Synod Synthesis Offers Signs of Hope for New Inclusive Processes in the Church; An Urgent Call for Women’s Inclusion in Governance and Ministry; Delivers a Blow to LGBTQ+ Catholics and Allies
Photo by Sheila Pires
With the stated goal of restructuring the way discernment and decision making is taken up in the Church, the Synod on Synodality advanced a new model. The Final Synthesis also offers signs of authentic progress for women in the Church but failed miserably to capture the growing consensus among Catholics in the lead up to the October meeting regarding justice and inclusion for LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Synodality has tremendous transforming potential for the Church. As a continuation of the Second Vatican Council, it holds promise for renewing the structures, ministries, teachings, liturgy, and practices of the church to better serve the demands of the Gospel for our time. This is all the more true as synodality leads us to a healthier focus on meeting the needs of the local church.
And while it holds promise, signs of its current limitations were on full display at the October meeting. While the local, diocesan, national, and continental listening phases reflected promising expressions of the sensus fidelium and the best of what it means to be Catholic, the outsized presence of bishops at the synod had a tragic cooling effect what the Holy Spirit seemed to be saying through the experience, faith, and love of God’s people.
The Abysmal Failure of the synthesis document on LGBTQ+ inclusion and justice
In terms of LGBTQ+ justice and inclusion, the document was a crushing blow to a church that desperately needs to be more pastoral and welcoming to our LGBTQ+ family. The document’s vague and non-committal language was particularly devastating given the Pope’s pre-synod remarks on blessing gay relationships; the shattering stories of LGBTQ+ youth who committed suicide that were told in the Synod hall; his public meetings with Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Marianne Duddy Burke of DignityUSA; not to mention, the appointment of James Martin SJ, an advocate for LGBTQ+ Catholics who is also leading the church toward a new era of justice, inclusion, and compassion.
The Urgent Call for Women in Governance and Ministry
First and foremost, the fact that 54 women were co-equal voting members of the Synod was not only historic, their presence brought life-giving energy for lifting up women and other excluded populations in the Church and in the world. Sadly, the compassion, hunger for justice, and resilient faith of the women of the synod was not fully reflected in the document. And while the synthesis contained indicators of progress, the intense energy and hunger for women’s leadership, authority, and ministry that was on display in earlier consensus documents was muted.
Still, there were many proposals in the synthesis that will advance women’s roles and ministry in the Church as they are developed over the next year.
Part II, Section 9 of the synthesis describes the need for inclusive language that more fully lifts up women’s faith and includes a richer set of images, words, and narratives that recalls their apostleship, discipleship, and early ministries as they innovated and shaped the Tradition. As many Catholics are already aware, the current Lectionary omits or distorts many of the stories of our foremothers in faith from both the First and Second Testaments. Exposing Catholics to this lopsided set of narratives reinforces patriarchal authority muting the synodal Spirit found throughout much of our history. Because of the damage it has caused, FutureChurch will continue its work recovering the stories of our ‘hidden sisters” through our Catholic Women Preach platform and FutureChurch advocacy and resources.
Another proposal in Section 9 uses the word “urgent” to describe the need to open more doors to women’s ministry and authority in decision making bodies. The proposal for studying ordination for women to the diaconate is a continuation of the rather striking progress made on this issue since it was first mentioned at a synod by a single prelate, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, at the 2015 Synod on the Family. In 2019, the notion was further advanced when a great number of women and prelates, especially from the Amazon region, argued convincingly that ordination for women should be conferred since women were already acting as deacons in those remote regions.
Part II, Section 8 speaks of expanding lay preaching as part of the Ministry of the Word. The language is somewhat convoluted, and it is not entirely clear if this preaching would take place in the Liturgy or outside of it. None the less, lay preaching is up for discussion and study and we will continue our grassroots effort to make this a reality.
The synthesis continues to try to break the stranglehold of centralized authority by placing emphasis on meeting the needs of the local church. That is very important for all regions, but it is especially hopeful when looking at regions like the Amazon and Germany where local bishops are ready to move forward on issues that had very little chance of gaining traction in prior decades.
Finally, FutureChurch congratulates the women who participated and voted in the Synod. They created sacred space as they prophetically embraced and encouraged new paths for women’s ministry and authority and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized peoples.
Prophetic Pioneers of Faith
We are also profoundly grateful for those who made this historical year possible. Women
having the vote would have not been possible without people like Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, Kate McElwee, Sr. Nathalie Becquart, the Benedictine nuns from Fahr Monastery near Basel, Switzerland and so many more who worked at the grassroots level and behind the scenes to open this door for women in the Church.
Our Church will never be the same as women religious who have practiced synodality and offered ministry to the most despised for centuries, as well as lay women who embody justice, empathy, and radical love in their ministries, advance the Gospel within a church that has been blinded by patriarchy and clericalism — constricting the flow of God’s radical love in our lives.
For the faith, love, and tenacity of women in our Church, we are forever grateful.
A Tribute to The Women of the Synod
To find FutureChurch’s tribute to the Women of the Synod go to: https://youtu.be/cAfoJENIM-8?si=Mf4b1jzEyN86o0gD
Learn more about the final synthesis
Curious to learn more about the final synthesis document? Join us on November 9 at 7pm ET as we spend 90 minutes discussing the final document and creating ideas for what we can do to advance women’s authority, preaching, and ministry as we head towards the second meeting of the Synod on Synodality in October 2024.