UCA News
Contribute

Lay groups forge solidarity, hold parallel synod in Rome

Let's hope the Catholic Church hierarchy appreciates their commitment and listens to their voices
Kate McElwee (right), president of the Women's Ordination Conference (WOC), takes part in a demonstration to advocate and pray for the ordination of women as deacons, priests, and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church, near the Vatican in Rome on Oct. 6.

Kate McElwee (right), president of the Women's Ordination Conference (WOC), takes part in a demonstration to advocate and pray for the ordination of women as deacons, priests, and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church, near the Vatican in Rome on Oct. 6. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 19, 2023 03:51 AM GMT
Updated: October 24, 2023 05:03 AM GMT

Dozens of people from different continents, including Latin America, but only one each from Asia and Africa (who were impeded by the costs of traveling and obtaining visas) were present in Rome during the early weeks of the official Synod called by Pope Francis, hoping to get their voices heard. 

A week before the start of the Synod, survivors of clerical sex abuse held demonstrations in Rome, then moved to Geneva to the UN Human Rights Commission and finally approached the International Court in The Hague in an attempt to get justice from the Catholic Church.

At the start of the Synod, international Women’s organizations like Women’s Ordination Worldwide and the Women’s Ordination Conference held demonstrations calling the attention of the Synod to the rights of women in the Church to equal discipleship as practiced by Jesus.

In the second week of the Synod, the international body of women — the Catholic Women’s Council (CWC) — gathered women and a few men as well, from all over the globe for round table discussions on “Women in the Instrumentum Laboris.” Three women from the official Synod joined the discussions for a short time. 

Japanese Sister Filo Hirota who is a member of the Synod Preparatory Commission and a non-voting member of the official Synod spoke to the gathering and informed us about the cordial and friendly atmosphere that prevails in the Synod Hall.  She said the bishops asked to use their first names instead of their titles.  Most bishops are wearing suits instead of their official dress, to make themselves less conspicuous. 

Sister Carolina, an Iraqi sister from a local congregation, said how free and comfortable she felt to speak with the bishops and even to assert her point of view when needed.

"Their idea of priesthood is focused on caring for the people in their communities and not just on rituals"

Helena Jeppsen, a delegate from Switzerland at the Synod, said she was impressed that women were speaking very frankly and strongly about their opinions on the topics being discussed. She said that each day she had the chance to join a new discussion group so there was a good cross-pollination of ideas.

Even Pope Francis was part of the round table discussions.

The points that emerged strongly from the CWC discussion were the call for women to be recognized as equal to men in positions of leadership and decision-making; the need for change to inclusive language in church liturgies, scriptures and documents; call to end corruption in the marriage tribunals of dioceses; the call to end violence against women in the Church — undermining of their contribution to the Church, valuing women only in relation to how useful they are to the clergy.

Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP), held a program where they shared how their idea of priesthood is focused on caring for the people in their communities and not just on rituals. They explained how they model the servant priesthood of Jesus. 

They joined with the CWC to celebrate a liturgy of lament, reconciliation and healing for all the women in the Church who have suffered abuse and denial of their vocation to serve as priests.

Starting on Oct. 8 through to Oct. 15, a convergence of lay groups under the name “Spirit Unbounded” held a virtual series of over 100 speakers representing a wide spectrum of the People of God. 

“What the people really need is community, not patriarchal clericalism"

While most were women, the testimony of a Shawnee scholar Steven Newcomb, who is the director of the Indigenous Law Institute in the US, was an eye-opener.  He spoke of the “genocidal systems of indoctrination” used by the missionaries who piggy-backed with the colonizers in their “lust for gain which did not seem to conflict with their Christian faith.” 

A few speakers were present in Rome on Oct. 13-14. Notable among them were Sister Joan Chittister OSB and Dr. Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland who has a doctorate in Canon Law. They spoke to a packed hall at the Casa Bonus Pastor, just behind the Vatican where the official Synod was taking place.

Sister Joan pointed out, “What the people really need is community, not patriarchal clericalism.  They need discipleship!”  But she asserted, “We need to understand the nature of discipleship, recognize the true signs of discipleship, and be willing to give ourselves over to what discipleship demands now.” 

She reminded, “To follow Jesus is to follow the One who turned the world upside down, even the religious world!”

Dr. McAleese said we are here today because “the Catholic Church which should be and could be an exemplar of equality and respect for human rights is not.  Instead, the only faith system to have representative status at the United Nations, a key influencer of laws, attitudes and cultures on five continents, is languishing in a deepening credibility crisis precisely because it has failed to reform an outdated internal structure of governance, teachings and laws in which inequality is embedded, in which the human rights of members are routinely restricted.”

We are Church International (WAC) an organization comprising members from every continent except Africa, is committed to renewal of the Church based on Vatican Council II. The WAC held a demonstration right in the center of St. Peter’s Square late one evening, taking the police by surprise, but executing what they came to do.  Wearing bright yellow T-shirts printed with “Equality for All – Women, Laity, LGBTQ+, Married” they sang a song, "Equality," composed by their director Colm Holmes. The following days they held their hybrid biennial general assembly recommitting themselves to support Pope Francis in the Synodal process for renewal towards equality.

The solidarity forged between all the lay groups gathered in Rome was positive and energizing. Considering that lay people used their own funds to travel to Rome and live there for a week or so demonstrate their interest and love for the Church.  It is hoped that Pope Francis and the hierarchy appreciate their commitment and listen to their voices.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia