Delivering petitions, a fine question about the gender policy, asking more of John Paul II and a peek inside the synod hall

October 22, 2015
by Deb Rose-Milavec

Today, I met with  Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher to deliver our petition with more than 8300 signatures supporting his intervention at the Synod on the Family.

In his three-minute intervention on the synod floor, he urged the synod fathers to put far greater emphasis on preventing and ending all violence against women and to support greater roles for women in the Catholic Church including women deacons.

He told me that last year, as head of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, his brother bishops asked him to include remarks about ending violence against women, which he did. But this year, he wanted to say more, which he certainly did.

He said the intervention about ending all violence against women, and especially correcting the use of scripture to support the domination of women, has gained a lot of traction in the synod and will certainly become part of the final relatio, but the intervention for women deacons has not received the same kind of support.  Bishops told him that this was not the place to take it up even though the Instrumentum Laboris referred to the need to expand women’s roles in the Church.

A contributing factor in acknowledging the determining role of women in
society could be a greater appreciation of their responsibility in the Church, namely, their involvement in the decision-making process, their participation –
not simply in a formal way – in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers (IL: 30)

Archbishop Durocher’s intervention had a powerful impact inside and outside the synod hall and brought, front and center, the pressing need to expand women’s roles and ministry as part of the overall work for justice for women.

I expressed my gratitude and the gratitude of thousands of Catholics everywhere for his effort and asked him to continue to bring this issue forward.  He assured me he would do so and understands the importance of his efforts as the Church seeks ways to create greater equality in the Church and in the world.

Delivering our petition to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization

FutureChurch intern, Luke Hansen, SJ, and I met with staff from the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization to deliver our petition raising awareness about the true role of Mary of Magdala as a witness to the Resurrection and a faithful “apostle to the apostles.”

The beauty of the prayer for the Year of Mercy is dampened by a pairing of Mary Magdalene with the adulteress in line five.  Sigh…

Our letter to Pope Francis states, “The prayer for the Jubilee Year of Mercy is beautiful, yet in one area it falls short. Pairing Mary Magdalene with “the adulteress” and claiming that she too sought happiness “only in created things” reinforces a centuries-long – but historically and biblically incorrect – view of Mary as a prostitute or public sinner. We ask Pope Francis to issue a statement publicly correcting record on Mary of Magdala.”

The staff person struck us as somewhat nervous at first, but as we spoke to him about the content of the letter, we realized that he already knew about the effort.  He told us that Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella had already received 80 or more letters on this topic.  We asked him to kindly pass our petition with more than 1300 signatures onto the Archbishop conveying our concern that the long historical image of Mary of Magdala as the repentant prostitute be replaced with her true role as an early faith leader.

Visiting the Congregation for the Doctrine on the Faith

Luke Hansen and I were able to speak with Archbishop Joseph August Di Noia at the

Congregation for the Doctrine on the Faith about our continued efforts for restoring women to the permanent diaconate.  Luke shared both his reasons for working on this effort and his understanding of the theological basis for such an effort.

Archbishop Di Noia explained that the Congregation had conducted a survey of the Greek Orthodox tradition on women deacons and said he would follow up and send that report.  He also mentioned the statement of the International Theological Commission on the topic and the questions raised about the distinction between ordained ministries.

Archbishop Di Noia was aware of the intervention by Archbishop Durocher on the synod floor and he promised to stay in contact.

A fine question about the gender policy and the idea spreads

The panel of synod representatives today included Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, the youngest Catholic cardinal, and Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Cardinal Gracias fielded many questions about the way the final document is being shaped since he is on the 10-person drafting committee.  He explained how the hundreds of “modi” or comments would be integrated into the document and suggested that, in the end, the final relatio will be more about questions than answers.

But given the many references about ending violence against women that have been voiced over the past three weeks, Luke Hansen offered this question to the cardinal.

Q: An issue that has come up repeatedly in the small group reports is violence against women.  This question is for Cardinal Gracias.  I’m aware that the Bishops’ Conference of India a few years ago developed a very comprehensive policy on gender, and it was a very collaborative process involving a number of women who helped write the policy.  So my question is, what is the status of that gender policy in the Catholic Church of India today and how is it being applied?

The Cardinal replied that the policy was instituted to “give equal rights to women in society and the Church.”  But he stated that the policy development was unusual because it was first drafted by women themselves. He said that he has made it official policy in the Archdiocese of Bombay, but that in the country while the bishops have accepted the document, it is more or less being propagated according to the wishes of the bishop on a diocese by diocese basis.

Since Fr. Lombardi had made it clear that journalists direct their question to just one person on the panel, it was a bit unusual for him to take the initiative to ask the others to speak to this issue.

Archbishop Gomez, stated that this important issue was discussed by English group “D”. He said that women should “be respected, with equal rights and responsibilities and obligations following the teachings of the Catholic Church.”  He pointed out that in his archdiocese, women have important positions of leadership.  The first woman to serve as chancellor of the Archdiocese, Sr. Sister Cecilia Louise Moore has been appointed.  He suggested that it is important to talk about these issues “coming from the fact that God created us all equal” saying, “We are all children of God, sons and daughters of God.”

But Cardinal Mafi’s response demonstrated most profoundly, how a good idea can spread. Mafi said that although awareness about the issue of violence against women was beginning to take greater hold, his conference of bishops had not addressed it as a group.

He stated, “it is good to see that women are speaking out.”  Faltering a bit, he said that the Church is clear about the dignity of men and women.  Then in a moving moment of insight, he said that one of the reasons he liked coming to the synod was because he learns so much.

“It is good that I hear from Cardinal Gracias, because there is a learning.  That is the good thing about the synod, as I come as a Cardinal from another context in the world, to hear what other conferences are doing on various issues.”  He said it was a “big lesson” to hear what other bishops are doing and it was clear that he wanted to learn more about the Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India.

Asking more of John Paul II

While the process involved in getting to the final relatio took center stage today, one of the more interesting questions came from a journalist who asked how the synod fathers could consider new pastoral practices for divorced and remarried Catholics when John Paul II had spoken so authoritatively about it in the 1981 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio where section 84 gives pretty clear direction.

John Paul II called divorce “evil” and said that the divorced and civilly re-married could not be admitted to the Eucharist.

Gracias was quick to reply quoting easily from the document.  He said that circumstances have changed and that, even John Paul stated that cases deserve careful examination and cannot all be treated the same.

For instance, the one who broke up a marital bond is different to another who did not want that to happen and tried by all means to keep it.  He referred to the writings of theologian Bernard Haring as a guide for going forward.

Admitting, “we don’t have a solution,” he also suggested that after further study, understanding will be deepened and the way forward will emerge.

A peek inside the synod hall

Those who had a press pass (although I would love to see this opened up to others interested as well) were invited to observe the prayer in the synod hall.  Each person had one opportunity.  So today was my turn and it was pretty amazing.

Pope Francis smiles and waves at the group of reporters (who are in a little caged area) as he enters the synod hall.

Once inside the synod hall, it doesn’t appear to be as large as it looks in the photos so it was amazing to feel the proximity of the Pope and others.

When Pope Francis enters, there is no fanfare. Instead he interacts with people, smiling and shaking hands and engaging in small conversations.  At one point, he was leaning over reading his notes for the meeting.

Cardinals and bishops mill around talking, a mix of scarlet and fuschia.

Once the prayer was over, we were escorted out.  Below are some of my pictures from inside the synod.  You can find others on our Facebook page.