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

By Clemente Lisi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEMALE deacons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching out to LGBTQ+ Catholics

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

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

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

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

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

Was it even a valid synod?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

Francis demonstrates support for LGBTQ ministries

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

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

By Brian Fraga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic women speak up as ‘patriarchal’ Church debates its future

Supporters of Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) demonstrate near the Vatican

By Clément MELKI

“Ordain women priests!” Not far from the Vatican, where hundreds of Catholics have gathered to debate the future of the Church, purple-clad activists make their voices heard against the “patriarchy”.

The place of women in the Catholic Church — led for 2,000 years by a man, which outlaws abortion and female priests and does not recognise divorce — is one of the hot topics at the general assembly of the Synod of Bishops taking place over four weeks.

Women campaigning for change have come to Rome to make their case, from Europe and the United States but also South Africa, Australia, Colombia and India.

They have different backgrounds and diverse goals — not all want female priests, with some aiming first for women to become deacons, who can celebrate baptisms, marriages and funerals, although not masses.

But they are united in their frustration at seeing women excluded from key roles in what many view as a “patriarchal and macho” Church.

“The majority of people who support parish life and transmit the faith in families are women, mothers,” said Carmen Chaumet from French campaign group “Comite de la Jupe”, or the Committee of the Skirt.

“It is paradoxical and unfair not to give them their legitimate place.”

“If you go to the Vatican, to a mass, you see hundreds of men priests dressed the same way, and no women,” added Teresa Casillas, a member of Spanish association “Revuelta de Mujeres en la Iglesia”, “The Women’s Revolt in the Church”.

“I feel that men are the owners of God.”

– ‘Voting rights’ –

The Synod assembly, which runs until October 29, nevertheless marks a historic turning point in the Church, with nuns and laywomen allowed to take part for the first time.

Some 54 women — around 15 percent of the total of 365 assembly members — will be able to vote on proposals that will be sent to .

Vatican observers have called it a revolution. “A first step,” say campaigners.

Adeline Fermanian, co-president of the Committee of Skirt, said the pope had given “openings” on the question of ordaining women.

“He recognised that the questions has not been examined sufficiently on a theological level,” she said.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has sought to forge a more open Church, more welcoming to LGBTQ faithful and divorcees, and encouraging inter-faith dialogue.

He has increased the number of women appointed to the Curia, the central government of the Holy See, with some in senior positions.

But some campaigners see the changes as “cosmetic” reforms which hide a biased perception of women.

Cathy Corbitt, an Australian member of the executive board of umbrella group Catholic Women’s Council (CWC), said the inclusion of female voting members in the Synod was a sign of progress.

But she said the wider view of women in the Church was “very frustrating”, much of it taking inspiration from the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.

“The pope still seems to have this blind spot towards women… He seems to regard women in terms of a role, and it’s usually in terms of a mother,” she said.

– Resistance –

The Synod process is slow — the current meeting in Rome followed a two-year global consultation, and a second general assembly is planned for next year.

Regina Franken-Wendelsorf, a German member of CWC executive board, said women were hoping for concrete action.

“All arguments and requests are on the table. It’s now the Vatican and the Church who have to act!” she said.

While the Church debates, “there are collateral victims, frustration, Catholics who leave because they no longer feel welcomed”, added French campaigner Chaumet.

But just as Pope Francis faces resistance in his reform agenda, there is significant resistance to the women’s push for change.

“Some American bishops are afraid to follow the path of the Anglican Church,” which authorised the ordination of women in 1992, notes one Synod participant, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another senior Church member, who also asked not to be named, noted that pressure for reform was not equal from all regions of the Church.

“We must not forget that the Church is global,” he recalled. “There are expectations (among women) in Europe, but in Asia and Africa, much less.”

As discussion turns to women deacons, the synod ‘gets interesting’

Pope Francis shares a laugh with some of the women members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, including Spanish theologian Cristina Inogés Sanz, left, at the assembly’s session Oct. 6, 2023, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.

Last week at the Synod on Synodality, delegates deliberated on contentious issues in the Catholic Church, including the inclusion of L.G.B.T. people, the global migration crisis, women’s roles in the church’s mission, and the plights of the world’s most impoverished people. The question of women’s ordination to the diaconate also gained prominence as participants explored the issue of women’s authority within the church. At the start of the Synod’s third week, a synod organizer told Colleen, “This is where this gets interesting.”

On this week’s episode of “Inside the Vatican,” host Colleen Dulle and veteran Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell sit down in Rome for their first face-to-face podcast in four years to cover what’s being said, and how participants are mitigating the pitfalls of polarization as they converse.

Colleen and Gerry discuss how the confidentiality expected of synod participants has helped to facilitate respectful conversation around hot-button issues at the synod. The discussion on L.G.B.T. people focused on a “question of truth versus love,” explained Colleen, which allowed for “dynamic discussion.” Gerry explains that, beyond any particular issue, the key theme of the discussion on communion was inclusion, which allowed the conversation to range from the discussions around sexual identity and relationships to inclusion of migrants within the church.

After concluding their discussion on communion, synod participants initiated their discussion around the theme of “co-responsibility in mission,” or as Colleen put it, “How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?” This opened up dialogue on the role of women in the church, and although conversations are ongoing, there was consensus that “there must be greater recognition of the ministry, the role that women can play in the church,” said Gerry.

In the second half of the show, Colleen and Gerry discuss the Vatican’s response to the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza. “The Vatican is walking a delicate diplomatic line here,” said Colleen, explaining that Holy See diplomacy would not want to come down on any particular side. The Vatican has always maintained its advocacy for a two-state solution and special status for Jerusalem, a sacred city for the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Pope Francis has appealed to Hamas to release Israeli hostages and urged for humanitarian corridors to be made in Gaza to bring in emergency relief aid and help refugees escape. He has also called for a day of prayer, fasting, and abstinence for peace on October 17, the day this podcast airs.

Synod on Synodality: Italian nun claims St. Paul attended ‘non-ritual female liturgy’

Mother Maria Grazia Angelini gave an exegesis of the New Testament for synod delegates during the general congregation on Oct. 13 in which she claimed that St. Paul “inserted himself into a ‘non-ritual’ female liturgy” when he arrived in the city of Philippi in Macedonia.

By Courtney Mares

An Italian religious sister told the Synod on Synodality assembly Friday that St. Paul attended “a non-ritual female liturgy” ahead of synod discussions of women’s inclusion in the Church.

Mother Maria Grazia Angelini gave an exegesis of the New Testament for synod delegates during the general congregation on Oct. 13 in which she claimed that St. Paul “inserted himself into a ‘non-ritual’ female liturgy” when he arrived in the city of Philippi in Macedonia.

Speaking to hundreds of synod participants in Paul VI Hall, Angelini described how “Paul was welcomed by a liturgy outside the ritual, among women, in the open air.”

She said: “The apostle did not start, as was his custom, in the synagogue … He inserted himself into a ‘non-ritual’ female liturgy, breaking into it with the word of the Gospel.”

Angelini’s speech referred to a historical event recorded in chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles, which states: “On the sabbath, we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there” (Acts 16:13).

The Scripture goes on to describe how one of the women named Lydia listened “and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying” and she was baptized along with her household (Acts 16:14-15). The Biblical text does not make mention of any sort of a liturgy.

The sister’s exegesis of the Acts of the Apostles was part of a larger speech on “the cry of women” throughout the New Testament. She argued that the contribution of women “unceasingly fuels the spiritual dynamism of reform.”

Angelini is one of two “spiritual assistants” who helped to lead the meditations for the retreat and the prayers throughout the Synod assembly this month, along with Father Timothy Radcliffe.

The 79-year-old nun served as the abbess of the Benedictine Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul in Viboldone, Italy, from 1996 to 2019. She studied theology under Giovanni Moioli and has written more than a dozen spiritual books.

She is one of three women who addressed the Synod’s general congregation on Friday at the start of a new module of Synod discussions on “Co-responsibility in Mission: How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?” which will be discussed by Synod delegates over the next two days.

Sister Gloria Liliana Franco, a Colombian religious of the Company of Mary Our Lady, told Synod delegates the story of a woman who earned better grades than her male classmates at a pontifical university, but “did not receive a canonical title because she is a woman,” adding “because until a few years ago women in their country could not study theology, only religious sciences.”

“Many women have no place in the parish or diocesan council, even though they are the teachers and the catechists,” Franco said.

“From the point of view of the members of many councils, the mission of women is very maternal, basic, and pastoral, while the goals of the councils are, for them, more administrative and strategic,” she added.

Sister Xiskya Valladares, Nicaraguan sister known as“the tweeting nun,” also spoke to the general congregation. Valladares, who has more than 452,000 followers on TikTok and 77,000 followers on Twitter, said in a TikTok video that “there should be no problem in there being women priestesses.” Valladares limited her livestreamed speech to the synod congregation to the subject of evangelization in a digital environment.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich told the Synod delegates that the morning’s testimonies help to frame the themes and questions that will be discussed and advised delegates that “everyone can revise the speech they had prepared” in light of what was said during the general congregation.

Complete Article HERE!