3 Things We Learned From The Vatican’s Synod On Synodality

By Clemente Lisi

The Vatican’s meeting of bishops — the second phase of a multi-year effort that began in 2021 known as the Synod on Synodality — concluded this past weekend amid a growing debate regarding a number of key issues.

The meetings this month centered around the future of the Catholic church and has put progressives and conservatives at odds when it comes to doctrinal issues. Chief among them remains the ordination of women as deacons, outreach to the LGBTQ community, the blessing of same-sex unions and conferring Holy Communion to divorced Catholics.

The process, at least this leg of it, has largely been shrouded in mystery after Pope Francis announced a media blackout — a papal gag order if you will — regarding what was discussed during many of the closed-door sessions.

The assembly will gather again in October 2024, where a final document is expected to be released and presented to Pope Francis for consideration.

“The process starts, really starts, at the end of the [whole] synod,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the synod’s relator general, told reporters on Saturday. “So even next year, I hope there will be a document that is a real document, where also some theological questions of synodality get considered and so on.”

The Vatican last Wednesday released a letter saying a “synthesis report” would be released ahead of next year’s final meeting in Rome. At that stage, the synod will present the pope with a series of recommendations.

“There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: The synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed,” the letter said.

That 41-page report, released on Saturday following a vote, noted there were what it called “divergences” on a number of issues.

Here’s what we learned from the month-long synod:

FEMALE deacons

While the ordination of women priests is off the table for the time being, one of the bigger questions the delegates debated was that of women deacons. Many delegates, both male and female, spoke out in favor of allowing women to enter the ministry.

The synthesis report asked for more “theological and pastoral research on the access of women to the diaconate” — including a review of the conclusions of commissions Pope Francis set up in 2016 and 2020.

That paragraph alone was approved by a vote of 279-67, which was more than the two-thirds support needed.

Among members of the synod, the report added, some thought the idea of women deacons would be a break with tradition.

“Others still, discern it as an appropriate and necessary response to the signs of the times, faithful to the tradition, and one that would find an echo in the hearts of many who seek new energy and vitality in the church,” the report said.

This comes as the pope, in remarks to delegates last week, called those in the church hierarchy who had abused their authority as having “macho and dictatorial attitudes.” Ridiculing priests who shop for expensive cassocks in Rome’s ecclesiastical tailor shops, he denounced clericalism, which is the practice of placing priests on a pedestal.

“Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages [the church],” Pope Francis said.

But traditionalist forces within the church don’t appear so convinced. Cardinal Robert Prevost, the head of the Vatican’s bishops office, said women had increasingly been given high-ranking roles within the church under this pontiff.

“I think there will be a continuing recognition of the fact that women can add a great deal to the life of the church on many different levels,” he said.

Reaching out to LGBTQ+ Catholics

While the pope had said on the eve of the synod that he was interested in having the church bless same-sex unions on a case-by-case basis, members spent the past month also discussing pastoral approaches to welcoming Catholics who have felt excluded in the past, including the poor, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ Catholics and Catholics whose marriages are not currently recognized by the church.

While the synthesis report did not use the terms “LGBTQ+” or “homosexuality,” it spoke in general terms about issues related to “matters of identity and sexuality.”

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and synod member involved in outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics, told Catholic News Service: “From what I understand, there was too much pushback to make using the term ‘LGBTQ’ viable, even though it was contained in the “‘Instrumentum Laboris’ or synod working document. This opposition came up often in the plenary sessions, along with others who argued from the other side, that is, for greater inclusion and for seeing LGBTQ people as people and not an ideology.”

The report, meanwhile, said that in order to “develop authentic ecclesial discernment in these and other areas, it is necessary to approach these questions in the light of the Word of God and Church teaching, properly informed and reflected upon.”

The report added: “In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the church because of their marriage status, identity or sexuality, also ask to be heard and accompanied. There was a deep sense of love, mercy and compassion felt in the assembly for those who are or feel hurt or neglected by the church, who want a place to call ‘home’ where they can feel safe, be heard and respected, without fear of feeling judged.”

Was it even a valid synod?

That’s the question some posed in the final week of meetings. In fact, some participants questioned whether it is a Synod of Bishops given that, for the first time in church history, lay members — including 54 women — will have a vote.

Pope Francis made the decision earlier this year to invite lay men and women to the gathering, conferring them almost a fifth of the vote.

Asked at a press briefing on Oct. 23 about whether the 364-member synod Synod on Synodality should be considered a Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna said he did not see an issue and that it would help establish a “closer connection” between the sides.

The Synod of Bishops, he continued, is “a consultative organ for the exercise of the papal ministry,” adding that lay ballots do not “diminish the weight of votes.”

Eastern rite and Orthodox delegates who participated have insisted that the assembly was not a synod as they understand it. Even the German bishops’ conference-backed news site Katholisch.de, which supports many of the positions championed by progressives, reported that “the legitimacy of the entire assembly” was questioned by some and that the meeting was “in danger of running into an ecclesiastical crisis.”

In an interview with the National Catholic Register with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a participant in the meeting and the Vatican’s former top official on church teaching, said the meeting was not a real synod because lay people took “away opportunities” from bishops to speak.

“All is being turned around so that now we must be open to homosexuality and the ordination of women,” he said in the interview, which was published on Saturday. “If you analyze it, all is about converting us to these two themes.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican synod ends with divide over women deacons and LGBTQ+

Pope Francis leads a prayer for migrants and refugees, part of the 16th general assembly of the synod of bishops, in front of Timothy Schmalz’s bronze sculptural complex ‘Angels Unawares’ in St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican on Oct. 19.

By and 

Days before the start of the most significant Catholic gathering since the 1960s, Pope Francis dropped a theological bomb. In a reply to conservative bishops concerned about his openness to the LGBTQ+ community, the 86-year-old pope effectively said he could envision priests, on a case-by-case basis, blessing same-sex couples if those benedictions fell short of the sacrament of marriage.

In the subsequent weeks, how and whether to welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics became, according to participants, the most contentious topic at the month-long synod that closed Saturday in Vatican City. Facing opposition from senior clerics from Eastern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, the wording of a concluding report, with sections approved by at least a two-thirds majority of voting members, fell far short of the inclusive language used earlier by the pope himself.

The document failed to even mention the phrase “LGBTQ+,” as used in preliminary materials. The most it ventured to say was that “people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church, due to their marital situation, identity and sexuality, also ask to be listened to and accompanied, and that their dignity is defended.”

It also lumps “sexual orientation” under a slew of ethical questions described as “new” and “controversial,” including artificial intelligence.

“We are a family and we must respect everybody’s pace,” Synod General Secretary Cardinal Mario Grech told reporters who questioned the synod’s position on homosexuality and other issues late Saturday. “We must journey together.”

The synod — a gathering of the church’s highest consultative body, which for the first time included lay people and women as voting members — is seen as a landmark moment in the church. Delegates arrived after broad consultations within regions and countries on the issues facing the church. They will now recess, consult with their local churches and reconvene next October before offering what is expected to be a final set of recommendations to the pope.

Delegates described a civil, constructive atmosphere in recent weeks, but also disagreements, including on the role of women in the church and the question of priestly celibacy. But the gulf over LGBTQ+ reception suggested the extent of the ideological rifts dividing a global church of 1.3 billion Catholics, as well as a challenging road ahead for Francis as he seeks to unify the faithful and cement his legacy in the latter stage of his papacy.

Going into the synod, conservative Catholics — particularly in the United States and Eastern Europe — had derided the event as a smokescreen for liberal reform, while progressives in Western Europe and elsewhere dared to hope that it could foster long-awaited changes in official teachings. But the caution indicated a high hurdle for liberals looking for rapid change.

“I’m a bit disillusioned,” said Rosanna Virgili, a theologian at the Rome-based Pontifical Lateran University. “It looks more like a rehash of Catholic doctrine.”

The synod called it “urgent” to ensure that women can participate in “decision-making processes and take on roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry.” But delegates were clearly split on how that should happen. There was no mention of women in the priesthood. The document did call for “theological and pastoral research” on women deacons to “continue.” But it noted opposition to even that step, saying dissenters “express the fear that this request is the expression of a dangerous anthropological confusion.”

The two paragraphs on female deacons — which failed to clearly back the idea — passed the synod’s two-thirds threshold with the lowest number of votes. The document also recommended that “adequately trained women” could be judges in canonical trials.

Differences also emerged on maintaining priestly celibacy, an issue of deep importance to Catholics in remote regions where clerics are in short supply. The synod’s conclusion was simply that the topic merited “further consideration.”

The pope has sent mixed signals on both topics. Ahead of the meeting, Francis said there was no “clear and authoritative doctrine” on the question, adding that it could be “a subject of study.” But in an interview published this year by two journalists, Francis, going deeper, appeared to find little rationale for ordaining women, or giving in to calls for married priests. In 2020, Francis ruled against allowing married priests in the Amazon region, which is suffering from a severe clerical shortage.

Vatican synods — held in the past with only bishops and cardinals as voting members — tend to convene two to three times per decade. But the two-year synod called by Francis is the most ambitious church summit since the Second Vatican Council of 1962 that ushered in major reforms including the Catholic Mass being celebrated in vernacular languages, rather than just Latin.

Several participants — speaking on the condition of anonymity due to Vatican requests that delegates keep the synod’s inner workings private — said no issue divided the consultative body more than the question of LGBTQ+ reception.

The same pope who made headlines in 2013 by saying, “who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests, signaled an even wider door for the LGBTQ+ community ahead of and during the gathering. As the event approached, the pope issued a written response to concerned conservative bishops in which he affirmed that same-sex couples could receive Catholic blessings — but not the sacrament of marriage — on a case-by-case basis as determined by local church officials.

On Oct. 17, as the synod was in full swing, Francis symbolically welcomed Sister Jeannine Gramick to the Vatican. An American nun, Gramick was sanctioned in 1999 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the future Pope Benedict XVI — for her LGBTQ+ advocacy.

A week later, Francis met with a delegation from the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, an LGBTQ+ group.

Yet conservative bishops from Poland, Hungary, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Australia and elsewhere ardently rejected same-sex blessings, calling them tantamount to condoning “sin” and a “colonial” imposition from liberal Western Europeans. In public and private comments, they described homosexuality as “disgusting” and “unnatural.” Officially, Catholic teachings state that homosexuality is “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law.”

One delegate, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish Bishop’s Conference, stood firmly by those teachings. He said in an answer to written questions from The Washington Post that he sometimes felt “the ‘non-Catholic’ voice was more audible than the ‘Catholic’ one” at the synod. He specifically called out the liberal German church — where priests are already blessing same-sex couples — for advocating reforms that “draw profusely from Protestant theology and the language of modern politics.”

He said that for LGBTQ+ people, a truthful “encounter with Christ” meant “a conversion, turning away from sin and adopting a lifestyle in accordance with the Gospel.”<

“Benedictions, or blessings of homosexual unions, would mean that the Church approves of the lifestyle of homosexual partnerships (even if it does not equate them with marriages), which also means sex between same-sex couples,” Gadecki wrote. “What has always been defined as a sin in the Judeo-Christian tradition would now become something positive.”

Liberal delegates sought to strongly counter those arguments. One delegate told a story of a woman who died by suicide after failing to obtain church absolution for being bisexual. Another delegate — the Rev. James Martin, an American priest who ministers to the LGBTQ+ community and was handpicked as a delegate by Francis — told a story of a longtime same-sex couple in which a man had painstakingly nursed his cancer-stricken partner before he died. He asked the synod to consider if that were not a genuine sign of “love.”

In an interview, Martin declined to confirm details of the synod debate, but said, “I’m disappointed not only that LGBTQ [people] were excised, but also that the discussions we had, which were passionate on both sides, were not reflected in the final document.”

“But I’m not surprised,” Martin said. “There was great resistance to the topic among many members.”

Complete Article HERE!

Spanish clergy sexually abused more than 200,000 children, inquiry estimates

— Ombudsman says Catholic church’s response to cases ‘insufficient’ and calls for creation of a reparations fund

Spain’s national ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, addresses a press conference in Madrid.

By Agence France-Presse

More than 200,000 children are estimated to have been sexually abused in Spain by the Roman Catholic clergy since 1940, according to an independent commission.

The report did not give a specific figure but it said that in a poll of more than 8,000 adults, 0.6% said they had been sexual abused by members of the clergy when they were children. This figure equates to about 200,000 of Spain’s adult population of about 39 million.

The proportion increased to 1.13% – equating to more than 400,000 people – when including abuse by lay members of the church, Spain’s national ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, said at a news conference called to present the findings of the report.

The Roman Catholic church has been rocked by a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.

In Spain, a traditionally Catholic country that has become highly secular, clerical abuse allegations are only now gaining traction, leading to accusations by survivors of stonewalling.

“Unfortunately, for many years there has been a certain desire to deny abuses or a desire to conceal or protect the abusers,” said Gabilondo, a former education minister.

The report is critical of the attitude of the church, calling its response to cases of child abuse involving the clergy “insufficient”. It recommends the creation of a state fund to pay reparations to victims.

Just before the report was presented in parliament, the Spanish bishops conference said it would hold an extraordinary meeting on Monday to discuss its findings.

Spain’s parliament in March 2022 overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent commission led by the ombudsman to “shed light” on allegations of sexual abuse of “defenceless boys and girls” in the Catholic church.

Spain’s Catholic church, which for years refused to carry out its own inquiry, declined to take part in the independent investigation, although it did cooperate by providing documents on cases of sexual abuse that had been collected by dioceses.

As political pressure mounted, in February 2022 it tasked a private law firm with an “audit” into past and present sexual abuse by clergy, teachers and others associated with the church, which should be completed by the end of the year.

The Spanish church said in June that it had discovered 927 cases of child abuse through a complaints procedure launched in 2020. It argues it has set up protocols for dealing with sexual abuse and has set up “child protection” offices within dioceses.

But an investigation by the top-selling daily newspaper El País that began in 2018 has since uncovered 2,206 victims and 1,036 alleged abusers dating back to 1927. “According to experts, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the newspaper wrote on Friday before the report was published.

The church’s abuse crisis exploded on to the international stage in 2002 when the Boston Globe newspaper revealed that priests had sexually abused children for decades and church leaders had covered it up.

Patterns of widespread abuse of children were later reported across the US and Europe, in Chile and Australia, undercutting the moral authority of the 1.3 billion-member church and taking a toll on its membership.

An independent commission in France concluded in 2021 that 216,000 children – mostly boys – had been sexually abused by clergy since 1950.

In Germany, a study found 3,677 cases of abuse between 1946 and 2014, while in Ireland more than 14,500 people received compensation though a government scheme for those abused at juvenile facilities run by the Catholic church.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis speaks at Synod on Synodality: ‘Clericalism’ defiles the Church

Pope Francis leads the Synod on Synodality delegates in prayer on Oct. 25, 2023.

By Courtney Mares

Pope Francis denounced clericalism and called it a “scandal” to see young priests buying lace vestments at tailor shops in a strongly-worded speech to the Synod on Synodality on Wednesday.

Speaking to an assembly of hundreds of synod members on Oct. 25, the pope said that when clerics overstep their roles and “mistreat the people of God, they disfigure the face of the Church with macho and dictatorial attitudes.”

Pope Francis described the faithful people of God as “patiently and humbly enduring the scorn, mistreatment, and marginalization of institutionalized clericalism.”

“It is enough to go into the ecclesiastical tailor shops in Rome to see the scandal of young priests trying on cassocks and hats, or albs and lace robes,” he added.

“Clericalism is a thorn. It is a scourge. It is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages the face of the Lord’s bride,” he said. “It enslaves the holy, faithful people of God.”

The pope made his speech during the final week of the nearly monthlong synod assembly, where he listened to the interventions of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious sisters, and laypeople speaking about “synodality” and their experiences in the Church.

Pope Francis cited only one delegate’s intervention in his speech — that of Sister Liliana Franco, a Colombian religious sister who was one of 42 women who participated in the Amazon Synod, where she spoke at a controversial tree planting ceremony in the Vatican Gardens.

In his speech, Pope Francis praised the female intuition that led women to approach Jesus’ empty tomb after the Resurrection. He noted that many members of the Church hierarchy received their faith from their mothers and grandmothers, adding that the faith is often transmitted “in a feminine dialect.”

Much of the pope’s speech focused on “the scourge” of clericalism and worldliness, a theme that the pope has been focused on since the start of the synod.

During the first week of the synod assembly, Pope Francis gave each participant a copy of a book that he wrote titled “Santi, non mondani: La grazia di Dio ci salva dalla corruzione interiore” (“Holy, not Worldly: God’s Grace Saves us from Interior Corruption”).

The book is a compilation of a text published by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2005 called “Corruption and Sin” and a strongly-worded letter that Pope Francis wrote to all priests in the diocese of Rome on Aug. 5.

“How naturally we speak of the princes of the Church, or of episcopal promotions as getting ahead career-wise … the worldliness that mistreats God’s holy and faithful people,” Pope Francis said in his synod speech.

The pope added that he was pained to find that some parish offices offer a “price list” for sacramental services, like a “supermarket of salvation” where priests act as “mere employees of a multinational company.”

“Either the Church is the faithful people of God ‘on the way,’ — holy and sinful — or it ends up being a business offering a variety of services,” Pope Francis said.

Complete Article HERE!

Francis demonstrates support for LGBTQ ministries

— The Pope received Sr Jeannine Gramick, who was prohibited from pastoral work with LGBTQ in 1999 for “errors and ambiguities” in her ministry.

Sr Jeannine Gramick IBVM with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, pictured outside St Peter’s in 2015.

By Brian Fraga

Pope Francis demonstrated his support for LGBTQ ministry with two significant gestures while the Synod on Synodality was discussing the Church’s approach to sexuality.

On 17 October, Francis received Sr Jeannine Gramick IBVM, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, for a 50-minute audience in the Apostolic Palace.

“The meeting was very emotional for me,” Sr Jeannine said, praising Francis for his “humility, his love of the poor and for those shunned by society”.

Sr Jeannine co-founded New Ways Ministry – a Maryland-based LGBTQ Catholic ministry – in 1977 with the late Salvatorian Fr Robert Nugent.

Francis and Sr Jeannine have developed a friendly correspondence since 2021, when Francis wrote to New Ways Ministry Francis describing her as a “valiant woman.” He later sent a handwritten note congratulating her for 50 years of LGBTQ ministry.

“Meeting with Pope Francis is a great encouragement for Sr Jeannine and New Ways Ministry to continue our work in the Catholic Church,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement.

Francis’ outreach is a marked departure from the criticisms and rebukes that New Ways Ministry received in previous years from Vatican officials and American bishops.

In 1999, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI who at the time directed the Vatican’s doctrinal office, ordered that Gramick and Nugent be prohibited from pastoral work with LGBTQ persons because of alleged “errors and ambiguities” in their ministry.

On 13 October, Francis also wrote a personal note to Stan “JR” Zerkowski, a gay Catholic man involved in national and local LGBTQ ministry in Kentucky.

Zerkowski told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he had written to Frances to tell him about his experiences and the challenges faced by many who work in LGBTQ ministry, and the Pope had replied two days later.

“For the Holy Father to say thank you for your ministry…it’s affirming the ministry,” said Zerkowski, who added that Francis’ approach to LGBTQ issues “opens the door, maybe, for discussions where discussions could not be had before”.

Complete Article HERE!