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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.