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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?