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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 14: A whoopsie; Sr. Maria’s grace; Antioch again?

A whoopsie

Whoopsie!  It appears that the confidential small group discussion documents were infiltrated by a conservative journalist who found an open link with no password requirements.  He reported it to synod officials. The National Catholic Register took note of the leak and complained that even though the reports are no longer secret, officials preferred to fix the link refusing to release the coveted reports.  During the press briefing, Ruffini addressed the “whoopsie” — the leaking of small group documents and the issue of confidentiality. Ruffini explained that because some members could not access the documents, the General Secretary created an open link which contained some of the small group reports.  After they learned it was being accessed by others, they reinstated the secure link.  During the Q & A, Fr. Thomas Reese asked if the documents could be shared with all journalists since they were leaked, but Ruffini said it was a closed matter.

On the press panel, Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires were joined by Sister Maria De Los Dolores Palencia Gómez who is one of the Presidential Delegates for the Synod; Enrique Alarcón García, president of ‘Frater España’, a Christian fraternity that brings together many people with disabilities in Spain; and Father Mauro Giuseppe Lepori, Abbot General of the Cistercian Order.

Ruffini explained that at the end of the second week participants are discussing the third module, B2; the conception of ministry, the relationship of ordained to non-ordained, the role of women, and other topics.  He also explained that there were different small groups working on different questions within B2.

Ruffini also addressed the “whoopsie” above — the leaking of small group documents and the issue of confidentiality. Ruffini explained that because some members could not access the documents, the General Secretary created an open link which contained some of the small group reports.  After they learned it was being accessed by others, they reinstated the secure link.

The first person to speak today was Enrique Alarcón García, president of ‘Frater España’, a Christian fraternity that brings together many people with disabilities in Spain. He arrived at the press conference in a wheelchair. He spoke of his gratitude saying it was, “First of all, for the Holy Father who wanted me at the Synod.” Because my presence is not just a formality, I was not placed here to be displayed like a flag”. He believes that Francis, “is always interested in how people with disabilities live in the Church and what they think of it. We were not used to this”.  “Persons with disabilities are the greatest minority in the world,” and Garcia hopes that there will truly be inclusion in our Church. Pope Francis is making a way.

Sr. Maria’s grace

For the first time ever, on Friday, a synod session was chaired by a woman: Sister Maria De Los Dolores Palencia Gómez, of the order of San José de Lyon. At the press briefing, Sr. Maria said the following:

My name is Maria and I have been a sister for over 50 years and my journey through life was marked by peripheries. Almost all my life was spent with indigenous peoples, rural people, and also with migrants. At the moment I’m living in a place where I work every day and where I welcome migrants from Southern and Central America and also from Africa, Asia.  I welcome them on a daily basis.

Being here is a real grace and a gift for my life to have the opportunity of being invited to the synod and to participate in this synod work.  I also worked during preparatory stage in all the different steps and, I must say that this was a learning and an unlearning path.   A learning path that was very important is to listen to every reality of every person in every culture.  So it’s not just a matter of listening it is also a matter of echoing through the others’s words – the Spirit through the common discernment that we are experiencing tin the synod.  It is a time of listening and encounter, listening and understanding, and through listening and understanding we’re trying to discover with the Spirit is suggesting so that we may better serve our Church and to take steps forward based on a strong desire that of being a message of hope in the name of the Gospel in the world. 

Yesterday I had the grace of being invited to be the delegate president and I presided over the assembly in the morning session.  I must say that it was a very deep experience, very exciting, and very moving as well.  I sat down with the Pope.  We were sitting at the same table with the Secretary General and the Rapporteur.  And I realized that this is a modus vivendi, forever, a way of life, a co-responsibility that strongly emerges from the synod.  With co-responsibility that unites us through our baptism, it is an invitation to be attentive, to pay attention because as baptized men and women we must continue to listen to the Spirit.  We must continue to journey together respecting what at the cultural level must be different, what needs different responses to journeying together with a permanent and ongoing dialogue.  I have read Ecclesiam Suam written by Paul VI about the importance of the church as a dialogue. The church is dialogue. This is truly what we are experiencing on a daily basis in our synod. It is something that for me is a great grace.

Having been the first woman, as a cardinal was telling me yesterday, the first woman in 20 years to preside over an assembly of bishops, well for me, this was a gift and a grace.  I think it is also a symbol of this openness that the church has, a desire that sees us all as pilgrims along the same route.  Something that places all of us at the same level — the role of women — the charism that we can offer the church. These are all steps in this synodal journey.  They represent a great joy for me, as well as a great responsibility. We have always felt responsible for our role in the church, but today this resounds in a much stronger way because we are publicly recognized. And we must show that as women, both lay women and sisters, we can put at the service of the Gospel and hope.

After Sr. Maria’s words, Father Mauro Giuseppe Lepori spoke.  The Union of Superiors General appointed him to represent them at the synod.  “As a monk, I am learning a lot from the synod,” he said. “I feel very compelled and challenged by this synod, because it calls for a conversion to listening.”  After being initially fearful about the synod, Fr. Mauro has come to believe that the Spirit will speak as they listen closely to each other.  He believes they are going in a direction that is good for the Church.

Q & A

One journalist asked if there would be a declaration from the synod on the Israeli Palestine war and all wars.  Ruffini did not answer directly but spoke about what had been done already in terms of prayers.

A journalist from Peru asked Sr. Maria.  “What are your expectations concerning listening?  Do you feel you will be listened to?  Sr. Maria, responded that the synod is a process with steps that goes little by little but that there is going to be another synod that will be much more decisive.   “We are being invited to give our own contributions. We have already made strong steps ahead,” she said.

Mr. Garcia agreed with Sr. Maria but also said that the synod is very pedagogical in nature.  The bishops realize that we can not only listen, but they can have real dialogue as co-equal brothers and sisters.

Diane Montanya from the Catholic Herald asked about the synthesis report.  “Can you tell us what the members will be voting on?”  Given that this is the first assembly is with lay people, will we be given a breakdown of how they voted?

Ruffini responded by saying that the final report has not been drafted yet so he cannot say what will come out.  The final report will be different from other synthesis reports because there is going to be another session in 2024.  As far as voting, there will be bishops and non-bishops.  He defended the make-up of the synod body stressing, “We are part of the same assembly. It is a consultative synod.  Lay members are united by a common baptismal priesthood.”

Women Priests and Bishops?

Diane Montanya also asked Fr. Mauro, “Since you are a priest, we know there are both bishops and laity at the synod who are pushing for women’s ordination.  It is mentioned in the Instrumentum Laboris as inclusion in the diaconate. The push for women deacons in the synod is no different than the feminist push for women deacons in the Anglican communion which led to women priests and bishops.  How is this not a further step in ordination?”

Fr. Mauro said, as far as female priesthood, this topic is not dominating our discussion.

What is important is the participation of women in the life of the church. So how can we better recognize the dignity of women in the church?  From what I have seen so far, no one has spoken about female priesthood….The great temptation when we discuss these topics is to be too superficial.  We are speaking at a deep level.  I am in a group that is speaking about the role of women.  I chose this.  Monks and nuns belong to the same order and are members of the same general chapter.  There are no distinctions.  Living the life of the church with her two lungs enriches the church.  How this will be expressed is not something I am able to say.  We always seek what is good for the Church and the theme of women’s roles in the church is essential.

Another journalist from Mexico asked about the sensitivity of the synod participants to the plight of migrants.  Sr. Maria said that she believes there is a sensitivity in the synod.  She hopes that the synod will continue to speak about migration and that this cry is never silenced.

Antioch again?

The final and important question from Coleen Dulle of America Magazine to Ruffini.  Regarding discussions on sexuality, Dulle asked, “it sounds like there were different points of view offered from delegates on various topics in the past, especially around sexual identity.  Do you think this synod is having better conversations around these issues and if so, what do you think contributed to that – the media fasting, the round tables, the retreat, etc., or do conversations still feel polarized?

Ruffini responded:

In general terms I can tell you what I participated in and in what I could bear witness to.  It is true there is a serene dialogue or exchange even though people do not share the same opinion.  In small groups members are asked to highlight those issues where there are disagreements.  What I can say is we are halfway through our journey, there may be more polarized exchanges and less based on communion.  But what I am witnessing is an extraordinary exercise in communion.

Dulle’s question was likely sparked by the debate that was reported by Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter.  Under the cloak of anonymity, several participants shared the rising tensions regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ people into the church.

According to White:

According to the interviews, given under the condition of anonymity due to the synod’s rules on confidentiality of the assembly’s discussions, speeches about LGBTQ Catholics were given by delegates from a range of areas, including Eastern Europe, Africa and Australia. To varying degrees, the remarks expressed skepticism toward efforts to better integrate LGBTQ Catholics into the church’s ministries. 

Those interventions were then reportedly countered by several personal testimonials calling on the church to urgently reexamine its approach to LGBTQ persons, which were reportedly met by open applause from synod delegates.

This is the beginning of a long overdue conversation.  It won’t be any easier than the struggle between Peter and Paul about inclusion of the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-16). But it is a start and, in the end, we will have justice within our church.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’[a] 

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified[b] not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.[c] And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,[d] and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.