Catholics want the role and vocation of women urgently addressed, according to a new report from the synodal listening process.
The synod’s landmark report indicates that Catholics repeatedly express a desire for a more welcoming and inclusive Church that eradicates abuse of power.
Discoveries are contained in a 45-page document published by the office of the synod of the Holy See which summarizes the results of the unprecedented process of listening and dialogue within the framework of the worldwide synod.
“Women remain the majority of those who attend the liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men,” the report says.
“From all continents comes a call for Catholic women to be valued above all as baptized and equal members of the People of God. There is an almost unanimous affirmation that women deeply love the Church, but many feel sadness because their lives are often not well understood, and their contributions and charisms are not always valued,” the document states.
The role and vocation of women is described as a “critical and urgent area”, with the document calling for further discernment on how to include women in governance roles, the opportunity to preach and the female diaconate.
On the ordination of women to the priesthood, which Francis, following John Paul II, rejected, the report indicates that a diversity of opinions were expressed, some favoring it and others considering it. as closed. Where there is consensus, however, on the need to value the contribution of women to the Church.
The report cites a submission from the International Union of Superiors General, the body representing women religious, which said that “sexism in decision-making and church language is widespread in the Church” and that nuns were sometimes undervalued or considered “cheap labour”. ”.
Just over twelve months ago, Pope Francis launched the first part of the synod for “a synodal Church” which took place in Catholic communities around the world and was the largest consultation exercise ever carried out. in the history of mankind. The document, released Thursday, October 27, offers insight into the views of ordinary Catholics and provides a framework for the next phase of the synod process. It reflects what has been said so far while the text will be discussed in future “continental assemblies” in early 2023.
Titled “Working Paper for the Continental Stage” of the Synod, it is an unusual text as it offers no ruling on disputed matters within the Church, nor does it have pedagogical authority. Instead, it is a theological document aimed at advancing the synod process as it expresses a “listening to the voice of the Spirit” through the People of God. It was written by a group of around 30 theologians, lay workers and bishops who met for several days in Frascati, near Rome, in September to synthesize reports from 112 episcopal conferences, from different religious orders and about 150 lay groups. In the United States, 700,000 Catholics participated in local synodal listening exercises; in Spain it was around 200,000; in France, 150,000; in England and Wales, 30,000. The numbers are without obvious precedent in a Catholic context.
Taking a passage from Isaiah, “Enlarge the space of your tent,” the new document uses the biblical image of a tent for the Church as the guiding image for its foundational thoughts.
“This is how many reports envision the Church: an expansive but not homogeneous habitation, able to house everyone, but open, letting in and out,” the report says.
The tent is held together by its pegs, “the foundations of faith which do not change but can be moved and planted in ever new ground”, while the structure of the tent “must keep in balance the various forces and tensions to which it is submissive.” Finally, “expanding the tent requires welcoming others there, making room for their diversity” and “orienting oneself towards the embrace of the Father and of all humanity.” This approach “big tent” includes everyone and is ready to change its attitudes and structures. The report refers to a range of groups who feel excluded, such as “remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a marriage polygamist, LGBTQ people”.
One of the obstacles to a more synodal Church is clericalism, a phenomenon that sees power concentrated in the hands of an elite group – lay or ordained. Catholics, the synod document says, “signal the importance of ridding the Church of clericalism so that all its members, including priests and laity, can fulfill a common mission.” As a remedy for clericalism, the reports “express a deep and forceful desire for renewed forms of leadership – priestly, episcopal, religious and lay – that are relational and collaborative, and forms of authority capable of generating solidarity and co-responsibility. “.
The report also suggests that the synod faces a major hurdle in getting members of the church hierarchy to engage in the process. Clergy “fears and resistance” to the synod were frequently cited in reports sent to Rome, while some of the “less obvious voices” in the synod process were bishops and priests. The synod was not without challenges, including the inability to organize gatherings in some places, a “weak presence of youth voices” and those who rejected the process outright.
But moves towards a more synodal church are still in their infancy. Francis, who turns 86 in December, recently extended the process to run until October 2024 so as not to rush the exercise. The latter document focuses strongly on the process of becoming synodal, where collective listening and discernment become part of the culture and structures of the Church. The report says the main challenge is to find ways for bishops, priests and laity to jointly assume responsibility for the mission of the Church, but in their own way. Many local churches are calling for decision-making in the Church to be based on “community discernment processes” that include lay and ordained working together. The report describes pastoral councils as “indispensable” while greater transparency, especially in light of the abuse crisis, is seen as a prerequisite for a more synodal church.
“Careful and painful reflection on the legacy of abuse has led many synod groups to call for a cultural change in the Church towards greater transparency, accountability and co-responsibility,” he says.
“All Church institutions, as fully participatory bodies, are called to reflect on how they might integrate the call to synodality into the way they exercise their functions and mission, renewing their structures and their procedures.
In addition, there are calls for a greater emphasis in the Church on ecumenical and interreligious engagement with a “more united witness among Christians and between communities of faith” described as “an ardent desire”. This is all part of the call for a more outward-looking missionary church.
The synod experience is described as “new and fresh”, with many in the Church saying it was the first time they had been asked for advice. At the same time, theologians have repeatedly emphasized that synodal processes are rooted in Scripture and tradition and are an attempt to rediscover something of Catholic tradition. The document explains that moving to a synodal church is equated with reuniting family members after a period of separation.
“One could say that the synodal journey marked the first steps in the return of an experience of collective exile, the consequences of which affect the whole People of God: if the Church is not synodal, no one can really feel fully at home. says the report.
The liturgy is also cited as a major concern. Many Catholics desire a more participatory form of worship when “a particular source of suffering are situations in which access to the Eucharist and other sacraments is hindered or prevented.” The quality of homilies during Mass is “almost unanimously flagged as a problem”, while the way celebrations are conducted risks making the congregation passive observers of what is happening. A desire is expressed for greater “diversity in forms of prayer and celebration,” which makes worship more accessible.
Regarding the old rite of the Mass, the document cites “knots of conflict” which must be “addressed synodally” and which a certain number in the Church still feel uneasy about “more to the liturgical developments” that came after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. Last year, pope restricted use of pre-Vatican II liturgy in a move that has upset liturgical traditionalists. The synod document cites the US report, which says restrictions on the Old Rite were “deplored” and that “people on either side of the issue said they felt judged by those who differed from them. “.
The next step in the synodal process will take place in a series of assemblies on different continents from January to March 2023, which are to include representatives from across the Church. The European assembly will take place in the Czech Republic from February 5-12, 2023, while the African meeting will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from March 1-7, 2023. The Church in Central and Latin America is planning five events different in El Salvador. (February 13-17, 2023), the Dominican Republic (February 20-24, 2023), Ecuador (February 27 – March 3, 2023) and Brazil (March 6-10, 2023).
But before these take place, each diocesan bishop must “organize an ecclesial process of discernment” on the new document, which will then be submitted to the individual episcopal conferences. The conferences will then submit a report to each continental assembly, which will have to write a document “of about twenty pages maximum”. These documents are to be sent to the office of the synod of the Holy See and form the working document for a summit of bishops from October 4 to 29, 2023.