Francis’ efforts in building a more inclusive Catholic Church reflected in synod

The Synod on Synodality is being held in Rome from October 4 to 29. The image shows Pope Francis (back to the camera) with the synod’s participants.

By Daniel Speed

The 16th Synod of Bishops, the first part of which is taking place in Rome, from October 4 to 29, and the second in 2024, will be the culmination of a two-year, worldwide conversation in the Catholic Church.

The term “synod” usually refers to a local or regional meeting of church leaders.

The Synod of Bishops was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965 as a permanent body in the Catholic Church, although its members do not meet on a regular schedule. It specifically refers to a meeting of selected bishops from around the world to advise the pope on matters of governance.

The Synod of Bishops was set up after the Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 to 1965, to bring reforms and updates to the church.

The Second Vatican Council stated that the entire college of all Catholic bishops, under the authority of the pope, also serves as the church’s highest authority.

Paul VI instituted the Synod of Bishops as a way for Catholic bishops to exercise this authority. The council also stated that lay Catholics have an active role to play in the church.

As a theologian who studies the Catholic Church, with an emphasis on the period during and after Vatican II, I argue that this upcoming synod reflects Pope Francis’ efforts to advance the reform agenda of Vatican II.

He wants all Catholics to take an active role in thinking about the future of their church and wants the bishops to exercise their authority by first listening to the people.

A more open church?

Typically, there are three types of meetings of the Synod of Bishops.

Ordinary general assemblies usually get together every three or four years. The pope can also call an extraordinary meeting to discuss a more pressing topic and problem.

Finally, popes have called special meetings of bishops in a certain region. For example, Francis held a special Synod on the Amazon in 2019.

The 16th Synod of Bishops is an ordinary general assembly. At the direction of Francis, its preparation, initiated at a celebration in Rome in 2021, involved a worldwide conversation among Catholics about their church.

Catholics from around the world were invited to meet in their local dioceses, pray together and discuss questions about their church. Some 700,000 Catholics across the US took part in these conversations.

The local churches collected and summarized the results of these meetings. Leaders at the regional, national and, finally, continental levels drafted reports on these conversations.

On the basis of all these earlier documents, in May 2023 the Vatican released its working document called “Instrumentum Laboris” for the upcoming synod.

This meeting is therefore significant because it pictures the Catholic Church not as a top-down hierarchy but rather as an open conversation.

For the first time, its voting members will not only be bishops but other Catholics as well. The changes indicate Francis’s intention to give all Catholics a voice in the decision-making process of the church.

As Francis himself puts it, the synod offers an opportunity “of moving not occasionally but structurally toward a synodal church, an open square where all can feel at home and participate.”

Working document

Some 450 people are in Rome for the first part of the synod. This number include representatives of religious orders and other Catholic organizations, as well as theologians from Catholic universities.

The pope’s expanded list include a number of lay men and women. Additionally, representatives from other Christian churches are also attending the synod—although they will not have voting rights.

Those gathered in Rome will meet in both large sessions known as “general congregations” and small working groups, divided by the synod’s official languages—Italian, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. Its official documents will be issued in Italian and English.

The working document outlines four broad areas of discussion: synodality, communion, mission and participation.

The first term refers to the idea that the church as a whole should incorporate the synod’s process of focused conversations, listening and dialogue into its structure. The next two—communion and mission—refer to how a global church can balance unity and diversity in pursuit of its aims.

The final term, participation, refers to the ways in which Catholics, both clergy and lay people, can take part in the church. This topic also includes discussion about what institutions and structures the church would need to create to serve its mission.

When participants talk about these topics, they will discuss issues that have divided the church—such as the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, the role of women in the church, relations between the Catholic Church and other churches, and relations between the church and different cultures, among others.

Francis’ leadership style

This Synod of Bishops reflects Francis’ style of leadership and his vision of the Catholic Church for the future.

In his address to the synod held on October 9, 2021, the pope said the success of the mission of the church depends on the closeness of the church to its people and their ability to listen to one another.

The internal enemy of the mission of the church, according to Francis, is “clericalism,” the idea that clergy—priests and bishops—are somehow a spiritually superior class, separate from and above regular lay people.

Francis himself has modeled a different version of the papal office by rejecting many customs that he associates with clericalism. For example, he has continued to live in a modest apartment rather than in the Vatican palace.

Through the process of consultation and conversation, Francis intends to combat clericalism in the Catholic Church by offering a different model for how the church can work.

As Austen Ivereigh, a British journalist and biographer of Francis, has written: “The opposite of clericalism [for Francis] is synodality, meaning a method and process of discussion and participation in which the whole people of God can listen to the Holy Spirit and take part in the life and mission of the Church.”

After an additional year of conversations with the wider church, participants will gather in Rome again in 2024, when they will continue the discussions and vote on recommendations to the bishops. The bishops will, in turn, make recommendations to the pope, who will have the final say.

If Francis’ model of the church is persuasive, this synod, I believe, will be the beginning of an ongoing process in the church, the first of many conversations to come.

Complete Article HERE!

What is being discussed during the first week of the Synod on Synodality?

The Synod on Synodality convened on Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023.

By Hannah Brockhaus

More than 400 people gathered at the Vatican on Wednesday to officially begin the Synod on Synodality.

During the first full day of work Oct. 5, participants met in small groups of about 12 people to discuss the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris, a document that will guide discussions over the nearly monthlong assembly.

The first section, which will form the basis of synod discussions Oct. 4–7, is titled “For a Synodal Church: An Integral Experience” and has two subpoints: “The characteristic signs of a synodal Church” and “A way forward for the synodal Church: conversation in the Spirit.”

According to Cristiane Murray, the vice director of the Holy See Press Office, synod members were given “a kind of task of answering” several reflection questions based on these themes on Oct. 4.

The president of the information commission for the synod, who is also the head of Vatican communications, Paolo Ruffini, said participants “were asked to pray with these [questions] yesterday evening, night, this morning before speaking at the synod.”

The main question for discernment was: “Starting from the journey of the local Churches to which we each belong and from the contents of the Instrumentum Laboris, which distinctive signs of a synodal Church emerge with greater clarity and which deserve greater recognition or should be particularly highlighted or deepened?”

The following questions were listed as “suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection”:

1) Reflecting on how the synod course unfolded in the Church where I come from, what is the prevailing spiritual tone that characterizes it? What emotions and feelings did it arouse in those who took part? What desires did it arouse in the Christian community? What concerns emerged?

2) How can we grow in a synodal style of liturgical celebration, which highlights the distinctive contribution of all participants, starting from the variety of vocations, charisms, and ministries they bear?

3) In my local Church, how have we used and adapted the method of conversation in the Spirit? What are the main fruits it has enabled us to reap? How can it continue to help us grow as a missionary synodal Church?

4) What have we learned about listening as a characteristic of a synodal Church? What resources have we discovered we possess in this regard? Where do we perceive shortcomings? What do we need to address them? How can the ability to listen become an increasingly recognized and recognizable feature of our communities?

5) “A synodal Church promotes the passage from ‘I’ to ‘we’” (IL, No. 25). How has the synodal process promoted the cohesion of the local Church where I come from? How has it helped us to experience “the spiritual savor of being a people” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, Nos. 268–274)? How do we feel we can grow in this dimension?

6) Did we meet with members of other Churches or ecclesial communities during the synod journey? Did we meet with believers from other religions? What was the spiritual tone of these meetings? What did we learn in order to grow in our desire and ability to walk together with them?

7) In my local Church, which tensions have emerged most strongly? How did we try to manage them so they did not become explosive? How do we evaluate this experience? What have we learned from this to help us grow in the ability to manage tensions without being crushed by them, which is proper to a synodal Church?

8) What experiences of discernment in common have we had in my local Church context? What have they enabled us to discover? In what direction do we need to continue growing?

After a day off on Sunday, Oct. 8, the Synod on Synodality will reconvene Oct. 9–12 to discuss the first question under section “B” of the Instrumentum Laboris: “A communion that radiates: How can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity?”

Section B is on “Communion, participation, mission: Three priority issues for the synodal Church.”

Complete Article HERE!

Conservative U.S. Catholics watch with dread as pope opens major meeting

The Rev. Joseph Strickland, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler, Tex., and pictured in 2015, is a critic of Pope Francis’s who has become a hero to many conservative Catholics.


Conservative Catholics in the United States — home to perhaps the wealthiest and loudest concentration of Pope Francis’s right-wing critics — are watching the major Vatican meeting opening this week with dread and deep mistrust. Concrete organizing against the “Synod on Synodality” or against Francis is rare, but lobbing of the word “schism” is not.

From the most radical traditionalist to the mainstream conservative, many U.S. Catholics are wary about the opening Wednesday of the synod, which has been planned for more than two years. Despite worldwide listening sessions offered at every level of the Catholic Church, many conservatives feel that the long process of gathering opinions and representatives for the synod was stacked against them.

They see the free-flowing synod structure, which involves laypeople and women in equal roles to clergy, as un-Catholic, and they see as dangerous program documents such as those asking for “concrete steps” to better welcome LGBTQ Catholics and people in polygamous marriages. They feel that Jesus’ name was downplayed in synod documents.

“The primary concern is that the pope will authorize things that are not contained in Catholic doctrine or that will contradict it such as women deacons, blessing gay unions” or weakening Catholic teachings against contraception and abortion by emphasizing individual conscience, said the Rev. Gerald Murray, a New York City priest who will be in Rome during the synod doing commentary for several conservative media outlets. “We’re not Protestants.”

Such anxieties may have grown Monday with the Vatican’s release of a letter from Francis suggesting an openness to Catholic blessings for same-sex couples — so long as the ceremonies were not confused with sacramental marriages — and to further study the idea of women’s ordination to the priesthood.

Francis was responding to a letter from five conservative retired cardinals, asking him to reaffirm traditional teachings ahead of the three-week synod. The five asked him to reaffirm that sex outside marriage between man and woman is a grave sin, and to answer whether the synod will have powers that have been understood to belong only to the pope and bishops.

In addition to the involvement of women and laypeople, the synod is different from similar past events in how it has been organized. Instead of being divided into language groups, the makeup of conversation groups will be regularly changed through the weeks. Supporters of this approach see a chance to expand perspectives; conservatives see something more like speed-dating or the chaos of a preschool classroom.

“Why has it gone from a synod of bishops to include others? Bishops have a divine role in the governance of the church. Bishops’ powers are priestly power, governance power, teaching power. It’s by virtue of that power that they have the authority to tell us what to do, what to believe, tell us how to act. Laypeople can give opinions but don’t have an authoritative voice,” Murray said. “It changes the nature of the church.”

Alejandro Bermudez, a longtime journalist covering the Catholic Church in English and Spanish, said conservatives fear “that the whole thing is a bait and switch,” he said. “The synod is on ‘synodality,’ meaning discussion, is supposed to be how the church can function better, how to govern the church. But the questions are related to gay blessings, women priests, married priests. How is that related to synodality?”

Conservatives have also been offended by Francis’s at times scolding his U.S. critics. Last month, the Catholic publication La Civilta Cattolicà quoted him as saying there is a “strong reactionary attitude” among American Catholics. He characterized them as backward-looking, closed.

>“Instead of living by doctrine, by the true doctrine that always develops and bears fruit, they live by ideologies,” Francis was quoted as saying.

Conservatives are conservative by nature, and the prevailing mood could be described by those who are paying attention as an angry wait-and-see. Several close watchers of the ideological span of this group say the vast majority in it are unaware of the synod or are indifferent to it. They are said to be consoling themselves with the knowledge that Francis’s liberalizing talk has not yet resulted in change to doctrine and are looking ahead to the next conclave — the selection of a pope — where they hope Francis’s ethos will be stamped out.

“We’re leading to the next conclave. When Pope Francis dies or resigns, it’ll be a clear choice,” Murray said. “That’s the unstated thing in where this struggle is leading. If there are major changes [at the synod] and they elect someone like Francis [at the next conclave], then there will be a split. But not before that.”

Use of the word “split” or “schism” is not uncommon when the U.S. Catholic right wing is asked what the stakes of the coming years are. What exactly that would look like, however, isn’t clear. It is not new for Catholics to have sprawling disagreements, but recent years have seen more overt challenges to the church’s hierarchy.

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, an Argentine who is the Vatican’s new chief of doctrine, said in an interview last month that bishops on the right and the left who think “they have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the doctrine of the Holy Father, we will enter into a vicious circle and that would be heresy and result in schism.”

The activism for now among conservative U.S. Catholics is primarily talk online, on huge media channels like EWTN and on popular blogs or YouTube channels including “First Things” and “Return to Tradition,” whose tagline is, in part, “Dealing with Modernism, Vatican 2, and all the rest of the mess that is the present state of the Church.”

“There is no unified action of movement that people will take or follow. A lot depends on the next conclave, which people shouldn’t try to predict the outcome of ahead of time,” Anthony Stine, who runs Return to Tradition, which has about 150,000 followers, wrote to The Washington Post.

“Catholics all want the same Catholic faith as their ancestors,” Stine said. “They don’t want the tough moral teachings of the Church changed to reflect the whims of a secular culture that is increasingly hostile to the faith and increasingly unstable.”

Stine has said in interviews that he doubts the synod will lead to changes such as a full embrace of homosexuality or female deacons. He said his main concern is that it may produce a document that is vague, allowing breakaway liberals to implement changes.

“So, the circus won’t be over,” he told the Catholic YouTuber Joe McClane this summer.

But some are not waiting.

Conservative activists and experts on the Catholic Church say some people are lobbying and advocating to like-minded U.S. clerics who are going to the synod. They include Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron, the founder of the mega-ministry Word on Fire, whose recent chat with the right-wing activist and writer Chris Rufo drew 46,000 views; Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Stine says some Catholics are preparing to have “independent” traditional priests offer Mass in homes and businesses on Sunday mornings, as happened in the years after Vatican II.

Since Francis took office, there have been other signs of fed-up conservatives taking matters into their own hands — if not breaking away, then taking unprecedented steps.

In 2018, a group of laypeople aimed to raise $1 million and hire dozens of workers to create dossiers on every cardinal, reportedly in an effort to influence the next conclave. This year, The Post reported that a group of wealthy conservatives in Colorado had poured millions into buying mobile app tracking data that identified priests who used gay dating and hookup apps and then shared the data with bishops around the country — feeling that church leaders were not doing enough about the issue of gay priests.

Some high-profile conservative priests have sharpened the rhetoric ahead of the synod. They include the Rev. Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Tex., who in recent weeks tweeted that he “rejects” Francis’s program and that Catholics should “follow Jesus.” In a letter to his diocese, he said people who propose changes to “that which cannot be changed … are indeed the true schismatics.”

Strickland has become a hero to many conservative Catholics.

Last week, a further-right critic, the Rev. James Altman of La Crosse, Wis., posted a video calling for Francis to be killed. Altman’s bishop barred him from saying Mass in 2021 after he criticized coronavirus vaccines and said that victims of lynchings were criminals and that Catholics cannot vote Democratic. Some conservatives took to social media in recent days to ostracize Altman, but others have cheered him on. Altman also drew attention in September with a video saying Francis is not a legitimate pope.

Stine said the reactions to Altman’s declarations show that conservative Catholics “are as fractured as anything else in society.”

“Every traditional Catholic I know, as well as more mainline conservative Catholics who oppose [Francis’s] program for the Church, all pray for him daily. That’s the biggest mark of support you can offer to anyone, honestly,” Stine wrote to The Post. That said, most traditional Catholics with whom he speaks “think we’re in a state of de-facto schism and have been for a long time now,” he said. “If anything, the state of the Church will be made more obvious at the end of the synodal process.”

Complete Article HERE!

Amid liberal revolt, pope signals openness to blessings for gay couples

German priests and counselors bless same-sex couples in front of the Cologne Cathedral on Sept. 20.

By , &

In the shadow of Cologne’s Gothic cathedral, the St. Stephan’s Youth Choir struck up a chorus of “All You Need Is Love” as couples — men with men, women with women, and women with men — lined up to have their unions blessed by ordained Catholic priests wearing rainbow stoles.

It was an act of love — but also sedition, in direct defiance of the Vatican’s decree that same-sex unions should not be celebrated or recognized.

The German Catholic Church, long known for pushing the boundaries of the faith, has been translating frustrations among progressive Catholics in pockets throughout Europe into a veritable revolt. The question for 1.3 billion Catholics now is whether the German church is in flagrant disobedience — or showing a different path.

Pope Francis has reprimanded Germany’s Catholic leadership. He quipped to the head of its bishops’ conference last year that Germany already had one protestant church — “We don’t need two.” On Monday, however, the Vatican released a document that seemed to open a door to blessing same-sex unions and the study of female priests.

In the letter, dated Sept. 25, Francis wrote that there are “situations” that may not be “morally acceptable” but where a priest can assess, on a case-by-case basis, whether blessings may be given — as long as such blessings are kept separate from the sacrament of marriage.

“We cannot be judges who only deny, push back and exclude,” Francis wrote. “As such, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not convey a wrong idea of a matrimony. Because when one seeks a blessing, one is requesting help from God.”

Pope Francis leads a blessing in St. Peter’s Square for the synod that opens Wednesday.

His words appeared to contradict a 2021 Vatican statement that confirmed a ban on blessing same-sex couples. Francis has also notably removed the conservative official said to be the architect of that decision and appointed a fellow Argentine who has seemed to take a different view.

Francis’s letter released Monday appeared to reveal less movement on the question of ordination for women. He wrote that Pope John Paul II had ruled against female priests and that the decision must be respected for now. But he also suggested the topic could be further researched.

Both the role of women in the church and blessings for same-sex couples, as well as the possibility of a married priesthood, are among the divisive topics on the agenda as Catholic leaders gather at the Vatican this week for the most sweeping summit on the direction of the faith since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Francis has already been facing a revolt on the right, with his most bitter conservative critics decrying him as a heretic. They have maligned the arcanely named Synod on Synodality — running from Wednesday through Oct. 29 — as a smokescreen for liberal reform.

Vatican watchers were not expecting big pronouncements, as the synod will convene again next fall and ultimately send recommendations to the pope then. And the Vatican has been playing down any notions of rapid reform.

But Francis has raised the hopes of progressives — and stoked the fears of traditionalists — that the church might, on some issues, begin to move in the direction of Germany.

German churches have been inviting women to say the homily at Mass and to baptize babies. Scores of German priests and monks have come out as celibate gay men, while some Catholic schools and churches have begun flying rainbow flags. A majority of German bishops have backed Catholic blessings of same-sex unions, calls for female deacons and the ordination of older, married men as priests.

“Many progressive Catholics look to the German church for a hopeful sense of where the church might be going,” said the Rev. James Martin, a U.S. delegate at the synod known for his ministry to LGBTQ+ Catholics. “But of course, just as many traditional Catholics look upon the German church with suspicion.”

Catholics participate in a papal blessing Saturday.

At the Vatican, conservative fears and progressive hopes

The synod opening Wednesday — on the feast day of St. Francis — is not a political process, Vatican officials contend, but a chance for discussion, to “discern” God’s will for the direction of the church.

It requires that participants attempt to talk to each other — understanding that they represent an institution that encompasses German, Belgian and Swiss bishops who are already allowing blessings of same-sex couples, as well as American, African and Asian bishops who decry them.

The 364 voting delegates, observers say, include a relative balance of centrists, traditionalists and reformers, with some of the most extreme players on both sides left out.

But conservatives, including dozens of bishops from the United States, complain the synod is stacked against them.

They call its structure — which for the first time will allow laymen and women voting rights equal to cardinals and bishops — fundamentally un-Catholic. They see program documents asking for “concrete steps” to better welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics and people in polygamous marriages, among other categories, as dangerous.

Conservatives fear the synod process will open what they see as a Pandora’s box, eventually leading to unprecedented change on priestly celibacy, the acceptance of homosexuality and the elevation of women in a historically patriarchal church. They warn it could bring about a new schism, or split, in the world’s largest Christian faith.

Francis’s letter released Monday was written in response to a challenge, known as a dubia, issued by five conservative cardinals. They called on him to reinforce Catholic doctrine that condemns homosexuality and reserves ordination for “baptized males” only.

“The primary concern is that the pope will authorize things that are not contained in Catholic doctrine or that will contradict it — such as women deacons, blessing gay unions,” or weaken Catholic teachings against contraception and abortion by emphasizing individual conscience, said the Rev. Gerald Murray, a New York City priest who was not invited to the synod but will be in Rome doing commentary for conservative outlets.

“We’re not Protestants,” he said.

Predicting what the pope will do is much like reading tea leaves.

Francis raised the prospect of change early in his papacy, intoning “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay Catholics. But he has been exceedingly cautious about altering doctrine. For instance, he has shied away from allowing married priests in the Amazon region, where extreme clerical shortages seemed to warrant it.

But as the 86-year-old pope looks to cement his legacy, much will depend on where he lands on these issues — whether he decides to urge the church closer to progressive positions. He faces the challenge of how to assuage liberal Europeans, in places where the church is rich but dying, without alienating fast-growing if more traditional churches in the developing world.

Catholic priests bless same-sex and heterosexual couples last month in Cologne, Germany.

Going beyond talk in Germany

The Cologne Cathedral, where relics of the Three Kings are said to rest, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The writings of a rogue German priest named Martin Luther were publicly burned in its courtyard in 1520. Late last month, it served as the backdrop for a modern Catholic clash.

The Rev. Wolfgang Rothe, a wiry, openly gay German Catholic priest, organized the group blessing in reaction to a local cardinal, one of the few in Germany still disciplining priests for blessing same-sex couples. Rothe used the service as a rallying cry for the synod.

“I call on you, tell the pope, tell the synod of bishops, tell the world church: The current sexual morality of the Catholic Church is outdated,” he said. “It is unbiblical and immoral … a slap in the face of the loving God. This sexual morality belongs on the trash heap of church history.”

Nearby, a gaggle of conservative opponents prayed the rosary in protest. More radical elements on both sides — far-right Catholics and left-wing activists — jostled amid bullhorns and placards, and police intervened.

The Catholic Church in Germany is facing a crisis.

Measurable through a national church tax, German Catholics have been abandoning the church in record numbers — 522,000 last year alone. In a poll of those who had recently left the faith, the most common reason specified was the church’s handling of sexual abuse; the second its rejection of homosexuality.

Catholic bishops and laypeople in Germany sought to address that disaffection as they formulated their contribution to Francis’s synod, through a body called the Synodal Way.

Kai and Jens Vermaeten receive blessings during the event in Cologne.

Francis warned from the outset against a unilateral effort. “Every time the ecclesial community tried to get out of its problems alone, trusting and focusing exclusively on its strength or its methods, its intelligence, its will or prestige, it ended up increasing and perpetuating the evils it was trying to solve,” he wrote in a 2019 letter.

Nonetheless, by March of this year, Germany’s Synodal Way had proposed sweeping changes, including the ordination of female deacons and a reexamination of priestly celibacy in addition to same-sex blessings.

German bishops have mostly backed the proposals, while trying to buy time on some topics. They supported the ordination of female deacons, for instance, while conceding they first needed the permission of the Vatican.

But they have also grown more daring. In a country where the Catholic Church is the second-largest employer — with 800,000 workers, or six times more than Mercedes-Benz — German bishops amended the church’s labor law last year, so people can no longer be fired for being in a same-sex relationship or remarrying after divorce.

The Vermaetens at the group blessing in Cologne.
Stefanie and Amrei Sell after the blessing.

And in March, a majority of German bishops voted to allow blessings of same-sex couples — separate and distinct from the sacrament of marriage, but with standardized ceremonies to be drafted by 2026.

Liberal reforms have taken shape in other countries, too, but theologians see what Germany is doing as singular. They attribute it to a society that has emerged as one of the globe’s most socially progressive — and has a taste for rules.

“Some of these things happen in quieter ways in countries like Brazil,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Catholic theologian at Villanova University. “But the Germans are Germans, so they want formal recognition. That’s what’s different. They don’t want just de facto change. They want formal permission to change the books.”

The push within Germany matters all the more because the German Catholic Church ranks among the world’s richest — its dioceses are collectively far richer than the Vatican. And with this wealth, Germany helps to fund seminary schools and parishes across Latin America and Africa.

Marianne Arndt leads a portion of the service Sept. 24 at St. Theodore’s Catholic Church, on the edge of Cologne.

On a recent Sunday at St. Theodore’s Catholic Church on the edge of Cologne, Marianne Arndt’s white cassock billowed as she approached the pulpit to preach.

Arndt — a spiky-haired 60-year-old who said she had a calling from God as a young woman — has worked as a parish counselor here since 2016. She initially began offering a “final blessing” in lieu of last rites to dying patients at hospitals, using holy water instead of priestly oils. She began preaching during Catholic Masses years ago, but started describing her words as a “homily” in 2020, arguing that the time had come to “call it what it is.”<

Except that Catholic canon law requires an ordained deacon or priest to say the homily at Mass, and women can be neither.

The Rev. Dionysius Jahn, one of two parish priests who typically celebrate Mass alongside her, called her sermon an extension of religious teaching. He acknowledged the arrangement was atypical. “It’s very progressive here,” he said. “There are others that view [a woman in a role like this] very critically. They wouldn’t accept what’s going on here.”

It smarts, Arndt said, that she must metaphorically stand “behind” a male priest to deliver the homily, and she bristles against those who say she should leave the faith if she doesn’t abide by its rules.

“It is also my church, and I don’t run away,” she said.

Arndt is part of the Catholic revolt in Germany.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Assembly Puts the Church’s Most Sensitive Issues on the Table

— Pope Francis’ calls for open-minded discussion will be tested this week as bishops meet with lay people, including women, to debate topics such as married priests and the blessing of gay couples.

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Wednesday.

By Jason Horowitz

Throughout his decade as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has allowed debates on previously taboo topics and set in motion subtle shifts toward liberalizing changes that have enraged conservatives for going too far and frustrated progressives for not going far enough.

This month, starting on Wednesday, Francis’ desire for the church to discuss the concerns of its faithful, even the most sensitive topics, will culminate at the Vatican in an assembly of bishops from around the world that will allow, for the first time, lay people, including women, to attend and vote.

The issues under discussion will include priestly celibacy, married priests, the blessing of gay couples, the extension of sacraments to the divorced and the ordination of female deacons.

Detractors are wary of the very nature of the assembly, known as a synod, and have criticized it as a bureaucratic talkathon or as an insidious Trojan horse for progressives to erode the church’s traditions under the cloak of collegiality.

Supporters see a chance to put into practice the pope’s bottom-up view of the church as an inclusive institution that upends the traditional hierarchy and forces bishops to listen to and work with their flock more.

For them, more than any single issue on the table — and more even than culture war favorites like abortion, same-sex marriage or euthanasia, which were left off it — it is the process of bishops and lay people working and voting together that amounts to the most potentially transformative change.

“It is an amazing moment,” said Renée Köhler-Ryan, the dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia, who will be a voting participant in the meeting, one of the first women ever to do so.

Still, many church watchers say, it remains to be seen whether the gathering becomes an instrument for the transformation that traditionalists dread or another opportunity for the papal punting that has left the church’s liberals disappointed.

A crowd of hundreds around a two-tiered stone fountain.
Awaiting the appearance of Francis in St. Peter’s Square in October 2022. For the first time ever, the coming synod will allow lay people, including women, to attend and vote.

It may end up as neither, and in any case, it is only the first phase of a two-year process. The participants will reconvene in Rome in October 2024, after which the pope is expected to issue a document endorsing or rejecting any recommendations.

“Hopes and fears for the synod are overinflated to the point where it’s hard to see a resolution or an outcome from either this October or next October that doesn’t leave at least one large part of the church feeling not just disappointed but deceived,” said Stephen P. White, a fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank in Washington.

There are other reasons the assembly — formally called the Synod on Synodality, essentially a working meeting on how to work together — may disappoint.

It follows two years spent canvassing local churches to better understand the concerns of rank-and-file faithful around the globe. But, as Mr. White pointed out, only a tiny fraction, perhaps a few percent, participated in the canvassing process.

Many of the issues to be discussed are contentious because the faithful themselves had put them on the table, Ms. Köhler-Ryan said, adding that she hoped the inclusion of lay people would lend a more quotidian perspective — a “kind of grittiness” — to the synod. But, she noted, her vote was not part of a democratic process because the decisions rested with the pope alone.

“The big question becomes,” she said of the issues, “how does the synod deal with them?”

The answer is slowly and in secret. “This is not a TV program where they talk about everything,” Francis said last month. He has conceded that the process may appear obscure.

“I am well aware that speaking of a ‘synod on synodality’ may seem something abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical and of little interest to the general public,” Pope Francis said in August. But, he added, it “is something truly important for the church.”

People kneeling and praying at wooden pews in a church with brick walls and stained-glass windows.
A Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Odessa, Texas, in April. The Vatican spent two years canvassing local churches to better understand the concerns of rank-and-file faithful around the globe.

But Francis is relying heavily on what Jesuits, the order to which he belongs, call discernment, a deliberately pensive decision-making process that creates the space and time for a spiritual dimension to enter the equation — and perhaps for wider support for important changes to coalesce.

Critics of Francis often roll their eyes at the mention of the word. And church observers have noted that his reliance on discernment has allowed him to delay on big decisions, either out of a lack of boldness or to build support and perhaps political cover among his bishops. The Synod on Synodality is built, experts say, to do just that.

Yet the process has prompted some bewilderment.

“I’ve been trying to explain this one to myself and others for the last little while,” Ms. Köhler-Ryan said. In her understanding, synodality referred to different members of the church working shoulder to shoulder. “It’s a moment in the church where we practice what we’re trying to become,” she said.

The assembly’s leading officials have characterized it as reflecting the church’s diversity and its diversity of concerns.

Some participants were coming with the hope of important shifts.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and an advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics who was personally invited by Pope Francis to participate, said he hoped that the assembly would listen to their experiences.

A rainbow flag hangs from the balcony of an ornate brick building above a clock face.

A church in Vienna in March 2021 after the Vatican ruled that the church could not bless same-sex partnerships.

“That’s enough of a change, because in many parts of the world, they’re not listened to,” he said, pointing out that many are kicked out of parishes for being gay or have to worship under church leaders who support laws criminalizing homosexuality.

He said assembly officials had told him that, in the surveys, half of the dioceses in the world mentioned the welcoming of L.G.B.T.Q. people as important. Asked whether he thought the synod would lead to concrete changes, such as to the official Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” Father Martin said that, although he did not expect any alterations to doctrine, for more bishops “to hear how that language is received by L.G.B.T.Q. people would be very important.”

Helena Jeppesen-Spuhler, who works for the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, a Catholic relief agency, will also participate in the assembly. She said that the church required change to survive, adding that she would “pragmatically” argue for women to be ordained as deacons as a first step to becoming priests and bishops (which was, she acknowledged, a bridge too far for now).

“That’s what I’m carrying here to this assembly, to the worldwide church,” she said, arguing that the focus on women in all of the continental surveys showed that there was a desire for such a change, and “I really see a chance.”

But she also recalled the disappointment and frustration in 2019, at a previous synod, when Francis balked at allowing some married men to become priests and women to become deacons, despite receiving an overwhelming vote of support from bishops.

“The question is, ‘Will he do that probably again?’” she said. Or perhaps a “consultation from all over the world and the reports from all over the world” would demonstrate the support he needed to follow through.

That is the conservative nightmare

Pope Francis in the center of St Peter’s Basilica, with clergy gathered all around in vestments of various colors, mostly green.
Pope Francis offering a Mass at the opening of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2021.

On Monday, five of the church’s most conservative cardinals made public a letter they had sent Francis asking for a clarification on his thinking about the ordination of women, the blessing of gay unions, and whether the synod had the power to change doctrine, among other points.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a former leader of the church’s doctrinal office whom Francis dismissed from his position but surprisingly invited to take part in the synod, has warned that the assembly could be used as a “hostile takeover.”

In an interview, he said forces “obsessed with the ideology” and those who believe the church no longer “fits with the modern world” were hoping to exploit the synod.

The assembly was not “a parliament or a constituent assembly, which like a sovereign could change or even replace the Constitution of the church,” he said. The fact that women and lay people had been granted the right to vote “doesn’t change anything,” he said, because the doctrine could not be touched.

He said criticism of abuse of power by clerics, what Francis calls clericalism, had become a “fixation” and a convenient disguise for prejudice against priests. The ordination of women, even as deacons, was a nonstarter, he added, and blessing gay couples was “not only a blasphemy, but also a fraud.”

Officials running the synod have sought to defend it from accusations of politicization.

“We have no agenda,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, a Jesuit who is the relator general for the synod, said in June. “There was not a conspiratorial meeting with some people to come up with how we could add some progressive points of the church. That is the very bad imagination of some people.”

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