A Little Sugar, a Lot of Doubt and Spinning Straw into Gold

October 7, 2015

Report from Rome

by Deb Rose-Milavec

Archbishop Charles Chaput (U.S.A), Archbishop Laurent Ulrich (France), and Archbishop Salvador José Miguel Piñeiro García Calderón (Peru) treated us to a love-fest today at the 1pm briefing.  Possibly a reasonable defense against a hungry press, we were plied with tales of good will and harmony among the small language groups (circuli minori) despite the differences across cultures and philosophies. 

Everything is going along swimmingly.

Like the stunning silence from the seven person panel yesterday on the news that Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher took his allotted three minutes to talk about the need for women in decision-making and women deacons, there was a sense today that the wagons were circling, that conflicts and strong-arming tactics in small groups didn’t exist, and that even a penetrating question by seasoned journalist could be deflected with little effort.  

A little sugar, a lot of doubt

After all the sugar and the assurances, a few important take aways emerged that may prove to be defense strategies against Francis-inspired change.  

1.  Reporting on the responses of his small group, which has members from Pakistan, England, Kenya, Uganda, the U.S., etc., Archbishop Chaput questioned the diversity represented in the Instrumentum Laboris suggesting that it did not speak to the concerns of all Catholics, but was heavily skewed toward Western concerns.  

Not a new charge by any means, this laudatory effort to expose cultural biases, especially in a document that purports to address the universal Church, would be equally problematic if it exploits the concerns of participants from Africa or other regions in order to deflect thorny cultural issues at home such as the treatment and pastoral care of divorced and remarried or LGBT Catholics.  

2.  When asked if there was a concern that changes in language reflecting renewed pastoral practices could be used by politicians in ways not intended, Archbishop Chaput responded saying that because the synod documents were in Italian and that the translations were sometimes quite poor, his group would be going through the documents “word by word” to make sure the language “will not reflect words that can be misused.”  He also suggested that some may not even know what they are voting for in the final document because of the language barrier and poor translations. Archbishop Ulrich followed suit saying, “We think there are some false friends in translations.”

3.  When asked about Pope Francis’s comments regarding the “hermeneutics of conspiracy,” a phrase used to call out prelates who are accusing him of conspiring to get his way, Archbishop Chaput admitted that there are lobby groups in the synod hall, that they shouldn’t work against each other, but that it was natural and human, especially since they were there to “arrive at the truth.”

Small Language Group Moderators and Relators  

The small language groups chose their moderators and relators.  Here is the list.  A list of the people who are in each group has been promised.


French Group “A”: Card. Gérald Cyprien LACROIX

French Group “B”: Card. Robert SARAH

French Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. PIAT, C.S.Sp. Maurice

English Group “A”: Card. George PELL

English Group “B”: Card. NICHOLS Vincent Gerard

English Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Martin Eamon

English Group “D”: Card. Thomas Christopher COLLINS

Italian Group “A”: Card. Francis MONTENEGRO

Italian Group “B”: Card. Edward MENICHELLI

Italian Group “C”: Card. Angelo Bagnasco

Spanish Group “A”: Card. Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB Óscar Andrés

Spanish Group “B”: Card. ROBLES ORTEGA Francisco

German Group: Card. SCHÖNBORN, O.P. Christoph


French Group “A”: S.E. Msgr. Laurent ULRICH

French Group “B”: Rev.do P. DUMORTIER, SI François-Xavier

French Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Paul-André DUROCHER

English Group “A”: S.E. Msgr. Joseph Edward KURTZ

English Group “B”: S.E. Mgr. Diarmuid MARTIN

English Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Mark Benedict Coleridge

English Group “D”: S.E. Msgr. CHAPUT, O.F.M. Capt. Charles Joseph

Italian Group “A”: P. Rev.do ARROBA CONDE, CMF Manuel Jesús

Italian Group “B”: Card. Mauro Piacenza

Italian Group “C”: S.E. Msgr. Franco Giulio Brambilla

Spanish Group “A”: Card. LACUNZA Maestrojuan, OAR José Luis

Spanish Group “B”: S.E. Msgr. PORRAS CARDOZO Baltazar Enrique

German Group: S.E. Msgr. Heiner KOCH

Witnessing to some truths

Gudrun Sailer’s report on the German press meeting of Tuesday is out and even though the truths expressed are self-evident, they too rarely addressed by those who have the power to change them. 

Cardinal Marx and Bishop Bode believe we need an amended synod process.

Cardinal Marx believes the laity should be much more involved with Bishop Bode remarking, “If I want to perceive reality, I need to hear the voices of women.”  He also noted that although 17 couples have been invited, “The ratio of men and women in such a meeting is certainly not something that corresponds to reality.” 

Abbott Jeremias Schroder said that having a brother (who is not ordained) Superior General gain the right to vote at the synod was a “ray of light” but that the Superior Generals felt women religious who were Superior Generals should also have a vote. They discussed giving up half their voting seats to women religious Superior Generals, but then decided against it. 

Their sense of justice came through and we can only wonder what might have been if they had let their intended witness play out.   

Spinning straw into gold:  Kate McElwee and Uta Stievers deliver the goods

A group of more than 50 women have been spinning straw into gold.  They have worked diligently to turn the invisible stories of diverse women, their experiences and theological analyses, into a golden opportunity for prelates to learn from women and to take advantage of their valuable insights as they shape the synod document on the family.

Kate McElwee and Uta Stievers delivered “Catholic Women Speak” to the synod hall today.  Tina Beattie, editors like Sr. Diana Culbertson from the FutureChurch board and many others who contributed essays or helped edit the book are thrilled that the book has finally been “birthed” and put in the hands of the bishops at the synod.  

Join our efforts to petition synod participants to support Archbishop Durocher’s proposal to discuss restoring women deacons in the Church

To read and sign the petition go to: http://action.groundswell-mvmt.org/petitions/ask-the


Read FutureChurch’s press release.


The Francis strategy for change; a synod process loosed; and Durocher’s stunning proposal for women

October 6, 2015
Report from Rome
by Deb Rose-Milavec

There are days when you are sure God is having her way. Today was one such day at the synod.

The tone of the voices rising from the great marble synod hall could not have been more different from the tones heard yesterday. 

Yesterday, stern warnings fell all around and weighed heavy on hopes for a more generous, just and compassionate Church.  Today, elation and even laughter filled the air as we heard that participants talked about all that the Church could be if it dared to risk being one with the God of surprises; the God that is the living, loving source. 

A Francis stragegy for change:  Small groups will have a critical role in shaping the final document

Seven persons spoke during the daily press briefing about the activities of the morning, but it was Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, Archbishop Claudio M Celli and Fr. Thomas Rosica who really conveyed the sense of hope heard in the synod hall.  

According to Rosica, Pope Francis had made the unusual move of intervening in the morning to stress the importance of small group input for fashioning the final document.  All would begin with the Instrumentum Laboris but, because so many participants are new, the document’s final form was likely to change a great deal, a Francis signal that the process was wide open. He also stressed the synod was not a one-issue forum.  

Interventions for justice and inclusivity 

Seventy two Synod participants gave three-minute interventions today.  Rosica summarized them and below are some of the most promising from his list.

  • Exclusionary language is to be avoided. The Church should not pity gay persons, but recognize them for who they are: our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, colleagues, friends, etc.
  • The domination of men over women must be eliminated.  For many women and children, home can be a dangerous place, but our Churches can also be dangerous places.
  • We need to welcome the huge numbers of unbaptized and ask, “Are we the masters or the servants of the Eucharistic table?”  We need a Eucharist that “is not a prize for the perfect, but nourishment for the weak.”   
  • The Instrumentum Laboris is too focused on the brokenness and not the joys of the family.  We need a new anthropology where human nature is seen as good and beautiful and not fallen and broken.
  • The family should teach the Church.  
  • On issues like divorce and remarriage, polygamy, and other cultural challenges, there is no universal solution.  Instead there should be discussions and solutions at the regional and continental level. 
  • The Church should use form three of the general absolution as a clear signal for Catholics to “come home.” 

The Synod discussions are not closed

Both Archbishop Celli and Archbishop Durocher stressed the fact that the synod was wide open to input.  Durocher shared his view of the natural tensions between bishops.

       One of the things that strikes me as I listen to the bishops, is their 

awareness of the growing gulf between the culture of marriage 

and the teaching of Jesus.  Some fear we are losing our way so they 

react by emphasizing Church teaching. Others fear we will lose 

touch with people who live in the culture and that we will no longer 

have an impact in the culture. The teaching of Jesus is a gift for the 

world.  So how on the one hand do you hold onto the truth but also 

dialogue with the world to provoke interaction?   

That is why this [synod process] is an important exercise.  We need 

to bring together those who fear losing the teaching and those who 

want to find a way to enter into dialogue with this world.  

The Big Finale:  Women

During a 90 minute press briefing no one on the seven person panel mentioned the proposal that Archbishop Durocher made on the synod floor regarding women deacons and expanding women’s roles, not even Archbishop Durocher himself. Omitting such an important story in a daily press briefing is difficult to understand. 

But thank goodness, Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service broke the story.  Here is the straight scoop.

Speaking to participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family Oct. 6, Archbishop Durocher said he dedicated his three-minute intervention to the role of women in the church — one of the many themes highlighted in the synod’s working document.

… he said the synod should reflect on the possibility of allowing for female 

deacons as it seeks ways to open up more opportunities for women in church life.

Where possible, qualified women should be given higher positions 

and decision-making authority within church structures and new 

opportunities in ministry.

Discussing a number of proposals he offered the synod fathers 

to think about, he said, “I think we should really start looking seriously 

at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate 

in the church’s tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry.”

He reminded the synod fathers that in the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” in 1981, St. John Paul II basically told the church that “we 

have to make a concerted and clear effort to make sure that there is no 

more degradation of women in our world, particularly in marriage. And I 

said, ‘ Well, here we are 30 years later and we’re still facing these kinds of numbers.'”

He said he recommended one thing they could do to address this problem was, “as a synod, clearly state that you cannot justify the domination of men over women — certainly not violence — through biblical interpretation,” particularly incorrect interpretations of St. Paul’s call for women to be submissive to their husbands.

Read the whole article by Glatz.  She also also interviewed the Archbishop later in the day.    

This is a stunning event and a stunning proposal.  FutureChurch, always working to expand the roles and ministry of women, is launching a petition to support Archbishop Durocher’s proposal during the synod and to make as many people aware of it as possible.  

To read and sign the petition go to: http://action.groundswell-mvmt.org/petitions/ask-the-synod-on-the-family-to-consider-greater-roles-for-women-in-the-church

Read FutureChurch’s press release.

Synod Watch: Shields, Bridges and Some Pretty Good Questions

Shields, Bridges and Some Pretty Good Questions
October 5, 2015
Report from Rome
by Deb Rose-Milavec
Shields and Bridges
Not unexpectedly, a bridge-builder and a wielder of shields stood next to each other as the synod kicked off today.
Pope Francis launched the day building bridges and confidence among synod participants for undertaking the messy process of dialogue and discernment that lies ahead.
     “In the Synod, the Spirit speaks by means of every person’s tongue,
      who lets himself be guided by the God who always surprises, the
      God who reveals himself to little ones, who hides from the knowing
      and intelligent; the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man
      and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for
      the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and
      our calculations.”
Urging a wholesome re-examination of pastoral practices, he encouraged the participants to be, “a Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.”
This genuine invitation to exploration and discernment of all things new was dampened shortly thereafter by the Relator General, Cardinal Peter Erdo as he wielded a firm defense of all things traditional in his 7300 word report. Making a strong case for safeguarding current teaching, his delivery sounded more like the close of the discussion rather than an opening — as if all the outcomes had been pre-determined.

During the press briefing later in the day with Cardinal Erdo, Archbishop Bruno Forte and Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Erdowas challenged several times regarding the finality he seemed to imply on the divorce and remarriage question.  One journalist noted that section three of his report did not appear to be a summary of the Instrumentum Laboris as Erdo stated, but, “a stance, a clear stance.”  Another asked if Erdo believed the Kasper proposal had lost all support. Erdo seemed to imply it was DOA at this point since there had already been much research on the Kasper model and many conferences on the topic since the 2014 Extraordinary Synod.

Listening to Cardinal Erdo, it would seem the deal is done and everyone should go home.
Of course, we still have Pope Francis.
This synod puts the prelates, especially those clinging to dogma, in a bind.  All three Cardinals repeated the mantra, “doctrine cannot change,” a kind of lullaby that seems to calm their nerves while admitting they are here to make some sort of change.
Some pretty good questions

The whole premise of a synod with male celibate clerics making decisions about families was raised twice today, once in the synod press briefing and once at an evening gathering of German prelates and press.

At the synod briefing, an Irish journalist cited Mary McAleese’s recent observation, “…If I wanted expertise on the family, I honestly cannot say that the first thing that would come into my mind would be to call together 300 celibate males who, as far we know, have never raised a child….”   He asked the for a response.
Clearly, they had some difficulty doing so.  One could almost hear the gulping in the air as Cardinal Vingt-Trois offered the rather weak defense, “We are all members of a family.  We have been born of a family.  We have lived in the social fabric of a family.  We do not live in a family life that is true, but that does not mean we don’t know what it means to be in a family.  I do not think it makes what we have to say irrelevant. Neither our limits or weaknesses make us refrain from the task.”

Archbishop Forte followed saying, “We are pastors. We all have a previous experience of service for the church.  We are close to the people through confession, daily life. These experiences are a proximity of people living in difficult situations.”
It was a kind of “the king has no clothes” moment, and one had to feel a bit sorry for the fellows. Nothing in their repertoire could help them credibly defend the indefensible process that we know as the synod on the family.
But later, the German prelates came clean on this question thanks to Gudrun Sailer from Radio Vatican.  She asked if the panel thought the synod process should be modernized since only 2/3rds voted (male celibates) and 1/3, which includes laity and women did not vote.
Both Cardinal Marx and Bishop Franz-Josef Hermann Bode suggested the

process could and should be changed and that women should have greater decision making roles at the synod and in the Church.

Abbot Jeremias Schroder OSB, Archabbot President of the Benedictine Congregation of Sant’Ottilia, who was also on the panel, talked about the obvious lack of balance created when women are not included in the voting. He observed that three women religious, Sr.Sr. Maureen Kelleher, Sr. Carmen Sammut, SMNDA and Sister Berta María Porras Fallas had been invited as auditors, but had no vote when male superior generals like himself and even a religious brother, Hervé Janson, PFJ, Prior General of the Little Brothers of Jesus, would have a vote.  At one point the Superior Generals discussed whether they should give over a number of voting seats to the women religious as a sign of solidarity.  They ultimately decided against it, but what a witness that would have been!
More on this story and others tomorrow.

Synod Watch: A Modified Synod Process, “Dangerous” Experiments and a Francis Drafting Team

October 4, 2015

Recently, Deacon Nick Donnelly, writing for the National Catholic Register, released “A Survivor’s Guide to the Synod.” Citing his iconic hero, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Donnelly fuses the “dangerous” pattern of bishops engaging in dialogue to the rise of clinical depression in Catholics who feel threatened by such dialogue.

“I am hearing directly and reading about Catholics becoming ill, disillusioned or driven to desperate measures by the chaos caused by the two synods. Friends tell me that the constant news of cardinals questioning, even brazenly contradicting, doctrines of the faith has resulted in relapses into clinical depression.”

I could only imagine Donnelly’s readers furiously flipping through his guide as Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa, a mid-level official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared his love for another man and his hope that synod officials and the Church would find a way to put aside long-held, toxic notions of homosexuality.

As expected, Charamsa has been relieved of his duties, but the unshakable fortress that once surrounded the Church’s view of sexuality and marriage is crumbling and, as Donnelly and Cardinal Burke suspect, Pope Francis is at the heart of it — making a mess.

The next three weeks will continue to reveal the major fault lines between bishops on divorce and remarriage, same sex relationships and contraception, but it will also reveal the aspirations of Pope Francis and his strategy for making the Church more pastoral, more humble, more accepting — a field hospital for all – including those in the hierarchy who may not recognize their own need for such a Church.

A Modified Synod Process, “Dangerous” Experiments and a Francis Drafting Team

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, recently laid out the new format for the synod process. Instead of days, even weeks of large group presentations and discussions, the synod will be structured thematically with small language groups (Circuli Minores) meeting each week to delve deep into that week’s topics.

According to C. Baldisseri, Synod “Fathers requested the enhancement of the work in the Circuli Minores, where there is more active participation in the discussion, more direct and immediate connection between the Fathers in their own language, and in which the auditors and fraternal delegates can intervene.”

A move in the right direction, this “dangerous” experiment will give auditors and experts (with 30 women) more opportunity to shape the final synod document. Since their interventions and observations will be a matter of public record, it will be useful to see what weight they carry as the final document is developed.

The language groups will be expanded from last year to include German speakers, as well as English, French, Spanish and Italian. The fact that the Germans have been on record with some progressive ideas for reforming pastoral practices makes this an interesting development.

Finally, the makeup of the drafting committee is remarkable and includes a majority of clerics friendly to Francis’s reforms.

While Cardinal Peter Erdo, the Synod’s Relator General, recently declared that nothing will change in terms of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan signed an open appeal asking Pope Francis to avoid watering down Church teaching on sexuality, many others on the drafting committee have demonstrated pastoral, even progressive, leadership.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisserri was appointed by Pope Francis to structure a more robust Synod of Bishops and to shape the new processes intended to facilitate greater dialogue.

Archbishop Bruno Forte’s pastoral leanings were called into question when he was famously accused by Cardinal Burke of singularly misconstruing the discussions of the bishops in the surprisingly open mid-term report. Despite conservatives calling foul, he has retained his role on the drafting committee.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias is a moderate who has spoken out against discrimination against LGBT people, called out priests who condemn homosexuals, and called for a Church that recognizes and value and dignity of gay people.

While Cardinal John Dew’s pastoral voice seemed to be drowned out by Cardinal Burke in their English language group last year, he has long been on record for his pastoral views towards Catholics who have been excluded and continues to seek a Church that invites all Catholics to the table.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl is a fan of Pope Francis and certainly represents a moderate U.S. voice.

Archbishop Victor Manual Fernández is well known as one of Pope Francis’ most trusted theological advisors who helped write Evangelii Gaudium.

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, SJ has been compared to his progressive predecessor, Fr. Pedro Arrupe.

Bishop Marcello Semeraro was appointed secretary to the G-9, announced the creation of two new congregations at the last Consistory, and according to conservative Catholic bloggers, opposes the Society of St. Pius X and has used a controversial, “Machiavellian” means of discouraging Catholics from attending services saying they incur excommunication.

Since this committee has been charged to guard against minority takeovers, it will be useful to see how they weave together the chaotic and conflicting opinions that are sure to emerge over the course of these three weeks.   

What to Expect Tomorrow
As the first session opens tomorrow:

  1. The President Delegate will greet Pope Francis
  2. Pope Francis will give an opening greeting
  3. The Secretary General and Relator will give their reports
  4. The Relator will set out the three themes for the three weeks
  5. A married couple will give their testimony
  6. Bishops will make interventions
  7. Small group sessions will ensueAltogether, over 315 people will attend the 2015 Synod in some capacity. Thirty women will participate as auditors or experts, but will not vote, a strange and deeply troubling aspect of this synod process.  In all, 270 Synod participants coming from five continents will vote on a final document.  Europe will still dominate with 54 from Africa, 64 from America, 36 from Asia, 107 from Europe and 9 from Oceania.

    As I witness the synod proceedings here is Rome, I am ever aware of the strange reality I am watching – a synod on the family that is largely determined by male celibate clerics. For the first time, a book of essays by Catholic women called “Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table” will be distributed to the synod participants thanks to the skill and work of Tina Beattie and a whole bunch of other women.  And the 30 women who will be part of the small language groups throughout have a greater chance than ever of making an impact with the new processes put in place this year. Still, I am ever mindful of how broken this model of a Church is.  In an institution where women are not included in real decision making roles, the Church is still wheezing, “breathing with only one lung” as it launches the final phase of this synod on the family.