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SynodWatch RoundUp for Oct 9: Scary Changes; A Humble Cardinal: Falling In Love

The second module, B.1, “A Communion that Radiates” was set into motion today.  As such, the session was videotaped.

Cardinal Grech announced that some people are not attending because they have Covid.  He also said that medical experts had been contacted and that this was not a threat to the entire assembly as long as they take precautions.

Cardinal Grech also announced that the election of the members  writing the synod synthesis report would take place this afternoon.

Scary changes

As participants begin discussing Module 2 (B1) there are some significant changes in the process from last week, changes that are scaring the socks off some synod skeptics since it plays into their greatest fears that those who seek inclusion for LGBTQ persons will be dominating those discussions.

According to Cardinal Hollerich the changes are as follows:

There is also something new: the composition of the groups has changed…This time, the groups are formed based on both language and thematic preferences. We have followed the choices you made as much as possible. Unlike the first Module, the groups do not all follow the same track, but each one tackles just one of the five Worksheets that the Instrumentum laboris sets out in Section B1…”

A Humble Cardinal

In his opening remarks Cardinal Hollerich also shared an example of how the church has failed when it comes to creating a “communion that radiates.”

I happened to listen to the story of a family who had moved from Africa to a European country. They found it very difficult to find a parish in which to live their faith. The Catholic parish they first attended was a parish of churchgoers, but the community did not offer a deeper sense of communion. They were frowned upon because they had different religious customs. They felt excluded. They found a Methodist community where they were welcomed, they got concrete help in taking their first steps in their new country. Above all, they were welcomed as brothers and sisters, not as objects of charity, they were not simply a means for people who wanted to do good. They were accepted as fellow human beings, walking together. When I heard this testimony, I thought of my own country, my own Church. Probably the same thing would have happened, with the exception that we have no Methodist Church to welcome them. 

Falling in love

Fr. Timothy Radcliff breaks hearts open with his words about the first preacher, the woman at the well.  With her at the center of the story, he shows us God’s wild, radical love and invites us to share that love with others.

So out formation for synodality means learning to become passionate people, filled with deep desire. Pedro Arrupe, the marvellous superior general of the Jesuits, wrote: ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Professor Anna Rowlands, Siu Wai Vanessa Cheng, and others also gave beautiful reflections and testimonies regarding communion.  If you have a chance, listen to them or read their words.  You will be inspired.

Communion: Ties that Bind

Prof. Anna Rowlands (pictured above) is the St Hilda Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice Dept of Theology and Religion & Centre for Catholic Studies, Durham University, UK.  Her theological reflection on Communion has three main points that bring the reality of our lives together into sharp focus.

Can we find the courage to encounter reality, as it really is? This was Fr Timothy’s beautifully challenging question to us. He placed before us the paradox of our call to be Christ-like: to hear, see and feel the condition of our world, and yet to be gently honest with ourselves that we do not find bearing reality so easy. Section B1 of the Instrumentum Laboris leads us into the heart of this basic Christian paradox: hope and difficulty, the beauty and freedom of God’s call and the challenges of growing into holiness. The Instrumentum Laboris uses the language of Lumen Gentium § 1 – inviting us to reflect on the mission of the Church to be in Christ the sign and instrument of unity with God and all humanity. The life of communion is given to us as the graced way of living together in Christ, learning to ‘bear with’ reality, gently, generously, lovingly, and courageously, for the peace and salvation of the whole world.

The first thing to say about communion, then, is that it is the reality of God’s own life, the being of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this sense, it is the most real thing there is: the ground of reality and source of the being of the Church.

Our first action in relation to this reality is a joyous, non-anxious, non-competitive reception. To participate in the life of communion is the honour and dignity of our lives. Communion is how we understand God’s ultimate purpose for all humanity: to draw the creation he loved into being ever more completely into His own life, in embrace, and through so doing, to send us out to renew the face of the earth. The call to be the Church that serves this kingdom is described in Lumen Gentium § 9: “that it may be for one and all the visible sacrament of this saving unity”. The Church both shows and gives communion with God, who is communion for all creation. Communion is then our being and our doing.

A friend tells me that Raymond Brown, the American biblical scholar, was fond of teaching his students that the language of koinonia first appears in the New Testament in connection with the practice of money exchange, expressing the idea of the Church’s common pot. The money – the currency of the Church is not cash – rather, our common pot is the riches of the gifts, charisms and graces God pours out in the Church, which he “distributes […] with his own authority” (Bas., fid. 3), and we are called to discern. As baptised Christians, we all have our hand in this pot.

We think of communion as both the first and last words for a synodal process: the origin and horizon of our path. With Christ and his Spirit at the centre, communion is the very power of this room.

The joke often made is that God became flesh, and the theologians turned God back into words again… and my time is short, so I will choose just three different dimensions of thinking about communion to name very briefly.

Firstly, communion is the beauty of diversity in unity. In a modern world that tends towards both homogeneity and fracture, communion is a language of beauty, a harmony of unity and plurality. This beauty lies in its celebration of the richness and diversity of a creation that gives glory to God, a plurality that finishes only when each created thing has exhausted its createdness, and all is enfolded back into God through Christ in the Spirit.

St Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian, wrote beautifully about how creation’s plurality allows all the different colours of the divine light to shine through. The divine light is perceived in a communion that radiates through a glorious diversity – of persons, creatures, cultures, languages, liturgies, gifts and charisms. Henri de Lubac emphasised that the Church is never in competition with culture. In the cultures she dwells in, She confesses and receives Christ. A communion that radiates is a non-competitive, genuine diversity with a single point of unity in the Trinitarian God.

In the face of a worldliness which so often worships competitive and assertive strength and the logic of possession rather than relation, God draws us into a communion of humility and service. Jean-Marie Tillard wrote that, unlike any other entity in the world, it is in embracing weakness, in suffering and in poverty that the Church ‘succeeds’ in becoming the sign of God’s grace. Our beauty is not the world’s beauty. Section B1 invites us to grow in communion by reflecting with humility with those who are vulnerable, suffering or weak and on the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the Church. In Section B1, we ask with courage how we might be closer to the poorest, more able to accompany all the baptised in a variety of human situations, disposed of false power, closer to our fellow Christians, and more engaged with our particular cultures.

The Church was born inseparable from the human drama: in a temporary shelter, on the Cross, at Pentecost. Our Catholicity continues to be lived amidst our human drama. We speak of communion, not out of a calm perfection that lies just out of our reach, but out of our necessary location in the struggle of every culture and context for truth, beauty and goodness. Section B1 invites us to reflect positively on the meaning we find in those places of encounter and struggle, to hear echoes and differences.

Secondly, communion exists in concrete, tangible realities. It is the life that offers bread for the hungry, healing for the suffering, rest for the troubled. Perhaps the most relatable and vivid image of communion is, as a feast, the wedding supper of the Lamb. God appeals to our senses: taste and see, take and eat.

It is in the Eucharist that the different dimensions of communion meet: this is the place where the communion of the faithful is made manifest, where we receive the gifts of God for God’s People. The sacramental order teaches us, by feeding us, communion.

The Scriptural portrayal of the feast is also an image that unsettles the perceived natural order of things. In the feast that is set, the powerless, despised and suffering shall be first. This is so, because of the closeness of God to those who suffer and the closeness of many who suffer to the knowledge and mystery of God. A survivor of clergy abuse wrote to me when he knew I would be at the Synod, he said, ‘be bold about the need for healing. This is a pascal journey we must walk together. And tell them the Eucharist is life saving.’ Not all abuse survivors feel this way, but I share this because it has the character of a prophecy of communion; it calls for repentance, and proclaims the central truth of our faith.

The scandalous friendships of Jesus that drew a community of disciples together were so often table friendships. And table friendships matter. When I worked with a Catholic refugee charity in London, I asked the refugees who came for assistance why they chose this particular service. I will never forget their reply: because here I am welcomed at the door by name, and the staff sit and eat with us at the same table. This dignifies me, it gives me back my humanity. At the other centres, the staff do not eat with us. Worksheet B1.1 focuses our discussions on precisely these questions of a dignified communion where the Church encounters Christ who already sits at table with the poorest.

Thirdly, communion is a participation that ties us to others across time and space. The koininia language of the Scriptures is instructive; it implies: ‘to share, to have a part in, to have something in common with, to act together’; a participation in a shared reality from which no one is, in principle, excluded. It is a reality that becomes more itself as it is poured out, extended outwards to every corner of the globe, and shared more intimately and completely between the Churches. Accepting truth means there is always more truth to know.

We are always acting in the light of what has been, acting now, and acting towards what beckons – towards unity and service of the kingdom. Each of these actions – started but incomplete – tie us to the realities of the past – the joyful ones that need to be sustained, the harmful ones that need to be repented and healed – the praise of God and call of our neighbour in the present, and the future we long to be received into. A crucial part of why communion language is Pascal and therefore hopeful language is because it ties past, present and future with a golden thread. In an age often intent on severing those connections, our faith holds tight to them. It is part of its orientating intelligence for us.

This reality of a communion that radiates, mysterious yet utterly practical, already before us, and still ahead of us, offered as bread for the world and words that save lives, needing to be expressed in every context – local, regional, global – that the Church inhabits, this is the paradoxical horizon of hope, the reality that if we have the courage, the Lord invites us to place ourselves within.

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 7: Sister Hope; Non-Bishops with Authority?; Stoking Fear

Sister Hope

Today, Pope Francis appointed Sister Simona Brambilla, M.C., an Italian-born Consolata Missionary, as the Secretary of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.  Since 2019, she has been a member of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and will now take up the #2 position in the Dicastery.  The International Union of Superiors General (UISG) praised the move as another concrete step in raising more women into positions of authority in the Church. 

Photo: Vatican media

The press briefing summing up the work of the week and the end of Module A was held today.  For the first time, two guests accompanied Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires.  Secretary of the synod and President of Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu and head of the diocese in Kinshasa, Congo, as wellas, Sr. Leticia Salazar, Chancellor for the Diocese of San Bernadino, were present.  Sr. Leticia has been part of the synodal process from the beginning and took part in the drafting of the final continental documents.

Paolo Ruffini explained that the reports for each Small Group were sent to General Secretary of the Synod.  Topics covered included being a welcoming church and ending clericalism and Sheila Pires reported that the small groups that met in the afternoon yesterday, listened to more reports and heard some participants give a short presentation about their experience thus far.

Sheila Pires explained that there were 302 members at the assembly.  It has been reported that some of the members were sick with Covid.  She relayed information about prayer opportunities and explained that Cardinal Grech offered information about pilgrimage next Thursday – a compulsory pilgrimage Catacombs of St. Domitila, a second century catacomb.  During FutureChurch pilgrimages there, Sr. Chris Schenk and Sr. Lyn Osiek pointed out a fourth century fresco of two women, Veneranda and Petronilla, holding a codex and scrolls, signs of their ministry of the Word, a very important bit of history of all Catholics, but especially those at the synod.

Sr. Leticia Salazar shared that the experience of being with the Global church has been amazing and that she is constantly learning new things.  Cardinal Besungu shared that this synod is the fourth synod that he has participated in, but this synod is not like the others.  The cardinal is persuaded that this will bear will bear good fruit for the church.

Q & A

One of the reporters asked if Pope Francis was at the synod in the afternoon on Friday.  Sheila responded that he was there, even though it was not expected, and many of the participants expressed gratitude for his presence.

The same reporter asked Cardinal Besungu about whether the topic of married priests was discussed.  The cardinal responded saying that the topic is being discussed but there will be no decisions until October 2024.

Sr. Leticia was asked about the discussions on migration.  Sr. Leticia was adamant that in her diocese and throughout the Church, we need to be a welcoming church.  At this worldwide synod, “it is for us to discern how to be a welcoming church,” she said, “and to learn to be brothers and sisters to each other.”   Sheila added that the discussions also touched on how migration affects the family structure and how there are now many child-headed families now because of poverty and war.

Non-bishops with Authority?

Another reporter challenged the idea of a collective discernment and asked if it was really the General Secretary that decides.  He

also wanted to know what gives the non-bishops the authority to make decisions.  Cardinal Besengu responded to the challenge by saying that it is baptism that gives all the authority to speak and discern.  He also asked, “How do we together try to find the best solution?”  We adopted this method and we believe this will bring us much closer to what would be the will of God.  Sr. Leticia added that the prayer element is helping the collective community to be attentive to the Spirit of God.

Stoking Fear

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, representing Catholics fearful of gay people, asked Cardinal Besungu, “Given how

CNS photo: Justin McLellan

much the homosexual issue is taboo in Africa, what is your opinion on the emphasis being placed on the LBGT issue during this synod, and are you concerned that these discussions may lead to an acceptance of same sex blessings in the church?  And if that happens, will the African bishops accept it as the will of God?” The cardinal, responded by saying that this is a synod on synodality.  In journeying together, he asked how they could address the issues that are being raised?  “If there is the LGBT and homosexual issues, then the Lord himself through the collective discernment, will tell us ‘you need to follow this direction,” replied the cardinal. He continued, “I don’t want to express my own opinion because that would move away from the spirit of synodality.”

Justin McLellan, an Ecuadorian American journalist based in Rome with Catholic News Service, asked if the Africa and other developing countries are being properly represented in the synod.  Sr. Leticia explained that synodality is not a concept but an experience and this experience is new for her.  She did feel that all were being represented.  Cardinal Besengu, responded by saying that the synodal participants did talk quite a bit about seminary formation. He agreed that there is not a lack of seminarians everywhere but that it is a problem in other places.  Referring to his own diocese he explained, “I have more than 130 seminarians.”

A final reporter asked if the huge expectations around the synod would just cause frustrations.  The cardinal explained that the synod is defining a new way to act and to addressing problems.  It is a call to conversion.  Sr. Leticia’s agreed, expressing her greatest hope for the synod, “How can we learn to be brothers and sisters?”


SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 6: Forming men; Women marching; and What to do with Mueller

The above photo is my favorite of all!  I love the determination on the faces of these women!  The future is bright friends!

During the press briefing, Sheila Pires explained that each language group contains participants from difference geographic regions which makes the sharing richer.  She also explained that women’s roles are a priority at the synod with a woman religious opening with prayer at the synod today.

Forming Men

Some of the topics that are coming up are formation of priests and seminarians, the church being a welcoming home, the plight of migrants, ecumenicism, and inter-religious dialogue.  Sheila also explained that the topic of women’s participation was also discussed and that a religious woman opened the synod today.  There are also discussions about young people and the concerns they share.

Ruffini explained that there were reports from the Small Groups and generally, there was agreement that the atmosphere of fraternity, but there were also fears.

What to Do with Mueller

During the Q & A, Christopher Lamb of The Tablet asked if Cardinal Gerhard Mueller’s interview with EWTN was a break in the rules regarding confidentiality that Pope Francis laid out on the first day.  Ruffini answered saying that Mueller’s interview falls within the realm of discernment.  Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter asked if there would be a punishment for participants, like Cardinal Mueller, who speak about the synod in public.  Ruffini replied that there was no policeman, and that compliance was more along the lines of trust.

Another reporter asked if the participation by women was felt by others and by Ruffini himself.  He said that he did experience the difference and that the notion of being a welcoming church was especially expressed by the women present.

A synod skeptic, Diane Montagna of the Catholic Herald asked if the synod is being led by the Holy Spirit or another spirit.  Ruffini’s answer was short, and as expected, he defended the process at the synod.

Can you hear the women marching?

On Friday, a group of women and their allies marched from the church of St. Giovanni dei Fiorentini to the Vatican holding signs calling for women’s ordination.  The church of St. Giovanni dei Fiorentini was a worthy starting point for these prophetic women because it contains a relic of the foot of St. Mary Magdalene, the “Apostle to the Apostles.”  Like Mary Magdalene, who courageously proclaimed the Word of God in the face of doubters, these women faithfully proclaim God’s word even in the face of those who would scoff.

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 5: Sheroes; Small Groups; and an Accuser

During the press briefing, the head of Vatican media, Dr. Paolo Ruffini explained that the participants introduced themselves today, and voted for the person in their group who would report to the wider body.  The person who is chosen to report is important.  There was a total of three votes taken within the small group to determine who that person would be.

A Shero

One of our sheroes at the synod, Sheila Pires was appointed by Pope Francis as Secretary of the Synod on Synodality Commission

Sheila Pires, October 5, 2023 at press briefing

for Information.  She is a veteran Mozambican journalist who serves in the communications office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC).  FutureChurch was fortunate to have her join our 2020 Pilgrimage to Greece where upon returning to South Africa, she shared what she learned about Early Christian women during her show on Radio Veritas.

Small Groups

Sheila explained that the Small Language Groups met in the morning and discussed their experience of synodality prior to coming to Rome.  Participants had about 4 minutes (each) to share their experience.  After this sharing, there was silence, prayer, and then a kind of feedback where participants shared what touched them.

In the third round, the Small Groups made notes on areas that stood out, areas where they agreed and areas where they heard differences.  A report was drafted of this summary and shared with all the participants by the reporter from each group.

Finally, if a participant feels their comments were not taken into account, they can submit them directly to the Secretariat of the Synod.  Here is a link to the powerpoint that was given today showing the methodology used at the synod:

An Accuser

Q & A

During the Q & A period, Diane Montagna who writes for the Catholic Herald and used to write for the notorious LifeSite News started her question by asking why participants will be bound to silence, even after the synod.  A good question to be sure, but then she went on to cast aspersions some of the women who have been invited to participate in the synod because they “hold positions that are contrary to the Catholic faith.”   She went on to identify one such women, Helena Jeppesen-Spuhler, a synod participant

Helena Jeppesen-Spuhler sharing a laugh with Cardinal Hollerich and Cardinal Grech

from Switzerland who supports the ordination of women.

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my.

I have sat next to Montagna at former synods, and she never fails to get on my last nerve with her manufactured outrage and her mean girl attitude. The sound of fingernails on a blackboard is easier to bear than these brittle and often brutal comments.

God bless the women, and especially sheroes like Helena Jeppesen-Spuhler.

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 4: Laity First; Introductions; and Don’t Talk

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Release of Laudate Deum

As the synod opened, Pope Francis released his most pointed climate challenge to the world, but especially to the United States.  The hope is that this straight talk will spur U.S. bishops and all Catholics, many who are climate change deniers, into new ways of caring for our common home. 

If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.

Opening Eucharist: Laity First

The synod opened with a formal procession and Mass with Pope Francis presiding.  While there was still a lot of overdressing from our ordained members, it was symbolic to witness women and laity processing into the Eucharistic celebration before the prelates.


Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak, one of 10 delegate presidents, gave the first speech of the day. Pope Francis’ remarks were followed by speeches from synod Secretary General Cardinal Mario Grech and synod Relator General Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich who recapped the goals, spirit, and method of the three-year synodal process launched by the Pope in 2021.

Don’t Talk

The rules for the synod engagement were released and included codes of conduct, dress codes, voting rules, etc.  One of the most restrictive rules for journalists was stated as follows:

“To guarantee the freedom of expression of each and every person regarding his or her thoughts and to ensure the serenity of common discernment, which is the main task entrusted to the assembly, participants are bound to confidentiality and privacy both with regard to their own interventions and other participants’ interventions. This duty remains in effect even after the synod assembly has ended.”

It added that “recording, filming, and disseminating” speeches is prohibited.

Pope Francis made it clear that he wants to preserve the confidential atmosphere of the synod and asked that participants “fast” from speaking about what they know publicly.  But, of course, this makes it very difficult to learn what is actually happening inside the synod hall.  Journalists are rightly frustrated because, as with all such events, it is important to learn about the actual experience of synod participants, and not just what the Vatican wants to project.  My guess, is that there will be leaks and interviews that come our way despite the lock down.

Cardinal Mario Grech explained that, as in the past, there has been a Commission for Disputes created composed of three members appointed by the Pope.

He further explained that working groups will begin tomorrow.  Each working group has a facilitator, recorder, and reporter.  Also, the fraternal delegates and experts will join.  These delegates have a right to speak but not to vote.

Finally, Grech explained that each person must stay in their assigned place at the table and use the assigned tablet throughout.

Following Grech, there were two witnesses at the opening session, one by a newly appointed cardinal and one by a layman.

Newly Elected Cardinal Ryś

Especially touching was the witness of Cardinal-elect Archbishop Grzegorz Ryś of Lotz, Poland,.  He spoke of those who came to his synodal gatherings, and especially of one who had not participated in the church for decades.  He explained that after a whole day of listening, this person shared that he did not understand anything that had been discussed.  This informed the cardinal elect most.  For Ryś, the heart of the synodal work is to move far beyond talking to those who are already involved, and to reach out to those who have been excluded.  Let’s hope his words become action!

Video of first day

Vatican media is recording some of the synod meetings.  If you want to see some of the first day’s activities and view how the hall is set up, you can view the opening day here:

SynodWatch RoundUP before the Synod Begins: Good News and Catching Up

It is Sunday, October 15, 2023.  Last week’s open-heart surgery on my beloved family member was successful. God is good. After the surgery, we rode the inevitable ups and downs of post-surgery complications and spent most nights at the hospital. But then things began to look up. On Thursday, after an extensive test, we received good news that we could go home.  From his hospital bed, my favorite patient sang, “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak” by Thin Lizzie.  Everyone else in the room was dancin’.  On Friday, he was released into the arms of his children, the youngest who clung fiercely to him. And he had his first good night’s sleep in weeks.  God is so good.

With the most critical part of this journey behind us, I am returning to my work reporting on the synod.  This first report will be a long one since I am catching up on what has been happening in the synod hall.  I will try to recap other important events as well in other blogs.  So, dear friends, please read what is helpful and leave the rest.  I’ll give you my best and point you to some of the best articles, blogs, and podcasts out there.

SynodWatch, Roundup Style

One of my favorite podcasts is The Daily Beans, News with Swearing.  Dr. Allison Gill offers a roundup of the news each day followed by good news – photos of dogs, cats, and other cute animals.  It is informative, humorous, and, at times, raucous. Given my changed circumstances, I thought it might be a worthy format for reporting on the synod.

This year, all journalists in Rome are facing significant barriers in reporting on the synod. As the synod began, Pope Francis issued a formal request that participants “fast” from talking to journalists. He apologized to the journalists because it creates a kind of media grey-out.  Francis’s worthy goal is to create a space that is more retreat-like and prayerful and where participants can speak freely in their conversation circles without it ending up in a headline.  Yet, it also means that we won’t know many of the details of what is happening between October 4 – 29, or get those up-close-and-personal perspectives that journalists obtained in the past.


Even before synod participants gathered for the opening Mass on October 4, Catholics witnessed some strange shenanigans, and surprisingly, some significant breakthroughs.

September 30, 2023
Discerning Deacons Go To Rome

Photo by Tracy Kemme SC

A number of women, including Tracy Kemme, SC from my Sister of Charity community represented Discerning Deacons as they travelled to Rome to raise awareness about one of the big issues on the table, ordaining women as deacons.  Since 2015, when Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher first uttered the suggestion that synod participants should be talking about women deacons, to 2019 when bishops from the Amazon region asked that the issue be studied, to today, the issue has gathered lots of steam thanks to groups (including the pioneering work of FutureChurch, Voice of the Faithful, Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, Women’s Ordination Conference, etc) and many women including Phyllis Zagano, Sr. Carmen Sammut and the leadership at the International Union of Superiors General who prodded Pope Francis into developing the first study commission in 2016, and more.  The progress that has been made at the synod rests on the shoulders of many pioneering women.

Anna Robertson wrote a blog about some of the Discerning Deacons adventures and they were mentioned in an AP news article.

It is clear that this topic will be coming to the top again and again as synod participants gather.  And I think many who care about this issue are filled with hope that a new day is dawning in the Church for women!

October 2, 2023
Calling Out the Doubters

Photo: Daily Compass

On October 2, Pope Francis published a response to a dubia sent to him in July from Cardinals Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Robert Sarah and Joseph Zen. Their letter containing misgivings or doubts about the synod process focused on five areas; a) the interpretation of Scripture, b) the blessing of same-sex unions, c) the assertion that synodality is a “constitutive dimension of the Church, d) the ordination of women, and e) whether repentance is necessary for a person to receive absolution. While the cardinals had published their dubia, they had not published Francis’s response.  Thus, the Vatican made the Pope’s response public.

The five hand-wringing cardinals who have long opposed the pope’s pastoral vision for the Church, expressed their concern about the way authority would flow at the synod.  Francis used it as an opportunity to teach and to invite them more deeply into the synodal process.

Francis not only reminded the five about the long interpretive tradition of the church, but, also signaled that the church could be open to blessing same sex relationships, a monumental softening of the church’s position.

And in almost the same breath, Pope Francis signaled openness to studying the ordination of women to the priesthood. If you read the dubia, the five cardinals were seeking assurances that the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood would remain closed.  While re-iterating John Paul II’s definitive statement, he suggested that even the notion of a “definitive statement” deserved to be studied and developed.

On the other hand, to be rigorous, let us recognize that a clear and authoritative doctrine on the exact nature of a “definitive statement” has not yet been fully developed. It is not a dogmatic definition, and yet it must be adhered to by all. No one can publicly contradict it and yet it can be a subject of study, as with the case of the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.

That is a stunning admission making it possible to imagine a church that is no longer crippled by  Pope John Paul’s 1994 Apostolic Letter freeing all to recognize God’s call to ordination.

October 3, 2023
Troublemakers about town: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Two events occurred on October 3rd – one with a tragic dystopian vibe, the other inspiring.

Photo by CNS Lola Gomez

As the synod participants were finishing their three-day retreat, Cardinal Raymond Burke helped lead a nifty little retreat of his own. In the Ghione Theater near the Vatican about 200 people including Cardinal Robert Sarah came together for an anti-synod rally.  Lovingly called, “The Synodal Babel,” the group clamored other’s fears about ordained men losing their special status, “decadent Western sexual mores” and “radical feminist claims about the equality of women.”  In similar fashion, the Catholic Identity conference that took place in Pittsburgh at about the same time featured embattled prelates Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and Bishop Joseph Strickland leading sessions like, “Francis’s Missionary Genocide,” “and “Pope of Surprises: Chaplain to the New World Order.”  You can’t make this stuff up.

Credit: AP

Across town, at the Basilica of St. Praxedes, a group of women and men, organized by Women’s Ordination Worldwide entered into prayer and prayerful listening as they practiced synodality in real time.  Women from various geographical regions shared their sorrows and their hopes for a church that honors and cherishes the gifts, strength, and vocational call of women. Kate McElwee spoke of her experience moving through the synodal process.  Calling the synodal path a “synod of surprises,” she recounted the ways her voice and the voices of other women who are called to ordination were officially recognized, for the first time, as part of the synodal conversations.


Before We Begin
Spirituality; Technology; and Process

Hall Setup

This year, the synod gathering was moved to a new venue to accommodate the new process. The Paul VI Hall which holds 6300 people for papal audiences, has been revamped for the synod.  In past synods, the hierarchical order was evident in the large theater style space.  Pope Francis and prelates sat to the front and lay and religious auditors sat in the back.  This year, there are 35 large round tables that seat 10 to 12 participants for a total of 365 places and the prelates, religious, and lay persons are interspersed.  They are seated according to language groups – Italian, Spanish, French, English, and Portuguese.  As they move through the modules, they will also be seated according to topic, a move that is controversial to conservatives who fear this is stacking the deck on issues of women, sexuality, etc.


Attention to Spirituality

For the first time in synod history, there has been an intentional effort to create a spiritual atmosphere.  While at past synods, Each morning begins with the Eucharist.  This did not happen at previous synods. Moments of prayer and silence are also interspersed throughout the discussions.  After three or four people share, there is silence.

Advanced Technology

The technology has also advanced this year with features such as simultaneous translation for each participant in the major languages.

At each table there are black encased touch-screen tablets for each voting member including Pope Francis (his tablet in encased in white). The device provides access to the Synod assembly’s reference texts such as the Instrumentum Laboris and a record of the discussions throughout the month. These devices will also be used for voting on the final text toward the end of the month – a document that will become the roadmap for the work over the next year.  When the participants arrive at their places, the first thing they do is to present the QR code on the back of their badge to the tablet bearing their name. Their tablets remain in the hall.

There are also four television sets per table which allow the participants to follow what the speaker of the moment is saying.

The Schedule & Process

The work is divided into five modules focusing on the three priorities outlined in the  Instrumentum Laboris

Each of the first four Modules has as its theme one of the sections of the Instrumentum Laboris (A; B1; B2; B3), while the fifth Module (C) is for drafting and approving (by vote)) the final document.  This powerpoint was shared to show how the methodology works.

Module A on the nature, meaning, and experience of synodality, was discussed from October 4 – 7, 2023.  Those discussions were structured as follows:

  1. Cardinal Hollerich offers overview of module..
  2. There were two sessions of the Small Groups at the tables which discussed the topic. They then prepared a summary of their discussions, main reflections, and questions which was delivered to all participants in the plenary session.
  3. During the two plenary sessions, participants listened to the interventions of the Small Groups followed by free discussion.
  4. Another session for the Small Groups was provided so they could draft a final report of their discussions. The small group wrote a final report and approved it as being an accurate reflection of their discussions.  It was then delivered to the General Secretariat Cardinal Grech.

Modules B1, B2, B3 on Communion, Co-Responsibility, and Participation have a slightly different structure with more plenary sessions. Discussions take place from October 9 – 21, 2023.

  1. Cardinal Hollerich offers overview of module.
  2. There are two sessions of the small groups with a report to be given during the plenary sessions.
  3. There are three plenary sessions where all listen to all the reports of the Small Groups and to discuss what they hear.
  4. The final session of the Small Groups is space to draft a final report, approve it by all the members of the small group, and deliver it to Cardinal Grech.

Module C is the final module for developing the final draft of the Summary Report of the first session of the Assembly, the report that will be used as a roadmap for the following year.  This module will take place from October 23 – 28, 2023.

  1. The outline of the Summary Report for Module A will be presented in a plenary session.
  2. The floor will be opened for debate around the outline of the Synthesis Report;
  3. The Small Groups will have further discussion of the Summary Report.
  4. There will be another plenary session for the presentation and debate of the outline of the Summary Report relating to Modules B1, B2 and B3.
  5. The Small Groups will further discuss the Summary Report for those modules.

Finally, after all discussions and amendments, there will be a reading of the full text of the amended Summary Report to all members in a plenary session along with a vote for approval of the final report.

Useful Resources

Vatican list of participants at the Synod.

The National Catholic Reporter Guide to the U.S. Participants at the Synod

Synod resources and documents:

Sisters involved in the Synod on Synodality

Important Articles and Podcasts

Sr. Angela Perez by Rhina Guidos

Heidi Schlumpf interviews Kate McElwee

Meet the Woman Who Led the U.S. Synod Process – interview of Julia McStravog by Coleen Dulle

Vatican Synod on Synodality Signals Hope for Women’s Ordination Advocates by Claire Giangravé

LGBT Catholics subject of emotional debate by Christopher White

The Vatican’s High Tech Synod





Synod Watch: Coming and Going

October 5, 2023

Yesterday, the 2023 Synod on Synodality began in Rome. This historic gathering of 54 women and 365 bishops and other lay, religious, and ordained is the first of two large meetings.  According to the Instrumentum Laboris, or the working document, participants will discern which issues related to communion, participation, and mission will be studied over the next year with more decisive action to be taken in 2024.  Pressing issues like climate change, women’s roles and ordination, LGBTQ inclusion and rights, and opening the priesthood to married men will certainly be raised in these discussions and discernment.

This is my second SynodWatch blog.  I will be sending more, but not from Rome as I had originally planned. My circumstances have changed.  Just a few hours after I arrived in Rome, I received a call and learned that my beloved family member (I wrote about him in my first blog) is back in the hospital, seriously ill again, and, at this moment undergoing open heart surgery.  I am writing this from the hospital waiting room as the doctors perform a six-to-eight-hour surgery.  I have my rosary in hand and many family and friends are praying for him.  I feel deep gratitude for this outpouring of love and care.  Love heals.

And although I am disappointed that I cannot serve as one of your eyewitnesses from Rome at this historic time, the decision was not a hard one. I must be here.

So, as the days unfold, I will be reading, listening, interviewing, and writing about major events, especially as they pertain to the women who are participating inside and outside the synod hall.

Thank you all for your understanding as I move into my primary role as a mother and grandmother as my beloved one heals.

Deborah Rose

Synod Watch: Packing the Pink

For the past several weeks I have spent a lot of time in a hospital room helping a beloved family member recover from a very serious illness.  He is home now and on a steady path to regaining his health.  Thus, as I have over the past 10 years, I will pack my bag and head to Rome to cover the synod. Since this is a historical year for women, I will pack lots of pink – the “dismantle patriarchy” color (you have to see the Barbie movie to understand).  And each day, I’ll be spending a lot of time listening to women – 54 of them. For the first time in our history, they will be discerners, deciders, and voters regarding the future of the Church.

As I recall our history, I am sure Loretto Sister Mary Luke Tobin, one of the first women to attend the Second Vatican Council, will be smiling down.

Still, as I sat in the hospital, in between the beeping of infusion pumps, antibiotic drips, and the movements of nurses taking vitals, I read articles and blog posts that focused on the synod.  Some of the writing made me smile – either overly romantic or tragically removed from reality, as if the Holy Spirit acts independently of the actual physical people who will be in the room.

But it was the chiding that really blew me away.

Michael Sean Winters appropriately condemned the unhinged tirades and tactics of Bishop Strickland.  But he runs off the rails when he equates Strickland to Miriam Duignan of Women’s Ordination Worldwide.

Miriam Duignan, a member of the leadership team at Women’s Ordination Worldwide, recently told NCR, “the synodal dialogue will be painfully incomplete and dishonest if it does not adequately address the widespread
calls to open all ordained ministries to women.” Dishonest? 

How is that any less undermining of the principal need of the synod —
to surrender and listen to the Holy Spirit — than the rantings of
Bishop Strickland? Clinging to a particular understanding of how
the Catholic Church should organize itself to fulfill the mission entrusted
to it by its head and founder, Jesus Christ, and insisting all other
understanding are wrong or counterfeit, betrays a lack of humility that
will kill the synod before it starts. 

Reading this, I nearly spit out my hospital coffee.

I tried to understand how he could make such a grotesquely unfair comparison. I may not know his motives, but I do recognize the tone and pattern.  It is familiar to Catholic women, and especially those who have spent their lives at the prophetic edge, working for Gospel justice and Spirit led reform in our Church.

In defending his harsh take, Winters also cites Thomas Reese, SJ who is more certainly more nuanced, yet seems to agree there are troubling voices that are getting an inordinate amount of media attention.

According to the media, the most important issues facing the Synod on
ynodality are the possibility of married priests, women deacons and
the blessing of gay couples. … For the instrumentum laboris and Pope
Francis, the priority issues are communion, participation and mission.

Given these kind of remarks and criticisms, here are my rather practical questions.

How would participants and the faithful even talk about communion, participation, and mission in any meaningful way without getting into particular issues?  And aren’t these three ways of “walking together” intimately and inextricably bound up with Gospel justice including gender and LGBTQ justice?

The listening session documents up to and including the final Continental Assembly reports are chock-full of very particular concerns, sorrows, and hopes that Catholics share over seven regions. Catholics across the world agree that we need to discern new roles for women and ordination for women.  Many Catholics from around the world also agree that now is the time for LGBTQ justice.  The Instrumentum Laboris states it was drafted “on the basis of all the material gathered during the listening phase, and in particular the final documents of the Continental Assemblies (3).”

The questions that will be posed in October will require ongoing and honest discussions about women’s ministry and authority, including ordination, LBGTQ rights, and yes, as the Amazon bishops signaled in 2019, married priests.

While some may cast a stern gaze on  those of us who have spent our lives working for justice within the Church, since 2021, we have been invited to share our concerns and keep the dream of a more just Church alive as we walk together.  Be reminded that the Vatican continues to encourage us inviting us to, “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent.” That means making room for those whose voices have been ignored, disparaged, silenced, or excluded.

Scroll down their webpage and you will see in big letters, “The Church is Listening.”  I hope those who are troubled by women’s words will take to heart the word “listen.”

Finally, follow Pope Francis on this one. He has asked all to speak with “parrhesia.” That means speaking boldly and with freedom.  That goes for Miriam Duignan.  That goes for the rest of us.

May our synodal journey this October and beyond continue to be blessed, authentic, bold, and fruitful.

Deborah Rose