Synod raises hopes for long-sought recognition of women in the Catholic Church

Digital art pieces created by Becky McIntyre after Philadelphia-area higher education Synodal listening sessions

By Claire Giangravé

When Pope Francis called two years ago for a worldwide discussion among rank-and-file Catholics about the main challenges and issues facing the church, the question of women’s ministry and leadership echoed loudly in parishes and bishops’ assemblies.

The question is resounding more loudly as the summit of bishops and lay Catholics known as the Synod on Synodality, scheduled for October, draws near. Participants and observers alike recognize that any conversation about reforming church hierarchy or promoting lay involvement, Francis’ twin goals for the synod, has to include honest exchanges about the role of women.

“It’s not just one issue among others that you can tease out,” said Casey Stanton, co-director of Discerning Deacons, a group committed to promoting dialogue about the female diaconate in the church. “It’s actually kind of at the heart of the synod and we need to take a step forward that is meaningful, and that people can see and feel in their communities.”

Stanton believes that opening the door for women to become deacons — allowing them to oversee some aspects of the Mass but not consecrate the Eucharist or perform other duties reserved for priests such as anointing the sick — could send an important signal to Catholics that the Vatican is listening to their concerns.

The upcoming synod already gives a greater role to women, who will be allowed to vote for the first time in any such meeting. Of the 364 voting participants, mostly bishops, more than 50 will be women. But women were never the intended focus of the synod, a project Francis hoped would inspire discussion of a “new way of being church,” which was interpreted to mean a focus on church power structures and rethinking the privilege enjoyed by clergy.

But by the end of the last phase of the synod, when gatherings of bishops divided by continents examined the topics brought up at the grassroots level, it was clear that the question of women had taken center stage. The document that emerged from those discussions, with the telling title “Enlarge Your Tent,” spoke to the “almost unanimous affirmation” to raise the role of women in the church.

The document described the peripheral role played by women in the church as a growing issue that impacted the function of the clergy and how power is exercised in the historically male-led institution. While it made no mention of female ordination to the priesthood, it did suggest that the diaconate might answer a need to recognize the ministry already offered by women all over the world.

“It’s remarkable the shared cry that came through in ‘Enlarge the Space of Your Tent’ around the deep connection between creating a new synodal path in the church and a church that more fully receives the gifts that women bring,” Stanton said.

When, in June, the Vatican issued its “instrumentum laboris,” or working document that will guide the discussion at the synod, it explicitly asked: “Most of the Continental Assemblies and the syntheses of several Episcopal Conferences call for the question of women’s inclusion in the diaconate to be considered. Is it possible to envisage this, and in what way?”

Attributing the question to the continental assemblies and avoiding the words “ministry” and “ordination” in asking it, said Miriam Duignan, co-director of Women’s Ordination Worldwide, constituted a “preemptive strike” against open discussion of priestly ordination.

This avoids a direct challenge to the Vatican, which has shut down the possibility of women’s ordination many times.

In 1976, the Pontifical Biblical Commission established that Scripture did not prevent the ordination of women and voted that female priests did not contradict Christ’s vision for the church. But soon after, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, intervened to state that the church was not authorized to ordain women.

Pope John Paul II had the final word on the issue when he definitively stated that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,” in his 1994 apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” (“Priestly Ordination”).

Francis and synod organizers have emphasized that the synod has no intention of opening that door. “For the Catholic Church at this moment, from an official point of view, it’s not an open question,” said Sr. Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary at the Vatican’s synod office, in an interview.

The question of the female diaconate, however, remained open. Pope Benedict XVI changed canon law in 2009 to clarify the distinction between priests and bishops, who act as representatives of Christ, and deacons, who “serve the People of God in the diaconates of the liturgy, of the Word and of charity.”

“Benedict predicted that the call for women priests and ministry was going to get stronger and stronger,” Duignan told Religion News Service on July 25 in a phone interview.

The demand for women deacons was an underlying topic during Francis’ previous synods on young people, the family and the Amazonian region. Francis created a commission to study the possibility of women deacons in 2016, and when no clear results emerged, he instituted another in April 2020.

According to Duignan, the commissions were “set up to fail,” since a decision on the matter required a unanimous vote. While it’s undeniable that women deacons existed in the early and pre-medieval church, theologians and historians remain divided on whether women were ordained deacons or if they occupied the role in a more informal way.

“There were women deacons in the past. We could do it again,” Stanton said. “Let’s just settle that.”

The division on the question means that Francis will likely have to decide. “Our prediction is that there is going to be a bit of a stalemate between those bishops who fear a diaconate role for women, and those who say now it’s the time, let’s give them the diaconate,” Duignan said.

Advocates for female deacons hope the pope will finally welcome the demand felt by many Catholic women. “For many young people it has become untenable,” Stanton said, “an obstacle to feeling the gospel.”

The pope could leave the decision to individual bishops, which would create a patchwork of policies. Stanton, who has witnessed many experiments for new ministries for women, said that while one bishop may open new opportunities for women, the issue will “wither on the vine” if another bishop doesn’t see it as a priority.

In the end, she added, “it’s one cleric getting to determine the scope of a woman’s vocation and ministries.”

“There were women deacons in the past. We could do it again. Let’s just settle that.”
Casey Stanton

Historically, the path to priestly ordination follows the steps of lector, acolyte and deacon. In January 2021, Francis allowed women to become lectors and acolytes; a decision in favor of female deacons could signal a cautious opening for the cause of women priests.

“The glacial pace for change in the modern Catholic Church means we have to accept any steps forward as progress,” Duignan said. The female diaconate would in her opinion offer some recognition for the women who catechize, evangelize and assist faithful all over the world.

“Once they start seeing women at the altar in an official role and seem to be leading the Mass there will be more calls for women priests,” she added.

Advocacy groups such as Women’s Ordination Worldwide will be in Rome in October to make their demands known through vigils, marches and conferences. The Synod on Synodality will draw the attention not just of Catholics but women everywhere, putting the question of female leadership in the church and beyond in the spotlight.

“The women are coming,” Duignan said. What remains unknown is whether the Vatican is prepared.

Complete Article HERE!

At the Catholic Church’s worldwide synod, the deacons are missing

— Many if not most Catholics think women deacons are called for.


You may have heard that the Catholic Church is holding a worldwide Synod on Synodality, aimed at getting everybody together to talk about church. The object of all the gatherings — all the talking and praying — is for folks to understand the church’s mission. That is, to think about how to spread the Gospel in the most effective manner for their cultures.

The process began in October 2021 at the local level, with dioceses and groups eventually sending reports to Rome. Then, Rome sent a “Document for the Continental Stage” to seven continental assemblies (Africa and Madagascar; Asia; Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; Oceania; the Middle East; and North America) and synthesized their responses.

In June, the Synod Office published what is called the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or working document for the meeting to be held in the massive Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City in October. Soon after, the list of nearly 450 synod participants appeared, some 364 of which are voting members; others are experts or facilitators.

In addition to Pope Francis, among voters and non-voters alike there will be some 273 bishops, 67 priests, 37 non-ordained men and women religious, 70 other lay men and women, and one deacon, Belgian Deacon Geert de Cubber.

You would not know from the list that de Cubber is, in fact, an ordained deacon. He is listed as “Mr.” not “Rev. Mr.” or “Dcn.,” as is the general custom. There are a few other mistakes. San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy’s name is spelled incorrectly. Two priests, the Rev. Eloy Bueno de la Fuente (Spain) and the Rev. Eamonn Conway (Ireland) are not noted as such. There may be a few other minor errors here and there. There may even be another deacon or two, but most probably not.

There were several deacons in the various synod processes, from parish and diocesan efforts to the national and continental levels, but that there is only one deacon in the entire assembly speaks volumes. After all, carrying the Gospel is a major diaconal task both literally and figuratively.

During Mass, the deacon carries the Gospel book and proclaims the Gospel reading and often preaches. Deacons, too, are most often connected with the church’s charity and social services.

Diaconal ministries are notably undertaken by women, and in 2016 the International Union of Superiors General, the organization of the heads of women’s religious institutes, asked Francis to examine restoring the abandoned tradition of ordaining women as deacons.

Two pontifical commissions prepared private reports for Francis on that question.

Now, according to the Instrumentum Laboris, “Most of the Continental Assemblies and the syntheses of several Episcopal Conferences call for the question of women’s inclusion in the diaconate to be considered.”

About this, it asks, “Is it possible to envisage this, and in what way?”

Many if not most Catholics think ordination is called for. But that battle has been going on for a long time.

The International Theological Commission, which advises the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, prepared reports on women deacons in 1997 and in 2002. The first reportedly determined there was no doctrine against ordaining women as deacons, but it never appeared: The prefect at the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), refused to sign it.

The second report, while it attempted to shut down the discussion with uncited passages from a book by Munich professor, Father Gerhard L. Müller, concluded that ordaining women as deacons was a question for the church’s “ministry of discernment.” Müller followed Ratzinger as CDF prefect.

Discernment is a big word in synodality. But who is discerning what for whom? The people of God agree that the mission of the church is to carry the Gospel to the world. That task is the principal duty of the deacon. And the people of God seem to think ordaining women once again for that task is a good idea.

Complete Article HERE!

Divided Church of England to debate blessings for same-sex unions

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby attends the Church of England General Synod meeting in London, Britain, February 9, 2023.


  • The assembly is due to meet from July 7 to 11
  • Synod to discuss blessings for same-sex couples
  • Church of England has refused to allow gay marriage
  • ‘This has not been an easy period’ – Bishop Sarah

The Church of England’s governing body will deliberate on how priests could carry out blessings for same-sex couples when it gathers in the cathedral city of York for a five-day meeting on Friday.

The assembly of bishops, clergy and laity – called the General Synod – is also due to discuss on Saturday how to protect vicars who might choose not to pray over the union of same-sex couples.

The CoE, which does not allow same-sex marriages in its 16,000 churches, in January set out proposals to let gay couples have a prayer service after a civil marriage, and apologised to LGBTQI+ people for the rejection and hostility they have faced. The synod voted in favour of the plans in February.

That caused a conservative group of Anglican church leaders from around the world to declare they no longer had confidence in the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, saying he had betrayed his ordination.

At home, however, there is pressure to go further, with some bishops publicly voicing support for same-sex marriages in churches.

Divisions have run deep for decades on how the centuries-old institution – mother church for the world’s 85 million Anglicans across 165 countries – deals with homosexuality and same-sex unions. Homosexuality is taboo in Africa and illegal in more than 30 countries there.

Welby, who is the spiritual leader of the wider Anglican Communion, called on bishops last year to “abound in love for all”. But he backed the validity of a resolution passed in 1998 that rejected “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”.

Bishop Sarah Mullally told reporters last month: “This has not been an easy period for people right across a range of traditions and we know that has maybe been harder since February than it may have been before.”

She reiterated that the proposals would not change the doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that there would be protection for those who “on grounds of conscience” choose not to bless same-sex couples.


Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists have long been fighting for the same rights as fellow Christians who are heterosexual. Gay marriage has been legal in Britain for a decade.

“Faith is important to many LGBTQ+ people, which is why the Synod’s suggestion that blessings be provided in place of marriages (is) a real slap in the face to our communities,” Sasha Misra, Associate Director of Communications at LGBT rights group Stonewall, told Reuters via email.

Mullally said the CoE was absorbing different views on the complex matter, and that it would take time to produce the full proposals, which are expected when the synod meets in November.

Complete Article HERE!

Pride backlash targets Catholics who are trying to be more like Jesus

Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown faced a small protest during its third-annual Pride Mass.


Inside the church on this June evening in Georgetown, Joseph Chee finally felt welcome.

“Let us build a house where love can dwell. And all can safely live,” he sang, alongside dozens of parishioners gathered to celebrate Christ’s love during Pride month.

Chee, who went to Catholic school, who studied Carmelite theology, who belonged to conservative political groups and who knew for a good part of his 30 years that he was gay, had spent years searching for his place in the world and in a church that didn’t seem to want him.

“I felt very alienated from all the communities that I had,” he said. “I felt deeply convinced that I wasn’t supposed to leave the church, you know? But I was like, ‘Where is my place?’”

But under the leadership of Pope Francis, who last year publicly rejected judgment of gay people, Chee sensed an opening.

Joseph Chee, 30, found a home at Holy Trinity Catholic Church after years of feeling out of place as a gay, Catholic man.

Outside, a small band of protesters, upset that Holy Trinity Catholic Church dared hold a Pride Mass, had gathered to remind him of all he had overcome.

Waving red, crusader-style banners emblazoned with a golden lion and wearing lion brooches and sashes of the same, lipstick red, protesters proclaimed that the worshipers and every rainbow flag flying in America this month were unwelcome and part of a “battle against the powers of hell.”

“A coup occurred virtually overnight, with no guns fired, no bombs dropped, no biological warfare unleashed, even within the most conservative and political and military circles,” Doug Mainwaring, who once lived openly as a gay man and championed same-sex relationships, said into a speaker aimed at the attendees, who were protected by a police patrol. “The speed of the capitulation has been stunning.”

What’s really stunning is this virulent and strident backlash against Pride celebrations across the nation this month, where a small, vocal and cunningly strategic group is orchestrating a summer of hate. Haters have shut down similar church services in Pennsylvania and Michigan and orchestrated boycotts of Bud Light, Pride-themed Target products and even the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Conservative groups were emboldened by a June 1 tweet from the U.S. Conference of Bishops that they took as a call to action against pride celebrations in June: “Join us in honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus this June, a time to deepen our devotion to His endless love and mercy. Let us open our hearts to receive His grace and share His message of hope with the world.”

The church’s relationship with the LGBTQ community is complex, but Pope Francis at a news conference last year said that gay people “should not be marginalized because of this, but that they must be integrated into society.”

Pope Francis releases a dove as a symbol of peace at a Catholic Church in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Sept. 30, 2016. The pope said last year that gay people “must be integrated into society.”

D.C. is home to a parish where Chee and dozens of folks like him have found their place, where an LGBTQIA+ ministry has thrived and reconnected Washington lawyers, doctors, students, congressional staff members with the church of their childhood, the church many of them felt had rejected them.

The ministry was founded thanks to “a commitment by the Jesuit order to make sure that the spiritual needs of all marginalized community are being met,” said Ernie Raskauskas, 71, who has been a Holy Trinity parishioner for decades.

He went to Gonzaga College High School, Holy Cross College, Catholic University. He’s got the Catholic bona fides. In Georgetown, he finally found a place to be Catholic and gay after the Jesuits “decided that the LGBTQIA communities were very marginalized, that our spiritual needs weren’t being met, and that they were going to make a special effort on this.”

The parishioners are all deeply Catholic and found a place at Holy Trinity — and nearly everyone I spoke with said this explicitly — where they can be fully themselves.

“It may be difficult to be queer in Catholic spaces,” said Cerissa Cafasso, 40. “But it can also be a challenge to be Catholic in progressive spaces.”

She’s a lawyer and bisexual and never gave up on practicing Catholicism, but wasn’t totally comfortable until she came to Holy Trinity. “I can be myself, my full person, with no throat clearing.”

During the Mass, the faint sound of drums and bagpipes could be heard coming in from outside between the hymn’s verses.

The protesters were with an ultraconservative group based in Pennsylvania called America Needs Fatima. They organize Rosary Rallies around events that frighten them, like Pride parades and church services that openly embrace marginalized communities.

Doug Mainwaring speaks outside Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown, protesting their third-annual Pride Mass.

Less than two dozen of them did all this on Wednesday, trying to disrupt the third-annual Pride Mass at President Biden’s church, something they ignored the past two years (which coincidently wasn’t close to an election).

They achieved little, beyond surprising the neighbors.

“Seriously? That’s so sad,” said a 19-year-old Georgetown University student who was shocked to see the protest on her street. “And it’s weird this is happening today.”

Really weird. Especially right after Pride Fest on Sunday where sponsorship tables included Washington Gas, Wegmans, the U.S. Census, Lockheed-Martin and the CIA, among others. These entities — and hundreds more — recognize that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex or asexual is normal, boring even.

The backlash is fueled by folks who had little to say about Pride a year ago, but are now reacting to grievances and fears being broadcast by conservatives, by an unprecedented raft of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping statehouses. It’s so profound, the Human Rights Campaign issued its first-ever “state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans.”

“It’s ridiculous,” said a gay man who traveled about five hours to walk up those steps of Holy Trinity, to sit in a pew and to — finally — exhale.

He’s in his 30s, lives in a conservative town in Pennsylvania, works at very conservative organization and is only out to his family. He asked me several times to preserve his anonymity in our interview.

Deeply Catholic, he kept trying to go to church, knowing what he knows about himself, about what those in the pews next to him think of him. “I wouldn’t feel welcome,” he said.

Ever since he accidentally found Holy Trinity’s online Mass during the pandemic (he said his mouse bumped a tab and opened the link, he called it a “God sighting”) he’s been attending their services, online, then in person, making that drive. Five hours each way, as often as he can.

His mom came with him on Wednesday, and they knelt together.

Complete Article HERE!

In rare move, Vatican official chastised Texas Bishop Strickland at conference

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland

by Religion News Service

If Texas Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is known outside of his diocese for anything, it’s for controversy.

The conservative firebrand, who oversees the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, has sparked backlash from critics for everything from voicing support for priests who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to offering a prayer at a “Jericho March” event in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. More recently, Strickland challenged Pope Francis, announcing on his Twitter feed that he believes the pontiff is “undermining the Deposit of Faith.” His efforts have inspired some detractors to call for Strickland’s resignation, while others have urged Vatican intervention.

But according to multiple sources, Strickland has already been on the receiving end of the Vatican’s ire for more than a year: He was chastised by a representative of the Holy See in 2021, they say — a move that simultaneously signals the potential for formal Vatican disciplinary action and exemplifies the difficulty of reining in a controversial cleric.

“(Strickland) doesn’t really care,” Barber said of the alleged encounter. “It’s the truth that sets us free. If he goes down because he’s speaking the truth, oh well.”

A separate source who is familiar with the meeting but who chose to remain anonymous, as they have not been given permission to discuss the matter publicly, told Religion News Service the incident took place in November 2021 at the annual USCCB meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The source said the nuncio specifically confronted Strickland about his Twitter feed, which had garnered controversy at the time for, among other things, posts that opposed the three major COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the U.S. at the time.

Asked about the encounter via email this week, Strickland said he would “prefer not to comment.”

The nuncio’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Barber told RNS he did not wish to speak further about the incident and would not name the source of his information. Instead, he criticized Pope Francis, accusing him of being ambiguous about important moral questions and calling the pontiff a “disaster for the Catholic Church.”

Strickland would hardly be the first cleric in U.S. history to be reprimanded by the Holy See. In the 1980s, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI — launched an investigation into Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, an outspoken liberal cleric and critic of nuclear power, who oversaw the Archdiocese of Seattle at the time. The Holy See ultimately appointed an auxiliary bishop to the region who shared authority with Hunthausen.

But it’s highly unusual for the public to learn about less formal admonishments doled out to bishops by Vatican officials behind closed doors. What’s more, Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and an expert on U.S. Catholicism, said a nuncio privately dressing-down a U.S. bishop at a conference is particularly rare, and showcases the delicate situation facing modern popes when it comes to cowing outspoken, media-savvy clerics who buck the party line.

Strickland has become a popular figure in right-wing Catholic circles for his criticism of President Joe Biden and oppositional stance against COVID-19 vaccines, which includes expressing support for priests who have challenged their own bishops by refusing to get vaccinated. (Strickland’s position contrasts sharply with that of Pope Francis, who has advocated repeatedly for the use of vaccines, even calling them an “act of love.”) In addition to the Terry and Jesse Show, Strickland has appeared on a number of conservative and far-right Catholic websites, ranging from EWTN to Church Militant.

Church Militant also organized a protest outside the same November 2021 USCCB meeting where the nuncio is alleged to have confronted Strickland. Speakers at the event, where some participants waved anti-Biden “Let’s go Brandon” flags, praised Strickland from the stage. He also posed for photographs with staffers from Church Militant, an outlet that has railed against other bishops using language critics have decried as homophobic and racist.

Church officials wishing to curtail Strickland’s influence could take dramatic steps like they did with Hunthausen, Faggioli said, but “there’s no measure that can deprive him of the access to these various blogs or influencers” the bishop often utilizes to amplify his message.

“I believe that the fear is that, if he’s removed, his visibility will be amplified,” Faggioli said.

What’s more, if the alleged scolding was meant to cow Strickland, Faggioli said, it doesn’t appear to have had much of an effect. Since the 2021 meeting, the Texas bishop has been embroiled in multiple controversies over challenging the authority or rhetoric of church officials — be it his fellow bishops or the pope. And while Strickland’s much-maligned tweet about Pope Francis earlier this month was an attempt to distance himself from a podcaster who questioned whether Francis is, in fact, the pope, his effort still resulted in controversy.

“I don’t know how much that dressing down worked,” Faggioli said.

Complete Article HERE!