidst my brother bishops, I want to say sorry to young people for all the ways we’ve failed them.

For the shameful deeds of some priests, religious, and lay people, perpetrated on you and other young people like you, and the terrible damage that has done; and for the failure of too many bishops and others to respond appropriately when abuse was identified, and to do all in their power to keep you safe; and for the damage thus done to the Church’s credibility and to your trust; I do apologize.  Read more

Pope Francis and Aaron Bianco

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 19, 2018

The triumvirate of hatred; There are bishops who still need to be convinced; I’ve got nothin’; Top down doesn’t work

The Triumvirate of hatred

If there is one thing my Mom passed on to me, it was her passion for justice for those at the margins.  My chosen name sake, Rose was scrappy and often described herself as “small but mighty”.  She was short, barely reaching 4’11”, but you didn’t want to mess with her. In our small town, she served as the human resource person in the business that she and my Dad helped build.  Most everyone in town was employed there.

And it was my mom, not the local priest, who people wanted to talk to when they were struggling.

In an age where LGBT people were quickly labelled as perverse, those who still lived in town and secretly identified as LGBT told me that she was the one person in town with whom they could share their fears and suffering.  They loved her.

Mom died in 1994, and as I look back, I realize that for many, she was the face of Christ for the marginalized in our small world.  And she embodied what has been repeated over and over again here at the synod – the need for a “preferential option for the youth.”

As I read the story of a former colleague of mine, I wondered “What would Rose do?”.  Aaron Bianco, a Catholic employee in the diocese of San Diego has been under attack.  Over the past year, he has been harassed and threatened.  His “crime”?  He is gay, happily married, and serving as an employee of the diocese under Bishop Robert McElroy (a Francis bishop who has supported him 100%).

And while the harassment was painful and frightening, it rose to new heights with the release of the Pennsylvania clergy sex abuse report, a expose of sins and crimes that extremists have been exploiting in order to ramp up their anti-gay rhetoric and super charge their intimidation campaign.  All in the name of their god, of course.

This week, someone broke into the church where Aaron works and painted “No fags” on an interior wall.  Beyond, the break in, which is being investigated by the FBI as a hate crime, three fundamentalist websites, Lepanto Institute, Lifesite news, and Church Militant, have been publishing unChristian and vile descriptions of Aaron.  And clearly crossing an ethical line, they also published his personal information, family photos, including one with his deceased mother, and his home address.

In fear for the safety of his family, he resigned.

I wept.  And so did others when they heard of the hatred and threats raining down on him and his family.

Because these groups spew hatred, and because they have crossed an important line by publishing Aaron’s address and personal photos, James Martin, S.J., who has also been a victim, urges Catholics to write their bishops.  In his facebook post he writes

More  [referring to the National Catholic Rep9orter article] on the terrible story of the hatred, harassment, homophobia, targeting and physical violence directed against Aaron Bianco, a pastoral associate who is a gay man. Catholic leaders, bishops and the USCCB must stand against this kind of homophobia.

Martin also suggests other actions.

What can be done about groups like Church Militant, LifeSite News, the Lepanto Institute and Tradition, Family and Property, who traffic in the personal vilification that led to the kind of violence that plagued Aaron Bianco and caused him to fear for his own and his family’s safety? Report them to Twitter and Facebook when you see evidence of hatred, homophobia, and targeting. Then write to your bishop and to the USCCB.

So, as I report from the Synod in Rome, here are my questions.

  1. Thank God for James Martin and Bishop McElroy.  But why have they been the only ones to speak out?I am thinking of powerful words by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who said, “Always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
  2. Why do so many bishops continue to succumb to an underdeveloped theology of the body that simply can no longer be defended?While bishops in greater and greater numbers state that everyone should be welcomed into the church, they undermine those words at every turn because they still do not have the courage to seriously review teachings that have long been rejected by a majority of Catholics — teachings that ultimately scapegoat and call into question that which God Herself created – a holy, beloved, and beautiful people in all their human and Catholic dimensions and expressions of love.
  3. Why are there no openly self-identified LGBT people here at the synod sitting and talking with the bishops and cardinals and helping them  to listen and to understand the beauty of their lives as well as the pain and sorrow of a Church leadership that still crushes their Holy Spirit?
  4. Given the ethical codes media organizations agree to follow in the Vatican Press room, why is an organization like LifeSite not held accountable by Prefect Paolo Ruffini when they willfully cross ethical lines, moving beyond what is acceptable (passionate disagreement with other Catholics) to willfully engaging in intimidation tactics that set the stage for violent acts against innocent people?  Do the ethical standards apply only when writing about those in the hierarchy, or do they apply for all the People of God?
  5. Where are the voices of other respected media outlets at the synod who do live by the ethical code? At what point do they band together to ensure that ethical norms and standards are honored at the synod while calling out any group that resorts to tactics that put people, like Aaron Bianco and his family, directly at risk?

October 19 briefing

Ms. Yadira Vieyra, an auditor from the Chicago diocese, Superior general Fr Valdir Joe De Castro of the Society of St. Paul,  Archbishop Emmanuel Kofi Fianu of Ghana, and Archbishop Joseph Naffah of the Marionite Church of Lebanon sat on the panel to brief us about the events of the synod on Friday, October 19th.

There are bishops who still need to be convinced

Often, the state of clericalism in our Church is reflected in the speaking order of the panelists. Cardinals are often given the highest deference.  But today, I was pleasantly surprised when Yadira Vieyra, an auditor from the Chicago diocese spoke first.

Yadira helps refugees deal with the trauma that occurs as they flee war, violence and oppression in their countries and come to a country that does not welcome them.

She said that one of the main reasons she wanted to come to the synod was to help church leaders to take seriously the mental health of those fleeing and the suffering of families and youth who are in detention centers.

“Some children are reaching milestones in detention centers and it is inhumane,” Yadira explained.

When asked about why the church speaks more about “welcoming the stranger” than “protecting our borders”, Yadira was strong.

I think it is important to address what is going on in the countries these families are fleeing and how the Church can advocate on their behalf and speak to the leaders of those countries.

Yes, it is important to have a secure border but that doesn’t mean that suddenly violence or terrorism in other countries is going to stop.  

Yadira stressed the importance of church leaders speaking to the leaders of other countries, both secular and religious, addressing the war, violence, terrorism, and poverty — those inhumane conditions that cause people to flee.

We need to invest in people who are fleeing poverty, but also [address] the role of women.  

Many women from Mexico are fleeing because of violence.  

These families are not coming to the United States because they want to go on vacation.  They are risking their lives.  A lot of them only have the clothes they have on their back.  

And then to receive the treatment they receive in the United States is very inhumane.  We forget that these families are valuable. They are risking everything, even taking their own young children knowing that crossing the border is a massive risk and a lot of people die trying to cross the border.

Besides her important advocacy for refugees, Yadira has also been advocating for youth to take up more leadership in the Church.

She said that youth are involved in social activism and should be recognized in the Church.  This is especially true of those who may no longer be connected to parishes, but who are working for social justice.

Yadira wants church leaders to recognize that youth are protagonists in the story of salvation, not just a group of people to be ministered to.

While stating that she has had a positive experience at the synod with many bishops who seem to genuinely listen, she also said there are bishops “who still need to be convinced that our youth matter.”

I had the opportunity to ask Yadira if she felt the topics of women’s roles in the church, gender and sexuality, and LGBT inclusion were be addressed properly at the synod.

I asked, “In an interview with Luke Hansen, SJ that was published in America Magazine, you said that ‘the role of women is sometimes overlooked, and that is discouraging.’  You also said, ‘the issues of gender and sexuality were being discussed extensively, and that the discussions were controversial and heated.’  And finally, you said you were very passionate about what has been going on with our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Can you say more about those conversations in the synod?”

In relation to the role of women, it is unfortunate that our religious sisters are not able to vote.  

Tuesday night I was able to read part of a report (English smalll group B first week report) with Bishop Edwards, and to me that was a big step in terms of giving women a voice within the synod.  

They [the sisters] can provide interventions, but it is important to consider seriously giving them the opportunity to vote as they also invest in the spiritual development and formation of church members.

 It very important to give them credit for the amazing work they do with the poor and vulnerable.  

So for me that was a big moment and just looking at the bishops, it was a wonderful view, especially as I was able to make eye contact with several of them while sharing the report. I thought to myself, ‘I wish more women had the opportunity to have the view I have right now, and feel so close to the Pope in sharing such an important report on what the youth need in the church, how ministry could be improved.  

Just the opportunity to stand before [the assembly] and have that voice was a big deal for me and for the church.

In terms of the LGBT community, we have been talking about how to better minister to this group of people who feel attacked, that feel displaced, and that the church doesn’t want them.  It’s not true.  Any Catholic knows it is not true.  Our doctrine isn’t going to change, but we need to find a way to make them feel that Jesus loves them.  We hold them to the same standard that we hold any heterosexual person who is having extra marital relations.  It is important that we communicate that.  The church is here for them.  But’s tricky ministering to a group that already feels attacked.

Digitizing love

There was quite a long discussion by some of the ordained members of the panel about the place of digital communications in the Catholic Church and finding ways to expand the capacity of the Church to educate and build strong relationships among Catholics.  One archbishop suggested that they could incorporate other organizational websites that produce Catholic content.

Of course, the topic of who would get the nihil obstat for their web content surfaced.  Sigh…

The Church should develop criteria, of course.  But, it is also true that the impulse to put a doctrinal stranglehold on every fresh idea  is part of the problem.

Most understand that the role social media/digital content can play in the development of authentic relationships is quite limited.  But sometimes as a prelate waxes poetic about the possibilities, I wonder if it isn’t cover for what is lacking.  Seinfeld’s George Constanza pops into mind as he declares to Jerry. “I’ve got nothin’.”

People like Brother Alois and Sr. Norma Pimentel offer the medicine for what ails us and what all Catholics, including our youth hunger for.  They show us how risk love with its joy, but also its inevitable pain, vulnerability, sacrifice, and rejection.  The church won’t be enlivened by writing code.  Brother Alois said it best this week.  It is only when we walk humbly with each other — recognizing and seeking the Spirit of God that is already present and alive within each other — that we learn how to love.

Top down mentality undercuts accompaniment

Australian Sebastian Duhau, an auditor and youth minister for the Brothers of the Christians Schools in Australia wants to reach young people who are disconnected from the Church which he attributes to a church that, “talks at young people”, and “teaches about the Church”, rather than “introducing them to the person of Jesus Christ”.

He is among the young auditors at the Synod who recognize that there has been a kind of rigidity and top down mentality in some bishops that undercuts the meaning of accompaniment.

“From the birth of the Church, when Jesus was walking the earth, the Church has always been about accompaniment, and actually walking with people, building relationships with people, having conversations and loving each other.”

And he believes that in order to attract youth, we need a Church that is, “authentic, transparent, relational, loving, communal Church for all people.”

In his intervention, he spoke about the need to church create spaces, “where young people can voice their opinions, their hopes, their needs and their struggles, without being judged. The Church, like I had to, must learn to use its ears, to listen to the world around it, to listen to what is required of it, and most importantly, to listen to the voices of young people, because we have something offer.”

As an aside, Duhau’s bishop is the widely respected Vincent Long, O.F.M.  Long posted a very funny article about his discoveries of the “secrets” of the Swiss Guards while in Rome.  They have their own cookbook!

Do whatever it takes to move the Council forward

This week, La Civilta Cattolica published a dialogue Pope Francis had with Jesuits in the Baltic region.  What is important about this interview is the fact that Pope Francis was so explicit and passionate about his desire to advance Vatican II.

In the Q & A, the Pope made his desire for a Vatican II church  explicit saying he wants the Jesuits “to do whatever it takes to move the Council forward.”

I believe the Lord wants a change in the Church. I have said many times that a perversion of the Church today is clericalism. But 50 years ago the Second Vatican Council said this clearly: the Church is the People of God.  Read number 12 of Lumen Gentium.

I know that the Lord wants the Council to make headway in the Church. Historians tell us that it takes 100 years for a Council to be applied. We are halfway there. So, if you want to help me, do whatever it takes to move the Council forward in the Church. And help me with your prayer. I need so many prayers.

Please support this work in whatever way you can

Today, I feel especially grateful  for the chance to work alongside so many talented and dedicated people.  Associate director Russ Petrus and office manager Craig Hoffman, along with our creative consultant Ann Marie Nocella have helped us take our programming and offerings to new heights.  Our courageous co-founder Chris Schenk continues to support our Save Our Parish Community work and leads pilgrimages and book studies.  And the FutureChurch board is absolutely the finest board I have ever worked with.   Led by Jocelyn Collen, Todd Ray, Barbara Guerin and Mary Lou Hartman, the board takes an active part in steering the organization in its mission.  Along with so many other fine members, we have welcomed Bishop Thomas Gumbleton to our board.  What a blessing!

I believe that what was started 28 years ago by the handful of visionary Catholics continues to make a real difference in the life of the Church today.  In order to ensure truly innovative initiatives such as Catholic Women Preach, Emerging Models of Parish and Community Life, the Future of Priestly Ministry, Women and the Word, Catholic Women Deacons, Listening to Women, Catholic Too, etc. continue and expand, we need your help.  We have a $12,000 matching grant during the Synod.  Please help us reach our goal by donating today.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

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!