At the first press briefing for the Synod, the optics were impressive — an image that reminds me of group photos that project an image, but hardly communicates the whole story.
The Synod briefing process has historically been informed by prelates, seated on stage in their finery.
But today, it included four lay persons, with one woman seated center stage, and one archbishop seated to the far right.
An impressive group photo indeed.
Giving their comments on the happenings of the Synod today were Joseph Cao Huu Ming Tri of Saigon, apparently the youngest participant at the Synod; Chiara Giaccardi, a professor of Media Sociology and Anthropology, who has been appointed as a collaborator of the special secretary; Paolo Ruffini, the first lay appointed prefect of a Vatican dicastery, the Dicastery for Communications; and, Archbishop Carlos Jose Tissera of Quilmes, Argentina. Greg Burke (to the far left), who is the lay director of the Holy See Press Office, was also on stage taking questions and directing traffic.
We learned that there were 27 presentations given with spaces for quiet reflection after every 5 or 6. There was only one presentation given by a young Catholic, and that looks to be the pattern for the next several weeks.
The press briefing presentations were pretty standard fare with the most passionate response coming from Chiara Giacarrdi, who spoke of the urgent need for reform in the Church and in the synodal process.
Professor Giacarrdi spoke of the “Copernican Revolution” that the church is undergoing. She noted the significance of a conversion of becoming a listening Church.
This Copernican revolution “starts by listening to real things”, stated Giacarrdi. She was emphatic in her belief that it is “pointless to talk about ideals, but the real church.” For Giacarrdi, the only authority is concrete realities. By talking about them the Church can avoid dualistic thinking that separates us from each other and from ourselves.
On that list of concrete experiences that should serve as the foundation for all synod discussions are
- The points of views of migrants who “have to accept jobs that are humiliating.”
- Sexuality – not as an enemy of person – as a dimension of the human life that needs to be cultivated.
- The training of priests
- The diversifying of decision making authority within the Church
Giacarrdi finished with a call to let young people be the authors of their lives, to let our language betray the beauty of our love for each other, and to find concrete ways to incorporate the authority of young women and men in church decision making bodies.
For Giacarrdi, only when we infuse the Church with the fresh thinking and fresh faith of our younger adults will the Church be rejuvenated.
The question and answer period, usually the most interesting part of any press briefing, yielded a few really good questions.
Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service asked if clergy sex abuse was a major theme throughout the day.
Paolo Ruffini answered that it was one of the themes, but not the main theme. He said, the “theme of betrayal” came up, but it included, not only clergy sex abuse, but our failure to support and welcome migrants. Ruffini suggested that the most moving portraits were those given by migrants who face desperate conditions.
He said that many in leadership admitted that the Church “has not done enough” to overcome its failings in the clergy sex abuse and cover up scandal or in prioritizing the needs of migrants.
He emphasized, “We need for forgiveness for failing to understand.”
He also emphasized that the synod should not be an attempt to “domesticate the young” but to let their voices and experiences inform every aspect of the final document.
Discerning Women: Voices Outside the Synod
Kate McElwee, Executive Director of Women’s Ordination Conference organized another synod panel — this one with four women — meant to show there is another, better way to “dream the future for Catholics.”
The panelists included Jamie Manson, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter; Zuzanna Radzik, a Catholic theologian and journalist from Warsaw, Poland; Paola Lazzarini, Ph.d., a sociologist and journalist who wrote the “Manifesto for Women for the Church (Donne Per La Chiesa)”; and, Jacqueline Straub, journalist from Germany who spoke about her calling to be a priest.
The panel discussed some of the issues particular to their regions while taking up larger issues such as the inequality that serves as the foundation for the Church’s teaching on complementarity. A common theme was the alienation of women from the Church and the efforts being made to overcome that alienation by creating new, safe places of refuge and nurture for all those who have been pushed out.
All four women are, “Staying in but speaking out”, a social media campaign that has been gaining strength as women call for equal access to decision making bodies at the synod and elsewhere.
Let’s face it, even if the optics at the press briefings are superimposed to make the synod look more legitimate, what matters is who decides and what is decided.
And if Pope Francis and his allies are serious about the needs of our youth, they will tap into the wisdom of women, young and old, calling them back, even as they turn their backs on an institution that has too often betrayed them.
Just as we have learned from our foremothers in faith, we will continue to shape our tradition with love and wisdom. And yes, we will carry on with with the determination of Mary of Magdala and Catherine of Siena, crying out the Good News that women can and do claim their call to share all their gifts with God’s beloved people.