First, a correction. Apparently I elevated Peter Comensoli in my report yesterday. He is not a cardinal, but an archbishop.
Second, you may notice that the Sunday, October 21 post is missing. It is not missing. It is under construction. It contains my interview with Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, the Vice President of the International Union of Superiors General and I want to give this person the attention to detail she deserves.
This morning, before the press briefing, I met with Bishop Everard Johannes de Jong of the Netherlands to have a cup of cappuccino and conversation.
As you may recall, after my question at an earlier press briefing about women religious voting at the synod, the bishop and I had an exchange that left me in awe of what passes for humor from a pastor, as well as the absolute claims on the story of Jesus’ chosen ones. That, coupled with the dismissive “What can we do? We’re stuck with Jesus,” and, “Are you an angry woman trying to knock down our castle?” — stoked my interest for further engagement.
I’m genuinely open and eager to engage in dialogue. I am respectful and polite, but luckily I’ve lost most of my girlish charm. So I was happy to meet this younger brother of mine (by a few years:) on level ground.
He deserves credit for taking the risk of meeting a complete stranger that he perceived was angry.
I took no notes. I wanted to be fully present. So this is a summary of what we talked about.
After we ordered, we sat outside at a cafe.
Bishop de Jong, began with a bit of an apology.
He confessed that he did not know how he had been chosen to be on the panel.
I smiled. What else is new in the Vatican?
Further, he was only prepared to talk about what he was learning in the synod hall. He did not expect the kinds of questions he received from journalists.
I smiled again. I’ve been there, only I stammer a lot more that he did.
So my question about women religious voting at the synod struck him as a ploy and he was suspicious that the background I was giving about the two non-ordained religious superiors who were voting alongside the bishops at the synod was simply not true.
So he answered in a way that he felt defended the Vatican and the Pope.
Part of the beauty of our petition and campaign has been that it has helped educate a whole bunch of people inside and outside the Synod about the fact that USG has added two non ordained men into the voting mix, the Pope has blessed it, and that has created a new opening for women religious. It also exposes the quiet but steady revolution toward a truly Vatican II church that Pope Francis is leading.
The rules are changing and it shakes people up.
As we informally set the ground rules for the dialogue, I told him I wanted to share my own story and my hopes for women’s equality in the church.
As such, I did not wish to argue biblical theology to refute his position on Jesus (although I have six or seven academic articles in a folder I will send him). His own education is in philosophy, so trading biblical citations or even well-developed theological arguments didn’t seem very useful, nor does it create the space for grace to flow in and touch what is most human and meaningful about the issues at stake.
We started by sharing a bit about our backgrounds. I told him about my family of origin, my small traditional Catholic community, and my own family with six children and fourteen grandchildren.
I did not make him look at pictures of my grandchildren, but it was hard to resist.
He told me a bit about his life. You can find most of this information on wikipedia. He is one of six children and grew up in a very traditional Catholic home where the roles of women and men were pretty rigidly set as was the case with most families in that generation.
I explained that my world was similar and that it was only in leaving that I was able to grow past the pre-ordained cultural boundaries that were to be my destiny.
Bishop de Jong is also part of a region where the Catholic church has lost the lion’s share of its influence. As he described it, most people think religion is either too stifling or simply irrelevant.
He said he felt that way too, until one day he had a graced moment — a conversion experience — and his life began to move in another direction.
We talked about the fear our parents felt in terms of the church – the fear of hell that drove them to the church doors. We wondered how many Catholics would have attended church in an earlier era if they had not feared committing a mortal sin if they didn’t show up.
We laughed about the scrupulosity that made taking a sip of water before communion a mortal sin.
We also talked about our differences and about the petition.
He said that he had checked with folks at the press office and learned that indeed Pope Francis had allowed and blessed the initiative of the Union of Superiors General to open the door to two religious brothers to vote at the synod this year.
Although, the bishop would be loathe to criticize the Pope, it was clear that he was a bit uneasy with this development.
When I tried to set out the logic of a growing number of Catholics who think women religious superiors should vote, he repeated that it was a synod of bishops and that it should be restricted to bishops voting. While others can and should share their experiences and wisdom as was done at the pre-synod and with auditors at the synod, only bishops should vote. So, I gathered that if he had his druthers, we’d kick the religious brothers out and keep the boundaries clean. But in all fairness, that would need to be confirmed.
He was also doubtful that the final document would have the weight of ordinary magisterium. He felt there would be too many practical suggestions for that to be feasible.
So he’s not big on the Francis reforms for the synod so far.
He also pointed out that he was quite uncomfortable with some of the organizations listed on the petition. Pointing on his phone where he had pulled up the petition he said that when he saw Women’s Ordination Conference and Women’s Ordination Worldwide, he could go no further.
I explained how these organizations coalesced around this particular issue. It had less to do with ordination per se since non-ordained men were already voting and since there is no difference in ecclesial status between non ordained women religious superiors and non ordained male religious superiors, we believed women religious superiors should be voting.
But it was one of those moments when it is clear that the person can go no further — at this point. Ducking down into the JPII rabbit hole he firmly reiterated the teaching that he holds dear — that the issue of women’s ordination has been decided. (I have the Catholic Theological Society of America’s 1997 response, “Tradition and the Ordination of Women” in my file for the bishop).
Still, we talked on. He made a really interesting comment about his experience of being at a service with a woman Episcopal priest presiding. He said that she did everything perfectly, but he had a sense that the “holy was missing.”
Elaborating on that, he said that he feels the presence of God at the Eucharist can only be truly offered as something sacred by a male priest.
I sat in awe of this. But also understanding how we often do not perceive the depth of some action when we are new to a culture. It takes a while for us to learn to perceive as others perceive — to learn what is sacred, or despised, or funny, or beloved.
When I traveled to a Hindu temple, I was not able to perceive what was holy there. I understood it would take encounter and time to learn that.
The bishop was certainly supportive of more roles for women in governance. It was not clear to me exactly what that meant to him. So when I asked him what that would look like, he mostly pointed to work at the parish level.
Still, he pointed out that Pope Francis bringing more women into governance was very fine.
In the end, he said he would continue to do all he could to bring more women into governance.
I knew that his vision of women’s roles was much narrower than mine, but it was a good place to end the discussion.
He said, “You and I would make a good team in the Church.”
I replied, “Yes we might, but I would argue with you a lot.”
We laughed again. We both knew it was true.
And on the joke about a woman turning a man’s head…I told him it was a terrible one.
Young people who are not at the synod, trust us
Today we were visited by Fr.. Ángel Fernández Artime, S.D.B., representing the Salesians; Archbishop Paolo Bizzeti, S.J., of Turkey; Archbishop Frank J. Caggiano, of the United States of America; Archbishop David Macaire, O.P., of France, and auditor Henriette Camara, member of the Catholic Scouts in Guinea.
The folks at the press conference did not present anything radically new, but some interesting perspectives were offered.
The young woman auditor, Henriette Camara from Guinea was there representing Catholic scouts.
Even her presence representing the scouts made me happy since a few bishops in the U.S. threw them under the bus.
She told the story of her decision to convert from Islam to Catholicism because of her involvement in the scouts. It was a source of pain for her mother and continues to be a source of pain.
Henriette also talked about the work of the synod. She said they are working hard, expressing their deepest concerns, and telling the Holy Father “what they expect.”
She also said she is becoming aware of the experiences of others, and that she realized that there is discrimination, “not in the synod” but elsewhere. Learning that was “very moving to me.”
She ended by saying, “I want to tell the young people at home that we are representing them.” “Young people who are not in the synod, trust us.”
Archbishop Bizzeti of Turkey shared his initial trepidation and critiques of the process. He started with a recognition of all that has been done by staff at the synod of bishops. And he expressed his initial trepidation that this would be all show with no real content. “I was concerned stepping into the hall and seeing so many dressed in way we don’t normally dress.” But soon he realized that it meant nothing and that encountering people was the priority.
It was unusual to hear a bishop speak so clearly about this generation’s responsibility for the state of the world and the church’s limitations in addressing the challenges.
What world have we created for young people? I am 71 years old. We have failed. We not created a world where they can work and express their talents.
As church, we have to ask for forgiveness. We have created a world where young people cannot find their way.
Why have young people grown up with this impression that they don’t matter? We have given them useless things.
How can we talk about faith and vocational discernment when there are millions of young people who have no ability to choose.
We as bishops are unable to give answers. We cannot suggest solutions.
The archbishop also said that at the end of the second week, there were 1000 interventions. And while it was hard to understand what was going on, there were some reoccurring ideas.
- Listening is central…not talking to or doing for… but listening.
- There should be a document should be written with young and by young people. Their language is different from our ‘ecclesia-lese.’ They are blunt. They are outspoken. They don’t mince words. And they want a church with and for young people.
- All Catholics, lay and ordained, young and old, need accompaniment.
- The time if over for pastors to say, “it has to be done this way.” Perhaps we haven’t been able to pass on the faith because we kept it locked up.
- Young people must also be able to listen to their elders.
He also stated that shadows are starting to emerge in the synod. He felt that the method was lacking and that they should have taken up a few foci and “debated the issues – even in a heated way.”
“We need to dialogue.”
The archbishop’s testimony was loud and clear. We need a new kind of church.
We are heading in the right direction
We are always working to bring about change that will broaden the structure of the church, create true equality for all to share their gifts, and address the challenges engendered by a flawed culture of clericalism.
And we have a holy impatience because people are suffering.
So, when things seem to move too slowly, I am helped when I am reminded of the direction we are headed and the progress that is being made.
Robert Mickens helps bring us back to the big picture in a very hopeful way. I am including most of the article below because I think it is such an important reminder of what is at stake, and what is actually happening. After naming some of the complaints flying around in the synod hall, he writes:
But what the critics (and even many people who disagree with them) have failed to appreciate is that this Synod gathering represents but a single step on a much longer and transformative journey.
Just like the two previous Synod assemblies on the family, Pope Francis has made this current assembly on youth yet another necessary juncture on the road towards radically reforming structures of ecclesial governance and effecting a “conversion” of the papacy itself.
In short, it is about the more arduous — and controversial — process of making true synodality a constituent part of the Church’s life and decision-making structures.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this project is the expanded role it has begun to carve out for ordinary Catholics — that is, all the baptized faithful and not just those who have received Holy Orders.
It is not an exaggeration to use the word “revolutionary” to describe what Francis is trying to accomplish, certainly if one looks at the post-Constantinian period of Church history. That most people have not experienced it as a dramatic event usually associated with social or political revolutions is a tribute to the pope’s skillful process of bringing about reform.
He believes the first and most important reform is to change mentalities and attitudes. And he has been surprisingly successful in doing that by excessively repeating key themes and concepts through the use of what we might call buzzwords or turns of phrase.
Some examples include his continues talk of “mercy,” “a poor Church for the poor,” “who am I to judge?” “an accident-prone Church,” “priests who have the smell of the sheep,” “please-thank you-I’m sorry” as a formula for happy marriage and so forth.
But he has also, although in a quieter way, laid the foundations for radical structural change. This has been less noticeable and disruptive to most people because it has come gradually.
Catholics in general, and popes in particular, do not like to use the word “revolution” when talking about developments in the Church. Pope Francis is no different.
He, like his predecessors, prefers to speak of “renewal” or “conversion.” He is even careful about using the term “reform,” which is often too jarring for more traditionalist-minded members of the Church.
Refounding the Synod of Bishops:
The pope issued his blueprint for renewal early in his pontificate with the publication of Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). But that 2013 apostolic exhortation offers a broad vision of ecclesial reform without decreeing specific canonical or structural changes.
Like most of the documents that were ratified at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the exhortation has been greeted by reform-minded Catholics as being inspirational but lacking in force.
And so, it is surprising that so many people failed to recognize the true importance of one of the latest major document Pope Francis has issued — the apostolic constitution Episcopalis communio (EC).
This text, which was made public on Sept. 18, sets down the principles for substantially reforming the nature, purpose and function of the Synod of Bishops.
The 6,400-word document replaces all previous texts — including various points of Canon Law — that in any way pertain to or regulate the working of the Synod.
In a sensitive (some would say devious) way, Francis quotes all the previous popes who helped shaped legislation on the Synod in justifying the “developments” he’s introduced.
He respectfully and carefully cites Paul VI, who instituted this permanent institution in 1965, as well as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to show he has acted in continuity with previous papal initiatives.
But in this new legislative text he also introduces and institutionalizes major shifts and breaks from the previous popes.
For example, the extensive consultation of the baptized faithful, which Francis introduced in preparations for the 2014 extraordinary assembly on the family and utilized again for the last two ordinary assemblies (2016 and currently), is now a mandatory procedure.
It was never even mentioned in previous papal documents, let alone mandated.
The Voice of the Faithful:
“The history of the Church bears ample witness to the importance of consultation for ascertaining the views of the bishops and the faithful in matters pertaining to the good of the Church.
“Hence, even in the preparation of Synodal assemblies, it is very important that consultation of all the particular Churches be given special attention,” Francis says in Episcopalis communio.
“In this initial phase, following the indications of the general secretariat of the Synod, the bishops submit the questions to be explored in the Synodal Assembly to the priests, deacons and lay faithful of their Churches…” (EC, 7).
He then sets down precise articles outlining the consultation of the faithful which is to be carried out, including the “possibility” of holding pre-Synod assembly meetings at the international, regional and local levels.
“The Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God,” the pope says (EC, 6).
Towards a new type of ongoing Synod assembly?:
Many commentators have rightly pointed out that one of the key novelties in the new apostolic constitution is that, should he deem opportune, the pope — the president of the Synod of Bishops — can allow an assembly’s final document to be published as an official act of the magisterium (i.e. as official teaching).
Usually, that text has been used as the basis or draft that would then be modified, re-written and published later as a formal papal document (apostolic exhortation).
Many are anxious to see if Pope Francis will decide for this newer option at the end of the current assembly on young people.
But there is another article in Episcopalis communio that few people have commented on.
In addition to the three types of Synod assemblies that have been convoked up until now — ordinary, extraordinary and special — the pope now has complete freedom to use the Synod in a more flexible way.
“If he considers it opportune, especially for reasons of an ecumenical nature, the Roman Pontiff may summon a synodal assembly according to other formats established by himself,” the document stipulates (EC, Art. 1 § 3).
This, too, is a novelty. It is not mentioned in any other papal document regulating the Synod of Bishops. But what might it mean in practical terms?
Perhaps this line from paragraph eight in the new apostolic constitution offers a further clue: “If circumstances so suggest, a single synodal assembly may be spread over more than one session.”
This would offer a pope the possibility to change the format (and membership) of a Synod assembly. He could even use it as a sort of permanent consultative body that meets several times over the course of a year or two.
And he could also use the already existing prerogative to give that assembly deliberative power, a possibility that Paul VI foresaw when he established the Synod as a permanent institution.
Whether we’re talking about a revolution or — to play it safe — a further development of the Synod in continuity with the past, Pope Francis has put forth legislation that could allow him or a future pope to substantially transform the governing structure of the universal Church.
Right now they may look like baby steps, coming as they do during a Synod assembly on young people. But they are steps nonetheless. And bold ones at that.
They are part of an exciting and sometimes terrifying journey on which Francis has launched the Church, the entire People of God. Indeed, that is what synodos means — journeying together.
I am grateful for Mickens because he is able to keep a focus on the reforming nature of a pope who recently told the Jesuits in the Baltics to “do everything you can to bring Vatican II forward.”
Words from a woman cleric at the synod: another reason for hope
Read Luke Hansen’s interview with Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecka, the only female cleric at the synod. It is stirring. It is beautiful. It is hopeful!
A young priest in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church has been pleasantly surprised by the welcome and openness she has experienced at the Synod of Bishops on young people, she told America in an interview.
A fraternal delegate, Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká, 32, has the distinction of being the only female cleric at the Synod of Bishops, which is taking place from Oct. 3 to 28 in Rome.
Dressed in the liturgical vestments of the Hussite Church—a black robe with an imprinted red chalice and white stole—she delivered an address to the whole synod body on Oct. 11, emphasizing the importance of ecumenical relations, calling the synod a “sign of hope” and affirming the capacity of young people to be bridge builders.
“The true ecumenical movement must be lived and shared together,” she said.
Rev. Kopecká did not go unnoticed. She believes the cardinals and bishops “were surprised, maybe shocked” to see her clerical attire, she told America. “They recognized me as the girl at dinner and now as a priest. It takes some time, but they have accepted me.”
“After my intervention, a lot of people came to me in the hallways, saying they listened to me and were inspired,” Rev. Kopecká said. “I was surprised that they even listened to me. I am quite young and a woman. I wore a white stole. They are not pushing me away. They accept me as a member of the family.”
The fraternal delegates who represent other Christian churches can make interventions in the synod aula and participate in small group discussions, but they cannot vote. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has a delegate, as do ecclesial organizations like the World Lutheran Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.
Rev. Kopecká is representing the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 350 member churches “seeking unity, common witness and Christian service.” Even at her young age, she has been entrusted with great responsibility at the W.C.C. She serves on their central committee and 20-member executive committee, and she moderates the ECHOS commission on youth in the ecumenical movement.
“When a human being meets another human being, it doesn’t matter which denomination we belong to,” she said. “We believe in Christ and can find a way—as Pope Francis says—to work and pray together. We are from different cultures and societies, but we have something in common. Young people, through friendship, are learning how to move toward acceptance and respect.”
At the beginning of her experience in the eternal city, Rev. Kopecká was not certain she would receive a welcome, she admitted. She is staying at an international house for clergy and sat alone for her first three meals. “I said: This is a disaster.” On the second day, however, a bishop from Paraguay asked if he could join her. “I said, Yes, please!”
She described the encounter as the first major “turning point” in her experience. The bishop was “really interested in who I am,” she said. “Ecumenical circles are not about papers, documents and institutions. It is about meeting people without any judgment. Yes, I am the girl. I am ordained. But he was interested in my culture and church and, later, many others joined us.”
Another turning point happened in her small group. “At the first meeting, I felt very vulnerable,” she admitted. “I’m quite introverted, so it is not easy for me to talk in a group with people I don’t know.” But the leader of the group helped create an atmosphere where she felt comfortable, she said.“I feel accepted. My voice is heard,” she said. “I can even turn the direction” of the conversation and influence decisions. “My answers are valued. We support each other.”
The moderator of the group is Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. The relator is Auxiliary Bishop Mark Edwards of Melbourne, Australia. Several young people have spoken about their high regard for the welcoming and inclusive spirit of Bishop Edwards. On Oct. 15, Bishop Edwards invited Yadira Vieyra, a young auditor from Chicago, to read part of the group report to the entire synod.
Rev. Kopecká said the W.C.C. strongly supports young people, inviting many young leaders and speakers and “trying to be inclusive.” With the diversity of 350 member churches, she said, a consensus model of decision-making is “very, very difficult” but enriching. In fact, the Synod of Bishops has reminded her of the open-minded climate of the W.C.C.
“I feel we are touching very, very sensitive issues in the synod, like child exploitation,” she said. “People are speaking to each other very openly. I would not have expected the mutual acceptance, the variety of the topics, the richness and diversity. It is not about bringing divisions and differences but charity, which builds the Christian community.”
In her intervention to the synod, Rev. Kopecká referenced her conversion to Christianity at age 20. “When I heard the voice of God, I left everything and I followed that inspiration,” she told the synod.
In the interview with America, Rev. Kopecká described her native Czech Republic as a highly secularized society in which people generally do not want to be part of any institution, especially the church. She noted that her parents, who are both medical doctors, are “spiritual” but not Christians or churchgoers.
She could not have foreseen her conversion to Christianity or call to ordained ministry. She had been working as a highly paid manager in an international company and “had everything,” except for education. She decided to go to Charles University in Prague to study theology, simply because there were no entrance exams. She explained, “I had no knowledge of the Bible or Christianity.”
She started to take classes in Hebrew, Latin, systematic theology and biblical hermeneutics. In studying Hebrew, she said she discovered the values she had always been looking for. At first, she told herself it is only a science: “No, Martina, don’t believe in anything.” But she was being drawn into a mystery.
“I could not help myself,” she recounted. “Day by day, I realized this is the way. I fell in love with Jesus. I realized this calls me to become a member of the church.” So she began visiting parishes and considering baptism. Later, the “amazing work” of priests inspired her to quit her job and pursue ordination.
She has studied theology, psychology and special education and has worked as a crisis counselor. She was ordained at age 30 and is currently working as a pastor. She is also pursuing a doctorate in ecumenical theology at Charles University, which involves attending seminars, teaching classes and writing a dissertation.
She feels strongly about the ordination of women but also understands the sensitivity of the issue in the Catholic Church.
“For me, ordination is not a question of gender but human dignity and equal possibilities,” she said. “Women do a lot of work in the church today and should be considered as spiritual leaders and servants of God. They are doing the hardest work, caring for people in miserable situations. They make the face of the church more human.”
She said her small group discussed the ordination of women deacons. “I understand it is not an easy question. It is sensitive,” she said. “Sometimes I can disagree but I am trying to accept the different contexts and backgrounds.”
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church, formally established in 1920 in Prague by members of the modernist reform movement of Roman Catholic clergy, draws from the tradition of the Czech reformation in the 15th century (a century before Martin Luther). According to the website of the World Council of Churches, the Hussite Church has nearly 100,000 members and “occupies the middle ground between the essence of the Catholic Church (liturgy and the seven sacraments) and the principles of the Protestant churches (teaching and order).” Bishops are elected by a diocesan assembly. The church values dialogue, freedom of conscience and openness to a pluralistic world.
Jan Hus, a leading priest in the movement, sought to purify the church, Rev. Kopecká explained. He criticized indulgences, wanted to preach in the vernacular and asked for theological dialogue. Under pressure, he refused to renounce what he believed. He was burned at the stake in 1415 and considered a heretic for hundreds of years until 1999 when Pope John Paul II apologized and expressed “deep sorrow” for his “cruel death” and praised his “moral courage” as a true reformer of the church.
“My heart is really in Hussitism and the Reformation and the legacy of Jan Hus,” she said.
Rev. Kopecká said she first met Pope Francis in Geneva, when the pope visited the headquarters of the World Council of Churches on June 21. When she met him again at the synod, he remembered her.
“I expressed my gratitude [to Francis] on behalf of the World Council of Churches,” she said. “To be involved in the synod is a huge step in the ecumenical relationship between the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. It is an open door and a new era, a new dimension of sharing, of becoming a family.”
In the synod hall, she said, Pope Francis “is always very relaxed, ready to smile. He accepts fun, which is beautiful. When there is a joke, he smiles. He is not rigid in any way. We feel we are at home and can speak openly.
“He is really inspiring for many youth because he is not old,” she said. “He is incredibly young. He has openness, creativity and energy, and he also brings wisdom and experience, but not in the way that he is pushing anybody to anything. He just brings his values.”
Today, I feel enriched and lifted up by the wisdom and candor of Archbishop Bizzeti, Rev. Kopecka, Robert Mickens. And I am hopeful when a bishop such as Bishop de Jong is willing to sit down to dialogue, even when he is sure he will face opposition to his viewpoints.
Pope Francis is creating a quiet revolution. And I feel deep gratitude for living in this moment of foment and change in the Church.