Today, we were met at the press briefing by Sr. Maria Luisa Berzosa Gonzales who also spoke at the press briefing last night, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Archbishop Jaime Spengler, O.F.M. of Brazil.
There was a very interesting exchange between Cardinal Sako of Iraq and Cardinal Turkson about the complexities involved in providing aid to Iraqis whose lives have been destroyed by war.
There was also more on synod procedures. Prefect Ruffini reiterated the following:
The regulations and voting procedures are published.
There will be a provisional draft that will be read with simultaneous translations and discussed in the aula. It will be possible to propose changes.
The written document will be in Italian.
On the morning of the last day, there will be time to re-read the final draft with all the modifications.
Then it will be voted on, paragraph by paragraph with a two-thirds majority needed for the entire document.
UISG and USG join forces — Let women vote!
Joshua McElwee reported that the International Union of Superiors General and the Union of Superiors General are joining forces to find a way for women to vote in the synod.
Here is a big excerpt of his exciting report:
The two Rome-based umbrella groups representing nearly a million members of male and female Catholic religious orders around the world are planning to present Pope Francis with a proposal to give women a larger role in the Synod of Bishops.
Both the Union of Superiors General, representing about 185,000 priests and brothers, and the International Union of Superiors General, representing about 600,000 sisters and nuns, are working together on the initiative, a member of the Union of Superiors General’s executive council told NCR.
Lasallian Br. Robert Schieler, one of two non-ordained religious brothers serving as members in the ongoing Oct. 3-28 synod on young people, said the proposal is “to consider how, in future synods going forward, we can get more voice from the sisters.”
Schieler, who leads the global De La Salle Brothers, said in an Oct. 15 interview that the umbrella groups are planning to ask the pope about both participation of more women religious and the possibility of giving those who take part the power to vote in the discussions.
“It’s only right,” said the brother superior, one of 10 members of the Union of Superiors General’s council. “I mean, my God, the sisters are the ones who are every day with young people, more than any other group, in all kinds of capacities.”
Although seven women religious have been allowed to take part in this month’s synod, they are serving in non-member roles, meaning that while they can participate fully in the monthlong discussions, they are not being granted a vote on the gathering’s expected final document.
According to the Catholic Church’s theology, brothers and sisters have analogous roles. They are each non-ordained, professed members of religious orders.
Schieler said that members of his umbrella group had asked synod officials about the discrepancy of allowing non-ordained men but not non-ordained women to have a vote at the gathering.
He explained that two of the people who helped draft the synod’s working document, known as the instrumentum laboris, came to the biannual meeting of the Union of Superiors General last May.
“One of them did get the question about what the Vatican is saying about why the sisters cannot vote,” said Schieler. “And he said, ‘Well, because you have to be ordained to vote.’ “
“I’m not ordained,” Schieler said. “So I’m wondering, is that the reason or not?”
Excluding women is indefensible
Jesuit Thomas Reese has always been a voice of reason within the Church, and sometimes his special talent for calling out the oddities and contradictions we observe at the Vatican is, as my son would say, “sweet.”
For one thing, all of the voting members of the synod are men, with women present only as nonvoting experts and auditors. Outside the Vatican, Italian police broke up a demonstration where women were chanting: “Knock, knock. Who’s there? More than half the church.”
The problem is that while the synod includes mostly bishops, there are also a few priests and two religious brothers. While the bishops and priests are “ordained clerics” under church law, brothers are laypersons. The only theological or canonical difference between a religious brother and a religious sister is gender.
Excluding women is, therefore, indefensible.
If you can’t have women, it only makes sense to get rid of the priests and brothers. In fact, get rid of the cardinals and bishops from the Roman curia, so that only diocesan bishops are voting members of the synod.
Despite these problems, the synod does perform a valuable function.
Having bishops from all over the world come to Rome provides input from outside of the Vatican. All the bishops testify to the positive experience of hearing from bishops of different countries and cultures talk about the situation of the church.
Recognizing St. Therese of Lisieux’s call to priesthood and, I admit I am struggling
I have been reading the reports from the fourteen small language groups after week two.
The reports from the first week evoked hope in so far as the groups seemed to capture and expect the exciting possibility of a new kind of church — a listening church.
And the second week reports focusing on vocations do offer a surprise.
English Group C moderated by Cardinal Joseph Coutts, recalls that St. Theresa of Lisieux felt her own call to priesthood:
The greatest sign of holiness is, of course, charity (agape). We propose that the story of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was attracted to all particular vocations (even priesthood) but found the unity of all of them in love as a wonderful illustration of this principal.
And the German report seems to retain something of the magic of this moment of new possibilities.
But, I admit I am struggling.
I know I am not in the small groups so I cannot really capture the felt spirit that is woven into the words offered by the committed, dedicated people in each group who I believe are genuinely connecting and are genuinely joyful about that connection.
But, beyond this authentic and joyful meeting of Catholics, the second week reports are surfacing the defects in this synod process.
I am concerned anew about what will be produced, or more importantly, reproduced in the wider church.
The second week English group reports strike me as flat — more like required homework assignments completed by eager students to be turned in to the very unimaginative teacher who assigned them.
Complete with modi (proposals) for the final document, charts, and organizing schemes, they do not reflect the efforts Sr. Sally Hodgdon reported; that those in her small group dialogued about women in the Church and went through the Instrumentum Laboris paragraph by paragraph weeding out patriarchal language.
And they do not address the lived realities of our LGBT Catholic sisters and brothers who have often turned away from the church which has done them harm.
And where the word homosexuality is used, as in Spanish Group A, led by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga and in the Portuguese Group led by Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz, the words are either offensive or confusing.
Which brings me back to the process in general.
I know from the press briefings and other interviews and reports, that synod participants, young and old alike, are discussing topics like LGBT inclusion, women’s roles in the church, the clergy sex abuse crisis and other critical topics.
The promise of a “listening church” is born out of a critical need to renew the Church so that it can better love and embrace all God’s people today and partner with them in the work of the Gospel.
So, why is the language so bland?
Why do the ideas that show up in the reports read more like the work of a word smith rather than the poetry of risk taking — of cracking open the heart of a church that for too many decades was rigid and cold?
And maybe, most importantly, why has the church not been more courageous in bringing — front and center — right into the heart of the synod hall — those who no longer consider themselves part of the church…the voices in the wilderness…our friends and loved ones in the diaspora who have migrated away from the behemoth that they feared (with good cause) would rather chew them up than tender and love them.
We miss them so much.
So I am struggling.
And, maybe, grieving a bit.
Still I know that if this effort fails — and I hope it does not — we, the People of God, will not fail in our efforts to call the ones we love into our open arms.
We are the People of God and we aren’t finished yet.