Alternative Catholic synod to push case for ordination of women priests

— Event organisers say it’s ‘crunch time’ for pope as scandal and bigotry drive Church members to leave

Pope Francis at the Vatican in August. He first announced his ‘synod on synodality’ in 2021.

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They make up more than half its membership, they have been denied a say for centuries in the way it is run: but, early next month, women will gather in Rome for a process that they hope can bring the Catholic church’s thinking on female equality into the 21st century.

The central event is a mass listening exercise announced by Pope Francis in 2021, the synod on synodality. Its delegates will meet in Rome throughout October to discern the future direction of key issues in the church; and at the forefront of soundings already taken across the 1.3 billion-strong Catholic church across the globe has been the role of women.

To underline this clamour for change, a consortium of 45 pro-reform Catholic organisations will run their own synod – entitled Spirit Unbounded – alongside the official event: and former Irish president Mary McAleese, who will be among its keynote speakers, says it is crunch time for Francis and his cardinals and bishops. “They have to do something more than a cynical exercise in kicking the can down the road,” she says. “If the cardinals and bishops can be humbled into listening to the people of God, maybe the Holy Spirit will have a chance to bring about change.”

If not, she says, it is hard to see a way forward in a church that has shedded members – certainly in Europe and the west – and been ravaged by abuse scandals, financial misconduct and a dearth of men signing up to become priests.

“The scandals show up the craven stupidity of so many of the members of the magisterium,” says McAleese, who was president of Ireland – a country that bore the brunt of Catholic abuse scandals – from 1997 to 2011. “And, of course, there have always been examples of appalling teaching: but we are in a different generation now, with a highly educated laity who are more than capable of critiquing church teaching,”

Cherie Blair speaks on stage during the 2023 Concordia Annual Summit at Sheraton New York
Cherie Blair will be a keynote speaker at the Spirit Unbounded event.

Women in particular, she says, are being “driven away”: “They’re seen as second class and they won’t put up with it any more.”

Also addressing the alternative synod will be Cherie Blair, who will tell participants that “the church’s track record on women is at best mixed”, but that it needs to change and should not be afraid to change. “There remains a strong sense that the church does not do enough for women, that its structures and teaching on matters such as birth control and its priorities do not always serve women well,” she says in a pre-recorded video message.

For many, top of the change agenda is female ordination: admitting women first as deacons, and in time as priests. Miriam Duignan of Women’s Ordination Worldwide, one of the organisations taking part in Spirit Unbounded, is expecting hundreds of pro-ordination supporters for a march in central Rome on 6 October, as the synod on synodality gets under way.

Her organisation is also planning some “surprise” events, she says. “In almost every parish in the world where synod discussions took place, from Lesotho to the Philippines to Peru, women were talked about as an area where change is needed,” she says. “The Catholic church doesn’t have enough priests, and yet everyone knows nuns and laywomen who are already doing 90% of the work in the parishes – then they have to stand aside when a priest is needed to say mass.”

She adds. “Right now we’re at a tipping point: it’s clear that women are doing the work of priesthood, and they want to be recognised as priests.”

Despite what’s seemed a hard line against women priests from the Vatican, Duignan says there’s “below the radar” support from many priests and bishops. On demonstrations, she says: “We’ve had priests smiling at us, putting their thumbs up, clapping. One cardinal said ‘brava’ to me.”

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has convened two commissions to look into the question of female deacons. It is widely acknowledged that women served in leadership roles in the early years of the church and, says Duignan, as late as the 15th century women abbesses were hearing confessions and presiding at eucharistic services. But so far, Francis has failed to act. “He has a blind spot where he doesn’t see that the discrimination he speaks out against in wider society also happens in the Catholic Church.”

The official Synod Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, asks synod delegates to consider how women can be better included in the governance, decision-making, mission and ministries at all levels of the church, and asks whether women deacons could be envisaged. Although it doesn’t mention the possibility of female priests, many believe this would follow a decision to admit women to the diaconate, as happened in the Church of England – women were first ordained as deacons in 1987, and as priests in 1994.

Penelope Middleboe of the UK Catholic reform group Root and Branch, one of the lead organisations behind Spirit Unbounded, says the alternative event reflects suspicions about whether the official synod is properly taking laypeople’s views into account.

“In England and Wales, we researched what happened to points raised in the parish discussions, where there were calls for more action on abuse, for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, and for women to be admitted to the priesthood and to leadership roles – but we found these had been watered down by the bishops who filtered them for the report document,” she says.

And while the official synod is the first ever event of its kind in the Catholic church to include voting women, there are far more bishops with a vote than women. “Also, the few women involved have been chosen by the bishops – many of them work for Catholic institutions, so they’re not always able to speak their minds.”

Freedom to speak, and an ability to listen, are essential ingredients in what happens next, says McAleese: “I believe change is possible, which is why I stay – because many argue that by staying you’re collaborating or colluding with inequality. I feel that myself: but I feel I must stay to nudge the internal debate, and to press for change.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic priests bless same-sex couples in defiance of a German archbishop

Same-sex couples take part in a public blessing ceremony in front of Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.

By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER

Several Catholic priests held a ceremony blessing same-sex couples outside Cologne Cathedral on Wednesday night in a protest against the city’s conservative archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.

Their protest was triggered by Cologne church officials’ criticism of a priest from Mettmann, a town near Duesseldorf, who in March had held a “blessing ceremony for lovers” — including same-sex couples.

Officials from the Cologne archdiocese, which Mettmann belongs to, had reprimanded the priest afterward and stressed that the Vatican doesn’t allow blessings of same-sex couples, German news agency dpa reported.

The blessing of same-sex couples on Wednesday was the latest sign of rebellion of progressive believers in Germany’s most populous diocese with about 1.8 million members.

Several hundred people showed up for the outdoor blessing service for same-sex and also heterosexual couples. Waving rainbow flags, they sang the Beatles hit “All You Need Is Love,” dpa reported. A total of about 30 couples were blessed.

The German government’s LGBTQ+ commissioner called the service an important symbol for the demand to recognize and accept same-sex couples in the Roman Catholic Church.

“It is mainly thanks to the church’s grassroots that the church is opening up more and more,” Sven Lehmann said, according to dpa. “Archbishop Woelki and the Vatican, on the other hand, are light years behind social reality.”

Catholic believers in the Cologne archdiocese have long protested their deeply divisive archbishop and have been leaving in droves over allegations that he may have covered up clergy sexual abuse reports.

The crisis of confidence began in 2020, when Woelki, citing legal concerns, kept under wraps a report he commissioned on how local church officials reacted when priests were accused of sexual abuse. That infuriated many Cologne Catholics. A second report, published in March 2021, found 75 cases in which high-ranking officials neglected their duties.

The report absolved Woelki of any neglect of his legal duty with respect to abuse victims. He subsequently said he made mistakes in past cases involving sexual abuse allegations, but insisted he had no intention of resigning.

Two papal envoys were dispatched to Cologne a few months later to investigate possible mistakes by senior officials in handling cases. Their report led Pope Francis to give Woelki a “ spiritual timeout ” of several months for making major communication errors.

In March 2022, after his return from the timeout, the cardinal submitted an offer to resign, but so far Francis hasn’t acted on it.

Germany’s many progressive Catholics have also been at odds with the Vatican for a long time.

Several years ago, Germany’s Catholic Church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”

The Vatican, however, has tried to put the brakes on the German church’s controversial reform process, fearing proposals concerning gay people, women and sexual morals will split the church.

On Wednesday night, just across from the hundreds of believers celebrating the blessings of same-sex couples, there were also about a dozen Catholics who demonstrated against the outdoor service, dpa reported. They held up a banner that said “Let’s stay Catholic.”

Complete Article HERE!

Cleveland Catholic Schools Ban All LGBTQ+ Affiliation And Behaviors

— Over 100 Catholic schools in Cleveland will no longer tolerate LGBTQ+ affiliation or behaviors.

By Corinne Murdock

The changes came from new guidelines on sexuality and gender issued by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland at the close of last month. In a press release, the diocese clarified that the guidelines were a formal policy version of existing church teachings on the subject.

“Since questions of sex, sexuality, and gender identity have become increasingly prevalent in our society, it is our hope that the policy will help to ensure these matters are addressed in a consistent and authentically Catholic manner across our diocesan institutions and diocesan Catholic schools, and that those we serve will have a clear understanding about expectations and accommodations related to those matters,” stated the diocese.

The policy requires parental notification in the case of minors experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion; declares that parental rejection of a child’s preferred pronouns don’t constitute grounds for nondisclosure; bans use of preferred pronouns; restricts bathroom and facility usage to biological sex; prohibits admission of students to institutions, programs, and activities like sports designated for the opposite sex; bans same-sex dates to school dances and mixers; requires students to comply with dress codes aligning with their biological sex; bans any celebration or advocacy of LGBTQ+ ideologies or behaviors, such as Pride flags; and bans gender transitions of any degree, whether social or medical.

The policy acknowledged the existence of gender dysphoria, but rejected the modern belief that feelings determine truth.

“This understanding erases those intentional, embodied distinctions between men and women. As such, this view is contrary to the divinely revealed reality of our true, God-given human nature,” stated the policy.

Under the policy, individuals experiencing gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction would be admitted into their schools and allowed to participate in activities, with the contingency that they don’t openly express their disagreement with Catholic teachings on sex, sexuality, and gender.

Reverend Edward Malesic, the Bishop of Cleveland, stated in an accompanying letter that biological sex coincides with God’s divine plan.

Bishop Edward C. Malesic

“The human person is a unity of body and soul; we experience the world through our bodies, and it is through the virtuous expression of our bodies that we reveal God,” said Malesic. “Through times of questioning and confusion, we must accompany our brothers and sisters in Christ with compassion, mercy, and dignity so that we might lovingly help them navigate the confusion and arrive at truth.”

Malesic directed those with further questions or concerns to contact the diocese’s Marriage and Family Office. He also noted that the guidance page would be updated regularly with additional information and resources on the subject.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he believed the policy represented a “shocking betrayal” of church teachings. Bibb offered his own definition of Christian faith, sans Scripture.

“For me, faith is about universal love and acceptance,” said Bibb. “Instead, the new policy forces LGBTQ+ kids to hide their authentic selves and attend schools in fear of persecution for who they are.”

Ohio’s Democratic minority leader for the Senate, Nickie Antonio, said the diocese should not be given school choice funds over the policy.

“I am extremely disappointed that the diocese has chosen to focus on policies of exclusion over acceptance,” said Antonio. “State taxpayer dollars should not subsidize exclusionary education, and if these policies stand, then the diocese should not accept state-funded vouchers.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘You can count on us.’

— Synod organizers attempt to dismiss fears ahead of fall meeting

An aerial view of Vatican City, left, in Rome.

The Synod on Synodality has a communications problem, and it risks reinforcing papal critics.

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As Catholic bishops and lay people prepare to gather in Rome this October to begin discussions on the main challenges facing the church, tensions over the topics — and the stakes — of the summit have grown.

Papal allies and organizers of the October 4-29 event — the “Synod on Synodality: Communion, Participation and Mission” — are trying to defuse the tension and reassure faithful that the church has nothing to fear from the discussions even if they will take place behind closed doors.

“The way we will communicate the synod is very important for the discernment process of the entire church,” said Paolo Ruffini, who heads the Vatican communications department and will conduct briefings on the event during the month of October, at a press conference at the Vatican on Friday (Sept. 8).

With its unassuming title, the Synod on Synodality could be easily dismissed as a gathering of no consequence. When describing the event, organizers use the terms “walking together,” “enlarging the space of our tent” and “ecclesiology.” But the summit is actually the culmination of a three-year process initiated by Pope Francis to engage the church at every level and has the opportunity to not only radically subvert power structures in the traditionally hierarchical institution, but also to create a new system of governance that can overcome growing polarization.

The success of this ambitious project greatly relies on how much people who participate in it believe in it, organizers said. Members of the Vatican’s Synod office have structured the event in such a way as to promote healthy dialogue, with short discussions interrupted by prayer and meditation, group retreats and small working groups. Individuals trained in synodality, called facilitators, will guide the event and help participants engage in a spirit of unity and fraternity.

Despite the efforts the Vatican has made to ensure the discussions at the synod occur in a collegial and thoughtful way, the church has little to no control of how the event is perceived from the outside. The Catholic Church is currently addressing controversial issues concerning the welcoming of LGBTQ Catholics, the creation of leadership roles for women and female ordination, and the accountability of bishops on questions ranging from sexual abuse to financial mismanagement. Anxieties abound over how the synod will grapple with these polarizing topics.

Local synodal expressions, such as the Synodal Way in Germany, have taken a very progressive stance on some of these issues and even defied Vatican recommendations by blessing same-sex couples.

Pope Francis talks to reporters during the return flight from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, at the end of a historic four-day visit to a region where the Holy See has long sought to make inroads. (Ciro Fusco/ANSA via AP, Pool)
Pope Francis talks to reporters during the return flight from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, at the end of a historic four-day visit.

To ensure attendants can speak freely, the Vatican Synod office has maintained that the speeches and conversations within the hall will remain secret. “We have to preserve the synodal environment,” Pope Francis said, answering questions by journalists on his return flight from Mongolia on Monday (Sept. 4). “This isn’t a television show where everything is on the table, no, it’s a religious moment, a religious exchange.”

Ruffini quoted the pope’s words during the conference on Friday, underlining the need to preserve “the sacredness” of synodal discussions. He also underlined that most institutions don’t publicly share the internal debates leading up to a decision.

At the end of the synod event, attendants will approve a synthesis document that will be made public. But it won’t be the final report, Ruffini specified, since there will be a second synod meeting at the Vatican in the fall of 2024 that will issue a final document.

“We are really counting on how media will be able to communicate this communal effort of ours,” he said, before adding: “You can count on us.”

Ruffini specified that the opening Mass, the first general assembly meeting and the opening sessions of each sections, or modules, will be livestreamed. The five modules will focus on the topics of synodality, participation, mission and communion and a final synthesis and approval of the synod report.

Shutting the doors on synodal discussions in the past has contributed to frustrating previous synods under Pope Francis, with coverage being centered on polarizing topics and sensationalist statements. When the pope called bishops and Indigenous peoples to the Vatican in 2019 to discuss the Amazon region, where fires burn down trees daily and pollution endangers the forest, articles on the event centered around a young conservative Catholic who stole a sacred image of Amazonian peoples and tossed it in the river Tiber.

The Vatican has so far ensured the synod will issue daily briefings and provide detailed information about what is happening behind the closed doors of the synod hall. The Synod on Synodality has opened its process and discussions to rank-and-file Catholics more than any other modern Vatican gathering, and now those people feel invested in the result of their efforts.

Synod on Synodality logo. Courtesy image
Synod on Synodality logo.

The secrecy that typically surrounds Vatican events, even one as open as the Synod on Synodality, has fueled papal critics who believe the summit is nothing more than a cover for the pope to implement a liberal agenda. After all, while synod participants will get to vote on the topics, it will be the pope who in the end draws the conclusions from the event.

In a new book that likened the synod to “a Pandora’s Box,” papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke warned the summit could cause confusion and even schism.

The pope during the in-flight press conference acknowledged the polarization inside and outside of the synod. While he said that “there is no place for ideology inside the synod,” he also recognized that many looking from the outside are afraid the event will ultimately lead to changes to church doctrine.

“If you look deep at the root of this fear you will find ideology,” the pope said. “It’s always ideology that wishes to detach itself from the path of communion with the church.”

The synod is “very open,” the pope insisted, explaining that the discussions will be kept private to avoid fostering a climate of gossip and politics. After all, he said, “the synod isn’t a parliament.”

Complete Article HERE!

McAleese calls on Pope to speak out against anti-gay laws

Former Irish president Mary McAleese, pictured here with Liz O’Donnell at a conference at Queen’s University Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

By Sarah Mac Donald

The Church’s teaching in relation to homosexuality is a source for anti-gay laws in places such as Uganda, Professor Mary McAleese has said.

Speaking about human rights and the Church, she said the Church “practises, embeds and teaches things which promote hatred, contempt, exclusion, bigotry, bias, discrimination, victim-shaming, cover-up”.

The former president of Ireland is one of the keynote speakers at the October lay-led synodal assembly organised by the international reform network, Spirit Unbounded. The assembly, on the theme of human rights in the Catholic Church, will take place in Rome, Bristol and online 8-14 October and is open to everyone.

Another speaker who will address the assembly, Marianne Duddy-Burke, director of DignityUSA, called on Pope Francis and the Vatican to be more vocal and speak out against Uganda’s anti-gay laws.

She told The Tablet that members of the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda are living in fear for their lives. She referred to Pope Francis’ comment last January when he said, “Being homosexual isn’t a crime” and criticised laws that criminalise homosexuality as “unjust”, Duddy-Burke said the Pope must follow this up “with clear directives to bishops and catholics about our moral duty to honour the dignity and human rights of LGBTIQ+ people. The lives of many are at stake, in Africa and elsewhere.”

She said that through her work as co-chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and DignityUSA she was “hearing horrific stories of intensified targeting” since the law increasing penalties for being gay came into effect in Uganda.

“There are so many places in Africa, where the situation for LGBTQI people has become dire,” she said.

Mary McAleese said Pope Francis has said a number of “vaguely useful things” on the issue such as his “Who am I to judge” remark. “That was interesting and useful except he does judge and his Church judges and regrettably the CDF document on same-sex blessings which [Francis] signed off on, used this terrible expression that gay married catholics could not or receive God’s grace.”

She added, “Francis tries to have it both ways in relation to anti-gay legislation. It was useful that he did ask his fellow bishops, particularly the African countries, not to support legislation which outlawed homosexuality but rather to decriminalise. But with the greatest respect to Pope Francis that is the kind of thing we were saying 40 and 50 years ago. It is at the very least four decades behind the curve of where the people of God are at in relation to homosexuality.

“For me the most pressing issue is what does the magisterium do internally; how does it change the teaching for example in relation to gay people within the Church; how does it change Church teaching and practice in relation to the inclusion or exclusion of women. The truth is, in terms of those issues, he [Francis] has done pretty much nothing that is credible.”

The issue of where human rights fit internally in the Church is “crucial” she said because “it sets the agenda for how we meet and what we meet as. Do we meet as equals? Is the synod going to be a discipleship of equals? And the answer seems to be no, the magisterium is still in control. The magisterium will still set the agenda, it will decide what can be discussed and it will decide what the outcomes will be.”

Whistleblower and former priest, Brian Devlin, who is one of the organisers of the Spirit Unbounded assembly, told The Tablet, “There is a real problem with human rights in the Catholic Church that needs to be addressed. We are an assembly of Christian people who are trying to make the Church a better place, a kinder place and a safer place for each of us to live in and to embrace.”

Complete Article HERE!