Sr. Nathalie Becquart offered remarks and took questions at the International Union of Superiors General press conference on February 10, 2021 via zoom.
She thanked Pope Francis for the appointment and said she was both surprised and touched. She also said the appointment is evidence that the patriarchal church is changing; that synodality is taking greater hold; and that men and women together are being rooted in the structure of the synod.
It is clear that Sr. Nathalie will be a confident contributor as the first female undersecretary to the work of the Synod of Bishops. She spoke of her experience working with youth, the Church, and the bishops in France, as well as, her back ground in building teams in the business world. "I see a need for the Church to learn from companies who have a greater presence of women at the top." She mentioned Kamala Harris as the first woman in the White House as another example of women taking leadership roles in an ever changing world. She also explained that she has been researching and writing about synodality for some time.
She said she wants to start this new role “with humility, listening, listening to all, including those who are beyond the church.”
When asked about the precise nature of her role, she replied, “I will have to discover my role…it is open.”
She recounted that she has been working as a consultor for the synod since her appointment in May 2019 and that she has been working with the Pro-Secretary General, Cardinal Mario Grech intensely over the past week. “There is a lot of work,” she noted. Praising his leadership, she said, “Cardinal Grech arrives with great experience working with religious and as a theologian.” Indicating the direction she believes he will take, she noted, “He wrote his doctoral thesis on John XXIII.”
Assessing the quality of her participation thus far, she noted, “After three days, I can confirm that co-responsibility is the way ahead.”
While stating she is not sure how it will be implemented, the goal is to have “everyone as protagonists.” Citing local synodal efforts such as CELAM, Australia, and Germany, she said we want to “connect all these efforts” to be “at service to the local churches.”
When asked if she believed her appointment will open up this right to vote to other women, she spoke about the positive evolution of the synodal process under Pope Francis with pre-synods and synods as a regular feature to capture the faith and discernment of the People of God.
She also spoke of evolution of the term Synod Mothers. She said the expression was already used at the Synod on the Youth in 2018, and that the number of women and their influence has continued to grow. “The goal of the synod is to build consensus, a common discernment.”
Although her intent was not entirely clear, it is possible that Sr. Nathalie was trying to manage expectations regarding the near future of women voting in the synod and to preserve her ability to negotiate that issue as part of the leadership within the officemof the synod of bishops, but she did not directly answer questions regarding her own status as a voter at the synod. Further, when asked about the role of women voting at synods, she recounted how women now help shape the final document, how the paragraphs in that document usually pass with a majority and that, as if to downplay the actual voting, “if you read the synod documents, voting is at the end of a process.”
When asked about the possibility of women deacons that arose during the Amazon Synod, she spoke of Francis’ own desire to bring women to participate in decision making processes. “We must abandon a clerical church and move toward a synodal church.”
She applauded Francis’ motu proprio which officially opens the doors to women as lectors and acolytes and suggested that the very heart of synodality is “identifying new paths.” According to Sr. Nathalie, “We can’t cut and paste.” We need continuity, but “we can’t keep doing the same as the past.”
To point to the direction she will take as undersecretary, she recounted the remarks she offered in 2018 at the Synod on the Youth where she spoke about the need to have a blend of men and women, religious and non-religious – a team working together, not in a hierarchal fashion, but in a circular model.
"Religious women feel the otherness in the church,” she noted. "Priests are always within themselves, and communities with only men leading are limited.”
French theologian Yves Congar is her model recounting his words, “The Holy Spirit innovates, but with continuity.”
She spoke directly to media during the conference who she said are always looking for “breaking news.” She said the real breaking news is “the way Jesus worked with women.”
“The patriarchal mindset is changing.”