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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 27: How The Voting Will Go; Revolutionary, Extremely Innovative; Better for Bishops

I remember going on a mission trip in my forties when the children were still pretty small.  I travelled with a group to Honduras visiting everyone from bishops to the people who lived in cardboard shacks in a muddy field.  I was totally transformed by the experience, a transformation that continues to stay with me today.  Yet, there is no doubt that the daily grind of regular life can blur a beautiful, transforming experience.

As I hear the accolades of so many participants at the synod testifying to the transformative power of a community who listens and participates in authentic dialogue, I like many of you wonder how this will be translated on the ground.  What structures will be put in place to make this new way of being church a reality.  It’s still early to be sure, but it is also true that if structures are not created to bring this way of being together, discerning together, deciding together, and ministering together are not formulated early on, this too shall crash under the weight of too many ordained members who’d rather smile and see it quietly sink into oblivion.  Fr. Thomas Reese has asked several times at the press briefings about how they will disseminate this work, how they will structure the practice going forward, but the answers he received did not reassure.

And I’ve also grown slightly testy with panelists responding to actual issues like women’s ordination, LGBTQ+ inclusion, clergy sex abuse, even war and peace, etc. with “this is a synod on synodality, and not a synod on ____ (fill in the blank).”   I know the experience of a deepening communion and find it beautiful too.  But, like Tom Reese, I want to see practical elements to advance this synodal process put in place.  We’ll need structure and we’ll need canon law that backs the authority of lay persons as co-equals in this process.  There is no doubt, any movement forward will be uneven at best, but, I dare say, there won’t be substantive progress without firm structures and laws in place.

How the Voting Will Go

Today at the press conference, Paolo Ruffini gave us the overview of what will happen today and tomorrow.

Ruffini offered this outline.

At the general congregation of this morning, there were 320 members. Some absences were due to other commitments and meetings.  After the prayer and before discussion in the small groups, the interventions which aimed at collecting question proposals and comments for the next stage of the synodal process up until next October took place.  Also some other information was given.

First of all, Cardinal Grech reminded us of that today’s a day of fasting and prayer for peace. 

He also gave us some information concerning the final drafting of the synthesis document.

Yesterday at the end of the discussion on the first draft of the report, 1025 amendments were collected from every small group and 126 individual amendments presented by the individual members of the synod.

Friday (today)

All the amendments were and shall be taken into consideration in order to respect those who have submitted them. And they’re still being read.

The writers and the experts were given a round of applause by the Assembly are also working in the evening to prepare the updated version of the text.  The goal is to include all the amendments that were approved.

The after receiving the amendments, the text is going to be examined this evening during the meeting of the drafting commission who is responsible for drafting the final synthesis report.  According to the instructions, the commission is going to be called upon to approve the text with an absolute majority. Afterwards, between tonight and tomorrow morning, the final version of the document will be prepared. 


Tomorrow morning, there will not be a general congregation, but the members will receive the document mid-morning. The official versions of the document will be in English and in Italian.

In the afternoon at 3:30 there will be the general congregation to vote for the document. This is in order to ensure that everybody has enough time to read the synthesis report in advance in its final version and to prepare themselves in the best way to the afternoon vote.

The text given to the members is strictly confidential and it cannot be circulated.

In the first part of the general congregation of tomorrow afternoon, the entire synthesis document will be read out. After the members have read the text individually, it will be read again in the assembly. And after that, there will be an electronic voting, which will make it possible for persons to express themselves concerning every paragraph in the document.

This morning, at the end of the general congregation, a simulation of vote was carried out. And again, this morning we also reaffirmed the secrecy of the voting.  In fact, the data is encrypted, so it cannot be said who has voted for what. To be even clearer, on every tablet that the members of the Synod have, they will have the number of every chapter in the report and all the paragraphs marked by letters of the alphabet.

Every member will have to vote either yes or no for every paragraph to approve it or not. Based on Article 35, paragraph three of the instruction on the Synodal Assembly, abstention is not possible. And according to paragraph four of the same article 35 of the instructions,  individual paragraphs are considered approved with a majority of two thirds of the members who are voting.


On Sunday, October 29, there will be the Eucharistic celebration at the end of the General Assembly which will be held at 10am at the Basilica of St. Peter’s.

Ruffini then reminded everyone of the time change taking place between Saturday and Sunday.

Sheila Pires reported on the topics being discussed.

This morning we did continue our work sessions in the small groups, but, obviously with the focus on the next stage of the Synod in October, 2024. So there were discussions and sharing as to what and how we can proceed between now and October 2024.

Several participants suggested that the duration of the next assembly be three weeks instead of four. There was also a proposal to have more time for personal reflection for meditation, especially during the sessions, and also to enable better participation for speeches. In the assembly hall, there was a request for more group meetings organized, not based on language, but on backgrounds. As you may know, some of the issues that we face in Africa may not be the same as in Europe. So there was that request that every now and then we can meet, as different groups just to assess where we are during that period.

Two of the spiritual leaders joined the panel, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe and Sister Maria Grazia Angelini, OSB joined the panel.  They did not join the small groups and they will not be voting, but they shared their perspective on the synod.  Brother Alois Löser, prior of Taize was also on the panel.

Revolutionary, Extremely Innovative

Sr. Angelini observed:

This event was very significant and almost, I’d dare say, revolutionary in terms of changing the pace, in the life of the church.  In terms of including, and the  openness of listening and the ability to listen to differences and the ability to look at reality.

We are in a moment in history, which is incredibly complex and difficult to understand. And this requires a faith to have a vision starting from the highest perspective, that of the presence of God. That became flesh through human flesh too. When human history and the flesh of human beings is more obscure and more tormented, the Scriptures give us luminous criteria to interpret such terrible times. So the fact that bishops, cardinals and lay persons, religious men, men and women, religious with different experiences and coming from all over the world, belonging to different cultures — the fact that they got together and got together to pray and listen to each other and to open visions for the future is something that, for me, was extremely innovative.

Better for Bishops

Fr. Timothy made some unique observations.

Synodality is part of my being. I’m a Dominican, and ever since we were founded 800 years ago, we’ve had a synodal form of government, listening and taking decisions together. This is my fourth synod of the church, my fourth synod of bishops. And it’s quite unlike any of the ones I’ve been to before. At the first synods that I went to, you had the pope in the middle, you had the cardinals around him, you had the bishops around him, and then you had the final circle of people with no hats on like me. And there was not so much real dialogue.

Most people prepared their speeches before they ever arrived at the synod. So this is an extraordinary change in how we are church together. I think the mere fact of seeing curial cardinals, young women from Latin America or Asia sitting together, talking together, is profoundly transformative in people’s experience of being church.

Now, some people have said, is it still therefore really a Synod of Bishops? And I would say very much so. I think this way of holding a synod reveals much more clearly than any previous synod I’ve been to what it means to be a bishop, because there’s a gathering of bishops, a gathering of representatives of the College of Bishops. But it also shows the bishop not as a solitary individual, but immersed in the conversation of his people, listening, talking, learning together. So I think that this synod is far more expressive of what it means to be a bishop than anyone I’ve ever been to before.

Q & A

One journalist asked Fr. Radcliffe about his influence in the synodal model.

I recently read some of your books written in the 1990s, and I found there are many pastoral ideas and also ideas for communication that Pope Francis draws inspiration from, and also many ideas on which the synod is based. Did you also notice this yourself or perhaps you personally suggested this to the Pope? I know that soon after your appointment, Pope Francis invited you at the Vatican for a long meeting. And I would like to ask you if you consider yourself one of the builders of the synod and of the method with which it has worked?

As expected, Radcliffe denied have that kind of influence.

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet asked, Brother Alois, “It’s clear that there are some inside the church who are very skeptical and opposed to the Synod reforms and the Synod.  But we saw at the beginning of this gathering, a prayer vigil with many other Christian leaders. So to what extent do you think this synod can bring about a new moment for Christian unity? And would that mean that those who resist the synod, perhaps that oppose it… just might walk away?  But there are new opportunities for relations with other Christians?

Brother Alois responded:

I can only say that during these weeks, I saw that there was an evolution and a change in people because there was true listening. And in these three weeks, yes, there was this opening. And I think that at the end of this synod, we are no longer the same persons. There was truly a transformation. And there was an opening to listening. There is a huge diversity within the church. This is clear. There are so many different cultures, and this has its impact or importance, but we need to move forward. We must try to understand each other more and more. And also we must understand the different cultures, including collegial cultures. This is a journey to be made, but we are doing this. 

Tomorrow we see the document.  Let’s pray it is worthy.

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 26: Some Would Rather Talk Than Listen; Next Synod: Same Members; No Fancy Lace Please

Some Would Rather Talk Than Listen

Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter gave us some insights into the inner workings of the synod today.  All is not harmonious.  This listening project is getting under the skin of some bishops who, truth be told, would rather preach and decree than listen.  White reported, “As the month has grinded along, there have been multiple reports of synod delegates complaining that the emphasis on listening.”

Another incident that White reported involved a priest following what a bishop, the secretary for the table, was putting to paper.

Another delegate recalled an incident at their roundtable where a priest was watching a bishop — who was serving as the roundtable’s secretary — take notes to later report back to the full assembly. The bishop, apparently irritated that a priest was looking over his shoulder, snapped that if he refused to stop monitoring him, he would throw him out.  “The bishop didn’t seem to understand that in this environment, he didn’t have the authority to do that,” the delegate said. 

But the lay participants get it.  In fact, the head of the synod office, Cardinal Grech told White some time ago that lay people are better at this.  He said, “Synodality is ingrained in the nature of the people of God,” he said. “In the laity, I felt we are not bringing something new. To the contrary, we were harping a chord in their heart and they were ready to sing and to dance to this music.”

October 26 press briefing/Vatican media

The Examination of the Draft Document Begins

There were 349 present in the Assembly in the morning session.

Sheila Pires talked about the voting process on the Letter to the People of God.  

Yesterday, in the afternoon, with 348 members.  Everyone voted on the Letter to the People of God with 336 in favor, 12 against.  After that a debate was opened on the draft synthesis report.

The pope also intervened.

Among the topics discussed were the sensus fidelium, the role of women and the women who accompanied Jesus and it was said that women must be subject, not an object in the church.  Abuse of women was also discussed.  Vatican II was also discussed, ecumenism, and forms of cultural colonialism.

Paolo Ruffini explained, “this morning, the examination of the draft Synthesis Report began by the Small Circles for the presentation of the collective ‘modi’, which can be integrations or eliminations.  “Before the start of the work in the Circles, after the prayer, the Commission for the drafting of the Synthesis Document shared with the Assembly the criteria underlying the Document that will be submitted for a vote on Saturday, and which we are now examining,” said Ruffini. After this process, the document that will be submitted to the Pope as the outcome of the Synod will be the one approved for the second Assembly in October 2024.”

Joining the press briefing were Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Opuku Onyinah, a representative of the World Pentecostal Federation and former president of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana, also present at the Synod as a fraternal delegate, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the Archbishop of Poznań and the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, and Dr Catherine Clifford, a Canadian and a professor of systematic and historical theology at St. Paul University in Ottawa, and His Eminence Joseph (Pop) of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitanate of Western and Southern Europe.

Several that joined were fraternal delegates, people who are invited to participate actively but who do not have a vote.  Twelve fraternal delegates from the four major Christian traditions were invited: three from the Orthodox Church, three from the Oriental Orthodox Churches, three from historic Protestant Communions, and three from Pentecostal-Evangelical communities.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, said that the  ecumenical dimension of the Synod was a centerpiece for strengthening ecumenism.

Opuku Onyinah, also present at the Synod as a fraternal delegate and member of the International Catholic-Pentecostal Joint Commission, observed that the openness of the synodal path was his is “a sign of maturity at the highest level that has been demonstrated by the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, President of the Polish Episcopal Conference seemed to be amazed that harmony was maintained even though a diverse group of those outside the Catholic tradition were participating.

A Lesson in Ecumenism

Catherine Clifford commented that, “The whole ecumenical movement is a movement of church reform.”

She gave a brilliant exposition on the powerful relationship between Vatican II, Ecumenism, and Synodality.

Pope Francis first spoke about synodality soon after his election as the bishop of Rome in 2013. He mentioned the important work contained in the Ravenna Document of the joint Orthodox Catholic Theological Commission that explored the conciliar or synodal nature of the church and the exercise of authority.  Francis observed and as Cardinal Koch just reminded us that the Catholic Church has much to receive and to learn from the Orthodox Church concerning the practice of synodality.  This perspective was repeated several months later in his apostolic exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel.  Already in 1995, John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Ut Unum Sint, On the Catholic Commitment to Ecumenism committed himself and his successors to “the request made of him“ by ecumenical partners to find a way of exercising the Roman primacy, which while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, could better serve the bonds of communion between the churches.

And in the years since 1995 many Christian communion‘s have responded with constructive observations and suggestions concerning this renewal of the exercise of primacy in response to his invitation for dialogue and study on this matter.  And I’m very aware that our colleagues in the Dicastery for Unity has been studying these suggestions.  And the work of many official bilateral dialogue’s, the work of scholars and church leaders who have been studying the question of the exercise of authority in the church, and pointing to the need for primacy to be balanced by collegiality.

The cooperation of all the bishops in church governance and synodality with the development of structures, for gathering all the baptized faithful and encouraging their full participation at every level of church life.  The desire of all the worlds’ bishops to take on the theme of synodality, as the priority, for the presents and synodal process is the fruit of decades of reflection, in a long process of maturation that has been nourished by the dialogues that go on on a regular basis between ecumenical partners.

An important feature of the synodal assembly as we’ve heard is the presence of fraternal delegates from other Christian world communions. This is not a new practice, but it is to me one the perhaps we take too much for granted.  The contributions of the fraternal delegates to reflections this past month have been very important.

Very helpful in the Canadian context when we were going through the synodal process and the consultation at the local level across Canada, important exchanges took place between representatives of other Christian churches who shared their own experiences with us concerning their practices of synodal church governance. This is an important example of what we call receptive ecumenism, learning from one another’s best practices — each church, recognizing the need for renewal and growth, so that we might all better live the Gospel.

Finally synodality has also become a preferred image or paradigm for our common journey toward becoming a church that is fully reconciled. The faith that we share in Jesus Christ, the source of salvation, for all humankind is much greater than the questions that continue to divide us. Humanity has need of our united witness, a credible witness to the possibility of healing and reconciliation.  So by walking together, sharing, God’s abundant love for all humanity and all creation, we are growing closer and learning to live again as one.  The witness of the leaders of the Christian world communions to gather together in prayer with us at the opening of the Synod was a powerful sign of our commitment to walk together, and to receive the gift of unity, so deeply desired by Christ. He’s prayed for all his followers to be made one so that we might be a prophetic sign in a divided world.

Q & A

A journalist asked Professor Clifford,

Pope Francis said that he wishes to see the church as the faithful people of God reminding us of Vatican Council too. I would like to know if this theology of the people of God refers to that ecumenical dimension which is deepened in the faculties of theology.

Clifford responded:

Your first question has to do with the importance of Pope Francis invitation for us to take more seriously the understanding of the church as the People of God. For, I think the last 30 years, there have been important conversations between theologians at the international level on the common understanding of the church. And it’s quite remarkable to see the parallels between the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that understands the church as a mystery of communion and as a People of God. This is echoed in the work of the International Faith and Order Commission in its document “The Church: Towards a Common Vision.” So I would say, it’s a very biblical ecclesiology. It’s one we certainly share with other Christian churches. So, these approaches help us to grow in a common understanding of the church.

The same journalist also asked about the priest abuse scandals and how synodality might help.

Clifford responded,

How do we help,  seminarians to become more attuned to a synodal culture in the church? I think that has been often raised in our conversations through this last month the importance of formation —  formation and education for every member of the baptized faithful.  But with special attention on the formation for candidates for ordination in the seminaries. So this notion of the church that is a synodal body and taking seriously the equal dignity of all the baptized is at the heart of this.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poland said they have lengthened the time of formation and are including sciences in the curriculum for future priests…. In order to be synodal, the candidates must learn a, a new way of discussing and a new way of establishing relationships with other people.

No Talk on Married Priests?

Fr. Tom Reese from Religion News Service asked

In the preparation for this session of the synod in the consultations, there was a lot of concern in various parts of the world about the shortage of priests, and there was suggestions for ordaining married men. This doesn’t seem to have been discussed hardly at all at this synod, and I’m wondering why.

Ruffini gave an evasive answer saying, “We shall see because this document is still being drafted. We talked about the topic of celibacy so it wasn’t a missed debate topics.”

Koch added:

I remember that during the synod on the Amazon we spoke about priestly vocations and  we spoke about the need for celibacy. And at the end, the Holy Father did not decide wfor a very interesting reason . He said, I listened to many voices, but I did not hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. So it was an excessively political discussion and very little theological and spiritual. And that is why, um, it seems to me that I, he pointed at the way to follow, to deal with these issues in a synod and not in a political and democratic way. 

And in listening to other traditions, I am reminded how much infighting there over this issue.  For His Eminence Joseph (Pop) of the Romanian Orthodox, this is normal and he offered the wisdom of a tried and true tradition.

To answer this question, we, the Orthodox Church, after thousands of a millennium of thousands of years of priests who were married remind the Catholic church that this is a  possibility.

Finally, Clifford weighed in.

There have been wide open exchanges between Eastern Catholic bishops and bishops of the Latin church concerning married priests.  I think it’s a conversation that’s worth pursuing.  To hear the lived tradition in the Eastern churches and the gift and the ministry of married priests is something I think that’s an open question for consideration. It’s not absent from the conversation that we’ve heard in these weeks.

Next Synod: Same Members

A journalist asked if the members of the synod this year will be the same members that go to the 2024 synod.  Dr. Ruffini replied that they would be the same members.

So the people featured in the main photo for this post will be back in 2024.  That is really important to know,  especially as participants go about their business this next year while under the same restrictions about not speaking with journalists that Pope Francis called for at the beginning of the synod.

No Fancy Lace Please

Pope Francis delivered a message to synod participants.

While the metaphors about women never fail to underwhelm me, his distaste for clericalism is right on target.

When ministers go too far in their service and mistreat the people of God, they disfigure the face of the Church with macho and dictatorial attitudes (it is enough to recall the intervention of Sr. Liliana Franco). It is painful to find in some parish offices the “price list” of sacramental services in the manner of a supermarket. Either the Church is the faithful people of God on the way, saint and sinner, or it ends up being a company of various services. And when pastoral workers take this second path, the Church becomes the supermarket of salvation and the priests mere employees of a multinational corporation. This is the great defeat to which clericalism leads us. And this is very sad and scandalous (it is enough to go to ecclesiastical tailor’s shops in Rome to see the scandal of young priests trying on cassocks and hats or albs and lace-covered robes).

Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages the face of the Lord’s bride; it enslaves God’s holy and faithful people.

“Get Out of Class” Note

On a humorous note, Justin McLellan reported that Wyatt Olivas, the youngest synod member  at age 19 and an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, got Pope Francis to sign a note asking that he be excused from his classes for a few days.

Now that is fun!


SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 25: The Draft Synthesis is Distributed; A Synodal Church Must be Willing to Sit at the Feet of Women; Tears of Joy for Marianne

This has been a big day filled with lots of news.  Much of it is exciting and joyful, and some of it will stick in your throat.  Yet, it is such a gift to be a part of history in the making in this monolith of an institution.  And, in the end, women will find justice and equality.

October 25 press panel/vatican media

At the press briefing today Dr. Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires were joined by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D. (I am not a fan), President of the USCCB, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, C.S.Sp., Archbishop of Bangui, the first Central African Republic cardinal, Cardinal Robert Francis Prevost, O.S.A.  who previously served as Bishop of Chiclayo and is currently prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops  and observer, Professor and theologian Nora K Nonterah Lecturer at

Today, the Letter to the People of God” was released.  It was intended to be a summary of participants’ experience detailing the work of the past few weeks, and expressing the hope that in the coming months, everyone will be able to “concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word ‘synod'”.  The full text of the letter is below.

The Synod Secretary Must Have Gotten the Message about Applause Voting

Today, the Letter to the People of God” was released.  It was intended to be a summary of participants’ experience detailing the work of the past few weeks, and expressing the hope that in the coming months, everyone will be able to “concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word ‘synod'”.  The full text of the letter is below.

Sheila Pires explained the process for the final approval vote for the Letter to the People of God.  Yesterday, Colleen Dulle had asked some important questions about how the final votes were going to be conducted indicating that at least one participant was opposed to the vote by clapping method.  But Sheila explained today that, because there were amendments, it was voted on.

This morning (October 25) the letter to the people of God was distributed. It was amended based on the suggestions made by the assembly through verbal or written interventions. The letter was translated into several languages, and it’s going to be voted this afternoon. The letter is a very simple text whose aim consists in sharing the positive experience we are making in during these days. At first, we thought we could approve it by acclamation to leave more time for discussion on the synthesis report. And as we said during the last briefing on Monday, this letter was received with a general round of applause. But because some changes were requested in the different languages, the Synod Secretariat decided that the letter would be voted on this afternoon (Tuesday).  Proposals made during the general congregation up until 6pm (on Monday) were included. So the letter was read this morning (Tuesday morning). It’s going to be voted in the afternoon (Tuesday afternoon), and only the members of the Synod are authorized to vote. The vote is going to be electronic and secret so as to ensure the personal freedom of everyone.

So, the person(s) who was rightly dissatisfied with an applause based vote was heard and the voting process was corrected to make sure every vote counted.  It is good to know that those who dissent from a process are getting a say.

The Draft Synthesis Report Distributed for Discussion

Paolo Ruffini told journalists that the 40 page synthesis report was distributed to synod participants today for further discussion.
The synthesis report was disseminated. It is a 40 page document. It was distributed in Italian and English with working translations in the other languages. We also explained how the document is going to be discussed and voted and to reassert the authority of this assembly which is made up of non bishop members as well. It’s a consultative body, and the participation of bishops is established by ‘Episcopalis Communio.’

Ruffini spends time defending the clout of the synod with its non-bishop members.

This is a discernment phase which has been set out in Episcopalis Communio. And the episcopal character of this assembly is not compromised by the presence of members who are not bishops. Their presence has not changed the nature of this assembly, which is still episcopal. 

It is clear there are some pesky challenges to the authority of this synod that Francis is trying to counter.

The Plan for the Next Few Days

Ruffini laid out the plan for the next few days until the synod ends on Saturday.


After the vote on the letter, we shall start discussing the text with interventions in the whole and discussions in the small groups.  Only members will be able to intervene. In other words, those with voting rights.


The discussion of the draft synthesis document is going to continue tomorrow morning in the small groups and tomorrow afternoon during the general congregation.  It will be devoted to collecting proposals on methods and steps for the next stage of the synodal process, which begins this October through next year.


The general congregation of Friday morning is going to be devoted to the topic that we should have addressed yesterday afternoon — proposals for the next step in the synodal process.  It will be devoted to collecting proposals on methods and steps for the next stage of the synodal process, which begins this October through next year.


The Final Synthesis report will be read out on Saturday morning and voted on Saturday afternoon.

How the Amendment Process Works

Every group and every single member may present proposals for eliminating, adding something or replacing some passages in the report through amendments. The amendments of every small group will have to be approved one by one in the small groups with an absolute majority of those who are present and with voting, right. In addition to collective amendments, every member can send in a personal amendment not presented in the small group or not approved by the small group.

Guests at the Press Briefing Speak

Cardinal Robert Francis Prevost, Prefect for the Dicastery of Bishops offered a witness first.

I want to thank all of you for your work and the important service that you provide,  in communicating the content, the message, and, above all the Spirit of what this synod is about.  I’d like to make mention of what was said in the introduction about me being a member of the order of St. Augustine because I believe that St. Augustine himself has already had and will continue to have great contribution to the synodal Spirit in the church.

Personally, being an Augustinian, a member of religious life, it has been mentioned in the Synod that consecrated life has a great deal to contribute to the church in mission, in witness of what consecration is about, what service is about, especially from the perspective of community life and promoting communion in the church.

St. Augustine is also very well known for his teaching about theological issues — about the balance and need to understand both faith and reason as a part of the human experience of searching for God.  Of uniting mind and heart and not separating them.  Teaching us all the importance of listening to God’s word and in many other areas as well, in terms of promoting unity in the church.  I say all of that because it’s part of what has formed my own experience before I came to the synod,  As a member of the synod, it was also mentioned that I was bishop in Peru for nine years before being called by Pope Francis to return to Rome.In the diocese where I worked, we had diocesan assemblies very much in a synodal style for seven of the nine years that I was there.

My first year there, we began a new pastoral program. During the course of every year, we would organize what today we might call synodal assemblies — assemblies of representatives from all the different movements and all the different parishes of the diocese …to find ways to work together and to search together for the kind of church that we are looking for today — reaching out to the poor, to the neediest, to those on the margins, to those who do not frequently come to church, if you will.

The synodal style of promoting church life is something that Latin America has been very familiar to many of us who are in this synod. Speaking about the synod itself, I would underline some of those aspects.

    • The importance of learning to listen to everyone.
    • Learning to dialogue with trust. 

This style of the synod is one you’re all very familiar now  — having groups sit around at tables, 10 to 12 people at each table to talk about the different issues in what has been called, Conversations in the Spirit.’ 

These have done a great deal to enable all of us to understand — to think on a much deeper level to what it is that we’re being called to — and how important it is to continue to move forward as church with this dimension of communion, common life, trust, dialogue with one another, but always looking for truth. Not putting forth my agenda, but rather looking for what God is asking of us today in the church. So all of this, I think, has been, uh, a very positive experience. Difficulties arise as they do in any human experience. And yet there’s been a very good climate,.  We’ve come through now into the final days of this part of the Synod, because as you know, this will continue again through this coming year and for this next session of the Synod next year. But all of this, I think, is something that is teaching us to learn to trust more in God and to walk together listening to one another and looking for ways to respond to the reality and the needs in the world today. 

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, explained that his country is stricken by war.  He told of efforts of both Catholics and Protestants to speak with the rebels and ask them to stop for the good of the people.  Pope Francis also tried to help in this effort.

Synodality, the effort of listening deeply to others, takes on a new meaning in a a world where there is “war, suffering,  and migration.”

Agreeing to Disagree that Someone is Created in the Image of God?

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D. (I’ve not been a fan) followed in the lineup waxing on rather poetically about the methodology of the synod.  But the pleasantness of his voice made his words even more jarring.

I think listening, as his eminence said very well, if we do more listening, we might have a world that’s a little more open to the other, a little more respectful of the dignity of the human person. Certainly so much of our world is filled with shouting and with the inability to listen to the other, even if we disagree to recognize that a person represents someone created in the image and likeness of Almighty God.
Wow!  That was a stunner.  And those harsh words bespoke his hard heart rather than the softening encounter that comes with authentic synodality.  That is too bad.  I had hoped for more.

A Synodal church must be willing to sit at the feet of women, especially lay women who are from the global south

Nora K Nonterah was a breath of fresh air after Broglio.  I loved her sure presence on the panel and her wise and insightful words.  She would make a great Pope.
I found it as a space of encounter of diversity and relationality with individuals, with traditions, with cultures, and any methodological consciousness and encounter with the Holy Spirit. Within this context of encounter, what I found very inspiring is that you can have deep conversations with people of different backgrounds. You have cardinals, you have bishops, you have priests. You have religious men and women. You have lay people from different professions, sharing a table to discuss and have deep conversations on issues that are important to all of us.
I felt listened to as a lay person, as a woman, as an African.

I come to this with some unique existential experiences. I am one of the two African women who are lay to be here in this synod. I am one of the few female theologians from the continent.

This is my first time to participate in a Synod. I was however fortunate to be part, and involve myself so much in the African synodal initiative, and that was very helpful. But as I come to the synod, I come to the synod with the hopes, the joys, the dreams, the anxieties, and lamentations, but also the resilience of the African women, lay people from the continent, and in fact, the entire church that might not always get to sit at the center of the table of discourse.

I have become convinced in these days that a Synodal church must be willing to sit at the feet of women, especially lay women who are from the global south, to learn how to renew the church’s imagination oriented to the Holy Spirit who mediates abundance of life for all.

Inspired by the significance of the maternal role of our lady Mother Mary. I tend to believe that African women can’t teach the church how to be a mother for all — how to be a visionary mother for all her children. My conviction is that synodality is the best way to live as a church that can give true witness to the Gospel. However,  for us to emerge as a synodal church, in my opinion, can only be possible if we have true, authentic, and deep formation that is rooted in conversation in the Spirit. And the Spirit always invites us to celebrate our differences, not to hide them, but to recognize and celebrate them.

We need to give a preferential option for the laity

She continued.

Also important to this same issue is my conviction, that we need to give a preferential option for the laity in the educational fields of the church, like theology, canon law, social teachings of the church, ministry of leadership. This should become the norm and practice of a synodal church — to turn to the fruits of baptism as the starting point, the starting place for imagining how to be a relevant church for our world today.

Why do we have to turn to baptism as a starting point? Because we need to create the awareness of core responsibility. We need to foster a culture of co-responsibility, which is at the basis of synodality, and which in fact is how to be a church — how to be a missionary church.

Again, being aware of the experiences of women in most parts of Africa as those who build.  In fact, they are the strength, the strength in the mission of the church through various activities — through their participation in small Christian communities, their participation in parish council councils and many other activities that they organize.

I wish to state from this experience that when women become the major participants in the decision making process of the church at all levels, the church will be enriched. And Pope Francis has led away.

But what is my hope? I have some hopes, but what is that hope? It is that synodality would help us to discover the need for the role of women in governance and decision making structures of the church at all levels.

It is also my hope that synodality would help us to discover the need to prioritize education of women, education of youth, especially in the African continent.

It is also my hope that synodality would help us to discover that as a church, we need to allow ourselves as a church to be students at the table of wisdom where African women are sharers of the spiritual, cultural and ecclesial wisdom.

It is a woman who gave birth to that hero. How then can the woman be left behind? 

Professor Nonterah extolls the wisdom found in an African song (which I could not understand).  She boils down what we have often heard about Mary.

It is a woman who gave birth to that hero. How then can the woman be left behind? 

As a theologian friend of mine recently reminded me, Fr. Tissa Ballasuriya, OMI, who was clobbered by Ratzinger at the time, had a similar observation, “How can the womb which enabled the incarnation be viewed as an obstacle to ordination?”

Q & A

Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service asked two questions.
The first was about the Pope’s commission on safeguarding that asked that the Synod dedicate substantial discussion to addressing sexual abuse that would include listening to survivors. She asked, “How would any of you gauge this level of discussion so far, and how do you see safeguarding might benefit from a more synodal approach in the church?”
She addressed the other question to Cardinal Provest. “Does the synodal model or approach being used here open up any pathways for involving more laypeople in consultations for the appointments of bishops?
On devoting time to the victims of abusers, how do you evaluate the level of the discussion on these topics within the assembly?
Unfortunately, Cardinal Provest gave the pat answer, “This is a synod on synodality” and downplayed any talk about clergy sex abuse.  “I think it’s important also that be kept in a proper perspective because the whole life of the church does not revolve around that specific issue as important as it is.”
Now that was a sad response.
But, both Sheila Pires and Nora Nonterah responded with heart.  Sheila explained how her country is working to create structures of accountability to confront sex abuse, and Nora Nonterah was quick to point out that synodality is a vital step to confronting clergy sex abuse in a church that has been corrupted by power.
There were many more questions from journalists, but I want to focus on two that were really important.

Are U.S. Bishops Responsible?

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet took aim at Archbishop Borglio.  Borglio had stated that one of the things he would want to see change about the synod was a better response from Catholics.  He stated that only about 1% of Catholics had engaged in the synodal process.
Lamb asked,
You mentioned that less than 1% participate in the synodal process and that we need to encourage greater participation, but to what extent do the bishops, bishops in particular, have in ensuring greater participation.  As has been noted synodality was not featured in meetings.  For example, at the June, 2023 meetings, synodality was not on the agenda for the bishops. I mean, to what extent, do you have have some responsibility for that lack of participation?
Exposed, Broglio made a small, half hearted concession that the U.S. bishops could have done more.  But he was more than defensive, “The bishops met in executive session on the topic.”  And he seemed to say it was a problem with the priests.  That may be true.  But who has authority over the priests?
I was embarrassed for him.

How did you three hear Prof. Nora’s call?

The next marvelous question came from Joshua McElwee at the National Catholic Reporter.  I was practically cheering!  He took Professor Nora’s witness and asked the 3 prelates how they would respond to her.
At the beginning of the briefing, we heard a, a moving testimony from Dr. Nora calling for the church to consider women in more levels of governance at the church. I’m wondering, how did the three of you hear that call and how do you think we make that concrete? Is that something that would result in women as deacons, women as priests, women leading Vatican, dicastries? How do we answer that call?
And then down the patriarchal rabbit hole they went.
Cardinal Prevost, in true form as the Prefect of Bishops, responded:
Yeah, the short answer is it’s a work in progress. We’re all familiar with the very significant and long tradition of the church that the apostolic tradition is something that has been spelled out very clearly, especially if you want to talk about the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood.
There have been two commissions established to study the possibility of women deacons.  Conclusions to my knowledge, have not been published. But, because the commissions were established, it means there certainly is openness to giving it consideration.
However, something that needs to be said also is that ordaining women, and there have been some women that have said this, interestingly enough.  Clericalizing women doesn’t necessarily solve a problem. It might make a new problem. And perhaps we need to look at a new understanding or different understanding of both leadership, power, authority, and service.  Above all service in the church from the different perspectives that can brought to the life in the church by women and men.
So, there are conversations going on. There is an officialstudy going on, but I think that one of the things that has come become clear during even this month.  In society, women are recognized.  Women can be president or a woman can have many different kinds of roles of leadership in the world. It’s not like there’s an immediate parallel in the church…I think the life of the church, is different and needs to be different. And so some of those questions will continue to be there to be reflected upon. But it isn’t as simple as saying that at this stage we’re going to change the tradition of the church after 2000 years on any one of those points. Meantime, as I’ve already said, women are continually taking on new roles of leadership. It’s a slow process, including in the Holy Sea. A woman was just appointed as the number two, officer in the Dicastery for Consecrated Life.  And, I think there’s will be a continuing recognition of the fact that women can add a great deal to the life of the church on many different levels.
I always feel like I am in the Twilight Zone when I hear churchmen blatantly profiting from false equivalencies.  Of course, we should all be fighting against clericalism. But that is not a legitimate argument for continuing to keep women out,  Excluding women is a function of clericalism, not a cause. I am very weary of churchmen, including the Pope, who have used the mess they made and the unchecked power they enabled, as a reason for keeping women from a particular ordained ministry.  That not only makes little sense, it is logic in pursuit of an unjust goal.
But, not to be outdone, Archbishop Borglio added his comments.
Women have not had an influence in the church? (he laughs) When I think of the Catholic school system in the United States and the role that the sisters who taught in those schools had…I’m the only diocesan priest on this panel, but I think if you talk to most diocesan priests, they will trace their first inklings of a vocation to the work of the Sisters in the schools. They were a tremendous source of influence. So I think the assumption that because all roles aren’t occupied at all levels by women, that therefore they have no influence is false.
Yep, I give the two Americans a low score on their performance today when it comes to issues dear to my heart – women and LGBTQ+ people. May they learn authentic synodality.

Here is the Letter to the People of God

Read it, share your thoughts

Here is the letter that was approved this afternoon.  Read it for yourself.  I’d be curious to hear what you think.  If you want to share your thoughts, write me at  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

As the proceedings of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops draw to a close, we want to thank God with all of you for the beautiful and enriching experience we have lived. We lived this blessed time in profound communion with all of you. We were supported by your prayers, bearing with you your expectations, your questions, as well as your fears. As Pope Francis requested two years ago, a long process of listening and discernment was initiated, open to all the People of God, no one being excluded, to “journey together” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, missionary disciples engaged in the following of Jesus Christ.

The session in which we have been gathered in Rome since 30 September is an important phase of this process. In many ways it has been an unprecedented experience. For the first time, at Pope Francis’ invitation, men and women have been invited, in virtue of their baptism, to sit at the same table to take part, not only in the discussions, but also in the voting process of this Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Together, in the complementarity of our vocations, our charisms and our ministries, we have listened intensely to the Word of God and the experience of others. Using the conversation in the Spirit method, we have humbly shared the wealth and poverty of our communities from every continent, seeking to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the Church today. We have thus also experienced the importance of fostering mutual exchanges between the Latin tradition and the traditions of Eastern Christianity. The participation of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities deeply enriched our discussions.

Our assembly took place in the context of a world in crisis, whose wounds and scandalous inequalities resonated painfully in our hearts, infusing our work with a particular gravity, especially since some of us come from countries where war rages. We prayed for the victims of deadly violence, without forgetting all those who have been forced by misery and corruption to take the dangerous road of migration. We assured our solidarity and commitment alongside the women and men all over the world who are working to build justice and peace.

At the invitation of the Holy Father, we made significant room for silence to foster mutual listening and a desire for communion in the Spirit among us. During the opening ecumenical vigil, we experienced how the thirst for unity increases in the silent contemplation of the crucified Christ. In fact, the cross is the only cathedra of the One who, having given himself for the salvation of the world, entrusted His disciples to His Father, so that “they may all be one” (John 17:21). Firmly united in the hope brought by His Resurrection, we entrusted to Him our common home where the cries of the earth and the poor are becoming increasingly urgent: “Laudate Deum!” (“Praise God!”), as Pope Francis reminded us at the beginning of our work.

Day by day, we felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion. For the Church’s vocation is to proclaim the Gospel not by focusing on itself, but by placing itself at the service of the infinite love with which God loved the world (cf. John 3:16). When homeless people near St. Peter’s Square were asked about their expectations regarding the Church on the occasion of this synod, they replied: “Love!”. This love must always remain the ardent heart of the Church, a Trinitarian and Eucharistic love, as the Pope recalled on October 15, midway through our assembly, invoking the message of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. It is “trust” that gives us the audacity and inner freedom that we experienced, not hesitating to freely and humbly express our convergences, differences, desires and questions.

And now? We hope that the months leading to the second session in October 2024 will allow everyone to concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word “synod”. This is not about ideology, but about an experience rooted in the apostolic tradition. As the Pope reminded us at the beginning of this process, “communion and mission can risk remaining somewhat abstract, unless we cultivate an ecclesial praxis that expresses the concreteness of synodality (…) encouraging real involvement on the part of each and all” (October 9, 2021). There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: the synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed.

To progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest. This requires a path of conversion on its part, which is also a path of praise: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21)! It means listening to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church; listening to people who are victims of racism in all its forms – in particular in some regions to indigenous peoples whose cultures have been scorned. Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.

The Church also needs to listen to the laity, women and men, all called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal vocation: to the testimony of catechists, who in many situations are the first proclaimers of the Gospel; to the simplicity and vivacity of children, the enthusiasm of youth, to their questions, and their pleas; to the dreams, the wisdom and the memory of elderly people. The Church needs to listen to families, to their educational concerns, to the Christian witness they offer in today’s world. She needs to welcome the voice of those who want to be involved in lay ministries and to participate in discernment and decision-making structures.

To progress further in synodal discernment, the Church particularly needs to gather even more the words and experience of the ordained ministers: priests, the primary collaborators of the bishops, whose sacramental ministry is indispensable for the life of the whole body; deacons, who, through their ministry, signify the care of the entire Church for the most vulnerable. She also needs to let herself be questioned by the prophetic voice of consecrated life, the watchful sentinel of the Spirit’s call. She also needs to be attentive to all those who do not share her faith but are seeking the truth, and in whom the Spirit, who “offers everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudium et Spes 22), is also present and operative.

“The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium” (Pope Francis, October 17, 2015). We do not need to be afraid to respond to this call. Mary, Mother of the Church, the first on the journey, accompanies our pilgrimage. In joy and in sorrow, she shows us her Son and invites us to trust. And He, Jesus, is our only hope!

Vatican City, October 25, 2023

A Cohort of Nuns Want Women’s Ordination

Last evening Heidi Schlumpf of National Catholic Reporter tweeted that there is a group of women religious from Latin America and Europe who are supporting of women’s ordination.

A “cohort” of nuns favoring female ordination, and especially women deacons, has formed at the synod, said participants. The women, mainly from Latin America and some from Europe, are said to have initially bonded because they could all speak Spanish.

This was exciting and I wanted to know more.  Turns out, Claire Giangrave of Religion News Service has an inside scoop.  In the Washington Post today came the story. Giangrave wrote:

Participants were encouraged to maintain the confidentiality of discussions in small working groups taking place at the synod. But attendants told Religion News that the question of the ordination of women remains fairly evenly split, with some bishops leaning against and religious sisters leading the charge in favor.

In many ways, this synod has seen many firsts for women. For the first time, a woman, Sister Nathalie Becquart, is undersecretary of the synod office at the Vatican. Sister Maria de los Dolores Valencia Gomez, a sister of St. Joseph of Lyon, is the first woman to preside over a synod. In the months leading up to the summit, the resources of the Women’s Ordination Worldwide advocacy group were made available for the first time on the synod website.

A record 54 women are participating, including by voting, during the synod. In the past, synod events were exclusively attended by bishops and a few priests who acted as secretaries and writers.

Synod discussions so far have addressed the topics of women’s ordination to the priesthood, a female diaconate and the creation of alternative ministries that would allow women to have an equal representation in the traditionally male-dominated institution.

Whereas the pope has shut the door to the female priesthood in the past, Francis recently opened an unprecedented opportunity for debate on the topic. Answering a series of questions, or dubia, sent by conservative prelates regarding the synodal discussions, Francis said there is no “clear and authoritative doctrine” on the question of ordination, and it can be “a subject of study.”

For some synod participants, the solution is already there: allowing women to become priests or deacons. A significant push toward this solution came from the religious sisters within the synod. A “cohort” of nuns favoring female ordination, and especially female deacons, has formed at the synod, said participants. The women, mainly from Latin America and some from Europe, are said to have initially bonded because they all spoke Spanish.

Nuns from Italy to India have come forward in recent years to denounce unfair treatment by male clergy who, they claim, often regard them as nothing more than free labor. Cases of nuns being sexually abused by priests or bishops also have emerged in recent books and reports.

Liberal-minded nuns at the synod have enthusiastically embraced the cause of a female diaconate, participants said, with some pushing the envelope further by asking for the elimination of titles reserved for clergy, such as “your eminence” or “your excellency,” which they see as promoting clericalism.

But to some, the idea of women being allowed to become priests remains beyond the pale. One synod participant said he felt “violated” by the idea of female priests, while another, Eastern Orthodox, attendant voiced surprise at the Western “obsession” with female clergy. The argument that the ordination of women would fill the emptying seminaries of Europe was challenged by representatives from Africa and Asia who take pride in their growing number of priests.

At the tail end of the synod, the question of whether female ordination will make it into the final document remains uncertain, participants said. The goal of this synod is not to come up with solutions, after all, but to pose questions and foster a feeling of communion. Attendants are likely to vote on an amorphous or scaled-down version of the vibrant debates on women’s ordination that have filled the Vatican halls this month.

It would be very sad to find that women’s ordination is not in the final document.  Let’s hope that advocates already see how this injustice has corrupted the unity in the church.

Tears of Joy

This report by Joshua McElwee from National Catholic Reporter is center stage today because it is so full of Good News about Pope Francis’ healing presence in a church that has too long disdained our LGBTQ+ family.

Pope Francis greeted the leaders of an international association for LGBTQ Catholics at the end of his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 25.

The pontiff spoke with the co-chairs of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, a coalition that draws together LGBTQ Catholic organizations from across six continents. Among U.S.-based members are DignityUSANew Ways Ministry and Fortunate Families.

In an interview with National Catholic Reporter shortly after the encounter, co-chair Marianne Duddy-Burke said Francis was “incredibly gracious” and spent several minutes speaking with the group, which included co-chair Christopher Vella and two others.

Marianne Duddy Burke expresses tears of joy as she meets with Pope Francis

Duddy-Burke, who is also the longtime leader of DignityUSA, said the four together thanked the pope for his comments earlier this year condemning countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality. She called the meeting “a big day for LGBTQ Catholics.”

“I was in tears,” she said. “We have great hope for what he is trying to do to make the church more inclusive.”

Duddy-Burke spoke at a conference over the summer about how she had not been invited to speak inside a Catholic Church in more than three decades because of her LGBTQ Catholic advocacy.

Upon seeing the pope on Oct. 25, she handed him a gift: a T-shirt with the Spanish words “todos, todos, todos” printed on it — from the pope’s now often-cited mantra that the Catholic Church is open to “everyone, everyone, everyone.” 

Duddy-Burke said the pontiff immediately laughed at receiving the shirt.

Francis has focused on LGBTQ Catholics in an uncommon way over the past few

Sr. Jeannine with Gifts from Pope Francis/photo by Joshua McElwee/NCR


On Oct. 17, the pope held an historic, 50-minute meeting with Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a lifelong advocate for LGBTQ ministry who had previously been reprimanded by the Vatican and several U.S. bishops for her work.

Francis also met on Sept. 29 with Jesuit Fr. James Martin, editor of the LGBTQ Catholic publication Outreach, and indicated in a letter released on Oct. 2 that he is open to allowing Catholic blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The Pope’s Message to Fortunate Families

The pope also recently wrote a note to the executive director of Fortunate Families, a Lexington, Kentucky-based Catholic ministry for the LGBTQ community that is part of the Rainbow Catholics coalition.

“Thank you for your ministry,” Francis told Stan “JR” Zerkowski. “I pray for you, please continue to do so for me.”

DignityUSA put out it owns release about the meeting.

What joy! My heart is full!  I am so touched and happy for my brilliant friend, Marianne Duddy Burke.  She is a sister in the work of inclusion and a fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ people.  She is beloved by all who know her and her work is finally being recognized by the Pope.  The whole community rejoices!

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 24: Can We Get Real? A Vote that Blurs the Voice of Women; A Take on Women’s Equality at the Synod

There has been no posting of a press briefing today.  Tomorrow we expect to receive the “Letter to the People of God” that was drafted and approved a few days ago.

Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst, Australia, left, an elected member of the Commission for the Synthesis Report of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, CNS photo/Vatican Media

Can We Get Real?

There has been much written about the way the synod has closed its doors to the media.  It is next to impossible to get anyone to talk about what is going on inside the hall, and when journalists manage to get someone on the line, it is hard to get anything useful in terms of authentic discussions or evolving tensions.  Most of what is being told is at the press briefings and otherwise tends to be overly sentimental and frankly dull soundbites.  As Thomas Reese SJ writes,

Some synods even released the reports from the small group discussions. These reports gave a summary of the discussions but never told who said what. I found them very helpful in writing stories on the synod. At the synod on synodality, major addresses have been open to the press, but, sadly, the reports from the small group discussions remain secret. In addition, the major addresses have been more on process than substance, which gives the media little to talk about. Without access to the small group discussions, the press is not able to get a feel for what is going on in the synod.

A Vote that Blurs the Voice of Women

And while there is no direct news from the synod, Colleen Dulle has discovered at least one woman is not thrilled with the method of approval used for the letter that will be released tomorrow.

According to Dulle:

The letter will likely be fairly anodyne…But the unusual, and unexpected, method of voting by applause has raised questions about whether the synod will approve the final document, which is expected to be more substantial—outlining convergences, divergences, questions for further consideration and ideas for moving forward—in the same way.

One woman, I am told, refused to clap for the letter yesterday, not because she opposed the content but because she was concerned about the method for approval. When the European continental synod assembly approved its document by applause, some of the same concerns were raised: With the applause method, there is no way to register how many people are actually approving or rejecting the document. It is also unclear exactly what the participants are approving if edits are being made afterward. That is not to mention the message it sends to women when the first synod to include them as full, voting members opts to forgo an actual vote in favor of approval by applause.

Dulle reminds readers,

In past synods, the final document was voted on paragraph by paragraph, and sometimes, sentence by sentence. Asked yesterday about whether synod participants would vote on the forthcoming synthesis document in the same way, Vatican spokesman Paolo Ruffini said he could not answer the question because he had not yet seen the final document, and the way that the document is written would determine how voting is done. “It’s being drafted, so at the moment I cannot tell you if we are going to vote [for example] paragraph by paragraph or bullet points. I would imagine that every part would be voted on; I don’t know what we will call each part.”

The Vatican’s schedule for the event refers to Saturday’s session as “approval” of the final document, whereas it referred to yesterday’s approval of the letter to the people of God as “voting.” What will happen? We do not know, but after a two-year process of listening and synthesis, I think the precision that comes from voting on each of the document’s ideas would be the best way to communicate to the church what has happened in this historic moment, and what we are being called to discern in the next 11 months.

Praying for a New World for Migrants and Refugees

In other news, Joshua McElwee and Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter’s “The Vatican Briefing” took a deep dive into the synod work with Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Czerny told McElwee and White that the prayer service for migrants and refugees was upper most in his heart and mind.

Prayer Service for Migrants and Refugees

I was … moved by just the feeling of gathering, the bringing together of God’s people,” said the Jesuit cardinal about the prayer. “This feeling that we are church, and not because we’re identical, which maybe was a false concept of Catholicity in the past; not because we’re identical, but because we’re so different, and yet called by the one Lord to follow him and guided by the one spirit whom he promised to us.

A Take on Women’s Equality at the Synod

Finally, in case you missed it, our friend in the work of women’s equality from India, Virginia Saldanha writes regularly for UCA News, a media outlet that focuses on Catholicism in Asia.

Here is her take on the synod.

Women's groups demonstrate at the Vatican demanding the Synod of Bishops listen to all sections of women to do justice to them in the Church.

Women’s groups demonstrate at the Vatican demanding the Synod of Bishops listen to all sections of women to do justice to them in the Church. (Photo: Virginia Saldanha)

Published: October 10, 2023

Several lay people groups from all parts of the world have been congregating in Rome several days before the start of the Synod on Synodality and continue to do so, to try to get their voices heard.

The first was a group of survivors and advocates of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) in the Catholic Church. A few made a pilgrimage from Montefiascone to Rome carrying a cross with the words, “Zero Tolerance” emblazoned across it.

Their demand to Pope Francis is to implement zero tolerance to end clergy sex abuse as he promised.

From Oct 3 to 6, the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW), Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP), and women supporters representing all continents began their campaign with a Prayer Vigil entitled “Let Her Voice Carry.” About 30 women gathered at the Basilica of St. Praxedis, where four women shared their powerful testimonies of how they as women felt oppressed by the socialization they received in the Catholic Church, and their struggles to break out of the mold and find freedom to be who they felt called to be, faithful followers of Jesus and Ministers of his Mission.

Early in the morning of Oct. 4, before the beginning of the synod’s inaugural Eucharist, women gathered in front of the Castle San Angelo to unfurl a giant purple banner, with the words, “Ordain women,” painted across it.

“We urge all members of the Church to be unafraid of pursuing new paths that empower women as equals”

WOC director, Kate McElwee, said, “We hope our voice is heard in the synod hall. We know that women’s role in the Church is on the agenda. We are here in support of those conversations. We hope that they continue to be courageous, bold and inclusive.”

A small group of WOC officials wanted to deliver this piece of material to the synod office with the message: “Enlarge the space of your tent to include women in the ordained ministry of the Church.”

But they were forbidden from entering Vatican territory.  A few of the women wearing the characteristic pink shirt worn at the event attempted to join the inaugural Mass but were stopped by police and their passports examined.

At the crack of dawn on Oct. 5, Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, dropped a banner over a bridge on the banks of the Tiber with the words, “Faithful Catholics have abortions.” A stark message to the celibate men who make decisions for, and condemn women whose shoes they will never walk in.

On Oct. 6, more than 50 women’s ordination supporters from around the globe present in Rome gathered at a church containing the relic of St. Mary Magdalene’s foot to walk in her footsteps, urging the Church to listen to the voices of women calling out for equality.

“In the spirit of conversion called for by the synod, we urge all members of the Church to be unafraid of pursuing new paths that empower women as equals. Walk with us,” urged McElwee.

Later, seven women from the Catholic Women’s Council met with a group of Italian and Latin American theologians who were providing theological support to the synod participants, at their office. We pointed out the stark difference between the Synod on Amazonia and the Synod on Synodality.

The first was open, where participants could freely interact with those outside the synod hall, while the Synod on Synodality is a closed-door discussion with participants discreetly told not to interact with those outside of the synod.

“Where is participation if Catholics outside are kept at bay and their voices muted?”

The senior priest at the office encouraged us to continue to work to make our voices heard as the synod will only end in 2024.

Beginning on Oct. 8, Spirit Unbounded, a network of all reform organizations began a virtual synod which will continue through this week with 115 voices from all continents. The speakers represent the diversity of the global Church at this hybrid event from Rome and Bristol. They will present “Human Rights in the Emerging Catholic Church” at this lay-led synodal assembly coinciding with the synod in Rome.

Our experiences thus far make us wonder about the meaningfulness of the logo of the Synod on Synodality, where Communion, Participation and Mission are the hallmarks of synodality.

But where is communion if interactions of those inside are restricted with those on the outside?  Where is participation if Catholics outside are kept at bay and their voices muted? Are we all not on a mission together?  Is the Holy Spirit only with those inside and not with us on the outside?

While the weeks ahead will see some more groups coming to Rome to raise their voices on important issues, will the voices on the outside be heard inside?  What about those of us whose voices were never heard at our parish, diocese, or national levels?

Will all voices be really heard at the synod? Especially voices who have no representation inside the synod hall like LGBTQI+ persons and survivors of clergy abuse?






SynodWatch RoundUP for October 23: God is waiting for your reply; Saturday is the Big Day; The Sins of Our Fathers

Today begins the final week of the synod.   A draft of the “Letter to the People of God” was read and applauded by the participants.  They can make additional comments until 6pm today, and then the final text is going to be approved and published on Wednesday.

The work this week for Module 5, will be making changes to the final document – the map that will be used for the next year as we head to the 2024 Synod on Synodality.

Sr. Maria Grazia Angelini O.S.B Photo by Joshua McElwee/NCR

Sr. Maria Grazia Angelini O.S.B gave a beautiful spiritual reflection today about the new stories, new parables, and new narratives  we are telling in the church today.  She ended with:

I pray that this Synod will receive the art of new narratives, the radical humility of those who learn to recognize the likeness of the Kingdom in the truest, most vital dynamisms of the human, of the primary bonds, of the life that pulses mysteriously in all the worlds and spheres of human existence, in an admirable hidden harmony. With such patience. The ability to peer into the night.

Wishing you good final work: in the telling of new parables that help you to think, grow, hope, walk – together.

Dominican Timothy Radcliffe, Vatican Media

Dominican Timothy Radcliffe also offered some thoughtful, tender remarks.  Anybody who quotes Rilke has my attention.

In a few days’ time, we shall go home for eleven months. This will be apparently a time of empty waiting. But it will be probably the most fertile time of the Synod, the time of germination. Jesus tells us: ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how’.

We have listened to hundreds of thousands of words during the last three weeks. Sometimes we have thought: ‘Too many!’  Most of these have been positive words, words of hope and aspiration. These are the seeds that are sown in the soil of the Church. They will be at work in our lives, in our imagination and our subconscious, during these months. When the moment is right, they will bear fruit.

The poet Austrian Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

In spite of all the farmer’s work and worry,
He can’t reach down to where the seed is slowly
‘Transmuted into summer’. The earth bestows.[1]

Then he continued:

These eleven months will be like a pregnancy…

So this is a time of quiet pregnancy…

This is a time of active waiting. Let me repeat the words of Simone Weil I quoted during the retreat. ‘We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them…This way of looking is, in the first place, attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive the human being it is looking at, just as he or she is, in all their truth.[3]

This is profoundly countercultural. The global culture of our time is often polarised, aggressive and dismissive of other people’s views. The cry is: Whose side are you on? When we go home, people will ask, ‘Did you fight for our side? Did you oppose those unenlightened other people?’ We shall need be profoundly prayerful to resist the temptation to succumb to this party-political way of thinking. That would be to fall back into the sterile, barren language of much of our society. It is not the synodal way. The synodal process is organic and ecological rather than competitive. It is more like planting a tree than winning a battle, and as such will be hard for many to understand, sometimes including ourselves!

These are beautiful and gentle words.  But if we can use a metaphor like pregnancy, it will be all the more heartbreaking — and the metaphor will be all the more empty — if we do not see genuine and clear movement toward full equality for women in our church.  And while I do understand the counsel for waiting for the seeds of the synod to grow, I can’t imagine anything other than continued action for justice.  Martin Luther King Jr. may have recognized that that seeds for racial justice were beginning to sprout, but would not have counseled waiting, but moving and working with hearts full of love for the church, for women, for LGBTQ+ people, for those women, children, and men who live at the edges of poverty and war, and more.

God is Waiting for Your Reply

Fr. Ormond Rush Photo from Vatican media

Father Ormond Rush from Australia gave a synthesis report reminding participants of the theological tensions at the Second Vatican Council and what we can learn for the Synod today.  He liberally cites Joseph Ratizinger who was very much about moving the church forward in those days and using Ratzinger he directly addresses those who hold a rigid claim to truth as well as those who need a way out of that mindset.  But the line I love most is, “God is waiting for your reply.”

Having listened to you over these past three weeks, I have had the impression that some of you are struggling with the notion of tradition, in the light of your love of truth. You are not the first to struggle with this. It was a major point of discussion at the Second Vatican Council. I thought it might be helpful to recall the questions they debated, and the answers they came up with. Their answers are, for us, the authority for guiding our reflections on the issues that confront us today. So, maybe Vatican II has some lessons for this synod, as you now bring to synthesis your discernment regarding the future of the church.

Over the four sessions of the council, one of the major recurring points of tension was this matter of “tradition”. In the first 1962 session, a draft text was presented to the assembly on “the sources of revelation”; it was styled in the categories of neo-scholasticism, which spoke of revelation, faith, scripture and tradition in a mostly one-dimensional way: in terms only of propositional doctrinal statements. When put to the council, the bishops virtually rejected it. The next day, Pope John XXIII agreed that a new text was indeed needed. On the historic significance of this debate, as well as the pope’s decision to intervene, the council peritus Joseph Ratzinger wrote at that time:

The real question behind the discussion could be put this way: Was the intellectual position of “anti-Modernism”—the old policy of exclusiveness, condemnation and defense leading to an almost neurotic denial of all that was new—to be continued? Or would the Church, after it had taken all the necessary precautions to protect the faith, turn over a new leaf and move on into a new and positive encounter with its own origins, with its [fellow human beings] and with the world of today? Since a clear majority of the fathers opted for the second alternative, we may even speak of the Council as a new beginning. We may also say that with this decision there was a major advance over Vatican Council I. Both Trent and Vatican Council I set up bulwarks for the faith to assure it and to protect it; Vatican Council II turned itself to a new task, building on the work of the two previous Councils.[1]

That new task was an engagement of Christian faith with history. What Joseph Ratzinger saw during Vatican II as the source of tension here were basically two approaches to tradition. He calls them a “static” understanding of tradition and a “dynamic” understanding.[2] The former is legalistic, propositional, and ahistorical (i.e., relevant for all times and places); the latter is personalist, sacramental and rooted in history, and therefore to be interpreted with an historical consciousness. The former tends to focus on the past, the latter on seeing the past being realised in the present, and yet open to a future yet to be revealed. The council used the phrase “living tradition” to describe the latter (DV, 12). In speaking of the dynamic rather than a static understanding of “the apostolic tradition”, Dei Verbum 8 teaches: “The tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress [proficit, “develops”] in the church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on.” And it goes on to speak of three interrelated ways through which the Holy Spirit guides the development of the apostolic tradition: the work of theologians; the lived experience of the faithful; and the oversight of the magisterium. Sounds like a synodal church, doesn’t it?

According to a dynamic understanding of tradition, says Ratzinger: “Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition; in other words, not every tradition that arises in the Church is a true celebration and keeping present of the mystery of Christ. There is a distorting, as well as a legitimate, tradition… Consequently, tradition must not be considered only affirmatively, but also critically; we have Scripture as a criterion for this indispensable criticism of tradition, and tradition must therefore always be related back to it and measured by it.”[3] Pope Francis alluded to these two different ways of understanding tradition, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Tradition is a living reality and only a partial vision regards the ‘deposit of faith’ as something static. The word of God cannot be moth-balled like some old blanket in an attempt to keep insects at bay! No. The word of God is a dynamic and living reality that develops and grows because it is aimed at a fulfilment that none can halt”.[4]

At the heart of Dei Verbum’s retrieval of a dynamic understanding of tradition was its retrieval of a personalist understanding of revelation, as found in the Bible and in the patristic writings of the early centuries of the church. Revelation is not only a communication of truths about God and human living, which is articulated in Scripture and in the statements of doctrine at particular times in the church’s history, in response to time-conditioned questions put to the tradition. Revelation is primarily a communication of God’s love, an encounter with God the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Dei Verbum speaks of divine revelation in terms personal friendship and encounter, and especially in terms of love and truth. Let me quote DV 2: “By this revelation, then, the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men and women as his friends, and lives among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company… The most intimate truth [intima veritas] thus revealed about God and human salvation shines forth for us in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of revelation.”

In Dei Verbum—and this is important for understanding synodality and the very purpose of this Synod—this divine revelation is presented as an ongoing encounter in the present, and not just something that happened in the past. The event of God’s self-revealing (always in Christ, through the Holy Spirit) and God’s offer of relationship, continues to be a living reality here and now. That doesn’t mean there can be some new revelation of who God is. But, the same God, in the same Jesus Christ, through the enlightenment and empowerment of the same Holy Spirit, is forever engaging with, and dialoguing with, human beings in the ever-new here and now of history that relentlessly moves humanity into new perceptions, new questions and new insights, in diverse cultures and places, as the world-church courses through time into an unknown future until the eschaton.

We see this present-nature of the divine-human dialogue in Dei Verbum 8: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to dialogue with the spouse of his beloved Son [the church]. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the church—and through it in the world—leads believers to the full truth and makes the word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.” Therefore, according to Joseph Ratzinger, in Dei Verbum we are given “an understanding of revelation that is seen basically as dialogue… [T]he reading of Scripture is described as a colloquium inter Deum et hominem [a dialogue between God and human beings]… The dialogue of God is always carried on in the present… with the intention of forcing us to reply.”[5]

This Synod is a dialogue with God. That has been the privilege and challenge of your “conversations in the Spirit.” God is waiting for your reply. At the end of this week of synthesis, you might well want to begin that synthesis by saying, as did that first Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” In their time, their letter to the churches then went on to address an issue on which Jesus himself had left no specific directions. They and the Holy Spirit together had to come to a new adaptation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ regarding that new question, which had not been envisaged before.

Vatican II, accordingly, urged the church to be ever attentive to the movements of the revealing and saving God present and active in the flow of history, by attending to “the signs of the times” in the light of the living Gospel.[6] Discernment of the signs of the times in the present seeks to determine what God is urging us to see—with the eyes of Jesus—in new times; but also urging us to be attentive to the traps—where we could be being drawn into ways of thinking that are not “of God”. These traps could lie in being anchored exclusively in the past, or exclusively in the present, or not being open to the future fulness of divine truth to which the Spirit of Truth is leading the church. Discerning the difference between opportunities and traps is the task of all the faithful—laity, bishops, and theologians—everyone, as Gaudium et Spes 44 teaches: “With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage.”[7] That “revealed truth” is a person, Jesus Christ. So, as we move to discernment of our final synthesis, may we be guided by the injunction of the Letter to the Hebrews 12: 2: “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

This is just brilliant.  He reminded participants that at the Council of Jerusalem they addressed “an issue on which Jesus himself had left no specific directions. They and the Holy Spirit together had to come to a new adaptation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ regarding that new question, which had not been envisaged before.”

May the Synod produce such good results as we look forward to a genuine conversion when to comes to women in the Church, LGBTQ people, and more.

Press panel today

Press briefing

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, Mexican Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Metropolitan Archbishop of Marseille, France, and Sr. Samuela Maria Rigon, General Superior of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother who is a psychologist and professor at the Gregorian.  She was appointed by Pope Francis to participate in the synod.

Cardinal Schönborn commented on what will come out of the synod.  He said, “If out of this council, faith, hope, and charity do not increase, this whole council has been in vain.”

He also spoke about the movement away from a Eurocentric church to a global church where synodality is already much more present in the structures.

A very strong impression for me comes not so much from decentralization, but the fact that Europe is no longer the main center of the church. There are other centers, and this is evident from the daily meetings at the synod with Latin America and Africa.  The Commission of the European conferences have been unable to have the potential that the FABC has developed or CELAM. It hasn’t been enabled to, to develop as they have. So, it is a bit of a criticism that we are lugging behind in the way in which we live synodality among the local, local churches in Europe.  I think we need some stimulus to, to go further, to move on.

Now I have to say that the cardinal has one of the most synodal leaders right within his reach.  Fr. Helmut Schuller has been working with lay persons to create a vibrant synodal church for years and in 2013 shared his message with Catholics in the United States.  The cardinal should learn from one of his own master teachers.

Q & A

Saturday is the Big Day

A journalist began with the question, “When is the final synthesis report going to be published? Is it going to be voted paragraph by paragraph? And when is it going to be published?

The voting of the document is going to take place on Saturday evening. The document is going to be published Saturday evening. It’s perhaps not very convenient in terms of timing, but this is how it’s going to take place because we don’t have the synthesis report yet.  It’s been drafted, so at the moment, I cannot tell you if  we’re going to vote by paragraphs or bullet points. I don’t know. But I imagine that every part is going to be voted on.

He also asked the cardinals on the panel, “In your opinion, will the future conclave have to consider what was said during this month?  And if so, in what way?

Cardinal Retes responded.

My answer if very simple.  If we put into practice what we have defined here, what we have discussed, and what we have experienced, I think that there is a path before us, unless we do this, if we just listen and we, we do not reach the daily life with our responsibilities where nothing is going to happen. So everything really depends on us and on what we do when we go back to our own dioceses, when we put into practice what we have been saying, what we expect as as a church in the future.

Cardinal Schönborn and Cardinal Retes CNS photo

The Schönborn Fest

Most of the questions were directed to Cardinal Schönborn.  Another journalist asked the cardinal:

Of all the synods you took part in, it seems to me evident that this assembly is not going to come up with concrete decisions concerning the individual issues and topics that were discussed also, because there’s going to be another assembly next year.  But I would like to ask if a consensus is emerging concerning this method. So we can imagine that  in the near future, in the church at all levels, this synodal system is going to be adopted from the parish level to the diocese level. Are you going to adopt this system of an assembly that includes laypersons and women voting on decisions, even though at the end it is a pastor…or the bishop who takes the final decision. Can we imagine that the synodal method, which is the model of the second Vatican Council — discussion, vote, and then the Pope who decides — can this method be adopted also in a binding and structural way at all in all levels of the church? Or this method going to be limited to synodal assemblies and it’s not going to be introduced in the concrete life of the church?

Cardinal Schönborn responded,

Starting from the Council of Jerusalem, which is as old as a church, the method is listening.  First of all, what type of listening?  Listening to what God is showing us through the experience of journeying. First, Peter speaks about his experience and after Paul and Barnabas speak, in turn, the decision comes from this common listening and discernment.  I am used to a similar method that we adopted in the Archdiocese of Viena since 2012, up to the present day.  We have had five diocesan assemblies with 1,400 participants – with priests, bishops, laypersons, everyone, well, the People of God. And, we did not vote, but we experienced listening and communion. And, of course, we must come to some decisions. 

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet asked:

We have heard the integrity of the Synod Assembly questioned by some because the synod includes lay members as delegates. As someone who has attended many synods, what would you say to the claim that this synod is somehow lesser or can be questioned because it’s not really a synod of bishops?

Schönborn was quick to respond:

I can’t see, I can’t see the problem.  It remains an episcopal synod with real participation of non bishops. But it’s a real participation. The fundamental position of the episcopal synod was created by Pope Paul VI. It is a consultative organ for the exercise of the papal ministry. This does not at all diminish synod votes.  Whenever we have voted in the synod, we have voted for something we consider to be important that the Holy Father should consider for his own magisterium, in collegiality with the bishops, in a communion with the whole church, and mainly in communion with the faith of the church, which is neither invented by the Pope, nor invented by the synod, which is the faith of the apostles we all share…So it has not changed in nature. It has been enlarged. And my experience is that it is a very positive experience…And I remember some interventions of lay experts that have been of great importance.

The Sins of Our Fathers

Another journalist asked if the Catechism could be changed to reduce the damage it causes to LGBTQ+ people because the language of “instrinsically disordered” is used.

Here is the text:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Schönborn gave a disappointing response saying that the Pope has changed the Catechism on the death penalty but not on this.  He said it is up to the Pope.  It is hard to imagine how this atrocious language can stand and that fact that it does is just plain sinful.

A journalist from Catholic News Agency asked Schönborn:

This morning in the Synod Hall delegates heard from theologian Fr. Orman Rush about the Synod being in dialogue with God and that God “is waiting for your reply.”  This week, as you work on the synthesis document, Rush also quoted extensively from Vatican II’s Dei Verbum on divine revelation, which says there’s no new public revelation before Christ returned.  What, your eminence, is the proper relationship between the authority of the magisterium and bishops to teach and preserve the deposit of faith, and the contribution of theologians and the sensus fidelium? And what role will the latter, the theologians and the laity, have in the determining of church teaching going forward? And how is the synod exploring structures and processes to incorporate this? 

The cardinal replied

That would need a whole lecture on fundamental theology. But it is clear that there are two elements. Look at the talk of Saint John XXIII at the opening of Vatican II where he spoke about the immutability of the doctrine and the way to present the doctrine. There is a big development in deepening the understanding. But there is immutability of our faith. What we believe in can never change — the Holy Trinity or in the Incarnation, or the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus. These are beliefs that are immutable, as the creed says. That is valid everywhere in the world.  The cultures may very different, but the substance of the faith cannot be changed. 

I was kind of glad to have the Schönborn fest come to an end.  He has a wealth of knowledge, but his instincts are, too often, to stay safe rather than lead.

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 21: One More Week; A Champion for Women in the Synod Hall; Are You Still Catholic?; We are Looking at Leadership that is Inclusive of All Women

One More Week

The participants have finished their discussions of module B3 on participation, mission and authority and have handed their reports in.  Monday begins the final week and the module 5, which according to Cardinal Hollerich will “be devoted to the discussion and approval of the synthesis report, which we will then hand over to the Holy Father.”

According to Paolo Ruffini Friday afternoon discussions was marked by “some very strong and impassioned witnesses,” coming from places of war or suffering in the world, Middle East, Ukraine, the Amazon, and many others.  “And there were very sincere rounds of applause by the assembly,” Ruffini related.

Sheila Pires

Sheila Pires also reported on some of the topics discussed.

Once again, the role of women, the inclusion of women, the role that consecrated women play in the church, and also the inclusion of these voices, especially in decision making was also stressed. We also spoke about clericalism once again, that was once again brought out. And the need to have ongoing formation was stressed, ongoing formation to deal with the whole issue of clericalism and the issue of abuse, the need to have proper structures in place. And of course, uh, we thank Pope Francis for, um, introducing new structures that have been in place to deal with the issues of abuse. So it was also stressed that it’s important that we have such policies at a conference level, diocesan level, parish level, and to ensure the protection of all the vulnerable adults and children when dealing with issues of abuse.

Sheila also noted that one expression really stood out,  “God will examine us for how much we have taken care of the little ones and not for the knowledge we have.”

The Press Speakers Today

The speakers at the press briefing included, Peruvian Jesuit Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, Archbishop of Huancayo, and President of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and Military Ordinary for Germany, Bishpo Jean-Marc Eychenne of Grenoble-Vienne in France, Sister Maria Nirmalini, an Indian sister, General Superior of the Apostolic Carmel Congregation, and President of the Conference of Religious in India.

Today may have been one of the most interesting panels yet.  They dynamic was entertaining at times with the bishops speaking out about women deacons, married priests, etc. and Paolo Ruffini following with his own comments trying to soften the impact of their statements.

A Champion for Women in the Synod Hall

Sr.Maria Nirmalini

Sister Maria Nirmalini is an awesome champion for women in the synod hall.

Prior to being chosen as a synod discerner and voter, she was chosen to lead over 130,000 women religious in India.  And her goal is women’s empowerment and women’s equality at every turn.

According to an interview in Global Sisters Report, she advocates empowerment of women religious, mutual sharing, and leadership to tackle the oppressive patriarchal system and gender inequality within the Indian church.


Sr. Nirmalini said, “I took over this post when the church in India was going through several challenges from within and outside, such as sexual exploitation, gender inequality, an unfair salary system and clergy domination. I don’t claim that the situation has changed now. But we have initiated definite plans and systems to address these challenges appropriately.”

She has set up grievance processes with independent review boards, training programs for women religious to teach them how to use their voice and think independently, and restructured the religious formation system as one of accompaniment and sharing.  No longer should women have to be along if they are being harassed or treated badly.

Sr. Nirmalini states unequivocally, “Silent suffering has no meaning any more. We need to develop platforms for mutual sharing and psychological well-being.”

That is one of the people who is lighting up the synod hall with visions of equality.

During the press briefing and Q & A she offered a powerful witness.

In her opening remarks she recalled the powerful witness of another women who was one of the first to attend the Second Vatican Council.

For me, when my name was read in the list of participants, it was like a dream, but for my congregation, it was history repeating itself as one of my predecessors, Mother M. Theodosia, who was General Superior, had come as auditors to the Second Vatican Council.

She also said that women religious offered a very beautiful prayer, “We send you on a mission.”  And as part of her witness she shared her personal experience of learning more about co-responsibility.

I’m happy to share that when there is a joint meeting at the conference of bishops, together with my national executive team, the bishops, they always invite me to co-chair the meeting along with them. And that’s how I got the, I grew deeper into the understanding of what it means to be co-responsible.

The Amazonian Cardinal Still Stands Strong on Reforms

Cardinal Barreto Jimeno from the Amazon has been working for reforms that meet the needs of his region where there are few priests and many women leading ministries.  He has done so even when attacked by conservative prelates for forwarding new forms of ministry such as married priests and women deacons.  He is firm in his belief that at the synod, “We are gathering and collecting what the Holy Spirit has told us and what the Holy Spirit has told the Church.”

Four issues: power, priesthood, women, sexuality

Bishop Overbeck from Germany

As a member of the Episcopal Conference of Germany, I would like to say a few words on the synodal journey of the Catholic church in our country, which we have carried out for over four years. We started in 2018, and it continued up until last year. the attention of the public was always very strong. The reason we started this journey is undoubtedly the many cases of abusers.

German bishops with the Central Committee of German Catholics, which was established in 1948 and represents a many groups in the church,  participated with us in this synodal way, a journey of repentance and renewal. Of course, we have to be self-critical in terms of what the church has done, and we have to ask ourselves what changes are necessary to renew collegial life as a whole.

The Bible, Catholic tradition and new discoveries in theology, the faith of the faithful, and the sign of the times — interpreting all this in light of the gospel.

He also explained the particular culture of German Catholics are rooted in a country where  30% of the population is Catholic, 30% is Protestant, and 40% atheists.

“And the consequence of this is that we are in a constant dialogue with people who are non-Catholics and who do not even understand our logic, our way of thinking, and living faith in our church,” he said.  He highlighted four issues.

  1.  The abuse of power
  2.  Priesthood because “we see in our country that the number of seminarians is very few close to zero.”
  3. The role of women in the church
  4. Questions concerning sexual morality

The bishop continued, “Even though we are not speaking about canonically binding synodal decisions, it was established right from the beginning that decisions would be considered as adopted only if they are approved by two thirds of all the bishops. Over a three year period or more, we have managed to adopt 15 texts of joint resolution that now are implemented in parishes, dioceses, or at the level of our conference.”

Those texts include language that states, “The doctrine of ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ is not accepted and understood by the people of God in large parts. Therefore, the question must be addressed to the highest authority in the Church (Pope and Council) whether the teaching of ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ should be reviewed.

Of course, these discernments were met with stiff resistance from U.S. Bishops and others who shook their fingers at the unorthodox proposals.  Do you remember how you felt about tattle tails in school?

Bishop Overbeck also talked about the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon, where bishops, priests, religious, and laity work together on issues of creation and the protection of local populations.  This is the first such conference approved by Pope Francis where lay persons are making decisions alongside bishops.  Overbeck believes this is a model that should be replicated everywhere.  “What is important is the heirarchy of truth.”

Bending the Law Towards Women

Bishpb Jean-Marc Eychenne said there are many impoverished people in his region (southern part of Toulouse).  In order to meet the needs of the people there, we need more than one person giving orders.  The Church must move from “from a Church of a few responsible individuals to one where everyone is responsible for the proclamation of Christ and the Gospel, a Church that is truly the Body of Christ where everyone expresses their opinion for a final decision that concerns all.”

The bishop also gave an example of how women are included in decision making roles, even when church law says they cannot.

In a small leadership team in diocese often there is an Episcopal council that is usually diverse with men, women and laypersons.  There is also a council of the bishops that is convened every weekend – a small Episcopal team with the bishop, auxiliary bishops, and the Vicar. This small team deals with everyday issues and decisions Into this Episcopal team, we integrated a general delegate. According to the law, we cannot appoint a woman as general vicar, but in our team, there is a bishop, the vicar, the general vicar, and a woman who serves as general vicar.  This gives a sign that responsibility is shared also with women in connection with the decisions to be made.

Q & A

Journalist Marco Politi asked Barreto Jimeno and Overbeck if reforms like married priests and women deacons are moving forward.

Barreto Jimeno did not answer directly, but did get his point across.  “The creation of this first ecclesial conference that includes all the baptized, all of them, nobody excluded — this experience, very clearly, is the first collegial conference in the history of the church.”

Overbeck gave a much more specific response.

We try to try to respond to the questions that emerged in our country, a post secular country where people have no idea about transcendence. They do not know what the church is, they don’t know what who Jesus is and what the life of a Christian is, whether the Catholic or Protestant. They have no idea about the other religions.  So this changes the entire framework for the things that we are carrying out. So these great questions concerning in the synodal process are also those you mentioned. So how can we integrate women in the church? Yes, we live in this world and these are questions that come up. And in our country with 30% Protestant, half their pastors are women already. Since 1968, we have permanent diaconate….This means that there are men who have a number of responsibilities in the church, including sacramental ones….

In addition to the questions on the role of women, the topic of women deacons has come up because of this framework I was referring to. And in the Instrumentum Laboris, there are also questions concerning the presence of women in the church of the future. In our own small group, we have talked about it and perhaps the day will arrive when women will be permanent deacons, I don’t know.

But what is important to me is that this has to be a vocation and it mustn’t just be a right just because there are women — that they have a right to be a part of the sacramental ministry of the church. We need to ask further questions on the quality of this vocation to then perhaps, allow women to enter this field. In my country, we have not come up with any solution, even though I have to highlight the fact that women are asking.  Some women are asking ‘Why can we not be priests?’ And there are many men who ask the same questions. So for us in our culture, it’s different compared with other countries.

Another journalist asked, “What effect or impact has the the German Synod way had on this Vatican synod…and the other way around?

Are You Still Catholic?

Overbeck responded:

Well, the first question is perhaps best to be asked for to others, but my impression is that everything that we did based on the journey of the church in Germany, this has had the effect where many people ask me, ‘What did you do? What are your answers for the future? And many people have asked me, are you still a Catholic? Are you still Catholics and part of the Catholic Church?’

And I said, ‘Yes, of course we are Catholics and we’re here to stay.’ And then there was also the question on enculturation and the role of theology in the face of these questions that have come up….in the coming months, there is the aspect of spirituality — perhaps a question on quality in our case.  The synodal journey in Germany has been very much marked by the German culture.  In this synod there is the round table, small groups listening without asking questions, and also the times,  silence.  This is perhaps a style that we will also adopt in, in in our next synod paths. We have also, of course, been together and in prayer, but it’s a bit different.

Another reporter asked two questions.

Bishop Overbeck, there is the issue of priesthood among many.  After three weeks, do you feel that there is openness towards following along a path that would change the ordinary ministries, opening them up as well to married men or in the direction which emerged from your synod?

Sister Nirmalini, concerning women here in this case too, if after three weeks discussion about sharing authority with women, do you think they are open in the church to share this exercise of authority? 

Bishop Overbeck responded.

So for many years we have been moving forward. We take one step after another. It means for us today that we live in a very difficult reality because we almost have zero seminarians. I’ve been a bishop for fourteen years.  In this 14 years, almost 300 priests died and I have only ordained 15. This is what our reality is. So this is also a spiritual question and the theological one.  It is a question of  how can we save the sacramental life of the church, but also how to live it. And in order to understand that, we must have priests, we must have deacons and we must have also other persons representing spiritual life.  

My opinion is that we are addressing a new stage in a third millennium. The answers are very clear to me and  they are different compared with the responses that were appropriate for the second millennium. So we realize what is going to happen in a few years time. We are here together with the oriental churches, the orthodox churches at the synod, where married priests is something normal.  In our tradition it’s different, but perhaps at one point we shall have to give a different answer.  But now we are taking steps forward. But believe me, it is very tough and very difficult for all of us in my country.

We are looking at leadership which is inclusive all all women

Sr. Nirmalini responded to the question of authority in this way.

I think firstly I would like to say that we need to downplay the idea of authority. It is basically service with humility and the coming days will keep unfolding as we discern what are the processes that will emerge and how we will move. As I said earlier in my opening remarks, this is not a journey which will end here. It is a process which will continue.  It is ongoing and therefore it’ll keep unfolding with new opportunities. All that I would like to add is that we are looking at leadership which is inclusive of all women, young laypersons, consecrated women, and that’s the leadership we are looking at.

SynodWatch RoundUP for October 20: Our Church is Very Tired; We Need To Listen More To the Emerging Churches;  Are We Ready to Decide on Women Deacons?

There are 365

Some of the journalists try to cast doubt on the synod by asking the same questions over and over.  Maybe if we put some of the answers into a song it would stick:).

But today again, Dr. Paolo Ruffini restated that there are 365 participants including the Pope with another one hundred or so people are involved as theologians, experts, etc. bringing the number to 464.

In response to a question yesterday about how the speakers are chosen from the floor, Ruffini said that Cardinal Grech is giving precedence to those who have not spoken so far.

Sheila Pires

Sheila Pires continued by reporting that participants who warned against clericalism, even among the laity, because it “has led to abuses of power, conscience, economic and sexual.” These abuses have caused the church to lose credibility….so much so that a “control mechanism” is necessary.  The participants agreed that synodality can help prevent abuses because it is a process that has to do with listening and dialogue.

Other needed reforms included the need for greater transparency in financial and economic structures; the revision of canon law and also some “titles” that have become anachronistic. Returning to synodality, the urgency of reinforcing already existing structures, such as pastoral councils needs to be enhanced.  Young people and the digital environment were \ also discussed.

Today’s Speakers

Today’s panel

Joining the panelists today were Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference, Sister Houda Fadoul, from Syria, Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, a Verbite missionary, Archbishop of Tokyo, President of Caritas internationalis, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, and Secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, and Sister Mary Teresa Barron from Ireland, Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles and President of the International Union of Superiors General.

Archbishop Grušas, who talked about the difficult schedule with a long break in the afternoon and late evenings, also related some of the main topics today which included formation for bishops, formation for clergy, formation for seminarians, and formation for the laity.  He said that formation is  a matter of conversion, conversion of heart, conversion of our own minds, be it bishops, priests, consecrated laity, experts, whether theologians or canon lawyers. “We all kind of run into our own mindset and sharing helps us grow in that change of life, change of mindset.”

The other thing from my perspective is that the Holy Father has really put an emphasis on the continental levels, uh, whether it’s, FABC, or South America, or Africa. Sharing and looking at structures and how we can do that, I think is gonna be important also in the life of the church. And finally, I think the, the process, we say formation, but I think under it, uh, it’s a matter of conversion, conversion of heart, conversion of our own minds, be it bishops, priests, consecrated laity, experts, whether theologians or canon lawyers. We all kind of run into our own mindset and sharing helps us grow in that change of life, change of mindset. It’s a very powerful process.

Our Church is Very Tired

Sr. Houda Fadoul

Sister Houda Fadoul gave a very touching a powerful witness bringing tears to my eyes as I considered how difficult life is in regions where violence and natural disasters make life unbearable and how an interaction like synodality can bring real support and healing.

I would like, first of all, to say thanks to our Holy Father for this initiative because, uh, for me, he’s truly a man of prayer and he understands the needs of the church particularly for as far as our own church is concerned, because we spend a lot of time in the war, in the pandemic, there has been an earthquake. So our church is very tired because of all that has happened. So when his calling came, we were not ready for this message — to receive this  message in an adequate way because in, in our diocese, we spent three years without a bishop.

So when a bishop arrived, he started trying to, to recover the situation, and he invited an expert bishop from the Lebanon who took part in the first part of the synod to organize conferences in the different diocese. And also young persons are involved thanks to this effort.  So we, we have realized that we have to work to be with the others. And when I was invited to participate in this assembly in the Lebanon, I felt very grateful because this allows me to share this experience with other churches, and their experience can also be shared.

So this is a time of exchange, and it’s very rich for everyone in the church. We are truly experiencing a Catholic and universal church – diversity and unity at the same time. Because eventually at the end of the day, we are all parts of the same body of Jesus. So we all have our our own difficulties, of course. But when you share your difficulties and when you pray, you feel better, you feel this burden in a different way.

We Don’t Talk Much

The Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo gave witness to the way synodality plays oout in a country where individuality is sublimated to the collective and where people do not often speak out.

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi

You know that the Japanese, we don’t talk much. We love silence….we prefer to keep quiet. So it’s very difficult for the Japanese, not only Japanese, but many Asians to speak up. And that’s why this small group discussion is very important. Early this year when we had the continental assembly in Bangkok, we started to use that small discussion group just like what we have right now in a small hall with small round tables with 10 or 11 people gathering together. And everybody’s given the chance to speak up.  The conversation in the Spirit is really working. It worked in Asia and now it’s working in here, in this hall. I really appreciate it because already I have had the opportunity to participate in five different small groups.

We Need To Listen More To the Emerging Churches

Sr. Mary Teresa Barron, the president of UISG gave the final witness sharing how religious communities of women have been using the practice of synodality in making decisions for decades.

In English we have this saying that no two people read the same book and get the same meaning.  We come to the experience with all of our life experiences. And in reflecting on this, I’m a religious sister.  I’m a missionary.  And I think both of those influence how I am experiencing this synodal process.

In the introduction, Christiana mentioned my experience as a sister in rural parish in East Africa. And I would say that was my first introduction to a synodal church. You know, I’m from Ireland where we were evangelized in the fifth century. And so we carry the weight of structures that have a long history and then go to a church that was very new.

Sr. Mary Teresa

The parish was established in 1950 with two priests to serve a parish that was like the size of half of Ireland. And that’s not a joke. So there was, in each village — there were 35 villages —  an outstation with a catechist and a very vibrant faith community. My role was accompanying the youth and accompanying the women’s groups in the parish. And it was such a  process.  We listened to each other.  The decisions were taken together.  The out station fed into the center which fed into the parish, which then fed into the diocese. But it was the involvement of the laity. And I think possibly one of the advantages in the younger churches is that many people come to the faith as adults and make that choice to be baptized as adults and are confirmed into a faith where they are challenged to be missionary disciples from the outset.

So that for me, that experience is something that I learned in my early life as a sister. And then I think the experience of sitting around the tables in Paul VI Hall brings me back again to East Africa. The setting is extremely different. I imagine myself outside a mud hut where we met every Sunday for our basic Christian community meetings — a small gathering of people, maybe 10 families in the Christian community. And we sat around and shared our faith rooted in the Gospel of that Sunday. But the key was that we had to decide how we wanted to live that faith as a community and take an action. And what was beautiful for me. 

There was many of the people in that community were not educated. And we shared our faith from the depth of our hearts, and we came to a decision together. Every voice was the same around that basic Christian community, regardless of position in the community, regardless of education, everybody shared their faith. And that is what I experience in the Paul VI Hall around the tables with synodality.  It doesn’t matter who’s at the table. It’s our love of Christ that has called us into this life. It’s our love of desiring a church that can live the mission that Christ left us. I think that is what inspires all of us sitting around the tables. And so for me, I think one of the key learnings is we need to listen more to the emerging churches, the younger churches who still have that kind of grassroots participation in the life of the church.

The second dimension of my life is as a religious sister.  I know it’s been said repeatedly, that religious life by its nature — it’s almost in our DNA– we’re quite synodal in our structures.  I had an experience this this July, which confirmed that for me…We had our general chapter this year, and at the same time that we were having our chapter, another group of sisters were having their chapter.  They were lucky enough to be accompanied by a bishop. They had a bishop as their chaplain. The bishop happened to be from Ireland. And he came to a few of the groups and said, ‘My goodness, when talking about synodality, we bishops were dipping our toes in the water, whereas you people are living it fully.’

You know, because he was accompanying how we share around issues and how we actually decide, you know? So that for me, I think that is it.  I’m bringing that experience to the living synod. I think it’s a great privilege for us, and it’s something I say to our sisters when we come to chapter. It’s a great privilege to be one of the few that are chosen to make this journey on behalf of all the others. And I think that I feel that privilege every time I’m in the room, not just because I’m one of the few women in the room, although we’re quite a big number, but because it is a privilege to be any member in that room that can journey together with these questions. 

 Are We Ready to Decide on Women Deacons?

Christopher Lamb from The Tablet asked, “We know from the Synod working document that many local synods called for women’s inclusion in the diaconate, and that’s obviously been a topic that’s been discussed at the Synod. There have also been a number of commissions on this topic and other studies. Do you think it is the time now for a decision to be taken on whether or not this proposal can move forward? Or is further discernment at perhaps the local level still needed?”

Sr. Mary Theresa responded:

We are in a synodal process. We’re in the synod to discern together on all issues. And I’m sure you’ve heard from last week that this question is on the table.. We have both ends of the spectrum in terms of what we believe, but we’re holding that in tension…to know how to journey forward together. And I think it would be unfair of me to speak outside of that space. We are holding that at the moment, and I think the document that comes out in the end may have more clarity.

Sr. Houda signaled a more John Paul II attitude speaking about complementarity.

 I think that in connection with every concept concerning women, we speak often about complementarity not equal footing. We can speak about anything as long as we use our gifts in the best possible way.

Archbishop Grušas suggested that the discussion on the various ministries in the church is also about the possibly of discovering new ministries in the church.

The Practical Barriers to Synodality

When the question was asked about how the experience of synodality in Rome will be disseminated at home, the two prelates were quick to name the barriers.

Archbishop Grušas first noted that there are a lot of ways that Canon Law can be applied now to make the church more synodal.

I think the challenge is going back into the same structure from which we came with all the same daily grinds that we have and to bring the experience that we’ve shared here and try to convey it to others. Being here for a month and really living the spiritual conversations, having them and valuing them, it’s going to be a challenge to try to bring that back to the whole country, and in my case, all of Europe.

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi added that they synodal process started in the middle of the pandemic.

And in Japan the regulation was really strong and all the church activities actually stopped.  So, for the past two, three years, we haven’t have the much opportunity to come together. The people are still afraid, especially the elderly people are afraid. So we don’t have much opportunity to gather the people together to do this similar process together.

Well, maybe we can do it online, but our senior people don’t have much access to this digital world. So this is still the challenge…So what we can, what I want to do is really to introduce this in another way to the local churches in Japan so that people really make it as a daily, decision making style.

SynodWatch RoundUp from October 19: All About Women; They have gone through things we can hardly imagine; the Church contributes to creating LGBTQ refugees; The Conspiracy Theorists

We are beginning to see the first fruits of all the long labors of Catholic women throughout the decades including people like Sr. Mary Luke Tobin SL and Rosemary Goldie, who were auditors at the Second Vatican Council.  Since that time thousands of women have stood up in the face of patriarchal standards that have kept women out of governing and ministerial offices and off the altar.   There is no way to name all the women on whose shoulders we stand, but we can join together in this moment to thank God for them all.

Since this is a historic year for Catholic women in the church, I wanted to compile as complete a list as possible of every article, interview, or podcast that has been produced thus far (if you know of others and you want me to add them, please let me know at

Some of the articles are from the conservative outlet, National Catholic Register which I wanted to include so that you could see how the synod is being framed from the critic’s side.  Most are from media outlets that support equalizing the roles of women, women’s ordination, and others efforts to bring women’s full equality to our Catholic history of misogyny and patriarchy. I hope you find these articles as rich and informative as much as I did.

All About Women

Sr. Liliana Franco: Women’s path in the church is ‘full of scars’ by Rhina Guidos for Global Sisters’ Report, October 18, 2023.

Lay groups forge solidarity, hold parallel synod in Rome  by Virginia Saldanha for UCA news, October 19, 2023

Sr. Jeannine Grammick during podcast “The Vatican Briefing” with Joshua McElwee, Photo by Joshua McElwee/NCR

Exclusive: Jeannine Gramick, LGBTQ advocate, reveals details of meeting with Pope Francis by Joshua McElwee of National Catholic Reporter, October 18, 2023.

Laywoman’s Speech Opposing Women’s Ordination Draws Big Ovation by Jonathan Liedl of National Catholic Register, October 18, 2023.

Testimony at the Synod of Estela P. Padilla, FABC-OTC, October 18, 2023.

The Vatican Briefing podcast: A key bishop considers women deacons by Joshua McElwee

and Christopher White, October 17, 2023

Synod Diary: Synod Mothers make their voices heard in Rome by Colleen Dulle of America Magazine, October 17, 2023

Bishop on Synod Drafting Committee Expresses Openness to Women Deacons by Joshua

Discerning Deacons witness in Rome – photographed with James Martin SJ Photo by Tracy Kemme SC

McElwee of National Catholic Reporter, October 17, 2023.

There’s Too Much Emphasis on Women’s Ordination by Hannah Brockhaus in the National Catholic Register, October 17, 2023.

At events inside and outside Vatican’s synod hall, focus on women’s equality  by Rhina Guidos of National Catholic Reporter, October 16, 2023.

As the Synod Turns to Women Deacons, It gets Interesting by Colleen Dulle of America Magazine, October 16, 2023.

Women’s voices being heard at Vatican’s big meeting on church’s future, nun says by Nicole Winfield, October 16, 2023.

Delegates at Spirit Unbounded address issues facing the Church by Sarah MacDonald for The Tablet, October 16, 2023.

The Synod, Church reform groups, and the next pope by Robert Mickens at LaCroix, October 14, 2023.

Inequality ‘embedded’ in Catholic Church says McAleese by Sarah MacDonald for The Tablet, October 13, 2023.

Sr. Patricia Murray – Photo by Rhina Guidos/GSR

Synod Looks at Catholics’ Shared Mission, But Also Exclusion of Women by Cindy Wooden in The Tablet, October 13, 2023.

Heidi Schlumpf interviews Kate McElwee on “The Francis Effect” podcast, October 13, 2023.

Testimony dat Synod of Sr. Gloria Liliana Franco Encheverri, ODN,  October 13, 2023.

The lay woman bringing Catholic social teaching to the heart of the Vatican by Ashley McKinless and Zac Davis at Jesuitical.

Spirit Unbounded: Racial power dynamics drive abuse, says US priest by Sarah MacDonald for The Tablet, October 12, 2023.

Meet the lay woman who led the U.S. synod process by Colleen Dulle for “Inside the Vatican” October 12, 2023.

Julia McStravog CNS photo/Jessica S. Zurcher

Synod snapshots: Cardinal Müller is easy to spot; Sr. Barron gets a big promotion by Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2023.

Two-tier Church undermines laity’s ‘shared dignity’ at Spirit Unbounded Conference by Sarah MacDonald for The Tablet, October 11, 2023

The Vatican Briefing podcast: Women at the pope’s table by Joshua McElwee and Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter.

Will all voices be heard at the Synod on Synodality? by Virginia Saldanha for UCA News, October 10, 2023.

Catholic Church ‘should not be afraid of change’ says Cherie Blair on Spirit Unbounded Conference by Sarah MacDonald for The Tablet, October 10, 2023.

Theological Reflection at Synod by Professor Anna Rowlands, October 9, 2023

Testimony at Synod of Siu Wai Vanessa Cheng, October 9, 2023

Sisters at Vatican synod see ‘dismantling of the hierarchical’ by Rhina Guidos of National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2023.

Women’s ordination advocates march in Rome on March 6, 2023. Photo from Ordain Women video.

Walk with Women: Procession and Witness for Women’s Ordination in Rome by Ordain Women, October 6, 2023.

Vatican Synod on Synodality signals hope for women’s ordination advocates by Claire Giangravé for Religion News Service, October 6, 2023.

Synod’s focus on listening may signal power shift in Catholic Church, says sister by Rhina Guidos of National Catholic Reporter/Global Sisters Report

Mercy Sister Angela Perez, of Guam Photo: GSR/Rhina Guidos

Pope signals openness to blessings for gay couples, study of women’s ordination by Joshua McElwee and Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter, October 2, 2023.

‘Orthodoxy is spacious’: At retreat, synod members hear about women’s hopes, LGBTQ issues by Joshua McElwee and Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter, October 2, 2023.

The Sisters Involved with the Synod on Synodality by Global Sisters Report.

5 suggestions to make the pope’s big Synod of Bishops actually mean something by Mary Hunt for the National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 2023.

The synod could change whether women can be ordained as deacons or priests. These women are hopeful.  by Heidi Schlumpf of National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2023.

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality in Canada also journeyed to Rome for the Synod to participate in and lead various witnesses.  You can read their blog here.

Press briefing: They have gone through things we can hardly imagine

At the press briefing today, Paolo, Christiana, and Sheila Pires were joined by Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Bishop Daniel Ernest Flores, President Delegate of the Assembly and a member of the Preparatory Commission, is the bishop of Brownsville, Texas, Archbishop Dabula Anthony Mpako, Archbishop of Pretoria and Vice President of the South African Bishops’ Conference, and, Father Khalil Alwan, a former superior general of the Lebanese Maronite missionaries, is the secretary general of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient and a professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut. He is taking part in the General Assembly as a synodal witness for the Eastern Churches and general coordinator for the Middle East.

The focus of the panelists was on immigration and the conditions that migrants throughout the world face due to war, violence, hatred, and poverty.

Dr Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and President of the Commission for Information, related that the tenth and eleventh sessions of the Small groups took place with a focus on section B3 of the Instrumentum laboris.  The 35 small groups are discussing different aspects of the general theme: “Participation, responsibility, and authority. What processes, structures, and institutions in a missionary synodal Church?”

In addition, the Ruffini recalled that “three working groups of expert theologians and canonists have been set up to reflect on three points of Instrumentum laboris; B3/3 (“What structures can be developed to consolidate a missionary synodal Church?”); B3/4 (“How can instances of synodality and collegiality involving groupings of local Churches be configured?”);  B3/5 (“How can the institution of the Synod be strengthened so that it is an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church?”).

According to Ruffini:

Thirteen small groups are exchanging their views on section B3.1, “How can we renew the service of authority and the exercise of responsibility in a missionary synod or church?”  Seven small groups are focusing on section B3.2 “How can we develop discernment practices and decision making processes in an authentically synodal manner that respects the protagonism of the Spirit?”  Five groups are focusing on the group B3.3, “What structures can be developed to strengthen a missionary synodal church?” and five are focusing on B3.4.

After Dr. Ruffini and Sheila Pires gave their updates, Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny began with some inspiring comments about  walking in solidarity with migrants.

Angels Unawares

It is especially a pleasure to have a chance to say something about the Synod in the context of the prayer service. This evening at the monument, “Angels unawares where the assembly, which is learning how to walk together as a church will effectively symbolize walking together with some of the most vulnerable people on our planet, namely the those who are fleeing, those who are forced to be on the move, those whom we call migrants and refugees. And so there’s a spiritual and even an aesthetic, cultural harmony between how we’re spending the day talking about what  can be a bit abstract, in the authority and walking with or accompanying the boat that’s sculpted there — which represents all the people of all ages and all places who in one way or another have been forced to, to flee.  I think the harmony and the goodwill and the deep exchange which we experience within the synod hall is in dramatic, contrast with the anxiety, the insecurity, the vulnerability, the marginalization in fact the terrible silence of the migrants and refugees. By silence, I mean, the silence of our societies are rejecting societies.

Bishop of Brownsville, Texas, Daniel Flores, who has been working all along on the synod process spoke at length about the difficulties migrants face when crossing the southern border in the United States and how he and his diocese have to be creative and flexible as they deal with changing rules by the U.S. government.

One of the things that has impacted me in terms of the Holy Father’s call to synodality as a concrete expression is that each diocese in the world, comes bringing the gifts and sort of the experience of its own local church. And so that’s part of the reality that I carry with me in, in terms of my participation. In the last several years, there’s been, as we all know, a great number of immigrants seeking refuge, seeking asylum in the United States. A great number of them pass through my diocese, which is the very southern tip of Texas, the United States between the very southern tip across the Rio Grande River is the Diocese of Matamoros Mexico.

And so, so it’s been a very challenging experience. But what I carry with me is this expression of great love on the part of the people of my own diocese.  Participation, which is a key theme that the Holy Father has put before us, is something that I have lived in my diocese and just seeing so many people step forward. My diocese does not have great material resource, but the hearts of the people are very generous and they know something of what poverty is, and so they respond very generally. So we’ve had, certainly from the Catholic community, but also from from other communities, other Christian denominations, but also from our Muslim brothers and sisters and also the Jewish community has assisted us in establishing sort of on the ground ways to receive and welcome and assist these families who come across generally with the permission of the United States government, which is another issue.

But that’s the reality in helping them to get oriented and, and really treating them with the human respect and dignity that they deserve. There’s a great, great outpouring of energy that comes in my diocese from people — restaurant owners, doctors, nurses who volunteer to their time just to attend to the mothers and the children and the families. This is an expression of what I call sort of the deepest sense of enculturation of the faith. This sense of the response to the need. So because our diocese doesn’t have a great amount of resources financially, it’s fairly flexible. I mean, you, and we’ve had to be flexible for the last 10 years, if not longer, because circumstances change beyond our control. The church and the diocese and anywhere really doesn’t have the authority to tell governments what to do.

And so when governments change their plans and change the way they’re addressing the immigration situation, we adapt to it. And the principle is we adapt in a way that tries to respect and treat with greatest respect the human dignity of the families who come. Each one has a story.  Each one has an experience.  And some of them have gone through things that hardly any of us can imagine. And they are largely coming at this point from South America and Central America. Very few, as a matter of fact, are coming from Mexico. But this dynamic changes and you have to know the situation on the ground to address it. And my final point is that we have worked very collaboratively with the Diocese of Matamoros and so it’s an example of how the church is kind of a bigger thing than national borders.  Because we work with the Bishop of Matamoros, we speak frequently. He comes to visit, we go visit the migrant camps together. And, and it’s a way of kind of encouraging our people to do what they do so well, which is to respond to the need on the ground.

Father Khalil Alwan, a former superior general of the Lebanese Maronite missionaries told the room that Syrian refugees in Lebanon have faced horrendous treatment and living conditions.

Since 2011, when they arrived here, they have been living in inhuman conditions, crammed in large numbers in camps at the limit of their capacity because the international community is forcing Lebanon to keep them on its territory, preventing them from going to Europe.  

…more than two million people…with many births registered in recent years… With its population of five million, Lebanon is the country with the highest percentage of refugees in the world.

The attitude of the Lebanese people toward the Syrian migrants was front and center and seemed to be shared by Fr. Alwan.

The Lebanese are being penalized “for their humanity”, Father Alwan asserted. All these refugees, in fact, burden the economy of the state, which bears enormous costs that international governmental organizations are not able to cope with, with the result that “Lebanese citizens are getting poorer and poorer. This causes great anger in them: they see the humanitarian issue as a pretext to keep refugees in Lebanon, which is forced to be a country of political asylum.

Many voices have been raised calling for the Syrians to leave for Europe. We are facing a human tragedy and we will pray tonight that the powers of the world will work to put an end to it and that the Syrians may one day return to their country and their culture.

Finally, Archbishop Dabula Anthony Mpako of Pretoria spoke about the immigration crisis in his region.

South Africa hosts the largest number of immigrants on the African continent. Presently, the estimated number of migrants in South Africa stands at 2.9 million.  In reality, this number is less than the real number of migrants who are in South Africa.  The most important cause of this migration is poverty. Thus, most of the migrants who come to South Africa are economic migrants. There are some among them who are genuine refugees escaping situations of war and persecution in their countries. But for the most part, we are dealing with people who are economic refugees and popular destinations in South Africa for the migrants would be the two provinces of routing. That includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. The diocese where I am at the moment, and the Western Cape and Pretoria would seem to be the most popular city where migrants come looking for greener pastures.

Q & A : I’m not worried about that

J.D. Flynn from The Pillar asked, “As you have this conversation about, renewing structures with a sense of synodality there’s a perception in some ways, or there can be a perception that the notion of ality might, um, undermine or militate against the authority and the prerogatives of the diocesan bishop and the sort of emphasis in Christus Dominus on the essential role of the, both the Diocesan Bishop and the College of Bishops. So how, how do you perceive that this notion of sort of revitalizing institutional structures with a spirit of synodality, sort of interplays with the emphasis of Christus Dominus and even the Holy Father on the prerogatives of the diocesan Bishop?

Bishop Flores responded:

Any exercise of any structure or ministry or authority in the church. It must be based on a fundamental conversion of heart, which seems to me is essential for any structure to be really attaining the good which we hope it will attain. And so I would begin you know, knowing that there are many perceptions out there as to what might or not, might not be at the heart of the question structurally elsewhere.  I’m not particularly worried about that.  I’m more worried about how it is that we will sort of inaugurate a deep thirst to become a people baptized and ordained who are focused on serving one another in the heart of Christ. To me, this is everything. Without this, there is nothing. And we can change all the, you know, we can, we can write lots of pretty words about the thing, but if we aren’t doing that, and then we’re not really addressing the call that the Gospel from the very beginning is asking of us all from everyone.  No one is exempt.

Archbishop Dabula Anthony Mpako also reponded.

My sense is that it is commonly accepted by all of us that there are two structures that must coexist in the church. Synodality coexists with the hierarchical structure of the church. And I don’t think that is under any question. However, what we are probably wanting to see is how the two can work in such a way that synodality begins to infuse the way that the hierarchical structure of the church operates. So I’m not at all worried about that because I think we have all accepted that in the Catholic Church Synodality is a unique character. It is a synodality at the center of which there is the chair of Peter, the Pope. At the end of the day, hierarchy goes together with synodality.

Another journalist asked a similar question to the one posed by J.D. Flynn and Cardinal Czerny answered with an even stronger sense of faith in the process.  It really struck me as beautiful.

The hierarchical structures of the church have nothing to fear from a process that begins with listening.  It is impossible that should damage the hierarchical nature of the church. And it’s the act of faith and hope of starting with ample, I would say radical listening, that we believe with help of the Holy Spirit, that the church’s structures or maybe better the functioning of the structures will improve. And I think one of the things that makes everybody happy in the synod hall is that we are not only talking about it, but we are experiencing it. To be at a table where when you first sit down, you say, well, this is certainly a hopeless group, and realize two days later that you’ve produced a remarkably coherent, beautiful, and even creative statement in answer to a series of rather abstract questions. Without the Holy Spirit, this just doesn’t happen.

The Church Contributes to Making LGBTQ Refugees

I loved this question from Bob Shine.  This is really bringing down the curtain.

Robert Shine of New Ways Ministry asked, “We’re hearing a lot about the church’s laudable defense for migrants and refugees. Among those refugees are LGBTQ people who face hostility in their cultures. And in some cases, Catholic bishops have supported laws criminalizing LGBTQ people or failed to challenge cultures where bias against them is very prominent. And in the assembly, we’ve heard there are discussions about pastoral care for LGBTQ people, but are human rights for them — and the churches need to defend them as Pope Francis has said — being discussed, especially in situations where the church contributes to creating LGBTQ refugees?”

The bishop of Pretoria answered in a very thoughtful way acknowledging the hold traditional (I would say out of date) Christian anthropology has on the Chruch.   Though, I would have been more satisfied had he addressed the laws that criminalize LGBTQ persons and cause them to flee for safety or be harmed.

I think the stance of the church is clear on how to approach LBGTQ+ people to, first of all, show compassion and acceptance, not to discriminate, not to make them feel like outsiders in the community of the church. And I think the Holy Father has exemplified that in a very striking and beautiful way. However, what we are also dealing with traditional Christian anthropology, which we are still trying to see how that anthropology relates to this question. And my sense is that is not going to be resolved anytime soon because we are dealing with a tradition that has existed for a long time. So we are doing two things – while holding to that Christian anthropology we are looking for ways of making LGBTQ+ people feel at home in the church.

Bishop Flores added his response:

What I encourage all of our volunteers and so is to see, we look for the face of Christ in the one who suffers. We don’t ask ’em if they’re Catholic. We don’t ask them if they’re Christian. We don’t ask them, you know, how they believe politically. We don’t ask them about their sexual orientation. We a we simply want to serve the Christ who suffers.

I think I loved Tom Reese’s question best of all who asked Bishop Flores about the conspiracy theories that are being circulated in the United States –  that the bishops are being manipulated by a kind of liberal cabal of staff and theologians.  Since Bishop Flores was involved in the synodal process from the beginning, Reese wanted to know what the bishop might say to assure people who believe these conspiracy theories that this is not happening.

Flores responded,”Yes, we live in a very suspicious age. I think we breathe this, the air we breathe is that and affects outside the church. It affects the church. I have no worry about that. I do not see a conspiracy. I have simply heard honest, sincere, faithful charitable conversations under, shall I say, …under the care of Peter.”