The Nun Reshaping the Role of Women Inside the Vatican

Sister Nathalie Becquart will play a prominent role at the Synod of Bishops next year as Pope Francis tries to encourage new voices in the hierarchy.

Sister Nathalie Becquart will serve as under secretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops next year in Rome.

By Celestine Bohlen

Sister Nathalie Becquart, 53, a French Roman Catholic nun, was named to serve as under secretary of the Synod of Bishops, a summit of 250 bishops from around the world that will meet in Rome in 2023. She will become the first woman with a right to vote at such a high-level Vatican gathering.

What is the significance of your appointment?

We can read this as a call by Pope Francis to have a woman be there — not just as a woman, but as a lay person. I am a lay woman, since as religious (a church term for members of religious orders), we are not clerics. He really believes that the Holy Spirit speaks not only through the hierarchy, but also through all baptized people.

At the beginning of the church, there was this idea that the church was first of all a community. Then, for many historical reasons, the church put the focus on the institutional hierarchy. And now we rediscover that the main focus of the church is people walking together: Everyone has a role. Nobody should be set aside. We are together, the church, the people of God, all of us — bishops, men, women, lay people, religious, married, single, children — baptized. So we all have to be protagonists of the mission of the church.

What kind of issues will you be voting on at the synod?

That’s difficult to say. The Synod of Bishops is a process, one that was founded at the end of Vatican II as a way to continue the experience of the pope meeting with all the bishops, an advisory body for the pope. Now, it is a listening process that has already started in dioceses all over the world. This synod — which follows synods on youth (2018) and on the Amazon region (2019) — is about what kind of church we want to be, how we can best serve the world.

So far we are at the listening stage, the first time in the history of the church that we have such a broad-based listening process.

How has Pope Francis given women a greater voice in the Church? What difference has it made?

Pope Francis has been trying to fill the gap that has sometimes been put between leaders and faithful — those who know or who teach, on one side, and the rest.

Women are a part of the church. Which is why it is so important that they have a voice, that they participate. There was a major change a year ago when Pope Francis opened up the possibility for women to have a specific role (in church services) as lectors and acolytes; before, that was only for men.

What are the obstacles to women being ordained priests in the Catholic Church?

The vision of Pope Francis, through this synod, is to get rid of a clerical church and move to a synodal church — to disconnect participation in the leadership of the church from ordination. We can say that the way now opening up is to listen to all different views; for instance, not everyone thinks ordination of women is a good path. You have some groups calling for that, but you also have some groups calling for new ministries.

The question of women is a sign of the times. It is a powerful call within our societies and in the church. The church has already said we should fight against any discrimination against women. But it is a long way, not only in the church.

What have been your experiences as a woman in what were once all-male gatherings?

I was the first woman to be director of the national office of youth and vocation at the French Catholic Bishops Conference; before it was always a priest. At a gathering in Lourdes, I remember a very old bishop asked me, “So whose secretary are you?” I said, “No, not a secretary, I am a director of a national office.” He was a little bit surprised because someone from his generation — they were usually trained in minor seminaries since the age of 12 — didn’t have a lot of experience with women.

The younger generation is different; many have had professional experiences. I work with young priests, and for many of them, working in team with women who may be their boss, it is no longer a question.

You have degrees in business management, philosophy, sociology and theology; you have worked as a volunteer in Lebanon; studied in Boston and Chicago; and worked as a consultant at a marketing agency for nongovernmental and religious organizations. What parts of that experience led you to this critical — maybe history-making — role at the heart of the Catholic Church?

When I was young, I was a girl scout and later a scout leader. It was kind of a school of leadership.

As a student at HEC Paris (the prestigious business school), I specialized in entrepreneurship, how to take risks, to organize a business plan. I learned a lot about how to work as a team, about project management, how to develop the spirit of entrepreneurship, how to take risks.

I became a nun in 1995, at age 26, so there is also my experience in religious life. I would highlight my spiritual path of transformation, of conversion, of living in a community. Throughout life, you face difficulties, crises, storms. But if you are really rooted in faith, and sure that Christ is with you, the main message of the Gospels and the church is that darkness is not the end. There is always this message of hope and resurrection. This has helped me, even through difficult times.

You are also a great sailor.

I am a skipper! And yes, sailing has been a great school of life and leadership. When you are a skipper, you have to listen to your crew. For many years, I received the gift to sail and lead retreats for young adults. It was a way to put together my experience sailing and my call for a ministry to help young people. Truly, the sea is my place.

Complete Article HERE!

Is Francis laying the foundation for women to become recognized priests?

Sister Nathalie Becquart poses for a photo during an interview with the Associated Press, in Rome, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. Pope Francis has named the French nun to a Vatican position that should give her a vote in any upcoming meeting of bishops, a small step forward in the long campaign of Catholic women to have a greater say in Catholic decision-making.

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Pope Francis has done more to reform the Roman Catholic church for a new age since Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The ferocity of opposition in U.S. Catholic conservative circles validates this assessment.

Francis acknowledged his growing opposition in off-hand remarks aboard the papal plane on Sept. 4, 2019. ABC News reported Francis as saying it is “an honor if the Americans attack me.”

But for all he is doing, he draws a line about the ordination of women.

He has accepted the decision of Pope John Paul II who said, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that the judgment is to be definitely held by all the church’s faithful.”

That did not silence women’s ordination advocates in 1994, and there are even more voices clamoring for it today.

This may have paid off since the Vatican recently included a group lobbying for women’s ordination – the Women’s Ordination Conference — on a website promoting the two-year synod concluding in 2023. In other words, Francis wants to hear from them as well as many other Catholic advocacy groups.

And there’s the rub: Women’s ordination may be way off in the future. But some commentators believe that Francis’ small, incremental moves, like the WOC inclusion and regularizing the roles of lector and eucharistic minister for women, can make it easier for his successor to eventually ordain women though Francis has never acknowledged this objective.

Kate McElwee, executive director of the WOC, admitted to America Magazine that she was surprised the Vatican had accepted the group’s inclusion on the “Resources” site and said it showed “a lot of courage” from the synod office.

What took real courage, however, was the ordination of seven women as priests in the Catholic church by three bishops on a cruise ship on the Danube in 2007. That gave birth to a movement, mostly in North America, that has ordained about 200 women as priests to date. Still, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of male priests totaling about 410,000 worldwide.

Other Christian denominations and Reform Judaism, meanwhile, have ordained women for decades.

The Vatican declared the 2007 and subsequent ordinations illicit and said the women declared themselves excommunicated by undergoing the ordination. But the church has stopped making such statements.

Validly ordained male bishops ordained the women to assure apostolic succession and while they are valid, the Vatican will not accept them.

Take the case of Ludmila Jararova, who was secretly ordained a priest in Communist Czechoslovakia back in 1970 for the underground church. Once the church could practice publicly, her male underground peers could continue as priests but she could not.

Author Jill Peterfeso has done an excellent job getting behind the movements that have fostered women for ordinations, the women priests themselves and the communities they lead outside the normal parish structure. In “Womenpriest,” published by Fordham University, one of her major conclusions is that these women do no want to simply be ordained like males.

Their credo, she writes, could be: “We have not walked away from Rome. We offer a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.”

These “womenpriests,” a word coined by the advocacy groups, resist the clericalism that has kept a patriarchal system in place and want more inclusion all across the board. And on the heels of major clerical sexual abuse scandals, which are still reverberating throughout the world, Peterfeso wrote: “If male priests’ bodies inspire fear and distrust, womenpriests’ bodies represent new potential.”

Without major reform, women are voting with their feet, concluded Peterfeso.

“While women’s attendance at Mass is higher than men, women’s declined twice as much as men,” she wrote.

And the decline among millennial women is significant.

“Nones” — those claiming no religion — are growing. Another group, A Church for our Daughters — an online program supported by about two dozen women’s equality groups — knows that justice and equality for women is still a potent movement and without inclusion of women in church leadership, young women will continue to walk away.

Pope Francis has appointed women to positions of greater authority than any previous pontiff. In 2019, 24 percent of employees at the Holy See were women, compared with 17.6 percent in 2010. When Sister Nathalie Becquart, a member of the Congregation of Xavières, was appointed the first woman undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, she told reporters her appointment was evidence that “the patriarchal mindset [of the church] is changing.” Cardinal Tobin in Newark, who serves on the Vatican Synod Committee, has praised her accomplishments.

Charles Carr, my seminary classmate now in Philadelphia who left before ordination, said, “My personal vote would be for ordaining women as priests. If Eucharist, or union with Christ, is foundational for Christians to experience rebirth into a new life, then why would we not imagine the power of women to play this transformative sacramental role?”

And while most polls show Catholic overwhelmingly support ordaining women, Peterfeso reveals that more would prefer the institutional church ratify the change. As I approach 40 years as a priest, I have met many women who can lead.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

Pope Francis writes to controversial nun, thanking her for 50 years of LGBTQ ministry

Sister Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry recently received a handwritten letter from Pope Francis congratulating her on “50 years of closeness, of compassion and of tenderness” in a ministry that he described as being in “ ‘the style’ of God.”

Pope Francis has sent an encouraging letter to an American nun thanking her for her 50 years of ministry to LGBTQ Catholics, more than two decades after she was investigated and censured by the Vatican for her work.

In his letter dated Dec. 10, Francis wrote that Sister Jeannine Gramick has not been afraid of “closeness” and without condemning anyone had the “tenderness” of a sister and a mother. “Thank you, Sister Jeannine, for all your closeness, compassion and tenderness,” he wrote.

He also noted her “suffering … without condemning anyone.”

Gramick, who lives just outside of Washington, D.C., in Mount Rainier, Md., said that the letter felt like it was “from a friend.”

“Of course, I was overjoyed,” she said. “It felt like a turning point in the church, because for so long, this ministry has been maligned and in the shadows.”< For decades, Gramick and her New Ways Ministry co-founder, the late Rev. Robert Nugent, were considered controversial by some church leaders for the workshops they did about the science and theology around LGBTQ topics. Gramick said she would not provide her opinion, but she would present the Catholic Church’s teaching, as well as doctrinal positions from more moderate and liberal theologians. Gramick said she was under scrutiny from the Vatican for about 20 years before officials issued a declaration that she would be barred from ministry. “The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church,” the 1999 statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said.

Gramick later transferred to another religious order to keep doing her work.

A spokesman for the Vatican did not respond immediately Friday to a message seeking to confirm the authenticity of the pope’s letter to Gramick. The letter, first published on Friday in the Catholic publication America magazine, is the latest in a series of several letters the pontiff has written this year to gay Catholics and others who are serving and advocating for LGBTQ people.

The pope’s letter follows actions by the Vatican on gay rights that have frustrated Francis’s more liberal supporters. Early in his papacy, he famously declared: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” But he has upheld church doctrine that calls LGBTQ acts “disordered.” Last year, the Vatican’s doctrinal body said that Catholic priests cannot bless same-sex unions.

In December, a Vatican official apologized to New Ways Ministry for having pulled a reference to it on the Vatican website, drawing praise from the group as a rare and “historic” apology and for restoring the reference. New Ways revealed that Pope Francis had written them two letters earlier in 2021 praising their ministry. In those letters, Francis noted Gramick’s work, that he knew “how much she has suffered,” describing her as “a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer.”

The Rev. James Martin, a New York City-based priest known for his ministry affirming LGBTQ Catholics, said he has received a few letters from Pope Francis but made one of them public in July 2021. Gramick’s letter, he said, is significant because she has been censured by the Vatican.

“For most LGBTQ Catholics, Sister Jeannine is a real hero, so they’ll be delighted. They’ll rightly see this as one of Pope Francis’s steps forward,” Martin said. “He doesn’t change church teaching on this but take steps … added up, all the steps, we’ve come a long way.”

Gramick said official investigations came after the late Cardinal James Hickey, the former archbishop of Washington, wrote to the Vatican asking officials to pressure Gramick and Nugent to stop their ministry. An investigation was launched in 1988 and in 1999, the Vatican issued its censure.

“It was devastating,” she said. “What can I say? It didn’t feel good.”

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese of Washington did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.

Gramick said she and others from New Ways Ministries met with Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, in October and told them about the letters Pope Francis had sent the ministry. “Sounds like you’re pen pals,” Gregory told them, according to Gramick.

Gramick said she started her ministry when she was 29 while studying in graduate school and befriended a gay man who had left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church. In his apartment, she organized Mass for gay and lesbian people who had left the Catholic Church.

“When the liturgy was over, they had tears in their eyes because they felt they were being welcomed home again,” she said.

Gramick said she hopes the church will eventually change its position on sexual ethics and listen to the growing number of parishioners who have become more LGBTQ affirming.

“What would I say to LGBT Catholics is, ‘Hold on, it will change,’ ” she said. “We have to make our views known so that the officials of the church can properly express that change.’ ”

Francis also wrote to America magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin, who is a gay Catholic, commending him for reporting on Catholic responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

From the earliest days of his papacy, O’Loughlin said, the pope has reached out to individuals in a personal way by calling people on the phone and writing the string of LGBTQ-related letters.

“There’s a lot of hurt and pain in the LGBT community and a single letter or group of letters is not going to fix that,” O’Loughlin said. “He’s interested in highlighting Catholics living out their faith even in areas that have been historically difficult for the church.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic nuns lift veil on abuse in convents

By Philip Pullella

When young nuns at a convent in Eastern Europe told their Mother Superior that a priest had tried to molest them, she retorted that it was probably their fault for “provoking him.”

When African nuns in Minnesota asked why it was always they who had to shovel snow they were told it was because they were young and strong, even though white sisters of the same age lived there too.

As the Roman Catholic Church pays more attention to the closed world of convents, where women spend much of their time in prayer and household work, more episodes of psychological, emotional and physical abuse are coming to light.

A new book, “Veil of Silence” by Salvatore Cernuzio, a journalist for the Vatican’s online outlet, Vatican News, is the latest expose to come from within and approved by authorities.

Cernuzio recounts experiences of 11 women and their struggles with an age-old system where the Mother Superior and older nuns demand total obedience, in some cases resulting in acts of cruelty and humiliation.

Marcela, a South American woman who joined an order of cloistered nuns in Italy 20 years ago when she was 19, recounts how the indoctrination was so strict that younger sisters needed permission to go to the bathroom and ask for sanitary products during their menstrual periods.

“You are always complaining! Do you want to be a saint or not?” Marcela, who later left the convent, quotes the Mother Superior as shouting when she suggested changes in the daily routine.

Therese, a French woman, was told “you have to suffer for Jesus” when she asked to be spared physically demanding chores because of a back condition.

“I understood that we were all like dogs,” recounted Elizabeth, an Australian. “They tell us to sit and we sit, to get up and we get up, to roll over and we roll over.”

BURNOUT SYNDROME

Last year, Father Giovanni Cucci wrote a landmark article about abuse in convents in the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, whose texts are approved by the Vatican.

He found that most of it was abuse of power, including episodes of racism such as in the Minnesota convent. Cucci said the problem needed more attention because it had been overshadowed by the sexual abuse of children by priests.

In 2018, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano exposed the plight of foreign nuns sent by their orders to work as housekeepers for cardinals and bishops in Rome with little or no remuneration.

It later chronicled a “burnout” syndrome, where younger women with good educations were held back by older superiors reluctant to relinquish a boot camp-style tradition of assigning them menial tasks, ostensibly to instill discipline and obedience.

“Whatever may have worked in a pyramidal, authoritarian context of relationships before is no longer desirable or liveable,” wrote Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters and one of the highest-ranking women in the Vatican.

Becquart wrote in the book’s preface of the “cries and sufferings” of women who entered convents because they felt a calling from God but later left because their complaints too often fell on deaf ears.

Some were stigmatized as “traitors” by their orders and had great difficultly getting jobs in the outside world.

Last year, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who heads the Vatican department that oversees religious congregations, revealed that Pope Francis had opened a home in Rome for former nuns abandoned by their orders.

The cardinal, who has launched investigations into a number of convents, told the Vatican newspaper he was shocked to discover that there were a few cases where former nuns had to resort to prostitution to live.

Complete Article HERE!