June 15th, 2024

Pope’s meeting on church future says it’s ‘urgent’ to guarantee governance roles for women

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press on October 28, 2023.

Pope Francis leads a prayer for peace inside St. Peter's Basilica, at The Vatican, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis’ big gathering of Catholic bishops and laypeople said Saturday it was “urgent” to guarantee fuller participation of women in church governance and called for research on allowing women to be deacons to be released within a year.

After a month of closed-door debate, Francis’ meeting on the future of the Catholic Church ended late Saturday with the approval of a 42-page text on a host of issues that will now be considered at a second session next year.

Each paragraph passed with the necessary two-thirds majority, but the ones involving women and priestly celibacy obtained the most “no” votes. Nevertheless organizers hailed the voting as a success since none of the paragraphs failed to pass.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The following is AP’s previous story.

Pope Francis’ monthlong meeting on the future of the Catholic Church was wrapping up Saturday with voting on a final document on the role of women and how the church can better respond to the needs of the faithful today.

Organizers and participants alike have tried to temper expectations for any big changes to emerge, especially on hot-button doctrinal issues such as the church’s views on homosexuality. They have insisted that the mere process of forcing bishops to sit down at round tables to listen to ordinary Catholics for a month was the important novelty of the gathering.

But there was no denying that Francis’ big Synod on Synodality, as the meeting is called, and the two-year canvassing of rank-and-file Catholics that preceded it, has indeed generated expectations.

Progressives have hoped the gathering would send a message that the church would be more welcoming of LGBTQ+ people and offer women more leadership roles in a hierarchy where they are barred from ordination. Conservatives have emphasized the need to stay true to the 2,000-year tradition of the church and warned that opening debate on such issues was a “Pandora’s Box” that risked schism.

Regardless of how the meeting ends, it’s not over. Another session is planned for next October, with final recommendations or conclusions from that meeting presented to Francis for his consideration in a future document.

Francis called the synod as part of his overall reform efforts to make the church a more welcoming place. In his vision of a “synodal” church, the faithful are listened to and accompanied rather than preached at by an out-of-touch “clerical” hierarchy that has anyway suffered a credibility crisis over clergy abuse scandals around the world.

In a novelty, he allowed women and laypeople to vote alongside bishops, putting into practice his belief that the “People of God” in the pews are more important than the preachers and must have a greater say in church decision-making. That mission and his call for “co-responsibility” has inspired in particular women seeking the restoration of female deacons, a ministry that existed in the early church.

“Though some seem to think it is possible to talk about co-responsibility in mission without addressing the elephant in the room, the fundamental equality of women and their access to all ministries of the church is a question that will persist until it is attended to with fierce attention to the Gospel,” said a statement this week from Women’s Ordination Conference, which has been staging events, marches and protests in Rome all month.

But the mere inclusion of laypeople as voting members in the meeting prompted some to question the legitimacy of the gathering itself. They note that the “Synod of Bishops” was created to provide the pontiff with the reflection of bishops, the successors of the apostles.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, whom Francis appointed as a member of the synod but has not hidden his opposition to it, said the gathering could hardly be called a Synod of Bishops “when lay people have the same voice, they have the same time to speak, and they take away opportunities for the bishops (to have) the possibility to speak.”

In an interview published Saturday in the National Catholic Register, Mueller outlined a scathing critique of the meeting, saying it was a manipulated, theologically light gathering claiming to be the work of the Holy Spirit but really aiming to undo church teaching.

“All is being turned around so that now we must be open to homosexuality and the ordination of women. If you analyze it, all is about converting us to these two themes,” the German theologian was quoted as saying by the Register.

The interview appeared Saturday, apparently respecting Francis’ call for delegates to refrain from speaking to the media during the meeting except when selected to speak at official Vatican press conferences, where detailed contents of the deliberations aren’t revealed.

The Rev. Timothy Radcliffe, a British Dominican whom Francis asked to provide spiritual reflections periodically during the meeting, had a far different take. He praised the inclusion of laypeople as truly reflecting the spirit of a synod.

“There’s a gathering of representatives of the College of Bishops, but it also shows the bishop not as a solitary individual, but immersed in the conversation of his people: Listening, talking, learning together,” he said.

But even Radcliffe cautioned against expectations of radical change.

“It’s a synod that gathers to see how we can be church in a new way, rather than what decisions need to be taken,” he told reporters this week. He added that the process had only just begun. “And that’s why there will be bumps. There will be mistakes. And that’s fine, because we are on the way.”

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