Pictured above: Cardinal Barreto talking with Cristiane Murray of the Vatican Press Office (photo: Futurechurch)

Are some prelates going to bat for women to vote at the Synod?

October 8, 2019

At today's press conference, I tried, but failed to confirm a report that came out from a German news agency announcing that some bishops from the synod have sent a formal request to the Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri asking that women at the synod be given the vote. Here is the German report (roughly translated).

A group of bishops spoke out at the Amazon Synod to give the 35 participating women the right to vote. For this purpose, they have submitted a request to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, reported the Spanish news portal "Religión Digital" on Monday. As a result, Baldisseri is currently in the process of obtaining the opinion of the other participants on this move. Afterwards he would submit the application to the pope so that he would decide on the change.

There are "neither canonical nor theological reservations" against voting rights for women in bishop synods, said Sister María Luisa Berzosa, according to media reports. The desired change is "a natural evolution". The Spanish nun belongs to the Order of the Daughters of Jesus and participates as a counselor in the Amazon Synod. Among the 35 women at the Synod are 20 Order members.

In the run-up to the Amazon Synod, the international initiative "Voices of Faith" had spoken out in favor of religious women. The prioress of the Swiss Benedictine nunnery Fahr, Irene Gassmann, had expressed dissatisfaction last week that "nothing has happened in the past few months".

In previous bishop synods, the Pope had already made a similar adjustment, such as the synod last year. He changed the recently adopted new rules of procedure of the Synod of Bishops and gave participating religious, who were not priests, the right to vote. These were the two superiors of the Marists and brothers. They [women] should not be discriminated against the other General Superiors participating in the Youth Synod who had received a consecration. So far, only the participating bishops and priests have a right to vote in bishop synods. This mainly refers to the adoption of the final document submitted to the Pope. (Rome)

(Note: Sr. Maria Luisa Berzosa, who is mentioned in this article, also participated in the Synod on the Youth. Last year, she was one of the new crop of female consultors for the synod and has been a vigorous proponent for greater rights for women at the synod and in the church.)

Cardinal Barreto bumps into strange mind space

My question regarding the German report would have gone to one of the panelists, Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, SI (pictured above), a Jesuit who has a hefty CV and highly regarded reputation for human rights work. He is Archbishop of Huancayo (Peru); Vice President of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network; participated in the CELAM Assembly of Aparecida (Brazil); and in 2011 was appointed President of the Department of Justice and Solidarity of CELAM. He has received death threats for his human rights work and is said to be an advocate for increasing women's full participation in the Church. He was made cardinal by Pope Francis in June 2018.

But, unfortunately, only a few questions were answered among many raised hands today. Much of the time was taken when Cardinal Barreto was asked to answer to charges that while he and others contend that the Amazon is "pure and innocent with ancestral wisdom we must learn from," there are twenty tribes that "still practice infanticide."

I wasn't surprised by Cardinal Barreto's swift and strong rebuff suggesting that the question was full of unproven assumptions.

"I have never heard that there are 20 tribes in the Amazon that practice infanticide," said the Cardinal. "It points to a situation of savagery."

Repeating that he was not aware of this practice, he challenged the validity of the charges saying, "Sometimes people speak about things" but they nothing more than assertions "unless you bring evidence, the names of people, and where."

The Cardinal continued to make his point by reminding reporters of the hoo-ha generated by those who have criticized the head dresses and other customs of the Amazonian people. He emphasized Pope Francis's rebuke of those who wield harmful words revealing a very narrow understanding of faith and an even more limited appreciation for the richness of cultural diversity.

A headline today from one of the uber conservative websites points to the rigid and distorted attitude a human rights champion like Cardinal Baretto is fighting. The headline reads "Cardinal Müller: They have driven Jesus out of the Amazon Synod."

I think Cardinal Baretto would disagree.

More on the German report tomorrow!

Women Deacons Are Being Discussed

So far, there is limited information on what is being discussed, but Prefect of Communication, Dr. Paolo Ruffini confirmed today that some synod participants are speaking about the role of women and proposing women deacons.

In the final summary report from the Vatican Press office that arrived late today, it was confirmed that there were more discussions of a permanent indigenous diaconate and the priesthood. Here is a quick translation of the report.

Promote permanent indigenous diaconate

To enrich the reflection on the ministries was the call to join forces in the formation of lay and consecrated Amazonian missionaries. It is necessary to involve the indigenous peoples more in the apostolate, starting with the promotion of the permanent indigenous diaconate and the enhancement of the lay ministry, understood as an authentic manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It also called for a greater involvement of women in the Church.

Reflection on the priestly vocation

The theme of the criteria for admission to the ordained ministry was expressed in more than one intervention. There are those who have urged prayer for vocations, asking for the transformation of the Amazon into a great spiritual sanctuary from which to raise the prayer to the "Lord of the harvest" to send new workers of the Gospel. The numerical insufficiency of the presbyters - it has been found - is not only an Amazonian problem, but common to the whole Catholic world. Hence, there was a call for a serious examination of conscience on how the priestly vocation is lived today. The lack of holiness is, in fact, an obstacle to evangelical witness: pastors do not always carry the scent of Christ and end up driving away the sheep they are called to lead.

To learn more about Day 2 of the Synod read:

Beware of those who want God to live up to their standards, says Pope

Indigenous from Brazil Bring Plea to Rome: We Need More Protection

Who will pen the final document?

Day Two of the Amazon Synod

October 8, 2019

There is always a great deal of interest in who will be writing the final Synod document.

Yesterday afternoon, by ballot, it was decided.

Thank goodness, the churchmen are from the Amazon region. Yet, the drafting process would be greatly enhanced if women from the area were sitting side by side with their brothers.

The four members of the Commission were elected by a majority for the preparation of the final document of the Synod are:

·       Monsignors Mario Antonio Da Silva, bishop of Roraima in Brazil

·       Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, o.f.m., archbishop of Trujillo and president of the Bishops' Conference of Peru

·       Nelson Jair Cardona Ramírez, bishop of San José del Guaviare in Colombia

·       Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina, Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in Bolivia

Three other members will be chosen by the Pope. It is sweet to see that Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of Mexico City, expressed the desire to give his seat to a synodal father from one of the seven Episcopal Conferences directly involved in the Amazon area.

Also included are:

·       General rapporteur and president, Cardinal Claudio Hummes;

·       General secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

·       Pro-secretary general, Monsignor Mario Grech;

·       Special secretary, Cardinal Michael Czerny and

·       Special secretary, Monsignor David Martinez de Aguirre Guinea.

These are the folks who decide what is finally written after participants in the synod make changes to the working document or the Instrumentum Laboris.

Those who will officially offer information were also elected and include:

·       Monsignors Erwin Kräutler (well known by Francis for his ideas about the Lobinger Model and a model of team priests), c.pp.s., prelate emeritus of Xingu, in Brazil,

·       Rafael Cob García, apostolic vicar of Puyo, Ecuador;

·       José Ángel Divassón Cilveti, s.d.b., former Vicar Apostolic of Puerto Ayacucho in Venezuela

·       Italian father Antonio Spadaro, director of "La Civiltà Cattolica".

Other names include:

·       Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Communication Department

·       Secretary of Communications, Father Giacomo Costa

·       Director of the Holy See Press Office Matteo Bruni

·       Editorial director of the Communication Department Andrea Tornielli

·       Sister Maria Ines Lopes dos Santos, councilor of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon of the Bishops' Conference of Brazil

·       Mauricio López Oropeza, executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.

Parallel Events: The Reality of the Destruction of the Amazon and its People

In a church just down from St. Peter's Square, another reality is being shared in a powerful way. The Amazzonia Casa Comune is an exhibit, but also an educational forum

for opening the eyes of people to the ongoing devastation and exploitation of the Amazon and her people. I visited on the first night of the synod and was completely shocked by the destruction taking place. The photos became a sacred visitation -- a place for my own personal conversion.

At the press conference today, Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, indigenous leader from the Philippines and one of the people who helped draft the "Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People" for the United Nations said that indigenous people are being criminalized. They are victims of crimes and criminals act with impunity. No consultations are done with the people on any projects and rivers have dried up because of hydroelectric dams. And in the bloodstreams of children, there is mercury. This is the killing off of a people.

To know another people and their suffering is to change.

And Sister, What Do You Say?

Voices of Faith in Rome

(Above photo credit: Voices of Faith)

Women religious from around the world had a chance to tell their stories of struggle and hope at the October 4 Voices of Faith Event. "And You Sister, What Do You Say?" was a rich tapestry of voices from around the world.

It was an honor to speak with Sr. Simone Campbell from the United States and Sr. Mary John Mananzan from the Philippines, women who are well known for their work for the most vulnerable populations and women. Sr. Simone recounted her journey during the Vatican crackdown and how it opened new possibilities for her work while Sr. Mary John Mananzan talked about how those in power tried to silence her when she spoke for women's rights, attempts that ultimately failed.

Sr. Simone Campbell opened the event with some powerful words about the call of women and women religious to speak out for other women and for vulnerable peoples.

In Washington DC I know the Sisters of Notre Dame whose Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered for her effort to protect the Amazon region from exploitation and degradation. Sister Dorothy gave her life for the people and for the land of the Amazon. We Sisters have a responsibility to lift of her voice and make her presence felt. How can the institution turn their backs on the voices of our Sisters who live with the people of this threatened region? How can our Sisters not have at least one vote at the Snyod? And my Sisters, how can we not speak up for the most marginalized people and for our wounded earth?

The time is now.

Some might want us to believe that our vows of obedience would keep us from speaking up. However, we know from our study of obedience in the Benedictine tradition that obedience is to listen with the ears of our heart and then act on what we hear. This listening leads me today to say that silence is not an option. The experiences of our sisters and brothers whom we serve need to have us speak of our lived experience. We are the witnesses on this new Pentecost for our people and our earth. The Spirit calls us to speak against all forms of exploitation whether in the Church or in civil society.

Another speaker, Sr. Madeleine Freddell, OP is a theologian and secretary general of the Swedish Justice and Peace Commission. She has been working with feminist issues since the 1980s. She asked if "there are limits to speaking with parrhesia?"

Here is her talk. It is uplifting.

Do you have faith to move mountains? That is, the dynamic and strong faith which is needed of us women and sisters to make our voices really heard in the Catholic Church today. It is the kind of enthusiasm that was the order of the day when I was a young adult in the beginning and middle of the 1970’s. We actually achieved some unity between the different ecclesial communities, partaking in one another’s eucharistic celebrations. We actually did give the homily during mass in many Catholic settings. As a Dominican I belong to the Order of Preachers, Ordo Praedicatorum, and my principal mission is preaching. Preaching certainly comes in a variety of ways, but there is no valid excuse for us sisters not being able to give the homily. I still consider my vocation to be that of preaching the Word of God and to do that in the form of the homily.

Many women in the Catholic Church, and not least religious sisters, feel enthusiastic about Pope Francis’ encouragement to speak with parrhesia, openness, frankness and boldness. But how far will this parrhesia take us? I meet numerous women, lay and religious, who have become discouraged by years of being silenced and treated as second best. Until the middle of the 1990’s not a few of us sisters still had the occasional possibility to give the homily in some parishes. But all of a sudden, the pulpit was not open to us any longer. There are several reasons why this backlash happened, but I would say that a tendency towards legalism, an unhealthy centralism and a new form of clericalism started to reinforce its way during the middle of the 1990ties.

Sometimes we were still allowed to give a kind of homily with the priest introducing us to the pulpit with the words “Now, Sister will share a few words on today’s readings with us …” I don’t accept that kind of treatment any longer. Or when I had been asked by the parish priest to give the homily at Sunday mass because the celebrating priest didn’t know sufficient Swedish and the latter asked to go through my homily before mass and said that it had to be preached at the end of the celebration. Needless to say, I refused to give that homily and told the congregation why. Of course, I am not alone to have been ignored, denounced and silenced in my diocese and out of discretion I will only mention some of my experiences. Once they wanted me to answer for my alleged heresy to a group of five priests! I couldn’t help my quick answer to that: “Do you really need five priests to defend catholic doctrine against me?” Almost end of story, I only had to meet with one of them! Or when I was assigned the prestigious task to give the speech in the Lutheran cathedral of Stockholm at the annual opening of the Swedish Parliament in 2017 and the Catholic diocese kept absolutely silent about it. To try and make my speech insignificant, the catholic magazine published a homily that the bishop had given at least ten years earlier …

So how far will this parrhesia take us? Many of us are prepared to speak with parrhesia, but is that enough to change the deep-rooted, male, hierarchical culture that is imprinted in the leadership of the Catholic Church?

Pope Francis’ invitation to speak with parrhesia has already removed some of the bumps we have had on the way since the hopeful decade after the Second Vatican Council. For example, I suppose that the so called “definitively held propositions” that were put forward in the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 and made its entry into the Canon Law through the motu proprio Ad tuendam fidem in 1998 must be at least somewhat less definitive if we are really invited to speak with parrhesia. The very least parrhesia must mean is to be allowed to put forward arguments for alternative propositions without being deemed a heretic!

Encouraging us to speak with parrhesia, Pope Francis is at least not afraid of an open dialogue. What is important at this particular moment is that we have got the microphone back, even if giving the homily in the pulpit still seems to be somewhere in the in the future … However, I wouldn’t consider it too bold a suggestion to open the pulpit to religious sisters and lay people to give the homily during mass.

We women, lay and religious, are not only tired of indefensible documents and statements, but above all many of us are bored at listening only to male interpretations of biblical texts, ethics and ecclesial life. Sunday after Sunday, we are exposed to faith experiences made only by male, or interpreted by an only male priesthood. Not to talk about the exclusive male language in liturgy, prayers, hymns … Yes, there are editions with inclusive language but they are hardly used in parishes. Abuses of all kinds have come to the fore in the Church, sexual abuse, economic abuse, abuse of conscience, of power, and so on. There is also the abuse of the silencing of women’s experiences, women’s interpretations of life and faith – the silencing of women’s voices. There is also the abuse of an only masculine language.

And you sisters, what do you say? Today, we are focusing on women who have given their lives to the Gospel in a great variety of ways, on women who have vowed their lives to proclaim the good tidings to humanity as a whole. Religious sisters have all through the ages moved mountains, and they still are, because they are filled with a transformative, dynamic faith. But we are not allowed behind the pulpit to give the Sunday homily, to share our faith experiences, our biblical interpretations. We are silenced.

As baptized, we are Christ, but as women we are not recognized to represent Christ, at least not publicly during mass. There does not exist one single valid argument why this is so. And we are not even allowed, according to Canon Law, to proclaim the Good News in form of the homily during mass. I don’t think there are any valid arguments why this is so either. Despite the fact that women – and religious sisters – have been silenced and banned from the altar and pulpit we have still found creative ways to proclaim the good tidings. Sometimes the hierarchical Church has told us women and sisters to take on the Marian face of the Church. Well, let’s do that, we want to take on the active, courageous and revolutionary face of Mary of the Magnificat! And let us consign the image of Mary as a passive introvert to oblivion once and for all!

Pope Francis, if you really want to be bold and creative, and invite religious sisters to a meaningful service in the Church, open the Sunday mass’ pulpit to us! Grant us the right to give the homily! In the Swedish Lutheran Church, there is the institution of giving the “venia” to a lay person which means the right to give the homily. It wouldn’t take long to introduce that institution into the Canon Law.

We have our role models as women apostles. Mary Magdalene and Junia are just a few, but well known. The pulpit won’t just be handed over to us women without struggle. History, whether secular or ecclesial, has taught us that power is nothing that those who have it will share with those who haven’t. However, we do not claim power. Power always makes you corrupt. What we want is to be respected and listened to, publicly, behind the pulpit because of our authority. Authority is never something you can claim. Authority is given by others to those who are truly proclaiming good tidings, hope, faith, love and solidarity through both words and action. It is time to give us religious sisters this recognition! That would truly be an act of parrhesia, openness, frankness and boldness.

As baptized, both women and men, we are baptized to be Christ. We are all equal, all of us are representing Christ to the same extent and with the same authority. We are living in a world threatened by the collapse of democratic systems, grave economic injustice and climate catastrophe. The Church has something important to say here but I am convinced that it will only be trustworthy if its’ representatives are both women and men on all levels. If we have faith, we will move mountains. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love and fill us with your blowing dynamism!

There were many inspiring talks given by women religious from around the world during this year's Voices of Faith Event. You can see some of the action and hear their inspiring words by watching the video here.




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Pope Francis has often spoke about the harmful effects of clericalism. Begin a discussion in your own parish to build awareness about how it might function there and how you might overcome it together. This project is a collaboration between FutureChurch, Voice of the Faithful, and the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests.



Robert Mickens knows Vatican politics inside and out and he has never backed down from telling a story "like it is." He has confronted corruption, misogyny, clericalism, and the naysayers in the Catholic Church who want to see Pope Francis fail. Join us for a delightful night hearing Bob's insights about all the characters who make up the Roman church.


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