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Was the voice of women adequately heard at the synod?

We are past the stage where placating works and want our human rights equal to men recognized
 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: November 09, 2023 03:37 AM GMT
Updated: December 01, 2023 04:59 AM GMT

The start of the Synod on Synodality gave women some hope — for the first time 82 women participated in a synod and 54 had voting rights. Women at the synod reported that the discussions were cordial, friendly and that they could express themselves freely. 

While we are aware that this first session sets the discussions on the table for the next session in 2024, women and LGBTQI+ persons express legitimate concerns that their aspiration for recognition of their baptismal equality and dignity has fallen off the table.

The synthesis report of the synod reveals that hierarchy and patriarchy are firmly in place in the Church structure. There is no indication that anything is going to change.

Most disturbing is the assertion that reinforces the complementarity of women and men. “Scripture testifies to the complementarity and reciprocity of women and men. The covenant between man and woman is at the heart of God's plan for creation” and “Men and women are called to a communion characterized by non-competitive co-responsibility, to be embodied at every level of the Church's life.”

What exactly is meant by “non-competitive co-responsibility?” Does the hierarchy recognize that the teachings of the Church about women’s complementarity place them in a secondary status and are the cause of a lot of violence to women both spiritual and sexual in the Church and the domestic sphere?

The synod “asks the Church to grow in its commitment to understand and accompany women, pastorally and sacramentally. Women desire to share the spiritual experience of walking toward holiness in the different stages of life: as young people, as mothers, in friendship relationships, in family life at all ages, in the world of work, and in consecrated life.”

"The synod process shows that there is need for a renewal of relationships and structural changes"

Not long ago the Church had structures even at the Vatican level, run by women, set up to dialogue with and empower women, I worked in these structures at the diocesan, national and continental levels and tried my best to help the bishops understand and dialogue with women. However, these structures did not last even two decades. Why?

Women have learned to accompany each other in their spiritual growth sharing their life experiences and helping each other along the ups and downs of their lives in the absence of these structures. 

We appreciate that the Synod admits that “clericalism, machismo, and inappropriate use of authority continue to scar the face of the Church and damage communion. A deep spiritual conversion is needed as the basis for any structural change.”

“The synod process shows that there is need for a renewal of relationships and structural changes. In this way we will be better able to welcome the participation and contribution of all — lay men and women, consecrated men and women, deacons, priests and bishops — as co-responsible disciples of the mission.”  There is no clarity as to what structural change is being considered. Will they be substantial or effective?

The discussions regarding the diaconate for women were mostly negative — “not in keeping with Church tradition.”  To counter the negative argument about tradition, Pope Francis points out that “synodality is an expression of the dynamism of the living Tradition.”

While there were some who pointed out that the diaconate for women was present in the early Church, the final verdict was to refer to the findings of the commission appointed by Pope Francis to look into the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate. Mary Patricia McAleese, an Irish activist and an expert in both Church and civil law, described the decision as “kicking the can down the road.”

"The abuse of women, which is widespread in the Church, is not spoken of"

The role of deacon is described as being “ordained for ministry, to serve the People of God in the diakonia of the Word, liturgy, and especially charity (cf. LG 29). It is clarified that the: “The uncertainties surrounding the theology of the diaconal ministry are due to the fact that in the Latin Church, it has been restored as a proper and permanent degree of the hierarchy only since the Second Vatican Council. A deeper reflection on this will also illuminate the issue of women's access to the diaconate.”  It is stressed that laymen have been admitted to the permanent diaconate, which in no way is a pathway to their ordination to be priests. 

Women’s call for considering their ordination to priestly ministry has not been heeded.  Some women wonder if women should enter the permanent diaconate only to serve in works of charity when we are already doing this work without ordination and without being under any male authority or direction.

What women are asking for is equality in ministry — therefore the need for women’s ordination is to serve as presbyters alongside men. 

The most painful is the fact that persons identifying as LGBTQI+ persons have been described as controversial because they “raise new questions.”  Their acceptance has been set aside with the excuse that “the anthropological categories we have developed are not sufficient to grasp the complexity of the elements emerging from experience or knowledge in the sciences and require refinement and further study.” Their basic human right to self-determination is not recognized.  Their basic human desire to form affective relationships has been denied. Yet the Church is described as Mother?

The abuse of women, which is widespread in the Church, is not spoken of.  I have followed up closely with all the amendments since 2019 on this issue. Till today justice for women survivors of clergy sex abuse is not adequately addressed.  Even the amendments made by Pope Francis are not being followed to give justice to survivors of clergy abuse in general.

So I ask: Was the voice of women adequately heard at the Synod on Synodality?  Even though Pope Francis kept reminding us “todos, todos, todos,” everyone, everyone, everyone, has to be heard!  There are just some crumbs here and there to placate women.

We, women, are past the stage where placating works. Women want our human rights equal to men recognized and made operational in the Catholic Church. Nothing less.

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

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