Is door opening for women in the Catholic Church?

— Miami woman leading the call has new hope

Ellie Hidalgo, fourth from right, accompanied young adults from the United States traveling to Rome to participate in the public activities of the first general assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality in October 2023.

By Lauren Costantino

For more than a decade, Ellie Hidalgo has been campaigning to expand the role of women in the Catholic Church.

The Miami woman is co-director of a nonprofit, Discerning Deacons, which invites other Catholics to consider ordaining women as deacons — a clergy role that has already been opened to married men. That would allow women for the first time in centuries to preach the Gospel, preside at baptisms, direct charitable services and perform other duties long confined to males.

From her past work, she knows the value women can add to the church. As a pastoral associate at a Jesuit parish near downtown Los Angeles, she worked with immigrant women from Mexico and Central America. In times of need, Hidalgo, who is trained in pastoral theology and fluent in Spanish, was called on to preach, assisting a priest who had trouble communicating with congregants. She’s also met with Catholic indigenous women in the Amazon region of Brazil who are on the front lines of defending human and land rights.

Hildago, who now attends Our Lady of the Divine Providence in Sweetwater, knows her devout Cuban grandmothers would never question why only men could serve pastoral roles. But that’s definitely not the case in conversations with her own nieces — they want to hear someone with “their own lived experience, from somebody who’s a sister or a daughter or a mother.“

Now, for the first time in years, Hidalgo can envision a day when the church might actually open some leadership doors to women.

Her hope springs from attending the Synod of Bishops, a monthlong assembly of church leaders in Rome that can shape future policy for the Catholic Church. The question of involving women in church leadership was widely discussed during the October gatherings, with a culminating report sending favorable signals for lifting some gender barriers in the future.

Although no concrete decisions were made this year, the tenor of discussions encouraged Hildago and others who share her goal for a more inclusive church. On the issue of ordaining women as deacons, the report called for continued research and discussion to be taken up at next year’s session.

“We were very pleased that that made it in there,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a very big step forward.”

The synod included 480 members appointed by Pope Francis from all continents. They participated in a process the church calls “conversations in the spirit.” It involved listening, praying and drawing up recommendations for the pope.

“What is the Holy Spirit asking of the church in the third millennium? What are the needs?” said Hidalgo. “In these times where we see a lot of profound woundedness in the world, more wars, and famine and drought and tons of migration — these were some of the topics that were being taken up. What is causing all that and how is the church to respond?”

Synod signals a possible shift

A synthesis report released by the pope appears to reflect a significant shift in centuries of resistance to putting women in leadership roles: “It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry.”

Along with considering making women deacons, other proposals called for the expansion of theological study and seminary programs to women. The report also said cases of labor injustice within the church need to be addressed, as women “are too often treated as cheap labour.” It also proposes expanding the responsibilities of a lector — someone who reads Scriptures during Mass — “to become a fuller ministry in the Word of God,” which in some contexts could include a woman preaching.

The role of women in the church has long been a divisive issue. But Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said that on many fronts, voting delegates agreed. Every paragraph included in the report must be approved by at least two-thirds of voting members — meaning the majority felt strongly about expanding women’s roles.

“There were many points of convergence – and so the Synod participants were not as divided as some looking in from the outside imagine,” Wenski wrote in an email to the Herald.

He said that many of the proposals involving women are already implemented in the United States.

“Our seminaries have women teaching on their faculties, some are involved in supervising seminarians in the pastoral assignments,” he said. “And they vote as other faculty members do … Our chanceries and our parishes do have women in roles of great responsibilities.”

The synod report also touched — often cautiously — on other lightning-rod issues, including immigration crises across the globe.

“In the face of increasingly hostile attitudes toward migrants, we are called to practice an open welcome, to accompany them in the construction of a new life and to build a true intercultural communion among peoples,” the report read.

There was a call to “to eradicate the sin of racism,” including within the church, though not much detail was given on how to do it.

And although there were discussions about LGBTQ people — Jesuit priest Father James Martin, for instance, was chosen as a synod delegate because of his commitment ministering LGBTQ Catholics — there were no official recommendations in the report.

Synod firsts for women

Still, the changes in this synod were significant. While past meetings consisted of solely bishops and cardinals, this year’s participants included priests, deacons, religious women and men, laymen and women and three young adults — the youngest was a 19-year-old student from the University of Wyoming. Out of the 363 voting members, 54 were women, a first in synod history.

“One of Pope Francis’ strong beliefs, and a belief of the synod process, is that the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone,” Hidalgo said. “We know that when Jesus chose his apostles, he didn’t go to the people you would expect. He went to fisherman.”

To ensure synod members heard each other’s perspectives, delegates were seated at round tables composed of clergy and lay people — a stark difference from the usual theater-style set-up more akin to lectures than discussions.

The changes reflected a papal mission to create a more unified church.

“Why do I insist on this?” Pope Francis said in 2021. “Because sometimes there can be a certain elitism … the priest ultimately becomes more a ‘landlord’ than a pastor of a whole community as it moves forward.”

Leading up to the assembly, millions of Catholics also participated in meetings at local parishes, praying together and discussing issues. It was the first time during a Synod of Bishops that everyone on all levels of the church was asked to participate.

In Miami’s listening sessions, people were concerned about declining membership, young people becoming less engaged in their faith and the lingering fallout of past clergy abuse scandals. Many wanted clearer answers on controversial issues that have divided the church.

There was positive feedback, too: the church providing a sense of belonging, admiration for priests dedicated to their mission and appreciation for the church’s ongoing commitment to charitable causes.

“Our own synodal process here locally has helped us look to the future with great hope,” Archbishop Wenski said. ‘”The Church in Miami is alive – we are concerned about many of the same issues that concerned the Synod members in Rome, but like them we acknowledge that God is in charge and we want to follow the Spirit’s lead.”

‘There is room for everyone’

Although Hidalgo was not a synod delegate, she traveled to Rome for associated public activities, spending a lot of time listening to the group of young adults who traveled with her organization.

“Young people I have listened to worry about their LGBTQ friends and family members, their divorced and remarried parents, the poor, migrants who face a hostile welcome, war-torn places, and our common home, the natural world,” she said. “They also want women to have more of a voice and to be at decision-making tables.”

At the opening Mass of the Synod in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Hidalgo and the group of young adults donned T-shirts that read “En la iglesia hay lugar para todos!” It’s a reference to World Youth Day in Portugal when Pope Francis told the youth in Spanish, “In the Church there is room for everyone. Everyone, everyone, everyone.”

The words resonated with the 20-to 30-year-old Catholics, she said. They understand the struggles of those who feel like they don’t belong. In Rome, they listened to Pope Francis share this same message during his homily, this time in Italian.

“Come, you who are weary and oppressed, come, you who have lost your way or feel far away, come, you who have closed the doors to hope: the Church is here for you! The doors of the Church are open to everyone, everyone, everyone!”

Every Saturday night during the month-long synod, thousands of people gathered for a rosary prayer. The war between Israel and Hamas was top of mind for attendees, and the mood was somber, Hidalgo said. The bombing and mounting human deaths a reminder of the problems plaguing the world around them.

“We realized there’s so much at stake, not just for the church, but for the world. Our ability to figure out how to be peacemakers and how to resolve conflicts, and how to be able to dialogue about very difficult problems. Human lives are at stake.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis Meets, Dines with Trans Women After Controversial Baptism Decision

By BERT HOOVER

Pope Francis recently hosted a Vatican luncheon for a group of transgender women, many of whom are sex workers or migrants from Latin America, according to Fox News.

This gathering took place as part of the Catholic Church’s “World Day of the Poor.”

The pope and these transgender women have developed a close relationship, which originated during the COVID-19 pandemic when the pontiff assisted them when they were unable to work.

Now, they have monthly VIP visits with the pope and receive support in the form of medicine, money, and other essentials.

The luncheon was a broader event, with around 1,200 impoverished or homeless individuals also attending inside the papal audience hall to enjoy a full meal and dessert.

This invitation to transgender women aligns with a recent Vatican document that generated controversy.

Released earlier in the month, the document affirms that individuals dealing with gender identity disorders are permitted to be baptized or serve as godparents under specific conditions.

While responding to a query from Brazilian Bishop Giuseppe Negri of Santo Amaro, the guidance from the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed by Pope Francis, maintains that the baptism or involvement as godparents must not cause “scandal” or “disorientation.”

This nuanced stipulation has been praised by LGBTQ+ advocates.

Pope Francis: ‘Who Am I to Judge?’

Prominent LGBTQ+ organizations are applauding Pope Francis for his message of inclusivity, recognizing that gay and transgender individuals have historically felt marginalized within a church that officially characterizes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered.”

Francis has been on a trajectory toward greater acceptance, starting with his notable “Who am I to judge” remark in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, AP reports.

In January, he reinforced this stance by asserting that “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The pope has consistently evolved his position, emphasizing that everyone, unequivocally, is a child of God, loved by God, and welcomed in the church – a sentiment expressed with the resounding declaration, “todos, todos, todos” (everyone, everyone, everyone).

However, this judgment-free perspective isn’t universally shared within the Catholic Church.

A recent synod, a gathering of bishops and laypeople at the Vatican, stopped short of explicitly advocating for the welcoming of LGBTQ+ Catholics.

Pope Francis’ approach has faced strong opposition from conservative Catholics, including cardinals.

Despite internal divisions, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like GLAAD and DignityUSA see Pope Francis’ inclusive tone as a powerful message.

They believe it could encourage political and cultural leaders to cease the persecution, exclusion, and discrimination against transgender individuals.

Lunch with Pope Francis

Latin America migrants and sex workers had the opportunity to share a meal with Pope Francis featuring cannelloni pasta filled with spinach and ricotta, followed by meatballs in tomato-basil sauce and tiramisu for dessert, THEM noted.

“We transgenders in Italy feel a bit more human because the fact that Pope Francis brings us closer to the Church is a beautiful thing,” Carla Segovia, a 46-year-old sex worker from Argentina, said, expressing gratitude.

Claudia Vittoria Salas, a trans tailor and house cleaner from Argentina, had a personal connection to the recent declaration by the Catholic Church regarding trans godparents.

She shared that she had previously worked as a sex worker to support her nieces and nephews, to whom she served as a godparent. She found herself seated next to Pope Francis during the lunch.

“Before, the church was closed to us. They didn’t see us as normal people; they saw us as the devil. Then Pope Francis arrived, and the doors of the church opened for us,” Andrea Paola Torres Lopez, a trans woman from Colombia, said, reflecting on the changing perception of the church.

Complete Article HERE!

Archbishop justifies LGBT flags on coffins in Mexican cathedral

Coffins with the LGBT flag in Aguascalientes cathedral in Mexico.

By David Ramos, Diego López Colín

The vice president of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Gustavo Rodríguez Vega, justified the draping of LGBT flags on the coffins of a gay activist and his partner during their funeral held in the Aguascalientes cathedral, despite the scandal that this has caused among the faithful.

The caskets were covered with the flags during the funeral Mass of the “nonbinary” judge and activist Ociel Baena and his romantic partner, which was held on the morning of Nov. 14.

Both bodies were found with indications of violence inside Baena’s house on Nov. 13. The attorney general’s office of Aguascalientes state reported in a statement posted on Facebook that day that “everything indicates that it could be a personal matter” since “a sharp instrument” was found in the hands of one of the deceased.

Several comments on the post questioned the quick conclusions of the investigators and claimed it was a hate crime, alluding to Ulises Nava, a gay rights activist who was gunned down in July as he was leaving an event organized by Baena.

As can be seen in the photos and videos circulating on social media, at the funeral Mass of Baena and his partner, people from his circle placed the LGBT flags on the coffins.

In a press conference held Nov. 16, Rodríguez, who is also the archbishop of Yucatán, pointed out that Baena and his partner are “children of God and our brothers” and so “we could not, in any way, not receive them in the church. Especially when the family wanted them to be taken there [the Aguascalientes cathedral].”

When asked by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, about the placement of the flags, the archbishop commented that “if they place those flags, which meant so much to them, well, we respect that.”

“There is no problem,” continued the vice president of the bishops’ conference, because “there was no intention to offend anyone.”

“They are also welcome to all the services that the Church can offer,” he concluded.

Who was Ociel Baena?

Born in Saltillo in 1984, Baena graduated in law from the Autonomous University of Coahuila and held a doctorate in law from the Autonomous University of Durango. He originally held the position of secretary general of Accords of the Electoral Court of the State of Aguascalientes, but in October 2022, after the departure of Claudia Eloísa Díaz de León González, he assumed the interim position of judge, which he was to hold until the federal senate would appoint his replacement.

Baena, who identified as a “nonbinary” person, asked to be called “magistrade” as part of his LGBT activism. “Magistrade” is a made-up word in Spanish because it is correctly spelled magistrado (male judge) or magistrada (female judge). In May he was the first to receive a “nonbinary” passport, a category created by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Involved in various controversies, on Oct. 31 he upset Catholics by posting a photograph of himself on social media dressed as the Virgin Mary.

Can LGBT flags be displayed at a funeral Mass?

In a Nov. 15 interview with ACI Prensa, Father Francisco Torres Ruiz, an expert in liturgy of the Diocese of Plasencia in Spain, explained that “it’s not permissible to put any type of symbology at funeral Masses, especially when that symbology represents ideologies contrary to Christian anthropology, that is, when they are against the faith.”

“What is admitted is, when a head of state or a soldier is buried, who have their own protocol, putting the national flag, the flag of the country, on the coffin. But never a flag that detracts from the sacred place that is a church.”

“Nor can any other symbol or photo of the deceased be placed during the funeral celebration,” he explained, “because in the church the only images, the only photos or icons, are always those of the saints or the diocesan bishop or of the pope, but never that of the deceased who is being buried.”

What could the priest have done?

For Torres, if the placing of the flags had occurred before the start of the Mass, the priest would have had the opportunity to “indicate to the family or the funeral planners that that symbology is strictly prohibited.”

“If ‘treasonously’ they place it during the ceremony, it’s a very forced situation for the priest, because he’s not going to stop a celebration to remove that flag,” he said.

“Although it may perfectly be the case that the priest, during the homily or at any time, makes some observation or orders the family or the organization to remove that symbol. But it is certainly a very forced situation for the priest who has to preside over the celebration,” he noted.

Why is the funeral Mass important for Catholics?

Torres explained that the funeral Mass “is not just another ceremony, but rather it is the last expression of the spiritual motherhood of Holy Mother Church for her children who have passed from this world to the next.”

“Christian funerals are always an action to aid the person who is buried, that is, to implore the eternal rest of the soul of the person” who “may have some type of unforgiven sin or unrepaired guilt.”

“Then we think that he is in purgatory and what the Church does by offering this Mass is to ask for the purification of that person, for the forgiveness of his sins,” so that he can “enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Complete Article HERE!

Female priests might be last hope for Catholic Church

Pope Francis has started a dialogue around ordaining women as deacons.

Editorial

It is nearly 50 years since the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded there was no scriptural basis for blocking the ordination of women to the priesthood, and more than half-a-century since Vatican II declared “every type of discrimination … based on sex” should be “eradicated as contrary to God’s intent”.

In Roman Catholic churches around the country today, the faithful will attend in ever fewer numbers than before. That the once dominant church is regarded as in perpetual crisis is widely acknowledged, and almost routinely accepted by the church itself.

At what point, the faithful must wonder, will the decline end and renewal begin? To truly open the church to women priests would be a good starting point. Pope Francis has begun a dialogue about ordaining women as deacons, but that is still some way from full priesthood — if it ever happens. The winds of change blow slowly in Rome.

A letter-writer to the Sunday Independent today highlights a document read out by the bishop of his diocese recently, which referred to many issues facing the church, one of which was the lack of Irish priests. Our correspondent suggests bishops be encouraged to send out requests to colleagues around the world to send priests to Ireland.

In fact, this process is well under way. Many parishes are now run by priests from other countries, a reversal of the trend throughout much of the last century when Irish missionary priests were sent to the far corners of the earth.

The decline in the number of priests here is caused by many factors, not all related to the crises the church has faced for several decades.

For example, there is a general decline of religion throughout much of the Western world, although dioceses in some parts do buck the trend — in Perth, Australia, for example.

Another factor in the decline may be that families these days are far smaller than before and, as rudimentary as it may seem, young men have far more choices career-wise.

Other than the Dominican Order in Ireland, which runs a relatively successful vocations programme, the widely shared view is that the church here runs poor programmes that do little to attract young men to a vocational life with the institution.

Following recent submissions from dioceses around the country for women to be admitted to the priesthood, an Irish bishop said God chose men, not women, to be priests and stated his belief that allowing women to become priests would not be a “quick-fix solution” to the church’s recruitment crisis.

In other words, whatever the arguments in favour, it would not make much of a difference because other churches with women and married priests also have a vocations shortage.

However, doing nothing for much longer is not really an option for the Roman Catholic Church.

An organisation that sacrificed its integrity over the handling of endemic child sex abuse in the ranks simply has no moral authority to keep the doors barred against women any longer. It may well be beyond women’s power to save the Catholic Church from itself either, but perhaps they are its last hope.

Complete Article HERE!

Over 40 bishops back bid to allow priests in same-sex marriages ‘without delay’

— The guidance has already existed in draft form but delays are ongoing due to “further work” being needed

Canterbury Cathedral

By Charlotte Manning

A group of 44 bishops have expressed hope guidance allowing priests to be in same-sex marriages will be issued “without delay”.

During a public statement made on Wednesday (1 November), the bishops made clear their overwhelming support of the issue.

According to The Church Times, the guidance has existed in draft form but delays are ongoing due to “further work” being needed.

Last month, a group of 12 bishops publicly dissented from a decision to commend blessings for same-sex couples.

“We long for the day when LGBTQIA+ people will know themselves to be unquestionably included in the life and all ministries of our Church”

However, progress appears to be close as the new group, who have backed guidance allowing same-sex marriages for priests, shared an open letter.

They wrote that they “recognise the complexities of the Pastoral Guidance in relation to ministry”.

But the 15 diocesan bishops and 29 suffragans say there is “also the need for a swift end to the current uncertainty for LGBTQIA+ clergy and ordinands”.

The group adds: “We look forward to Guidance being issued without delay that includes the removal of all restrictions on clergy entering same-sex civil marriages, and on bishops’ ordaining and licensing such clergy, as well as granting permissions to officiate.”

The same publication reported last week that such guidance existed in draft form, but that the House of Bishops had voted to delay its implementation for “further work” (News, 27 October).

In a statement, the 44 bishops stated that they were looking forward to the House of Bishops’ “refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith, such that the final version should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”.

“We look forward to Guidance being issued without delay”

They went on to add: “We know that we will not all agree, but it is our longing that we will find a way that will recognise and honour our different perspectives and the gift we are to each other within the life of the Church of England, such that no one is expected to act against their conscience or theological conviction.”

They concluded: “In all of this we long for the day when LGBTQIA+ people will know themselves to be unquestionably included in the life and all ministries of our Church, and the contributions of each one of us fully accepted and celebrated as simply the offering of a fellow Christian.”

Earlier this year, Church of England bishops refused to allow priests to marry same-sex couples.

This came after a five-year consultation on the issue called Living in Love and Faith.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in England and Wales since 2013 yet the Church hasn’t followed suit in changing its doctrine: that marriage can be only between a man and a woman.

Complete Article HERE!