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Working Document for Synod offers hope for progress but limits true synodality by curtailing conversation of ordination


Russ Petrus, Executive Director


On July 9, 2024 the Vatican released the Instrumentum Laboris – or working document – which will guide conversation and discernment at the October 2024 General Assembly of the Synod on Communion, Participation and Mission in Rome.

While FutureChurch sees much hope for progress in the document, we also cannot ignore the fact that true synodality cannot be realized if certain topics – such as the ordination of women to the diaconate – are excluded from conversation.

Entitled “How to be a missionary synodal church,” the document reflects Pope Francis’ desire for a cultural shift toward a Church that is more dialogical, open to a diversity of perspectives and experiences, and where discernment and decision-making is the common work of all the People of God – lay and ordained alike. And in compiling the interim reports from around the globe, the writers have put forward requests for further consideration that, if realized, will enable lay people – and particularly women – to take an important role in catalyzing such a culture change.

Recommendations made in paragraphs 16 and 18 such as lay preaching at Mass, the use of more inclusive language and imagery in preaching and Church teaching, a greater role for women in seminaries, wider access for women to take up decision making roles in dioceses, and an increase in the number of women serving as judges in canonical processes are all helpful and hopeful.

However, the working document fails to fully live out its own vision of synodality and proclamation that “by virtue of Baptism, [women] enjoy full equality, receive the same outpouring of gifts from the Spirit, and are called to the service of Christ’s mission” (13) by curtailing discussion of the ordination of women. Of the dozens of concrete proposals made by delegates in the synthesis report from October 2023, continued discussion of women deacons appears to be the only one explicitly taken off the synodal table (17) and instead entrusted to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith (see Group 5).

It must be said: true synodality will not be realized if certain topics remain off limits and there can be no real equality in the Church as long as women, whom “God chose…as the first witnesses and heralds of the Resurrection” (13), are denied access to the ordained ministries to which God calls them.

FutureChurch has been fully engaged in the synodal process – most recently submitting the synthesis of our own interim stage listening sessions to both the USCCB and the General Secretariat of the Synod in Rome and hosting two listening sessions with synod delegate, Dr. Cynthia Bailey Manns, this month.  And we will continue to press forward toward a Church that is alive with the wisdom, gifts, and vocations of all its members.

Our “Mary Magdalene Goes to the Synod” Project to Expand the Lectionary calls on the global Church to take up the necessary work of including more biblical women in the readings for Sunday Mass and increase awareness that women were – and still should be – ministers, leaders, and proclaimers of the Gospel.

FutureChurch will hold a virtual overview and discussion of the Working Document and Study Groups on Thursday, August 1, 2024 at 7pm ET. Details and registration.