October 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Group A:  Cardinal Oswald Gracias

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

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

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

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

English Group B:  Cardinal Blase Cupich

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

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

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

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

English Group C:  Cardinal Joseph Coutts

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

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

Here are some report highlights:

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

English Group D:  Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I received three responses.

Sr. Nathalie Becquart 

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

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

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

Cardinal Lacroix

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

Cardinal Gracias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 8, 2018

Silence and tears are the first response; Why aren’t Catholic women voting; Modern day Gospel tells of Catholic women’s “near equality’ in Korea

Did you feel the Vatican rockin’ over the weekend?  It did rock with two big announcements.

First, Francis announced that he wanted a full investigation of  the claims of clergy sex abuse against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  It also seems that he is getting us ready for some disappointing findings by saying, “The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues.”  President of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo offered full support for Francis’ decision.

Second, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of Bishops, set fire to Archbishop Vigano’s 11-page dossier calling his tactics “extremely immoral.”

The immediate impact for Vigano is clear, but it also creates a deep line in the sand for bishops who publicly supported Vigano such as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone who attested to Vigano’s virtue and confirmed that the statements he made were true.


Not the stuff of earthquakes, but on Saturday, Pope Francis threw a party for young Catholics.  During his remarks,  he made it clear he was listening to them.  He reiterated that he heard them when they say they want a Church that is consistent.  “. . . when you see an inconsistent Church, a Church that reads you the Beatitudes then falls into clericalism, more princely and scandalous, I understand, I understand. . .”, said the Pope.

Still, not everyone was satisfied with the party.  One young European Catholic suggested that it had very limited value saying many young people left quite early because most of the contributions were in Italian with no translation.  Further, the event seemed to be staged with selected young people submitting testimonies of faith, some accompanied by dramatic piano music.  Afterward, there was no opportunity for exchange.

It speaks volumes when our young Catholics desire the no frills approach to their faith.  They may enjoy a party, but they are repulsed by anything that smacks of a set up.

Silence and tears are the first response

Today, along with Greg Burke and prefect Paolo Ruffini, the press was briefed by Auxiliary Bishop Emmanual Gobilliard of Lyon (St. Irenaeus was the first bishop) serving under Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who is awaiting trial for allegedly covering up sexual abuses committed by a local priest; Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, one of the heroes of the hierarchy who investigated the Chilean bishops’ cover up of clergy sex abuse and helped Pope Francis get the real story leading to the resignation of all 34 bishops; and Thomas Leoncini, auditor, writer, scholar in Italy, who stood out for his opening remarks about the synod, saying that young participants are looking for “radical answers.”

The prefect of Communications, Paolo Ruffini noted that week one of the synod was a week of listening.  Let’s hope he did not mean that the listening was over, but this week, the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris on vocations will be addressed.

Journalists eager to take advantage of the presence of Archbishop Scicluna, peppered him with so many questions about clergy sex abuse that Vatican conductor Greg Burke smilingly called for a new topic.

In the midst of it all, Scicluna’s humility was on full display — a witness that is rare among prelates. He said,  “It is my privilege to try and help the church understand the truth, and to give justice,”

Other words also revealed a heartwarming tenderness and vulnerability.

In response to the question of what he would say to young people who suffered abuse in the church, he responded, “I have little to say. I would prefer to cry with them, like has happened to me many times…silence and tears are the first response.”

You can read some of the good reporting about what was said today about clergy sex abuse accountability in

Joshua McElwee’s NCR report

Christopher Lamb’s Tablet report

Ines San Martin’s Crux report

LGBTQI Catholics should be welcomed unconditionally

Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry asked Bishop Gobilliard what he would say to LGBTQI people who want to be part of the Church but who are excluded.

Gobilliard, who earlier stated that he had spoken openly about sexuality at the synod  said that while he doesn’t believe in categorizing people according to identity, “The model we have to adopt is the motto of unconditionally welcoming everybody.”

Why aren’t Catholic women voting?

After the questions about clergy sex abuse, I had the opportunity to ask the panel how they felt the Church is doing as far as incorporating women into governance, and why women could not vote at the synod even though two non-ordained male religious had earned the right to vote.

Brilliant as he is in other arenas, Archbishop Scicluna, more or less, offered the company response saying, “Francis is very vocal on this. He is on record that we need to listen more but also give important leadership roles to women.”

On women voting at synod, Scicluna added, “We need to respect the fact that the synod is the Synod of Bishops. But the new apostolic constitution gives great weight to the preparatory phase, where I think women should have a major role in preparation of the Instrumentum Laboris and in this listening phase, which is now an essential part of the synod experience…but it remains the Synod of Bishops. When it comes to auditors, to the people who are invited, that women are given an important presence. But also, I think the Holy Father has invited women to be in leadership roles in Roman Curia and I think you’ll see more of that in the future.”

Finally, he suggested, “When it comes to bringing more women into governance, we need to start at the local church level empowering women in formation. We need to form leadership among our women, our young people. This is something that we could bring to the synod.

He added, “It’s not in the headlines but it’s happening.”
Modern day Gospel sheds light on women’s attraction to Catholicism in Korea

On the opening day of the Synod, twenty-seven year old Briana Santiago from Texas, who is part of a community of consecrated women called the “Apostles of the Interior Life” spoke about the need for the Church to listen to young people and for their need for guidance and wisdom from older Catholics.

When I read her words, I was taken by her enthusiasm for the particular way her faith is playing out in her life and her desire to live with other women who are on the same path.

Later in the week, vice-president of the International Union of Superior Generals,  Sr. Sally Marie Hodgdon, CSJ urged bishops to open themselves to youth whose innocence has been stripped away “through non-acceptance, a lack of integrity and transparency, and a lack of authentic gospel living.”  She said,

  • We must create new spaces for youth, spaces for their voices to be heard and where they can experiment in how best to express their longings and what they are searching for.
  • We must encourage them and allow them to recreate the church of Jesus; to design what a welcoming and open church is and looks like today…
  • We must listen and be vulnerable before the youth of today.

Sr. Sally seems exceptional in her openness to the initiatives of young Catholics and, if she had a vote like her male counterparts who are non-ordained religious superiors, her vision would gain even more traction in the final document.  She believes in their leadership and vision and she wants older adults to let down their guard, be vulnerable, and walk alongside youth.

In another intervention, Congregation of Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, Sr. Mina Kwon of South Korea, pointed out that the authoritarian impulses of clerics in Korea drive women religious away.  While pointing out this damaging dynamic, she juxtaposed it against the rich history of Catholicism in her region.  It reads like a modern day Gospel.

A Catholic community was established without the direct intervention of foreign missionaries.  About 200 years ago, when a very rigid status hierarchy of society dominated, some ‘young’ scholars were fascinated by Catholicism.  One of those Catholic ideas was ‘equality’ based on the principle ‘all human beings are children of God.’ 

Moreover, Catholicism brought new opportunities for women to become leaders and teachers.  In other words, women were given an almost equal place in the initial stage of the Korean Church.  I was a new and revolutionary thing in the feudal times, and it became a main cause of persecution.  The Korean Monarchy regarded these new ideas as a dangerous power which could threaten the Confucian-based social order.

Despite the massive anti-Catholic persecutions, Catholicism spread quickly, jumping fro the scholars to the women of their household, their slaves, and into the wider Korean community.  

Overtime, a growing number of female religious played a significant role.

Sr. Mina pointed to a reality that has weakened the faith saying, ‘It is ironic…that we, who inherited the evangelical value from our ancestors of the faith, seem to rebuild a new medieval hierarchy.”

“Young people are sensitive to the issue of inequality and exclusion,”  she concluded.  They would love to learn “to cultivate the power of solidarity-community through the collaboration of their priests and sisters.”

Sr. Mina’s words bring to mind and heart the accounts of early first century communities, and the reason so many women and slaves were drawn to Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Phoebe, Paul, and other early pioneers of our faith.  This community held dear God’s own dream of human freedom and dignity that was attractive and life-giving.

It is a lesson that I hope finds the hearing it deserves in the synod hall.  I, for one, wish she had an even greater role in the synod — a real vote.

More on the Who’s Who at the Synod

I have been looking for the listing of the small groups.  To date, it has not been published, but these groups are a critical aspect of the synodal process under Pope Francis since he moved it from a big floor event where everyone slept through the interventions to discussions in small language groups.  At the 2015 Family Synod, there were English, Spanish, Italian and German language groups and we knew who was in each group. Those dynamics play out in the particular contributions that are incorporated into the final document.  It will be particularly important this year, since it seems that in issuing Episcopalis Communio, Pope Francis wants the final synod document to stand as part of the ordinary magisterium.

So, my request tomorrow for the prefect will be to share those lists with us.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome

October 7, 2018

A Homily that Heals

It is Sunday in Rome. The streets are crowded with smiling tourists quietly strolling hand in hand while window shopping or eating gelato. Children are laughing and miniature terriers pull at the leashes that tether them to their owners. The homeless sit along the edges with their paper cups waiting for just one generous heart. The street musicians ply visitors with their sweet melodies.

With GPS in hand, I made my way to Mass at the Caravita Community.

Caravita is an English speaking community with a special outreach to travelers. Tourists, ambassadors, prelates, journalists, religious, educators =- a whole host of Catholics — join together each week for the Eucharist.

My friend, occasional collaborator, and former FutureChurch intern, Luke Hansen, SJ, presided today. Newly assigned as an associate at Caravita, this was his inaugural Mass in this community.

Luke has been generous in sharing his journey to the priesthood. And he has been generous in his work for women’s full participation in the Church. I have watched him navigate structures rooted in patriarchy and have been in awe of his relentless struggle for integrity, as well as, his courage, skill, and insight.

So, as I sat there watching him break bread with this community, I felt a kind of pride swell up — the kind of pride that I imagine his own mother feels seeing her son become such an exceptional human being.

Still, it was his homily that surprised me.

I expected it to be good, but it went beyond that. Luke touched my sixty-two year old heart with its bruises and wounds and gave me solace in the way that I did not expect. Tears of gratitude, grief, and joy rolled down my cheeks as he spoke clearly, uncompromisingly, and compassionately to my own experience of loss and divorce, as well as to my pain of being a woman in a Church and world that still assigns men greater value than women.


Homily: Luke Hansen
7 October 2018
Caravita, Rome

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

The social and religious conflicts today about the relationship between men and women, and marriage, divorce and remarriage, are not new. Today’s readings touch on several contested questions: Do the creation narratives demand patriarchy and heterosexuality, or point to human companionship characterized by equality and justice? Are women created as inferior “helpmates” to men, or equal partners in personal and social relationships? And in what circumstances is divorce permitted?

These questions relate to contemporary debates and personal experiences that shape our perspective and inform our convictions: We know divorce, its complexity, the great pain it causes, but also that it can help bring about greater safety and/or be the beginning of healing. We have gay friends: some are married or seek marriage. We know that personal and social relationships between men and women continue to be unequal: not just in some cultures but in every culture. We know about the abuse and exploitation of women, in society and the church.

It is why we have the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and religious women marching in India and women demonstrating at the Vatican and religious women leading the way in eradicating the contemporary slavery of sex trafficking.

In this context, how do we hear the Word proclaimed today? What is the social and religious context of this Gospel story? What is going on in this debate between Jesus and the Pharisees? (It is one of many debates, by the way, with serious consequences for women, where the only participants are men.)

In the first century, under Roman role, Jewish society was changing quickly, and this affected the interpretation of biblical laws. One of these contested issues was divorce. What was at stake was membership in the covenant community.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees press Jesus in order to test him. They want to force him to take a side. They wanted to know: Under what conditions is divorce permissible? Some argued: only if the woman is unfaithful. But others had a more permissive view: if the woman “spoils a dish,” or the man finds a more beautiful woman.

How did Jesus respond? Jesus challenges the Mosaic law (Dt 24:1-4), saying it resulted from human frailty or “hardness of heart.” For Jesus, it is not enough to quote the ancient law, and to engage in endless debates about particular circumstances, but one must go deeper. The fidelity of a follower of Christ goes beyond what is legal or not.

So what is God’s intention for relationships? Jesus invites us to look to creation itself. Men and women were created in love, in the image of God. We are created for communion, relationship. The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”We are created as equals: “bone of my bones” and “flesh of my flesh.” We are meant for just relationships not only with other human beings but with all of creation. For partnership with human beings, “God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air.”

God’s intention is not broken relationships. God’s intention is for fidelity, love, commitment. And when relationships break: God’s intention is for healing and reconciliation, whenever it is possible.

With this focus, Jesus characteristically shows attention to those who are most vulnerable to abuses of power. According to Jewish law, only men could initiate divorce. For Jesus, however, a man cannot simply divorce his wife and remarry. In fact, in doing so, he “commits adultery against her.” She is a person with dignity. She cannot be disposed of. She has a claim. Jesus puts an end to a double standard. The woman is not a possession but a partner.Jesus upholds the original equality of men and women and the belief that they become “one” in marriage.

In Genesis, the man names the woman. In doing so, he is exercising power over her. Today women are doing the naming. They are naming what they see: patriarchy, sexism, abuse of power.

We need a new paradigm. In engaging with these complex questions, we need a church that listens, especially to the experiences of women. Jesus reminds us that we cannot simply debate and apply ancient law. Jesus calls us to what is most fundamental: men and women created equal and meant for love and fidelity.

I left Caravita a little lighter and with a renewed sense that the Church can be a place of healing and wholeness for women, for LGBTQI people, for those who have suffered through a divorce, and for all who have been shamed, shunned, and excluded.

There are priests who serve and who, today, heal the broken-hearted. That is the Good News.

I’ll be back at the Vatican Press office tomorrow sharing the happenings at the synod with you.

Reporting from Rome
Deborah Rose-Milavec

October 5, 2018

Clerics Note Seismic Shifts in Nuns’ Protests in Kerala; A Steep Learning Curve as Young Catholics Keep Speaking Up;  Seeking Assurances on Chastity Rules

Along with the usual crowds of tourists, ticket hawkers, and speeding taxis, several important events took place in Rome, today.

At an early event at the Center for Child Protection, some touted a new program meant to curb clergy sex abuse worldwide.

At the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome, the Center for Child Protection, founded in 2012 and headed by Jesuit Hans Zollner, also a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, launched a new master’s program in child protection. With only a diploma program until now, this is an important extension of their work to build a cadre of experts worldwide.

During the launch, Zollner registered the seismic shift occurring around the world as women, even in very traditional regions, have begun to claim their own authority over clergy sex abuse by naming prelates who, historically, have been able to keep such crimes under wraps.

Pointing to the case of the public protest by women religious in Kerala in the face of the alleged rape of one of their sisters by a bishop who has now been arrested, Zollner observed, “Even more surprising somehow, there were women in Kerala, of all places, that were protesting and marching in support of the religious sister. Even two years ago, you could not imagine such a thing.”

Zollner acknowledged male clerics face “a steep learning curve” saying that, in the future, the program will have to address the full complement of prejudices that create the foundation for this rape culture.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, also a panelist, continued in a similar vein observing that women themselves are producing the change by taking a revolutionary stand. Referring what was happening at the Synod, Marx said that the bishops can also see that women are coming together and saying, “What is this here? We don’t accept this any longer.”

Some have suggested that he may have also been thinking about our “Let Women Vote” protest in front of the Synod where police strong armed our colleagues. Maybe so!

Seeking Assurances on Chastity Rules

Yesterday, on the opening day of the Synod, Briana Regina Santiago from Texas told the Synod leaders that young Catholics “should be met where we are – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, socially and physically.”

Today, eight young Catholic auditors spoke along twenty bishops and the Prior of Taize, Brother Alois.

The theme of listening to young people came through again and again.

Citing some of the speakers, Vatican Radio reported, “Young people want to have an adult who will listen to them, dedicate their time to them, welcome them with empathy and respect, accompany them in their discernment—even with regard to their vocation—and not judge them.”

At the press briefing, Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of Communications, gave the daily report. He was accompanied by Archbishop Manuel Ochogavía Barahona, O.S.A. of Panama; Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher, O.P. of Australia; and Ms. Tahiry Malala Marion Sophie Rakotoroalahy, auditor, national president of Catholic Students in Madagascar.

Along with the emphasis on becoming a listening church, addressing matters of sexuality and especially focusing on pre-marital sex were discussed. Ruffini pointed out that young people were quite forthright. Young auditors explained that by pressing Catholic rules about pre-marital sex, the Church may indeed pressure people to marry before they are ready. Noting the normalcy of sexual intimacy, especially in long term relationships, young adults cautioned clerics about pressuring young Catholics into chastity or abstinence. The result may well be that these Catholics will walk away from the Church altogether.

In response to Ruffini, during the Q & A, conservative Italian journalist, Sandro Magister, in a booming voice asked, “Does that mean the Catholic Church is going to change the teaching on pre-marital sex?”\

Australian Archbishop Fisher’s response was a short “no”, but a few muffled laughs could be heard in the room as the archbishop smiled him down.

The archbishop from Panama talked about the Preferential Option for the Young noting that the whole church should accompany young people with compassion through their suffering.

The final speaker, Tahiry Malala Marion Sophie Rakotoroalahy, spoke forcefully about the need to include young people in leadership roles. She also spoke about the need to improve liturgies and homilies so that young people are attracted to the church.

During the Q & A, one reporter asked if the role of women was being examined in the synod hall.

Ruffini stated that the topic was certainly being discussed. While qualifying his response and noting the difficulties of discussing women’s roles in a variety of contexts and cultures, he made it clear that those at the synod believe women must be incorporated more fully into decision making roles within the Church.

When another reporter asked if LGBT issues had been discussed, Ruffini said that they had not been discussed yet.

Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, who always seems to hone in on the question everyone is asking, inquired about Archbishop Fisher’s first person apology to youth that day referring to clergy sex abuse and other failures of the Church.

Fisher replied, “I was very aware that in my context, that there are lot of young people hurting or who were young when they were hurt. Trust has been terribly damaged. The church needs to speak directly to them, how sorry we are, how much we want to help, and how to go forward.”

Fisher went on to share his shame at not making the church “the safest place for young people.”

I have to admit that tears filled my eyes as he spoke. People who are authentic, honest, and who embody real humility have the power to break into our pained hearts and heal a bit of the hurt lodged so deeply there. If all our bishops follow suit, we would have a church that is safe for everyone, including children, women, and LBGTQI people.

It is clear that young people are speaking up. We can only guess if the bishops will listen and act. But it is clear that if they seek a more vibrant church, they have no other real choices.

Report by:

Deborah Rose-Milavec

October 4, 2018

Superimposing Images; A Woman at the Center; Women carry out their own synod

At the first press briefing for the Synod, the optics were impressive — an image that reminds me of group photos that project an image, but hardly communicates the whole story.

The Synod briefing process has historically been informed by prelates, seated on stage in their finery.

But today, it included four lay persons, with one woman seated center stage, and one archbishop seated to the far right.  

An impressive group photo indeed.

Giving their comments on the happenings of the Synod today were Joseph Cao Huu Ming Tri of Saigon, apparently the youngest participant at the Synod; Chiara Giaccardi, a professor of Media Sociology and Anthropology, who has been appointed as a collaborator of the special secretary; Paolo Ruffini, the first lay appointed prefect of a Vatican dicastery, the Dicastery for Communications; and, Archbishop Carlos Jose Tissera of Quilmes, Argentina.  Greg Burke (to the far left), who is the lay director of the Holy See Press Office, was also on stage taking questions and directing traffic.

We learned that there were 27 presentations given with spaces for quiet reflection after every 5 or 6.  There was only one presentation given by a young Catholic, and that looks to be the pattern for the next several weeks.

The press briefing presentations were pretty standard fare with the most passionate response coming from Chiara Giacarrdi, who spoke of the urgent need for reform in the Church and in the synodal process.

Professor Giacarrdi spoke of the “Copernican Revolution” that the church is undergoing.  She noted the significance of a conversion of becoming a listening Church.

This Copernican revolution “starts by listening to real things”, stated Giacarrdi.  She was emphatic in her belief that it is “pointless to talk about ideals, but the real church.”   For Giacarrdi, the only authority is concrete realities.  By talking about them the Church can avoid dualistic thinking that separates us from each other and from ourselves.

On that list of concrete experiences that should serve as the foundation for all synod discussions are

  • The points of views of migrants who “have to accept jobs that are humiliating.”
  • Sexuality – not as an enemy of person – as a dimension of the human life that needs to be cultivated.
  • The training of priests
  • The diversifying of decision making authority within the Church

Giacarrdi finished with a call to let young people be the authors of their lives, to let our language betray the beauty of our love for each other, and to find concrete ways to incorporate the authority of young women and men in church decision making bodies.

For Giacarrdi, only when we infuse the Church with the fresh thinking and fresh faith of our younger adults will the Church be rejuvenated.

The question and answer period, usually the most interesting part of any press briefing, yielded a few really good questions.

Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service asked if clergy sex abuse was a major theme throughout the day.

Paolo Ruffini answered that it was one of the themes, but not the main theme.  He said, the “theme of betrayal” came up, but it included, not only clergy sex abuse, but our failure to support and welcome migrants.  Ruffini suggested that the most moving portraits were those given by migrants who face desperate conditions.

He said that many in leadership admitted that the Church “has not done enough” to overcome its failings in the clergy sex abuse and cover up scandal or in prioritizing the needs of migrants.

He emphasized, “We need for forgiveness for failing to understand.”

He also emphasized that the synod should not be an attempt to “domesticate the young” but to let their voices and experiences inform every aspect of the final document.

Discerning Women:  Voices Outside the Synod

Kate McElwee, Executive Director of Women’s Ordination Conference organized another synod panel — this one with four women — meant to show there is another, better way to “dream the future for Catholics.”

The panelists included Jamie Manson, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter; Zuzanna Radzik, a Catholic theologian and journalist from Warsaw, Poland; Paola Lazzarini, Ph.d., a sociologist and journalist who wrote the “Manifesto for Women for the Church (Donne Per La Chiesa)”; and, Jacqueline Straub, journalist from Germany who spoke about her calling to be a priest.

The panel discussed some of the issues particular to their regions while taking up larger issues such as the inequality that serves as the foundation for the Church’s teaching on complementarity.  A common theme was the alienation of women from the Church and the efforts being made to overcome that alienation by creating new, safe places of refuge and nurture for all those who have been pushed out.

All four women are, “Staying in but speaking out”, a social media campaign that has been gaining strength as women call for equal access to decision making bodies at the synod and elsewhere.

Let’s face it, even if the optics at the press briefings are superimposed to make the synod look more legitimate, what matters is who decides and what is decided.
And if Pope Francis and his allies are serious about the needs of our youth, they will tap into the wisdom of women, young and old, calling them back, even as they turn their backs on an institution that has too often betrayed them.
Just as we have learned from our foremothers in faith, we will continue to shape our tradition with love and wisdom. And yes, we will carry on with with the determination of Mary of Magdala and Catherine of Siena, crying out the Good News that women can and do claim their call to share all their gifts with God’s beloved people.

Report by:

Deborah Rose-Milavec
Executive Director

Women are Ready to Serve as Deacons

The Second Vatican Council recognized “there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon’s office” and thus “it is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands.”

Today the same is true of many women who lead parishes and serve as catechists and chaplains and in other ministries. In light of mission opportunities and pastoral needs, local Churches should be allowed to call forth women for the ordained diaconia of liturgy, word and charity.

Please join us on April 13, 2016 at 8pm ET as we hear from three women who are ready to serve as deacons.

Connie Walsh has always felt a particular call to the permanent diaconate, not priesthood or religious life. Cynthia (Sam) Bowns recognized her desire to serve as a deacon as she accompanied her husband through his diaconal formation program. Natalie Terry is engaged in and feels called to greater ministerial leadership, and would seriously consider the diaconate if opened to women. After each speaker shares her story, Luke Hansen, S.J., will facilitate questions and discussion.  Read the bios of our panelists below.

RESOURCES for those interested in women deacons!

  1.  Visit our new Catholic Women Deacons website.
  2.  Sign up for our retreat for those discerning whether they want to be deacons from September 16 – 18, 2016 at River’s Edge in Cleveland, Ohio by sending an email to Russ@futurechurch.org.
  3. Sign up for our teleconference series.   The first one is April 13th with our three panelists.  The second one is May 18, 2016 at 8pm ET with expert Phyllis Zagano.  The third is TBD.

Bios of Teleconference Panelists

Connie Walsh, of Maplewood, Minnesota, a certified community health worker, recently retired after 24 years as the manager of advocacy services at United Family Medicine in St. Paul, Minnesota. The clinic serves a diverse group of largely uninsured or underinsured persons. Connie served for eight years on the Commission of Women for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and for five years she taught a domestic violence curriculum at St. Paul Seminary and for deacon couples. She has received formation as an Ignatian Associate, served on a parish council and on 23 Cursillo retreat teams, volunteered in Guatemala, and served as a lector, Eucharistic minister, fundraiser, and religious educator.

Cynthia (Sam) M. Bowns, of Crete, Illinois, recently retired as an associate and alumni coordinator in the development department at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Sam has a Masters of Divinity and a certificate in spiritual formation from Catholic Theological Union, where she continues to volunteer. A married mother of three, she has served for decades in a variety of parish ministries, including co-chair of RCIA, lector, Eucharistic minister and art and environment. Sam, a certified spiritual director, first recognized her desire to serve as a deacon as she accompanied her husband Loren Bowns through his discernment and training as a deacon in the Diocese of Joliet. Following his ordination, Sam pursued further theological education in order be a well-prepared advocate for women called to ordained ministry. Loren, who serves as a deacon in the Archdiocese of Chicago, will also participate in the teleconference.

Natalie Terry, originally from Wynantskill, New York, is the director of the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center and Children’s Faith Formation at St. Agnes Catholic Church in San Francisco. She has a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California, where she is currently writing her thesis for a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in the area of sacramental theology. She graduated from John Carroll University in 2010 with Bachelor of Arts in religious studies, and then served as a volunteer with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in Pulaski, Pennsylvania.  Natalie has been a facilitator and prayer leader with the Ignatian Solidarity Network, and she has served as a lay preacher, lector, Eucharistic minister and presider of Communion services and Liturgies of the Word.

Luke Hansen, S.J., a member of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, is a student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. Luke has a Master of Arts in social philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, has worked on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and served as an associate editor of America magazine from 2012 to 2014. He has reported from the Vatican, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has won several awards from the Catholic Press Association for his writing. As an intern for FutureChurch, Luke recently edited the first edition of VOICES, a magazine that features the storytelling of Catholic women who work for the empowerment of women around the world through anti-trafficking initiatives, health care, education and other fields.



FutureChurch Find 39% of Female Respondents Believe They Are Called to the Diaconate

FutureChurch Survey Finds Thirty-nine Percent of Female Respondents May Be Experiencing a Call to the Diaconate

women-deacons-survey-report_page_01Read PDF version of the women-deacons-survey-report


On May 26, 2016, FutureChurch distributed an open survey via Survey Monkey to lists of just over 13,000 FutureChurch e-mail subscribers asking Catholic women to share their personal discernment regarding a call to the permanent diaconate.  The survey also asked both Catholic women and men about their support for women deacons and the commission set up by Pope Francis to study the issue.  Thirty (n=30) questions were directed to women and a subset of the questions (n=23) were directed to both women and men.

Four hundred and two (n=402) participants completed the survey on May 26th and May 27th.  The return rate was 3%.  Data received after May 27th was discarded due to a deliberate attempt by a blogger to skew the data and sabotage the results beginning May 28th.  The blogger, well known for his distasteful antics, disparages women who are considering a call to the diaconate calling them “deaconettes.” He wrote to his followers, “Most of us, however, probably don’t have questions or concerns about the impact of deaconettes: I’m quite certain that it would be bad.”

The responses received (n=402) highlight the voices of women discerning a vocational call to the permanent diaconate.   It also indicates the level of support for women deacons by female and male respondents.

Who Took the Survey

Of the 402 respondents, 84% (n=337) were female, mostly from the United States.  Six percent were from Canada, U.K., Australia, India and Germany.  Sixteen percent (n=65) of respondents were male.

The majority of respondents (76%) indicated they were active in their parishes, including 57% as lay leaders, 14% sisters, 4% priests and 2% permanent deacons.  Eight percent indicated they wanted to be more active in their parish and 14% indicated they were not active in a parish.  Seventy-five percent had some education or training related to ministry, religious education or theology up to a Ph.D. with only 25% indicating they had no formal education or training in this area.  Eighty-five percent were 55 years of age or older although it is significant to note that 15% of respondents were younger Catholics from the Gen X or Millennial age group.

Women Who Are Called To Serve as Deacons

Of 335 women who responded when asked if they were called to the diaconate, 11.64% (n=39) said they were called with another 27.76% (n=93) indicating it was somewhat true to say they were called.  Of those who explored their call (n=90), 80% percent had discussed it with family and friends and 51% had discussed it with someone in their faith community.  79% (n=95) of the 120 who answered the question indicated that if the diaconate were available to women today, it was completely true or somewhat true that they would be ready to enter a formation program.

Even though the majority of all female respondents had not personally discerned a call to the diaconate, 53 % the 324 women who responded to this question said they would consider a call if asked by a priest, bishop or someone in the community.

Some women indicated that they were called to the priesthood and not the permanent diaconate.  Twelve percent of 271 women responding to this question, said that the priesthood was their vocational call, not the permanent diaconate.

Support for Women Deacons

Of the 321 who answered this question, 93% (n=299) expressed complete support for women deacons and another 6% (n=19) expressed some support.  When asked if ordaining women deacons would strengthen the Church in terms of pastoral care, evangelization and liturgy, 91% agreed completely and another 8% agreed that it was somewhat true.

When prioritizing the diaconal ministries that would benefit the Church if available to women deacons, 94% indicated that preaching is a priority.  Ninety-two percent indicated that presiding over baptisms, marriages and funerals was paramount and 90% said that proclaiming the Gospel during Mass was most important.  Another 89% said that assisting during the Mass was important.

Ninety-five percent (n=305) of respondents said they knew a woman/women who would make fine deacons.  Ninety-three percent (n=299) said they would encourage a woman/women to consider becoming a deacon and 81% (n=260) said they would recommend women to serve as deacons to their pastor or bishop.

One question directed to priests and deacons asked whether they knew women whom they would consider to make fine deacons.  Of the 33 that responded, 91% indicated that they knew such women.

These parish-oriented respondents indicated that they were willing to advocate for the restoration of women deacons.  Eighty-six percent (n=277) said they would pray.  Seventy-nine percent (n=254) indicated they would learn more about the history and theology of women deacons.  Sixty percent (n=193) indicated they would attend workshops or days of reflections focusing on the restoration of women deacons. Fifty-two percent (n=168) indicated they would write or talk to their bishop asking him to support the restoration of women deacons and 57% (n=183) indicated they would create opportunities in their communities for others to learn about and discuss the history, ministry, and theology of women deacons.

The Impact of Women Deacons on Lay Ecclesial Ministers and the Work for Women’s Ordination to the Priesthood

We wanted to give respondents the opportunity to voice their concerns about women deacons  in light of the ministry thousands of women have been providing as lay ecclesial ministers or in light of advocacy for women’s ordination to the priesthood.  Three hundred and twenty one responded to these questions.

Thirty-seven percent (n=119) said it was true or somewhat true that they were concerned or had questions about the impact of women deacons on the work of lay ecclesial ministers and 55% (n=178) indicated they did not have concerns or questions and 7% answered “not applicable.”  In terms of the impact on the work for women’s ordination to the priesthood, the results were similar. Thirty-nine percent (n=126) indicated it was true or somewhat true that they were concerned or had questions and 57% (n=183) said they had no concerns and 4% answered “not applicable.”

Support for the Commission

More than 99% (n=318) of respondents knew about Pope Francis’s decision to create a commission to study women deacons and 93% (n=298) strongly supported it while another 6% (n=16) supported it somewhat.  When asked to put forward the names of candidates for the commission, Phyllis Zagano topped the list with Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Joan Chittister, OSB following.

Summary and Conclusions

Thirty-nine percent of women who responded to the question “Do you experience a call to be a deacon?” expressed a strong or somewhat strong sense that they were called or discerning a call to the permanent diaconate. A majority had consulted with family, friends and community about their call and most felt they would be ready to enter a program if it were available today.

The support for women deacons from this group of female and male respondents was strong with 99% agreeing that women deacons would strengthen the liturgical life, ministry and outreach of the Church.  They felt it was important that women deacons preach, preside at baptisms, marriages, funerals and at Mass, and that they proclaim the Gospel at Mass.  They not only supported the restoration of women deacons today, they also felt committed to educating and advocating for women deacons in their communities and with their bishops.

Survey Data


Four hundred and two (n=402) females and males participated in the survey.  Eighty-four percent identified as female (n=337) and sixteen percent (n=65) identified as male.



Thirty percent were born before 1941 (Pre-Vatican II era), fifty-five percent were born in the Vatican II era (1941- 1960), ten percent were born in the Post-Vatican II era (1961 – 1978) and five percent were born after 1978 (Millennial era).



350 of the 402 survey respondents identified their diocese.  The highest number of survey participants came from the Cleveland and St. Paul-Minneapolis dioceses 18 each. Sixteen participants identified Cincinnati as their diocese.  Twenty-three international respondents were from the Canada, U.K., Australia, India and Germany.


Survey Questions for Female Respondents

Question 6:  When responding to, “I am called to the permanent diaconate”, 11.64% (n39) of 335 female respondents indicated this was completely true.  Another 27.76% (n 93) indicated it was somewhat true and the rest (n 203) indicated it was not true or that it did not apply.


Question 7:  When asked to indicate the ways by which they had explored this call (they could choose all that applied), 90 female respondents answered.

  • Eighty percent shared it with family and friends.
  • Fifty-one percent shared it with someone in their faith community.
  • Forty-six percent had discussed it with a spiritual director.
  • Twenty-three percent shared it with their pastor.

Question 8:  When asked if they were ready to enter a formation or training program, if the diaconate were open to women today, 120 female respondents answered.

  • Thirty-three percent (n 40) indicated it was completely true.
  • Forty-six percent (n 55) indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Twenty-one percent (n 25) indicated it was not true or not applicable.

Questions 9 and 10:  Just three of all the female respondents said they had enrolled in a diaconal formation program when their husbands entered a program.  One of those said they feel ready to serve as a result and another said they partnered with their husband in ministry.

Question 11:  When asked if they would be open to discerning a vocation to the permanent diaconate if approached by their pastor, bishop or other member of the community, 324 female respondents answered.

  • Twenty-five percent (n 80) indicated that it was completely true.
  • Twenty-eight percent (n 91) indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Forty-seven percent (n 153) indicated it was not true or not applicable.

Question 12 was optional.  The question read, “I am called to the priesthood and not the permanent diaconate.  Two hundred and seventy-one (n 271) responded.

  • Twelve percent (n 32) responded “yes”.
  • Eighty-eight percent (n 239) responded “no”.

Questions 13 through 30 were directed to both female and male respondents.

Question 13:  When asked about respondents’ ecclesial status, 285 female and male respondents answered.

  • Fifty-seven percent (n 221) indicated they were laity active in their parishes.
  • Eight percent (n 31) indicated they were laity not particularly active now, but interested in becoming active.
  • Fourteen percent (n 54) indicated they were not active.
  • Fifteen percent (n 57) indicated they were vowed religious.
  • Four percent were priests and nearly two percent were deacons.Question 14:  Asked about their time commitment in ministry, 385 females and males responded.
  • Eighty-three percent indicated that they were engaged in a full-time capacity.

Question 15 and 16:   Respondents were asked to indicate their area of ministry and to choose all that applied. They were also asked if they were compensated for their ministry.  Three hundred and three (n 303) responded.

areas-of-ministryTwenty-two percent were compensated for their work.  Another 49% engaged as volunteers and 29% indicated that they had engaged in both.

Question 17:  When asked about their level of education/training, 300 respondents answered.


Question 18:  When asked to indicate their support for women deacons, 321 female and male respondents answered.

  • Ninety-three percent (n 300) indicated that was completely true.
  • Six percent (n 18) indicated it was somewhat true.
  • One percent (n 3) indicated it was not true or not applicable.i-support-women-deacons
    Question 19:  Respondents were asked to indicate which diaconal ministries were important in terms of women’s participation.  They could check all that applied.
  • Ninety-four percent indicated that preaching during the homily at Mass was important
  • Ninety-two percent indicated that presiding over baptisms, marriages and funerals was important
  • Ninety percent indicated preaching the Gospel during Mass was important
  • Eighty-nine percent indicated assisting during the Liturgy was importantministries-needed-from-women-deaconsQuestion 20:  When asked if they could think of at least one woman who has the gifts for diaconal ministry, of the 321 who responded, 95% indicated “yes”, and 5% indicated “no”.

Question 21:  When asked if they have encouraged or would be willing to encourage a woman to consider that she is called to the permanent diaconate, of the 321 who responded, 93% said they would, 3% answered “no”, and 4% indicated it was not applicable.

Question 22:  Eighty-one percent indicated they would be willing to recommend a woman/women for diaconal ministry to their pastor or bishop.  Seven percent indicated “no” and 12% indicated it was not applicable.

Question 23 was directed to priests and deacons and asked if they had met women who would be fine deacons and if they had encouraged women to pursue theological and pastoral studies to serve the people of God.  They were asked to choose all that applied.  Thirty-three (n 33) responded.

  • Ninety-one percent of priests/deacons indicated they met women who would be fine deacons.
  • Fifty-two percent indicated they had encouraged women to pursue theological/pastoral studies.
  • Three percent indicated “neither of the above”.

Question 24:  When asked what activities respondents would be willing to participate in to promote the restoration of women deacons, 321 responded.

  • Seventy-nine percent indicated they would learn more about the history and theology of women deacons.
  • Sixty percent indicated they would attend workshops or days of reflections focusing on the restoration of women deacons.
  • Eighty-six percent indicated they would pray for the restoration of women deacons.
  • Fifty-two percent indicated they would write or talk to their bishop asking him to support the restoration of women deacons.
  • Fifty-seven percent indicated they would create opportunities for their community to learn about and discuss the history, ministry, and theology of women deacons.
  • Forty-six percent indicated they would create opportunities for their community to advocate for the restoration of women deacons.
  • Four percent indicated “none of the above”.

Question 25:  When asked if ordaining women as deacons would strengthen the community’s ability to provide pastoral care, evangelization, and opportunities for worship, 321 responded.

  • Ninety-one percent indicated that was completely true.
  • Eight percent indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Less than one percent indicated it was not true or not applicable

Question 26:  When asked if they had concerns about the impact of women deacons on the 31,000 female lay ecclesial ministers already serving the church in the U.S. and those serving in other parts of the world, 321 responded.

  • Ten percent indicated it was completely true.
  • Twenty-seven percent indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Fifty-five percent indicated this was not true at all.
  • Seven percent indicated it was not applicable.

Question 27:  When asked if they have concerns/questions about the impact of women deacons on the work women have done to promote women as priests, 321 responded.

  • Ten percent indicated that was completely true.
  • Twenty-nine percent indicated that was somewhat true.
  • Fifty-seven percent indicated it was not true at all.
  • Four percent indicated it was not applicable.

Question 28:  When asked if they were aware of the announcement on May 12, 2016 by Pope Francis to create a commission to study the question of ordaining women to the diaconate, 99% (of n 321 respondents) indicated “yes” and 1% indicated “no”.

Question 29:  When asked if they support the creation of the commission, 321 responded.

  • Ninety-three percent indicated it was completely true.
  • Five percent indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Two percent indicated it was not true or not applicable.

Question 30 asked respondents to recommend members for the commission.  Phyllis Zagano topped the list with Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Joan Chittister. OSB in second and third place.

Women Witnesses are Not Pushovers

Do not be lulled into thinking women who are merciful, are the silent sweet types.  They are not.

The women honored in our Women Witnesses of Mercy series are not push overs.  They are spirited and courageous and possess a kind of holy stubbornness when it comes to justice.

Sr. Dorothy Stang was feisty and energetic and loving — one of the great saints. She remained faithful to the poor, to the ruined Amazon, and so, to the Gospel and the God of justice and compassion. Beautiful stories come down to us.  She fed the hungry, built community, lived in destitution.  She confronted illegal loggers and corrupt ranchers, the class who stole land from the poor, kept them in misery, and bought off the police, the military and the government. Death threats rained down on Dorothy for years, along with insults and hate mail. Ranchers took aim at the community center for women that she had founded and riddled it with bullets. On one occasion the police arrested her for passing out “subversive” material. It was the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Another time, she escaped by a hairs-breadth an attempt on her life. Yet she carried on and included the ranchers in her prayers for peace. Her defense of the poor was fearless.

Sr. Simone Campbell is another case in point.  She has gone nose to nose with her most vocal critics and continues to plod a path to their door to engage them in dialogue.  She does not give up when it comes to creating a society that is just for all and especially those who live at the fringe of our economic and social stratosphere.

A constitutive component of Sister Simone’s understanding of and preaching of the Gospel is that everyone — individuals, families, communities, organizations, and governments –must play their part in building a more just society.  Her conviction comes straight out of Catholic Social Teaching.  In CST we learn that in the image and likeness of a Triune God, the person is not only sacred but also inherently social. Living in community is an essential expression of who we are. But community isn’t something that just happens. Catholic Social Teaching and Scripture proclaim that each person has both the right and the obligation to participate society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, but especially the poor and vulnerable.

Sr. Simone struggles with what it means to carry out the Gospel.  In her heartfelt poem, Loaves and Fish she writes:

I always joked
that the miracle of loaves
and fish was: sharing
The women always knew this.
But in this moment of need
and notoriety I ache, tremble
almost weep at folks so
hungry, malnourished,
faced with spiritual famine
of epic proportions. My heart
aches with their need.

Apostle-like, I whine:
“What are we among so many?”
The consistent, 2000-year-old
ever-new response is this:
“Blessed and broken, you are
enough.” I savor the blessed,
cower at the broken, and
pray to be enough.

In April, we will release the next Women Witnesses of Mercy resource on Sr. Dorothy Stang.  Another tough, “stubborn” woman witness of mercy, she was murdered for her work defending poor Brazilians and the sacred life of the Amazon where they lived and where so many living creatures depend on its ongoing vibrancy and health.

Please donate $125 or more to FutureChurch’s Women in Church Leadership Campaign and get a poster with all twelve women witnesses of mercy with beautiful original art by Marcy Hall.

What Did You Hear on Easter Sunday?

In 2015, FutureChurch launched the Mary of Magdala Easter Gospel Restoration Project working with Catholics around the world to ensure that the full story of Mary of Magala’s witness to the Resurrection and commission by Jesus to “go and tell” is heard on Easter Sunday.

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., reminds us that for centuries, Mary Magdalene has been portrayed within the Christian faith as a former prostitute who repented her sins and became one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers. But, “in fact, Mary of Magdala was one of Jesus’ most influential apostles—and she was not a prostitute,” said Sr. Johnson. “Mary kept vigil at the cross throughout Jesus’ crucifixion, discovered the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, and was then commissioned to ‘go and tell’ the good news.”

In Canada the bishops include all of John 20:1-18, but in the United States and elsewhere Catholics hear only part of the story, John 20: 1-9.  Thus, the telling of Mary of Magdala’s role as a primary witness to the Resurrection slips from view.

When reading the two versions side by side it is easy to see how dramatically the trajectory of the story changes when all of John 20:1-18 is proclaimed.  In the shortened version, the focus is on Simon Peter and their lack of understanding.  But in the longer version, we learn that the male disciples went home while Mary of Magdala stayed and continued to search for Jesus.  In doing so, she finds him, recognizes him as the risen Christ and is commissioned to go and tell the others.  The inspiring story of Mary of Magdala’s witness, commission and leadership role is proclaimed.

Please take our survey
It will help us track the success of these efforts to restore the witness of Mary of Magdala to our Easter Sunday experience and will raise awareness so that more Catholics will be inspired to participate in this restoration work.  Share with us what you heard on the most holy of days, Easter Sunday.

Does a Papal Decree Matter on Footwashing for Women? Yes!

On January 6, 2016, Pope Francis issued a new decree stating that women should be included in foot washing rites held on Holy Thursday.  For many Catholics around the world, this was already a practice.  But for others, the papal decree opened a new door for women’s participation in an important rite of the Church.

On March 28, 2016 FutureChurch launched a survey asking Catholics to share their experience regarding the new decree to see what, if any effect it had in their parish.

The survey is not scientific study, but is a sampling.  620 respondents from the United States (88%), Europe (6%), India (3%), Australia (2%), other (1%) took the survey.  The results are below.

foot washing survey

Question #1 inquired about foot washing rites in their parish prior to the 2016 decree.  Eighty-six percent of respondents indicated that they had always included both women and men.  Ten percent indicated that their ceremony included men only.  Approximately 1.3% had no foot washing ceremony.

Most of the 104 comments re-iterated that women and men were included in the foot washing rite.  Ten comments indicated that a) only males were included, b) the parish chose to eliminate the rite because the expectation was that only males would participate or, c) a parishioner discontinued going because of a change to male only participation.  Here is a sampling of those comments.

  • We used to wash anyone’s feet until our bishop banned anyone except males.  Then we stopped washing anyone’s feet.
  • Two years ago the Bishop of Madison said only men would have their feet washed. So our parish did not have the rite.
  • Thirty years ago our parish included women in this rite but, in the past 10-15 years it has reverted back to all men.
  • Our Diocese of Charlotte did not allow women to participate. It was to be 12 men lined up with the Pastor doing the washing.
  • My parish did wash the feet of men and women, however, our Bishop Paprocki chose not to do the foot washing ritual because he disagreed with Pope Francis’ encouragement of it.
  • We had discontinued when we went to men only.
  • At my home Parish in Ontario Canada we have had women and men foot washing for years but at my Parish here in Florida where we are for the winter they have men only.
  • We had no foot washing because it didn’t include women.
  • Only seminarians.

  • When the church made Holy Thursday night about the night Jesus instituted the male only ordained priesthood, I stopped going.

Question # 2 asked about changes in the foot washing rite after the 2016 decree.  Seven percent of respondents indicated that for the first time, women were introduced into the foot washing rite.  The percentage respondents indicating male-only foot washing rites dropped to 5%.  Four (number) respondents indicated that they did not have a foot washing rite for the first time this year, some commenting this may have been a protest by their pastor of the new decree.

A sampling of comments from this question are included below.  Some indicated there was a change for inclusion of women.  A few indicated that women were still excluded or newly excluded.

  • Our previous pastor in Orange, CA did not wash the feet of women.  Our new pastor did, only after I questioned him about it two years ago.  Since then he has done it.
  • Our parish washed the feet of women, men and children. When we got a new bishop he demanded that only men could get their feet washed. Our pastor stopped washing feet until Francis said it is okay.
  • New pastor intended to have only men.  After decree, he included men, women, and teenagers.
  • Depends on pastor and whim of bishop. This year all were included for the first time in five years and three pastors.
  • Our parish had opted out of foot washing from the time the local bishop had banned women until this year.
  • In Florida- still only men! I even wrote the priest here and told him of my wish to have women represented.
  • Men only.  Apparently in defiance of Pope Francis.
  • A giant step backwards. For the past 20+ years not only have we had men and women have their feet washed, we also allowed the congregation to wash the feet. This year the congregation was allowed to wash the feet of only 12 men invited. A sad, sad turn of events with a new pastor.Question # 3 asked if Pope Francis’ new changes and decree raised new awareness about the exclusion of women personally, in the parish or if it was a source of controversy.Fifty-eight percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the changes Pope Francis made to the foot washing rite raised new awareness about the exclusion of women for them personally. Thirty-six percent agreed or strongly agreed that it raised new awareness about the exclusion of women in their parish community.  And 7% agreed or strongly agreed the new decree and inclusive rite was a source of controversy in their parish community.Questions # 4 and # 5 asked respondents if their pastor had addressed the new foot washing decree and inclusive rite explicitly, and if so, how did they characterize the change.  Twelve percent indicated that their priest specifically addressed the new foot washing decree with most characterizing it as a positive change and only less than one percent characterizing it as a negative change.

A thoroughly scientific survey would be useful in understanding the ripple effect of Francis’ changes for women in the Church, but it is clear from this small sampling that it has made a difference.  Of those who took the FutureChurch survey, 7% indicated that women were included for the first time.  While media reporting was anecdotal, there were several examples of inclusive change.  Two Latin Catholic Churches in Kerala India included women for the first time and the National Shrine in Washington DC included women in the rite for the first time.

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Pope Francis opens foot-washing rite to women in gesture of inclusion