Our Catholic Church: What Do We Tell Our Daughters? A Tale of Warning and Hope

Natalia Imperatori-LeeOn April 15, 2016, Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Ph.D., head of Catholic Studies at Manhattan College in New York City will discuss, “Our Catholic Church: What Do We Tell Our Daughters?”  The event will be held at Rutgers Church in New York City. The event is filled to capacity and registration is now closed but the video will be available for viewing on the FutureChurch website.  

A missing generation 

In terms of engagement in the Catholic Church, there is a significant difference between Hispanic millennial women and non-Hispanic millennial women.  In this age bracket, Hispanic women are still quite active in parish life, attend Mass and are more likely to agree with the Church on hot button issues.

But the same is not true for non-Hispanic millennial women.  In 2012, Patricia Wittberg, S.C., Professor of Sociology at Purdue and Indiana University found that young women are leaving the Church in record numbers, a shift that began in the mid-1990s. While older Catholic women in the United States were more engaged in the Catholic Church than men of their age, the Catholic women of Generation X (born between 1962 and 1980) barely equaled their male counterparts in regular Mass attendance.  They were also significantly more likely than the men to disagree with official Church teaching on women’s ordination, homosexuality, premarital sex and on whether one had to go to Mass to be considered a good Catholic.

That trend has deepened.

Data obtained from 2002 through 2008 from the General Social Survey indicated that millennial Catholic women (born between 1981 and 1995) are even more disaffected than Gen X women.  In fact, this is the first time a generation of Catholic women are more likely than their counterparts to say they never attend Mass. Further, they expressed a general lack of confidence in the Church.

Wittberg notes, this is not the case for Protestant women.

So, why are non-Hispanic millennial  Catholic women more disaffected than previous generations?

The answer is complex but below are some of the reasons as voiced by Millennials themselves.

1. Millennial women, like their male counterparts, are likely to disagree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, the ordination of women to the priesthood and reproductive rights. They say they are appalled at the treatment of LGBT Catholics and women in the Church.  In one study, a 23-year old woman left because, “I felt deceived and undervalued by the church.”

While some finger-wagging bishops, priests and other Catholics largely root this dissent in secularism and individualism, many Millennials find the foundation for their disagreement within the very teachings of the Catholic Church; what they understand to have been the example of Jesus, what they intuit about the love God, and what they learned from Catholic Social Teaching.

The millennial view is also reflected in whom they trust.  Pope Francis is popular among young Catholics millennials for his open-armed spirituality and his humble desire to be in a meaningful loving relationship with people everywhere.  One study showed that only two percent of younger Catholics having a negative view of him while eighty percent have a negative view of bishops.  This may help explain why some studies show that even those who admire Pope Francis cannot see themselves returning to the Church.

2. Many believe the Church does not attract younger women because it limits the ways their gifts and talents can be engaged.  Leadership opportunities in the secular world are abundant. Women head national governments, lead military branches, run multi-national organizations, and work as senior managers.  They lead universities, hospitals and launch businesses. Limiting the opportunities for women to use their gifts for ministry and governance within the Church reduces its attractiveness.

Unlike the generations before them, most non-Hispanic millennial women are not walking through the doors of the Church in the hopes of finding greater meaning in their lives.  They are just walking by.  Carolyn Woo warned of the consequences of not engaging women more effectively at the recent Voices of Faith event held in the Vatican on March 8, 2016.

Women are knocking at the door and sometimes that is wearying for the people on the other side of the door…too much knocking.  But I have the fear that the generation of women who follow us will stop knocking. There will come a day when there is the silence of people not knocking.

As a whole host of younger women retreat from the Catholic Church, we need more than bandaids, or as Carolyn Woo stated, we need to go from “the exceptional to the habitual” when it comes to engaging them at every level of Church governance.  We need a comprehensive strategy for reform, inclusive practices and mentorships that will build trust and redeem the arrogance that drove a generation away.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee will seed that conversation and she will lead us to think about how we can move from words to action.

Our foremothers in faith taught us that God works in us.  If we are to have the blessings of the next generation of women in our parish communities, we must be faithful in our call to listen deeply, embrace all and to humbly invite those who are walking by to join us again so that together, we may incarnate the richest and most God-like aspects of our tradition for future generations.






Voices of Faith Multi-Generational Panel Discussion – March 8, 2016



Shrinking the Catholic Brand: Are We Witnessing the Woolworth Model of Management? by Deborah Rose-Milavec

numberofpraisheswopriestsMedia outlets are reporting new rounds of parish mergers and closures.  If you are scratching your head at this phenomenon, you are not alone.  You may even ask, “How is this prelate-led strategy beneficial for the Body of Christ, or more importantly, how does it catalyze the community in making the Gospel mission a reality throughout our world?”

Our faith tells us that we are to be the People of God, the Body of Christ — the eyes, ears, heart and hands of God here on earth, commissioned to bring the Good News especially to those who are marginalized in our societies.  Yet, by all measures, those in leadership seem to be downsizing — shrinking the number the Eucharistic communities where we feed on God’s word and learn how to love God and neighbor.  Does this strategy help us accomplish our mission?

Pope Francis knows that the Church benefits mightily from solid managerial practices.  He has done some heavy lifting in terms of Vatican finances and restructuring curial offices.   But what about Church at the local level?  When it comes to restructuring parish communities, is it fair to ask, “Are bishops suffering from the Woolworth management syndrome?” Woolworth stores, once a leading model in the retail five and dime business, went bust in the 1990s because they couldn’t adapt to a changing environment.  The Guardian wrote that the company “had outlived its usefulness.”

The Catholic Church is not a five and dime store.  Indeed, we need fewer places for consumers to consume.  But, whatever value Woolworth had, its inability to adapt to new models of commerce — the signs of the times — led to its demise.  Wouldn’t it be a sad story if the Catholic Church went the Woolworth way?

We know the CARA statistics — the hundred thousand mile view. People are moving to the West and South and along with it we see a Catholic migration.  The statistics make parish mergers and closings in the North and East seem logical.  Maybe it is true that our penchant to replicate European building structures presents a formidable challenge when there are demographic shifts, but at the heart of our dilemma is an attachment to one way of providing the Eucharist and sacramental life —  through the male celibate clergy.   Indeed, Catholic bishops have not been able to adapt to a changing environment in a way that revitalizes the Church and they have been loath to address the looming priest shortage in a way that allows for innovation and change at the heart of our ministerial (operating) system.  We need to ask, “How will this end?  Are we going the Woolworth way?”

Over the past decade over 1,350 parishes have closed.  In the Archdiocese of New York, although he has not had his way entirely thanks to the work of tenacious Catholics, Cardinal Dolan has been working to merge and close over 149 parishes.  The Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed or merged 46 parishes.  The Archdiocese of Chicago will face a second round of mergers and closures involving 80 to 100 parishes.  The Diocese of Sioux City will close 41 parishes by 2017. The Diocese of Cleveland will face another round of mergers and closures due to the shrinking number of priests. The list and the problem goes on.

Archbishop Blaise Cupich, a Francis appointee, will work as thoughtfully and pastorally as any bishop can, but if we cling to the idea that we need one priest for each parish in a Catholic environment where the priest shortage is not a minor blip, but an ongoing reality, how does one more merger or closure, no matter how pastorally presented, solve anything?

The fall out from merging and closings parishes is huge.

1.  We lose Catholics.  Parish mergers and closings drive down the numbers of practicing Catholics. One study shows that up to 40% of Catholics never return when they are turned out of their parish home.

2.  We lose valuable outreach to disenfranchised communities.  We shrink our ability to carry out the Gospel mission.

3.  We strain and sometimes collapse already fragile communities.  When a parish closes, gas stations close.  Stores close. People who need more services get fewer.  Blight roots itself more profoundly and people lose hope.

Whether by design or default, the genius that is the Body of Christ — the organism that powers God’s Gospel-oriented transformation on earth — is being diminished, one parish community at a time.

While we are inundated with loads of statistical data meant to allay fears and foster acceptance of the current strategy, we have a responsibility to look hard at the methods being employed by our bishops and call for greater courage and clarity in facing the root causes and the unsustainable attachment to models of ministry that no longer serve us in this age.  We have seen the effects of round one in the merger/closure strategy.  Will round two, three, four or five make us stronger or just bring us closer to some eventual end – diminishing our numbers and ultimately impeding our collective ability to carry out the Gospel? Will someone write two hundred years from now that the Catholic Church “outlived its usefulness”?

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis urged Catholics to remember, “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach (28).”  In 2007, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he urged priests to “rent a garage” so people could experience Eucharistic community.

Some bishops have been taking his words to heart and are working pastorally and creatively to keep their parishes open.  Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., from the Diocese of Scranton appointed Mary Ann Cody, I.H.M. to serve as parish life coordinator and to shepherd the community of Our Lady of the Eucharist in the absence of a resident priest.  In Indiana, Archbishop Joseph Tobin reversed a decision to merge 4 rural parishes into one mega-church.

More than ever we need courageous conversations.  We need to share emerging models for ministry, like those in Austria and Switzerland.  We need men who are married, women and an empowered laity to step up alongside our priests to nurture the life that is our parish community.  We need Eucharistic communities more than ever – places to nourish one another and to grow in holiness.  We need to be transformed – not for some individualistic end, but for our work as the People of God in carrying out God’s dream.

Recently, Archbishop Cupich wrote, “We should not be afraid to face these realities, but rather see this moment as a graced opportunity to chart new ways to live out our mission more fully.” Let’s take Archbishop Cupich’s words to heart and seek new models born of God’s spirit today.


Doctor’s Orders: Pope Francis’ Treatment Plan for the Curia

thedoctorwillseeyounowLast year, Pope Francis made headlines by using the opportunity of the traditional papal Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia to list off 15 “curial diseases.” At today’s speech to the Curia, the doctor was in once again. Suffering from a cold himself, Francis briefly returned to those “diseases” but went further and laid out a course of “curial antibiotics,” calling for a “returning to the essentials” and reiterating

“reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve.”

Like so many treatment programs out there, Pope Francis laid his out using a mnemonic device. Noting that the Year of Mercy had just begun and saying “Christmas is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy,” Pope Francis developed an acrostic list — based on the letters of the Latin word for mercy misericordia — of 24 “needed virtues” to heal the Curia:

           M – Missionary and pastoral spirit

            I – Idoneity (suitability) and sagacity

            S – Spirituality and humanity

            E – Example and fidelity

            R – Reasonableness and gentleness

            I – Innocuousness and determination

            C – Charity and truth

            O – Openness and maturity

            R – Respectfulness and humility

            D – Diligence and attentiveness

            I – Intrepidness and alertness

            A – Accountability and sobriety

As mnemonic devices go it might not be particularly catchy or easy to remember, but this catalogue of virtues is rightly seen as the complementary and necessary follow-up to last year’s catalogue of diseases.

The “Pope Francis Mercy Prayer for the Curia” in the style of his namesake almost writes itself:

“Lord make me an instrument of your mercy.

Where there is mental and spiritual hardening,

give me a missionary and pastoral spirit.

Where there is indifference toward others, spirituality and humanity.

Where there is chatter, grumbling and gossip; charity and truth.

Where there is rivalry and vainglory, respectfulness and humility.

Where there are closed circles, openness and maturity.

Where there is existential schizophrenia, example and fidelity.

Where there is poor coordination, innocuousness and determination.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek

to be excessively industrious as to be diligent and attentive,

to be indispensible as to be suitable and sage,

to be functional as to be intrepid and alert,

to be funereal of face as to be reasonable and gentle,

to be deified or to accumulate and profit as to be accountable and sober.

For it is in choosing mercy that we put on the heart of Christ,

It is in returning to essentials that we overcome difficulty and failure

and in reforming that we are born to new life.”

Pope Francis is well aware that last year’s speech (like any diagnosis in and of itself) did little to relieve the symptoms of disease within the Curia, which he says “became evident in the past year, causing no small pain to the entire body and harming many souls, even by scandal.” Pope Francis is also aware that bishops and cardinals all over the world are having trouble appropriating the joyful and merciful style of leadership he embodies and calls for. And he’s not letting them off the hook.

Many will note that this year’s speech sounded a little softer and Pope Doctor Francis seemed to have a different bedside manner, but by outlining a course of treatment, Francis can now hold them accountable for not following “doctor’s orders.”

Of course, this is probably the most minimally invasive treatment for the patient. But by ending his speech with a prayer commonly attributed to Blessed Oscar Romero but first pronounced by Cardinal John Dearden, Pope Francis seems to want it that way: “It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way. It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter and to do the rest.”

Francis has shown on several occasions — perhaps most notably at the Synod on the Family — that while he would rather see conversion and renewal in the institutional Church come from within and by the grace of God rather than through the exercise of his papal authority, he is willing to do what it takes to fight for the life of the Church. And it will be interesting to see what the doctor will do should the patient show no significant signs of improvement at the follow-up exam.













Ruling in Massachusetts brings Church workers one step closer to justice, highlights ongoing questions about teacher contracts



Late last week Judge Douglas H. Wilkins of Norfolk Superior Court ruled Thursday that Fontbonne Academy — an all-girls Catholic high school in Milton, MA — unlawfully discriminated against Matthew Barrett when they rescinded their offer to employ him as the school’s food services director after he listed his husband as his emergency contact. The school will be on the hook to pay damages to Barrett for lost wages and compensatory damages for discrimination, though a hearing on that has not yet been scheduled. If past judgments are any measure, though, it could be a healthy sum of money.

The judge’s decision, a major step toward protecting Church workers, is based on two important facts:

  1. that he suffered discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender
  2. that religious exemption did not apply because the school does not limit “membership, enrollment, or participation” to Catholics and only required that members of the administration and theology faculty be Catholic

The decision went further, asserting that “As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message. It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister, or spokesman for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage.”

Fontbonne has not indicated whether or not it plans to appeal the ruling.

As a ruling at the state level, the decision sets legal precedent in Massachusetts, but may not be immediately applicable to similar cases in other states. Nevertheless, the decision may have broad implications for the pursuit of justice for all Church workers.

It is interesting to note that Barrett’s attorney claimed (and the judge agreed) that Barrett had been discriminated against on the basis of BOTH sexual orientation and gender. The decision reads, in part, “It is clear that, because he is a male, he suffered gender discrimination when he was denied employment for marrying a person whom a female could have married without suffering the same consequences.” While same-sex marriage is now the “law of the land,” sexual orientation is not a protected status in every state. This decision may open the door for Church employees in those states, who have been fired for being in a same sex marriage, to fight back on the basis of gender discrimination.

But this decision goes beyond the issue of same sex marriage and touches on important issues like what exactly constitutes a minister in the Church.

In a 2012 decision, the US Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevented the government from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to decide who was or wasn’t a minister within their tradition. The decision emboldened bishops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland, San Francisco, and Hawaii to write the language of “minister” or “ministry” into teacher contracts. That move was widely understood to be an attempt by those bishops to exempt themselves from discrimination and labor laws and sparking a heated debate about what functions and responsibilities actually constitute a minister within Catholic Church. While the Supreme Court decision was unanimous, there his hardly unanimous agreement in the Church about who is and isn’t a minister.

The decision in Massachusetts could reignite that debate.

In this case, the judge clearly found nothing within the food services director job description or duties that would lead him – or any reasonable person for that matter – to believe that Fontbonne’s leadership understood Barrett to be a minister.

Most Catholics agree, not all Church employees fall into the category of minister. That includes food service, custodial, and administrative support personnel, and some teachers, including those who aren’t teaching religion and those who are not Catholic. Moreover, many are convinced that forcing these employees to sign teacher-minister contracts is an unfair attempt by Church and school officials to protect themselves against discrimination laws and wrongful termination lawsuits that have put them on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years.

Thursday’s decision is a ray of hope for all Church workers, giving them more tools to fight back against wrongful terminations and once again raising important, unresolved questions about the fairness of teacher-minister contracts.













The bishops bend, the Pope proclaims the Good News and “Why you and not them?”

October 24, 2015

by Deb Rose-Milavec

(Note: This was written late last night, but before I could send it, my WiFi in Rome gave out, so here it is now that I’ve landed at JFK)

I am getting ready to board the plane for Cleveland again, glad to be heading home (my arms are aching for my grandbabies) — knowing that although it wasn’t enough, the bishops did bend in the final relatio.

Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for Pope Francis’s strong final message signalling who “better watch out” and also the ways he will continue to bring reform into reality.  As I read his message in the Holy See press hall, tears streamed down my cheeks. I tend to weep when I hear the Good News.  Blame it on my Grandma who raised a whole brood of children (9), my father and uncles included, who could cry openly at the sound of joy.

The bishops bend
and the Germans helped 

 A very high-ranking person in your Church said to me once, “My church develops in this way.  First, something is prohibited.  Then it becomes allowed but only as an exception.  Then the bishops see that this works very well and then it becomes admitted.  And then it becomes compulsory.

~Ulla Gudmondson, Former Swedish Amabassador to the Holy See at Voices of Faith 2015 panel discussion


They didn’t get the whole shebang, but the German contingent accomplished a lot in the final relatio in terms of sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.  And they did it with Cardinal Mueller in tow.  I still can’t get over it.

Good for them.  Good for the Church.

In an October 14th statement, Cardinal Marx made their intentions crystal clear, “we should seriously consider the possibility – based on each individual case and not in a generalizing way – to admit civilly divorced and remarried believers to the sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion.”

There were doubts they could accomplish it but some spotted it coming.

Paragraphs 84, 85 and 86, by far the most controversial, reflect the extent of their success.

Grant Gallico at Commonweal summarizes it best.

In conversation with a priest, according to the synod’s final summary text, a person can become “conscious of [his or her] situation before God”- through the “internal forum.” This process, according to the text, may help a person discern what “prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the church,” and to figure out what can be done to “make it [the participation] grow.” (In 1991, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ruled out the internal forum as a pathway for the divorced and civilly remarried to return to Communion.)

The text does not specify whether this could result in a return to the Communion line. But, importantly, neither does it foreclose the possibility-something many synod fathers wanted to rule out. For weeks, those synod fathers had been arguing for a final relatio that closed the door on Communion for the divorced and remarried. They didn’t win the day. The synod-which is a consultative body, not a deliberative one-could have sent Pope Francis a document that simply reaffirmed the current practice of barring the civilly remarried from the Eucharist. It didn’t. That’s important.

On Humanae Vitae, Gaudium et Spes is cited in paragraph 63.

The choice of responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience, which is “the most secret core and his sanctuary, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS, 16).

It also recounts that many considerations go into family planning.

It talks about spouses forming “a right judgment” saying the correct way to plan a family is through “consensual dialogue between the spouses.”
It rejects state interference and cheers natural family planning as the very best way, but it is clear that there is room for Catholics to make other choices based on conscience.LGBT Catholics didn’t get much in this document, accept maybe a willingness to do a little less harm by just not talking.  Still, there is some pretty profound language about accompaniment.

As I reported yesterday, Bishop Bonny suggested that the synod wasn’t ready to talk much about homosexuality.  The final relatio reflects that.

One prelate suggested this topic deserved a separate synod. Given the Church’s out dated framework for sexuality, that is probably a useful idea.

Paragraphs 76 and 77 focus on the topic. The main points follow:

1. The Church is to model the attitude of Jesus and reaffirms the dignity of every person regardless of their sexual orientation.

2. The church rejects marriage equality and any international pressure to conform the laws of other countries to the standard of marriage equality.

But it also
3.  Calls the Church to stay close and listen in silence at times when it comes to the needs of families.
4.  Encourages all members, ordained and lay, to learn “the art of accompaniment so that “all may learn to take off his sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex. 3,5).
That is powerful stuff.
Still, there are plenty of gaping holes.
While most African prelates got their way in terms of warding off international pressure for marriage equality, they should have taken a collective stand against criminalizing of homosexuals. That would have been just. That would have been courageous. That would have been a natural outcome of the CDF paragraph they cited.
Cardinal Palmer-Buckle of Ghana stated that Africa needs to grow when it comes to its understanding and acceptance of LGBT people. He asked for patience. Let’s just hope those who are being victimized and thrown in prison understand their bishops’ need for a little more time.
Pope Francis proclaims Good News and gets us ready for stage three of his reform agenda
My U.K. friend, Miriam, would roll her eyes and call me a “bloody mess” for being so soft on Francis, but I am a sucker for anyone who stands in the way of the powerful in order to protect, defend and raise up the marginalized. Reign in prelates who like building walls around the altar and you’ve got my loyalty.

While qualifying the end goals of the synod saying it was not intended to settle all the issues, in his final remarks he made it clear where he stands in relation to those who draw hard lines.

About the synod work he said

1. It is about listening.

2. It is about getting dirty — having lively and frank discussions.

3. It is about trying to interpret new realities.

4. It is about laying bare closed hearts which frequently hide behind the Church’s teachings…who sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, the difficult cases and wounded families.

5. It is about rising above conspiracy theories or wearing blinders.

He also directed some specific correctives to his brother bishops.

1. The true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit.

2. The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy.
Pope Francis stakes out space for local decision making.  He says the Church needs to wrestle with cultural differences across regions — even when those norms are in conflict.
He said, “We have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another: what is considered a violation of a right in one society sis an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for other simply confusion.”
Going further he states, “Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.
Finally, he states, “… we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that “all be saved.”
Getting us ready for phase three of his strategy for reform he states, ” In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.”

The Trajectory of Change

I don’t know about you, but I think we are finally getting a few prayers answered.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has been chipping away at stodgy structures, corrupt edifices and teachings that had begun to dry rot.  With the initiation of the 2-year synod, he set in motion a force for new life.

We are at the end of the 2nd phase and he has broken significant new ground. He has reinvigorated the synod, stoked the sleeping giants of reform within his own ranks, and brought the bishops together to loosen some of the knots they’ve been tying around the hearts of the faithful for years.
The future looks hopeful. In the next few months, he will likely release a magisterial document setting out further reforms for the Church and begin to set in motion what he knows the People of God need in the Year of Mercy.
For the first time for many years, the Church is beginning to respond in new, more respectful ways to Catholics — to see them as, not only followers, but also teachers.  The Church will be enriched if it comes to deeply appreciate the faith of their people.  That faith is what will strengthen us for the journey and for the work of the Gospel.

Why you and not them?

I still have all my hair, but there were times during these press briefings that I wanted to pull it out.  I am sure I am too American with my cut-to-the-chase, say-something-real impatience, but today I thought, “If I hear one more prelate say how wonderfully well everyone was getting along at the synod I’ll run from the room screaming.”

Yup.  Its time to go home, lay on the floor and color with the grandkids and catch a few toddlers in my arms.

Still, I sat up straight when Fr. Tom Reese asked a question of Brother Herve Janson, P.F.J. the prior general of the Little Brothers of Jesus (Foucauld).

Reese:  Brother Janson, first of all, congratulations on being selected to be a member on the synod with full voting rights instead of just an auditor, but I’m trying to understand the rationale behind your selection.  You are not a bishop, you are not a priest, you are not a deacon, you are not ordained, you are not a cleric.  So theologically and canonically you are no different from the superior of a women’s religious order, except for your gender.  So how exactly did you get in?  What is the rationale for you being admitted to the synod and women religious not being admitted to the synod?


Of course, this uneasy question was raised ten days ago by Mary Hunt.

Still, Brother Janson responded with refreshing honesty.  His French was simultaneously translated so the choppy English is due to the translation.  James Martin, SJ probably has a better translation in his article.

 This is a huge question. I did not feel at ease when I learned that the
Pope was admitting me.  It showed the distinction between men and
women.  There were only three women religious and they did not have
voting rights.

 I wondered whether to accept or not.


 We try to be their brothers.  Friars try to live with the people.  This is a bishops’
synod.  The question you [Tom Reese] asked, I asked myself and a cardinal.
I said, ‘we are brothers, we are religious people.’ 
 I am not ordained.  Having a voting right is too much — in regard to
our sisters.  I think they should have a voting right.

 Maybe it is also better to ask the superior generals. synod.

Now the truth will set this Church free.

It was actually beautiful to see this fellow sitting on the panel without clerical garb and feeling no compulsion to engage in clerical-speak.

Maybe this is a tiny opening.

This Church needs women religious voting and shaping practice and teaching. This Church needs other women and men who are not ordained voting and shaping our collective guidance.

As a matter of fact, at a German Press Conference I attended on the final night,  Abbot Jeremias Schröder said the ten male religious superiors have decided to write to the Vatican suggesting that female religious also will be included with a right to vote at the synods to come.

Let’s hope they have success.

Doggedly pulling for reform, we need more women and “the Church has to change.”

October 23, 2015
by Deb Rose-Milavec

Change comes painfully and slowly in this Church. Too slowly.  As a mother of five and grandmother of eleven, I have very little patience with the snail’s pace of reform in my Church or for those doctrinal police, the pharisaical crop, who would like nothing better than to keep the people I love at bay in order to keep their world of who-is-in and who-is-out neat and clean.

We have lost a generation of young people, many who are my children and grandchildren, who will not be eating at our Eucharistic table and who will not find the nourishment of the Gospel in one of our local parishes because they are so turned off — not by some entrenched secularism and individualism — but by the hard, sometimes cold hearts of the pastors they meet in a Church that has wanted to be “smaller and purer” for far too long. I raised them to love, to nurture and to have open hearts. And that is what they do. And when they don’t see that love incarnated, modeled in the priest and people they meet in a parish, they stay away.
Tell them that LGBT people are “intrinsically disordered” and they will roll their eyes. They know better. Tell them that a divorced and remarried person can’t receive the sacraments and they won’t give you another look.  Tell them that women can’t be priests or deacons or make important decisions in our church, and they will stay home on Sunday mornings, make a big breakfast, play with the kids and make their own world of love.
We can no longer afford to be the Church we have been.
Personal conscience and private confessions are not enough.  While the don’t ask – don’t tell model of Church may have sufficed for my generation, it just doesn’t cut it with the next.  The next generation is not biting their nails trying to think of how to get to Communion if they are divorced and civilly remarried, or LGBT and married. Somewhere deep down their instinct tells them that the Church doesn’t know God’s heart and doesn’t practice God’s love.
We need to come clean.
This is personal.
Doggedly pulling for reform
That is not what I see. Others agree.
No one, certainly not a few crusty bishops and cardinals, can stop the God who loves her people with such ferocity and such tenderness.
The good news is that Pope Francis is attuned to that God.
The world knows it.
My stay-away-from-Church children and grandchildren know it. Francis touches their hearts and they are hungry for that kind of presence in their lives.
And in the short term, if this synod does not produce the reform we need, we will still get there.  Pope Francis knows that he was called to reform the entire Church and not just the bishops.  And that is what he is doing.
Steve Jobs step aside
Pope Francis is a master when it comes to organizational change – a Herculean task given the crop of bishops and cardinals he inherited after 40 years of retrenchment.  Some who have powerful positions want nothing to do with his idea of mercy.
He knows what he is dealing with and he is doggedly pulling this Church towards reform.
Don’t let his soft voice fool you.
In 2013, he called for a 2-year synod process.  In year one, an amazing mid-term document was produced, vehemently rejected by the ultra-orthodox, but defended as representing what the synod fathers were saying by respected leaders like Cardinal Tagle.
There was a power struggle and the final relatio was a letdown.
So in 2015, Pope Francis changed it up.  Working to destabilize the status quo, the synod process that had been in place, he switched the format.
Moving from large group dynamics where “the few” can have disproportionate influence, he did what every effective facilitator does when she/he wants to minimize the influence of the few know-it-alls in a group; he broke them up into small groups.
That served two purposes.
It contained and reduced the influence of the vocal ultra-orthodox minority who are not afraid of bullying tactics to get their way.
It created a new, more personal dynamic where people really did find their hearts opening as they listened to the stories and struggles of people’s lives.
It made a difference. Hearts were changed.  Faith was deepened. We heard it over and over.
As Archbishop Durocher said in a recent interview with Luke Hansen, SJ, “This synod is my third, and I have never felt such intensity – in the good sense of the word – a real desire to seek out the directions God wants for us.”
So, if this synod of bishops does not ultimately deliver the pastoral reforms Pope Francis wants after three weeks together, he will find a way.
Francis has already successfully engendered a whole new level of collegiality in this synod – a central ingredient for a reformed Church.
But he won’t be bound by the limitations his band of bishops impose given the makeup of the group after years under the reward and punishment system of John Paul II and Benedict.
In the not-so-distant future, he will issue some sort of magisterial document that will overcome the vocal minority.  He can do so with the backing of the majority of his brother bishops — a majority who want what he wants.
And beyond the magisterial document, as with his directive about abortion, his Year of Mercy will be the launching pad for other reforms.
His words say it all.
     I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine 
     experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the  
     Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely 
     the sin committed.
Watch the master crafter.  In the end, Pope Francis will have his way because God is calling – the same God who has been made hungry and homeless too often in the lives and hopes of her people.
This is a time of breakthrough.  Don’t be talked out of it.
They are steeped in the law, but God is far from their hearts
Rosie Scammell of Religion News Service ran a powerful story yesterday about the women who were inside the synod hall and their experiences.
It was not Good News.
The following is from her report.
Speaking on behalf of more than 8 million women who are members of the Catholic Women Organization of Nigeria, its president, Agnes Offiong Erogunaye, said the synod’s working document made little reference to the role of women.
She described women as “a strong force to be reckoned with when it comes to spirituality and economy, growth in the church,” and she urged bishops to support and encourage Catholic women’s organizations in Africa.
Sharron Cole, president of Parents Centres New Zealand, said bishops lacked understanding in a host of areas affecting Catholic people’s lives. She criticized churchmen for their lack of understanding of contraception and said their lack of expertise on sexuality was evident in their response to clerical sexual abuse.
A new approach is needed, Cole said: “The time is now for this synod to propose that the church re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuality, and its understanding of responsible parenthood, in a dialogue of laity and bishops together.”
Offering another perspective was Maria Harries, chair of Catholic Social Services Australia, who quoted an aboriginal leader on the lack of female participation in the church.
“By not having women visible on the altar and in the life of our church, we are concealing our mothers, our sisters and our daughters from view,” she said.
“I ask our church leaders to recognize how many women who feel called to be in service of the Kingdom of God cannot find a place in our church,” she said. “Gifted though some may be, they cannot bring their talents to the tables of decision-making and pastoral planning.”
Although such statements may appear to be a sign that women from around the world are getting their points across to bishops, Kelleher has said her view was not taken seriously in her discussion group.
There are “times that I have felt the condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife,” she told National Catholic Reporter. “Some of it is, ‘Oh, here comes the bleeding heart. Well, she’s a woman; what else would you expect?’ kind of thing,” Kelleher added.
We need more women
This treatment is troubling on so many levels.
First of all, it shows how those who consider themselves the educated elite, lord it over others.  They forget the gift and privilege they have been afforded and instead use what they’ve learned to demean. Nevermind, that their female counterparts are just as educated and accomplished — even more so.  These men are snarky, snotty and full of themselves.  Ughh.
Secondly, there is clericalization – the formula for creating a privileged caste instead of a servant class.  Be formed in a system that tells you over and over that you are ontologically more like Christ than your sisters and see what kind of spoiled human beings are produced.  Yes, the mother in me speaks. But it doesn’t take a complex theological formula to recognize this simple matter of human conditioning and training. Teach a child that they deserve everything under the sun, or that they are better than others, or that, as males, they are better than their sisters, and you will produce little monsters who will have a hard time adjusting to reality.  And they will make other people plenty miserable along the way. Double ugh.
Thirdly, combine elitism and clericalism with sexism – the pervasive, in-the-air-you-breathe kind, and watch how that ugly pollution fills the room making you want to cough up a lung. Triple ugh.
The treatment some women received in the synod hall is not surprising given the players in some of the groups, but we sure cannot accept it.
In order to get better end result at synods, we need more women.
We need them to share their stories, their pastoral insights, their theological expertise and we need them to vote.  We need more women in the halls of decision making.
We need more women from a greater diversity of organizations in the press briefing room asking better questions — working to hold this Church accountable.
Y’all come.
Women often ask different questions. They care about different issues.  The lens they use to make sense of the God’s action is different. They’ve learned to start with experience and to hold it sacred.  That orientation is reflected in their questions, their theological investigations, their practice of canon law and all things ecclesial.
We need more women.
The Church has to change
This evening I attended a press conference with three Belgian prelates; Archbishop Luk Van Looy, Bishop Johan Bonny and Cardinal G. Danneels.
These bishops carry with them unbounded hope for reform in the Church. They want the doors flung wide open.
Archbishop Van Looy was the clearest.
After making an impassioned plea for the suffering families who are fleeing Iraq and Syria, he said,  “We learned in this synod that we are not to judge.  We have tried to understand what people were saying.  I think we were an example of what we say we want in the synod – to be a listening church.”
Then he made the statement that should become the mantra for the Church and certainly this synod.
“The church has to change.”
He said, “I think tenderness is the way – how we want the church to change.  The tenderness that we exercise is what we give in the situations with real people.”

When asked if he thinks the synod will be counted a failure, Bishop Bonny replied that he will be happy as he returns home because he understands what Pope Francis is doing in this moment and in this process.

He said, “It is wise not to go to fast. . .to write things that are not correct.  The pastoral window is open.  The synod is a moment and we are in a process.  If you see what has happened under Pope Francis, you can see many things are going on.  The next step is an encyclical or apostolic exhortation.  If you ask, ‘Why didn’t he decide now?’, that would be the wrong thing.  That would put everyone under too much pressure.  I return, happy to explain to people why we have what we have now.  And I think they will understand.  People did not expect us to resolve everything at once.”
Bonny also admitted that even in a synod where people were told to talk freely, not everything can be said.

Frank DeBarnardo of New Ways Ministry asked him, ”Bishop Bonny, in December 2014, you became perhaps the only Catholic bishop to call for the Church to bless gay and lesbian couples.  Has your experience here at the synod, hearing the repeated call for marriage to be limited to only a man and a woman, discouraged you from that request, and if you haven’t been, then how should we proceed to make that request a reality?”

Bonny replied, “I will take it up at home.  Just to clarify, I didn’t ask for the blessing.  I asked for recognition of the values.”
Going further he said, “It is true that in the synod this question was not discussed.  It was at the end of the Instrumentum Laboris.  In most groups, very little time was left.  But that was not the real problem.  The bishops were not really ready to discuss this issue.  It is true that most bishops spoke more or less the same feeling.”
Bonny worked in French Group “B” where Cardinal Robert Sarah moderated.
He explained that more would have been lost than gained by pushing this issue in his small group.
“The synod was not prepared to discuss the question,” he said.  “You need moral theologians, scientists, and others.  I think the feeling was — there was no atmosphere — better leave the question open for further study.  Something will be said on this issue, but that is a point for the next synod.  I say it in a positive way.  In my group there was no way to bring that forward. It was better to avoid it than push it.  More time is needed.”
Bonny saw his strategy as grounded in his reality.  He was working with people who were completely closed to his interventions and he did not want to lose ground on such an important issue.  For him, this conversation will take much longer than three weeks and he is in it for the long hall.
What happens next
Tomorrow the bishops will be voting on the final document, paragraph by paragraph.  Let’s see what unfolds.

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.

The German miracle, no name calling and a question about how women were treated inside the Synod

Washingon Post photo


October 21, 2015
by Deb Rose-Milavec

Right to left:Archbishop Eamon Martin,Card.  Daniel F. Sturla Berhouet, SDB,Card. Reinhard Marx, P. Federico Lombadi SJ
Catholic Women Speak:  265 books delivered to the synod hall

Kate McElwee of Women’s Ordination Conference confirmed that she has now delivered 265 books to the synod hall.  That means a big majority of synod participants took one and hopefully read what women had to say about the issues.  No doubt, Catholic women and men around the world are indebted to the many women who made this book possible and especially to Tina Beattie who carried it to completion. 

Where we are in the process
The final small group reports are out.  Today, the relators worked to combine those reports showing where there is a consensus among the thirteen small groups.  That report went to the ten-person drafting committee who will finalize the document.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early Cardinal Erdo will present the first draft of the final document to the plenary assembly.  Then the voting members will have one last chance to submit observations in writing.   On October 23, the drafting commission will incorporate the final observations into the document.  On Saturday, October 24, the synod will vote, paragraph by paragraph.  A two-thirds majority is required for approval of the text. Once approved it will be submitted to Pope Francis.
No name-calling
Cardinal Reinhard Marx does not mince words.  But still, he stunned the press today when he called out Cardinal George Pell for speaking so disparagingly about Cardinal Walter Kasper in a recent interview in Le Figaro.  The first paragraph of their small group report alluded to it but, when asked about the meaning, Marx named names.
“We were negatively touched by an interview from Cardinal Pell when he mentioned the “Kasperiana” and the “Ratzingeriana” and, I think something like the last battle between these groups . . . we thought this is not acceptable or useful for the synod.”
He went on to comment that he was glad that maybe not so many had read this interview, but he had talked to Cardinal Kasper who was “very touched by it.”  He said that Cardinal Schoenborn would speak with Cardinal Pell about it and that it was “hard” because “in the synod we are not in a battle.”
The German miracle
What do you get when you put Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Cardinal Schonborn into a room together for three weeks?  If you are thinking — knock down drag out fights, proverbial “black eyes” or explosions — you would be wrong.
What happened, in fact, may be a miracle; a living testament to the kind of synodality that Pope Francis hoped for; and a sign that even those who have been known for their doctrinaire positions can find a way forward with those who seek reform.
Marx couched it is human terms.  “We have discussed a lot and we know each other — Cardinal Mueller, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Koch, and the others, and the couple . . . that is a good fundamental – to speak together, to be open – to say ‘can we find the meaning here.'”
At the end of the third week of small group discussions, the German group came to some astounding and unanimous decisions — emphasis on the unanimous given the makeup of the group.
They included, among many interventions, a way forward for divorced and remarried Catholics, the social construction of gender (nature vs. nurture) and the need to stand strong against discrimination against women.  Marx summed up.
1.  The Holy Father has asked to speak about the family . . .the family is at the center.  Thanks to the Catholic Church that has made marriage and family so important.  How can we help families with the dream they have.  The most intimate and private moments and actions are of the most important to public interest. Otherwise society will not have a future.
2.  The discussion about gender, we are concerned about it.  We tried to make a good difference about what is meant by the social construction of gender and the clear difference between a man and woman.  We are against discrimination of women and we must discuss this intensely.  All ideologies which are trying to make gender a question of choice by anybody — that will not be accepted by the church. But also there must be no discrimination against woman.
3.  In the question of sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, everyone is looking at this issue.  It is not the only issue, but it is clear all are interested.  In this issue we show how we answer the question, “Will you stay with us when we fail?” They want to hear from us and they want to know what will happen and how the Church will treat us when we fail.
Marx ended on a beautiful note, made more beautiful by the thought that this was also Mueller’s note, “Yes, the church will be with you when you fail.  Yes, we stay together. You belong to us.”
Because the German contingent wants to find a way forward for divorced and remarried Catholics, and because they were able to come to consensus on a reformed way, they may influence the rest of the synod on Thursday as the voting members make further interventions that will be incorporated into the final paragraphs for the vote on Saturday.
What seemed clear today is the German episcopate has a strong unified voice at this synod that could help open some doors that others are reluctant to try.  The official translation of their small group report is forthcoming.
For a great summary of their interventions for divorce and remarriage, see National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal’s report.
One Canadian woman talks about her experience
In a report by the Catholic Register, Moira McQueen describes her experience at the synod.  She observed that the press reports seemed pretty distant from her experience of a complex and subtle debate around the issues.
“Once you are inside, you have a narrower view in some ways,” McQueen wrote (the interview was by email).   She said the debate seemed rather normal.
“I get the impression, yes, there’s a divide,” she wrote. “But people are just hashing it out in the usual way and it didn’t seem to frighten people. He (Pope Francis) asked for an open discussion.”
McQueen does not think the synod was rigged to get a pre-determined outcomes.
In her own small group, English group “C“, there was a wide spectrum of opinion and the group found itself talking and thinking about far more issues than communion for the divorced and remarried.
McQueen believes the synod is changing hearts and eventually minds writing, “Perhaps our minds might not move on some issues at this point. But, with the exchange of ideas and insights, our hearts will be affected.”
For her, the process has engendered greater space for change.
“I’m finding that in our small group there are good attempts at listening to the different cultural experiences of our members – mainly bishops (including three cardinals), one married couple, two auditors and one expert, 24 in all,” she wrote.
While McQueen does not vote, she feels she does have a voice.
“As an auditor, I have the same length of time as the cardinals and bishops to speak – three minutes,” she reports. “The process in my group (discussion circle) is fairly balanced. We can speak when we want and our contributions are listened to and used in our group reports.”
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher’s intervention on behalf of women, bringing up family violence, plus decision-making and leadership roles for women in the Church, had “quite an impact,” said McQueen.
“His suggestions that married couples might give homilies and that women could be deacons – I think those are good ideas and with some precedent,” she wrote. “Nobody fainted, nor were there audible gasps.”
As a theologian, Moira McQueen tends to lean traditional as a member of the International Theological Commission, so her observations here are remarkable and shows how women “from both sides of the aisle” in Church politics want to see women’s leadership and ministry advance.
A question about how women fared at the Synod
Photo by Luke Hansen, SJ

After Sr. Maureen Kelleher’s remarks about the condescension she and other lay people faced in her small group, I had to ask if that was true in other groups.  So today I did.

Deb’s Question: This question is for Archbishop Martin.
In an interview this week, Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic reporter interviewed U.S. Sacred Heart of Mary Sr. Maureen Kelleher who was in “English group “D”.
She said there is a clear cultural divide between bishops’ and laypersons’ points of view and at times she faced “condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife.”
Archbishop Martin, in your English Group “C” there were four women. Do you think the women in your group experienced the same dynamic? And what are the concrete and specific ways the contributions of the women in your group were integrated into your report?
Archbishop Martin replied that he was truly sorry that Sr. Kelleher had that experience.  He did not feel the same was true of his group.  In fact, he felt that women were treated equally.  He did acknowledge that process-wise, there was a big difference in that women did not get to vote.  Wisely, he suggested that it would be best to hear that from the women themselves on how they viewed their experience.
It seems his impression is confirmed by Moira McQueen (above) who felt she did have a voice and was able to have her say in shaping the small group documents.
As one might expect, group dynamics varied.  And if you look at the groupmembership of Sr. Kelleher’s English Group “D” it seems clear that, given some of the culture warriors with whom she shared space with for three weeks, it is not surprising she faced a fair bit of disdain and condescension for her own viewpoints. On the other hand, English Group “C” with Moira McQueen seemed to have created a more equalizing atmosphere.
We need to hear more from women about what they experienced in the synod hall and what influence they had as we head toward getting a Relatio Finalis.
Every day Vatican News Service records the press briefings.  You can find my question and the answer from Archbishop Martin at https://youtu.be/k8kszZ0km-Q  (29:20).

What did women at the synod say and will it matter?

October 20, 2015


Deb Rose-Milavec

Today, the small group discussions ended just after noon and the relators of the 13 language groups are presenting their reports to the plenary assembly along with each group’s agreed-upon amendments.

According to Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Holy See Press Office, those reports will be published tomorrow.

In the next part of the work the relators (see the names below) will identify common amendments and look for points of consensus. Their final consolidated report will go to the ten-person drafting committee appointed by Pope Francis.  The names of the drafting committee are listed below as well.


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

Drafting Committee for final document

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General
Cardinal Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, relator general;
Archbishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina
Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan, Bishop of Mouila, Gabon
Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Bishop of Albano, Italy

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, head of the global Jesuit order

October 20:
Small group work is complete.
Thirteen relators share small group reports and amendments with synod assembly.
October 21:
Relators finalize report showing where there is a consensus among the 13 small groups.  That report will be given to the drafting committee who will finish the final document.
October 22:
Cardinal Erdo will present the first draft of the final document to the plenary assembly on the morning of Oct. 22. The plenary assembly will discuss this draft text at the afternoon session. The fathers will then have one last chance to submit observations in writing.
October 23:
The drafting commission meets for the last time to incorporate final observations into the document.
October 24:

Cardinal Erdo will present the final document to the synod for a paragraph by paragraph vote.  A two-thirds majority among those voting is required for the approval of the text.  The approved text will be handed to Pope Francis and will be made public shortly thereafter.

What did women at the synod say and will it matter?
If you have a sleuthing instinct, you will be able to trace the influence of the women who participated in the synod by comparing their interventions to the small group reports and then to the final document.

Here are a few women to follow:

Sr. Maureen Kelleher (English group “D”)

I ask our Church leaders to recognise how many women who feel called to be in service of the Kingdom of God but cannot find a place in our Church. Gifted though some may be, they cannot bring their talents to the tables of decision making and pastoral planning. They must go elsewhere to be of service in building the Kingdom of God. In 1974, at the Synod on Evangelisation, one of our sisters, Margaret Mary, was one of two nuns appointed from the Union of Superiors General. Today, forty years later, we are three.

Sr. Carmen Sammut (French group “C”)

When the Instrumentum Laboris speaks of the Church it sometimes refers to the People of God, that is to all of us, and more often refers to the hierarchy. This is not without significance. If the image of Church is the People of God, then we, the laity, would be expected to bring our knowledge to the discernment processes of the Church, in view of decision-making, always in union with the Pope and our Bishops.
This would influence the way dioceses and parishes work. The diocesan budget would include the formation of women, men and youth to be leaders in the Church. On most of the issues raised here in the Synod, such as bio-technology, it would be useful to have teams of clergy and laity (from all walks of life and in their capacity as theologians, biblical scholars, scientists, sociologists, pastoral workers canon lawyers) bring their lived knowledge and scholarship and reflect together in the light of the Gospel. I see this as part of the Mission of the family in the Church.

One area where such interdisciplinary teams made up of couples as well as religious would bring a change is in the formation of ordained ministers.

Another particular area where much discernment is necessary is with respect to responsible parenthood. In our pastoral, health and education ministries we are called to listen to and accompany women who have children and know they do not have the financial and other resources to bring up another child. Natural family planning methods are not always useful for a couple’s growth in mutual love nor are they always possible, especially if the husband is not cooperative or regularly absent. My hope is that the Church engages in this discernment with couples and with scientists, so as to rethink how to put together her very essential teaching of openness to life, the prohibition of abortion and the plight of these couples.
I really dream of a Church where each one is called to give his or her part for the construction of the whole.

Lucetta Scaraffia (Italian group “B”)

The Church needs to listen to women … as only in reciprocal listening does true discernment function.  Women are great experts in the family: leaving abstract theories behind, we can turn in particular to women to understand what must be done, and how we can lay the foundations for a new family open to respect for all its members, no longer based on the exploitation on the capacity for sacrifice of the woman, but instead ensuring emotional nourishment and solidarity for all. Instead, both in the text and in the contributions very little is said about women, about us. As if mothers, daughters, grandmothers, wives – the heart of families – were not a part of the Church, of the Church who encompasses the world, who thinks, who decides. As if it were possible to continue, even in relation to the family, pretending that women do not exist. As if it were possible to continue to forget the new outlook, the previously unheard-of and revolutionary relationship that Jesus had with women”.

Families throughout the world are very diverse, but in all of them the women play the most important and decisive role in guaranteeing that their solidity and duration. And when we speak about families, we should not speak always and only about marriage. There is a growing number of families composed of a single mother and her children. It is almost always women who stay by their children’s side, even when they are ill, disabled or afflicted by violence. These women and mothers have seldom followed courses in theology, and often they are not even married, but they offer an admirable example of Christian behaviour. If you, Synod Fathers, do not pay attention to them, if you do not listen to them, you risk making them feel even more disgraced as their family is so different to the one you focus on. Indeed, you talk too readily of an abstract family, a perfect family that does not exist, a family that has nothing to do with the real families Jesus encountered or spoke about. Such a perfect family would almost seem not to be in need of His mercy or His Word: ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’.

Maria Harries (English group “D”)

“For most of them [marginalised Aboriginal people], the idea of the family as it is represented by our Church teaching is alien. For some, the matrilineal system means that they have many mothers. The child is reared in a kinship group, not by a mother and father. Women play a dynamic role in their kinship world and they expect them to be visible. In the words of one of the aboriginal leaders, ‘By not having women visible on the Altar and in the life of the Church, we are concealing our mothers, our sisters and our daughters from view’. In welcoming the Gospel, they ask not to be recolonised by our Church as they have been by our nation’s forebears. The challenge for our Church is to formally and institutionally incorporate cross-cultural dialogue and adopt systems with indigenous Australians that honour and do not violate their culture”.

All sexual abuse is connected to the abuse of power. … The horrific evidence of abuse of children in families and institutions and our failure to respond adequately to this has left the Church in Australia and of course elsewhere in very deep pain. … In the words of Pope Francis, as we all pray for and ‘receive the grace of shame’, we need local and collective ways of meeting all these victims and their families and each other in our garden of agony and to listen deeply, very deeply. From our failings and the accompanying pain, we have the opportunity to learn collectively and perhaps even doctrinally, and to re-engage with and accompany the thousands of families whom we have lost.

Sharron Cole (English Group “C”)

When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?”, he replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Have we as a Church failed to practise this charity? The experience of many lay people has been of being judged, of being labelled as “intrinsically disordered” and of being rejected by their Christian community. There are those who have walked away never to return and the others who are just waiting, hoping to again be fully in communion with the Church. They say that this failure to love enough is the reason. The Catechism says “The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy”. Charity demands beneficence, friendship and communion. When we as Church are not merciful and in communion with our own, is this not a failure of the virtue of charity?

The exercise of charity and mercy requires deep insight into the reality of a person’s life. That reality is best understood by those who live it. However many lay people believe the Church does not understand the realities of their lives. Lay people are not trusted to make good decisions in conscience and they often feel subjected to exacting rules which take no account of context or of stages of spiritual development.

The Church’s vision on conjugal love and responsible parenthood as expressed in Humanae Vitae has great beauty and depth. However its declaration that “sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive [is] so intrinsically wrong provoked massive dissent from the moment the encyclical was promulgated. Many Catholic married couples have made their own decision in conscience about how to exercise responsible parenthood which may mean the use of artificial contraception. For some, this has meant leaving the church. Others remain but often with a sense of unease.
As an ex board member of Natural Family Planning, I know that this method of contraception permitted by Humanae Vitae is an effective method for motivated couples. However for many couples, the method is simply not practicable -they may hold multiple low-wage jobs, have mental health problems, or struggle for diverse reasons. Every family has difficulties which might lead them for a period of time to use artificial contraception in the interests of responsible parenting. Marriage naturally leads to a desire for children which is a biological imperative and a great grace of the sacrament. In my experience, very few couples suppress this desire with its constraints tending to be the couple’s resources to cope, not selfishness.
The response of the Church to this unsatisfactory situation has been for better catechesis or to ignore the dissent. This “paralysed status quo” cannot continue. The matter must be discussed afresh because lay people will not be content to leave it to clergy alone. Too many in authority responded to clergy sexual abuse in a way which demonstrated that they lacked the expertise in sexuality and psychology to make good decisions, with the result they became complicit in perpetuating enormous harm, harm done to lay people.

It will take not more catechesis but rather listening with deep empathy to restore the credibility of the Church in matters of sexual ethics. The time is now for this synod to propose that the Church re-examine its teaching on marriage and sexuality, and its understanding of responsible parenthood, in a dialogue of laity and bishops together.

Archbishop Durocher (French group “C”)

Of course it will be useful to see if any part of Archbishop Durocher’s intervention makes it into the final document.  Here is the original report of his intervention.

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.,

“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.”

The working document, which is guiding the first three weeks of the synod’s discussions, proposed giving women greater responsibility in the church, particularly through involving them 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.”

He said the World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide experience violence by their partner.

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.

In his presentation the archbishop also noted that Pope Benedict XVI had talked about the question of new ministries for women in the church. “It’s a just question to ask. Shouldn’t we be opening up new venues for ministry of women in the church?” he said.

In addition to the possibility of allowing for women deacons, he said he also proposed that women be hired for “decision-making jobs” that could be opened to women in the Roman Curia, diocesan chanceries and large-scale church initiatives and events.

Another thing, he said, “would be to look at the possibility of allowing married couples — men and women, who have been properly trained and accompanied — to speak during Sunday homilies so that they can testify, give witness to the relationship between God’s word and their own marriage life and their own life as families.”

Will women be heard?

In an interview with Joshua McElwee of National Catholic Reporter, Sr. Maureen Kelleher said she faced “condescension so heavy, you could cut it with a knife.”

“I see a high level of non-acceptance of us as holding up half the sky,” she said, referring to some bishops’ difficulty in working with women.

“It’s very clear that I’m not speaking with one iota of formation on some of the teachings that have formed these men in the seminary,” said Kelleher. “Some of it is, ‘Oh, here comes the bleeding heart. Well, she’s a woman what else would you expect?’, kind of thing.”

Whether her experience was the exception or the rule, remains to be seen.  We can look at the evidence, the final document that will be completed on October 24, to judge if women were able to influence it in any significant way.

Vatican melodramas up close and personal
Today, Cardinal Napier was asked about his signature, one of 13, on a letter to Pope Francis signaling concerns that the synod process was rigged.  Stating that last year’s mid-term document did not reflect the viewpoint of the synod, but instead the viewpoints of just a few (Cardinal Tagle disagreed with that characterization), he stated that his concerns have been addressed.
Grant Gallico of Commonweal exposes some of the questionable maneuverings of Sandro Magister, the Italian journalist who leaked the letter.
Say YES to women deacons!

Support Archbishop’s Durocher’s proposal to begin discussions on women deacons and women’s leadership.

Please do your part and sign our petition!
The numbers are climbing (almost 6,000) and we want to deliver at least ten-thousand signatures to the synod bishops asking them to take up Archbishop Durocher’s proposal!

Stories that move mountains, “words are worlds” and how to get out of a man-made trap

October 19, 2015
by Deb Rose-Milavec
It is only Monday, the final Monday of this synod, but today, Archbishops Enrico Solmi of Italy, Mark Coleridge of Australia and Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem sat at the press briefing table and admitted they were tired.
Worn down by the intensity of the work and the enormity of the task, they admitted that they and their small groups felt — well — small.
“In the first week, the task was not clear,” remarked Archbishop Coleridge, “and there has been widespread unease with the working document.”  After reconciling themselves to the “difficult document” during the first two weeks, he wonders how they will possibly be able to finalize a document that must somehow capture the diversity of opinions and solutions suggested in the synod hall.
Stories that move mountains and change hearts 
More than one bishop and observer have noted that the synod lacks something essential – the advice of theologians.  Still, it is clear that stories and experience often provide the shortest pathway to new insights and a change of heart.
In case you missed it, last Thursday, a bishop told the story of a son who spontaneously shared his First Communion host with his father who was divorced and remarried (and, therefore, not receiving the Eucharist at his First Communion) – a story that fills the eyes with tears.
When asked today by a reporter if such stories could change the minds of bishops on the question of sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, Patriarch Twal said that the bishops were moved by such stories and even went on to clarify, or possibly expand the story saying “the child broke it into three – because there was a mother.”
Noting that stories like these elicit new awareness among bishops, Twalacknowledged that, indeed, some Church practices alienate people saying, “there are so many issues that are really painful for us.”

Although Archbishop Coleridge acknowledged that he had somehow missed the story about the boy and was not sure if it would have changed his mind about sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics, he also said that bishops are often guilty of “Church-speak” that doesn’t “put down roots in real human experience.”

“The most affecting moments have been these moments,” said Coleridge.  “We need to be in touch with the reality of families.”
Archbishop Solmi also acknowledged the power of such stories saying, “That child showed us genuine life and enriched us.”
“Words are worlds”
The panelists acknowledged the difficult work of wedding mercy to teaching and suggested that the language embedded in some Church teaching had to change.
When asked to clarify the aim of reconciliation if a second civil marriage was not considered a sin in the future, Archbishop Coleridge suggested the language of sin, namely the application of the term “adultery” needed to be reformed.  “A second marriage is not adultery,” said Coleridge.  “We are always dealing with sin. That is taken for granted.  I understand the teaching, but at the same time, not every case is the same.  That is why we need a pastoral approach.  To say every second marriage is adulterous is just too sweeping.  Is not the same as some couple going offsurreptitiously for a weekend.”
“Words are worlds,” said Coleridge.
When speaking of divorced and remarried Catholics as those living in the sin of adultery he asked, “Does it [the term adultery] deal with the reality of their life?”
Similarly, the old adage “love the sinner but hate the sin,” the framework commonly used by Catholics “no longer works,”  according to Coleridge.
“It is false distinction” that does harm and alienates. He suggested that we can no longer say that a person who is homosexual is loved by God, but the way they live out their life, their sexuality, is sinful.
He also noted that the Church needs to be more forthright in dealing with its own teachings on sin.  “The distinction between public and private no longer works,” said Coleridge.  “Pope Francis is modeling this. We need public enactments of mercy – not just in private.”
Another reporter noted that doctrine is hard wired in language and asked the panelists to give examples of problematic language that could change without changing doctrine.
“Indissolubility’ is one word that needs to change according to Coleridge.  He wondered what new language could encompass the Church’s belief in life-long commitments and “proclaim the truth without lapsing into church speak or canonicalspeak.”
The other descriptor that needs to be banished from the Catholic lexicon is “intrinsically disordered.”  Coleridge understands that if you say the acts of a homosexual person are “intrinsically disordered” then you are saying the person is intrinsically disordered.
Listen and learn or how to get out of a man-made trap
As one listens to the bishops speak about how to reform the Church the usual invocation that “doctrine will not change” or the artificial conundrum of finding “new language to reconcile the concepts of mercy and teaching” begins to feel like a marketing ploy rather than an honest “come to Jesus” moment of a people coming to terms with the limits and failings of their doctrines and teachings.
The oft-repeated, convenient fictions; the convoluted attempts to get out of our man-made traps where life is ordered according to abstract doctrines and traditions that no longer give life — is nothing less than a tragic, sometimes comic, affair. Those who are honest just shake their heads at the tragedy of it all.
Every Catholic knows the cleansing power of truth is hard to come by in this Church. Still Catholics yearn for that kind of light and transparency.  We grow weary of the games that play out. So do the bishops who want reform if you read in between the lines.  We get glimpses of courageous truth-telling once in a while, but much of our time is spent living in a Church that casts long shadows on both priests and people in the name of age-old fantasies about love, sin, and redemption.
That’s why Coleridge’s suggestion that private mercy no longer suffices is so important.  We can no longer risk letting mercy rest with just a few enlightened pastors.  We need transparency about the limits and failings of our Church teaching and doctrine. We need to proclaim the Good News.
The panelists agreed that corrective for bishops is listening and learning from Catholics themselves.  Following Francis’ lead, they recognize that the People of God are a source of wisdom and God’s voice in the world too.
“The starter is for people like me to listen to their story,” acknowledged Coleridge.  “One of the things I will have to do is sit down and listen to couples in second marriages.  But what worries me is they won’t come to me and I want them to come.  We need to be a listening church. We need to listen in new ways.”
One of the questions posed to the panelists today was how they would measure success.  If the bishops become seriously engaged in their role as “listeners” and “learners” respectfully acknowledging that God is alive and well in the world and in the hearts, minds and lives of her people, this synod will have gone a long way down the road to success.
Voices of hope
Do not miss Frank DeBernardo’s interview with Cardinal Oswald Gracias.  The cardinal is becoming a vocal leader in the Church standing for the rights of LGBT persons and saying what we all know to be true, “we need you.”
Also, Joshua McElwee’s interview with Sr. Maureen Kelleher is a “must read.”  Sr. Kelleher gets real about the small group process and shows just how difficult it can be to be heard in a group where clerics believe they are superior.
Finally, if you haven’t seen it, listen to Salt and Light’s interview with Archbishop Durocher.  It will make your heart feel lighter.
Say YES to women deacons!

Support Archbishop’s Durocher’s proposal to begin discussions on women deacons and women’s leadership.

Please do your part and sign our petition!
The numbers are climbing (almost 6,000) and we want to deliver at least ten-thousand signatures to the synod bishops asking them to take up Archbishop Durocher’s proposal!