“Many reports ask that the Church continue its discernment in the active role of women in the governing structures of Church bodies, the possibility for women with adequate training to preach in parish settings, and a female diaconate.”
The Synod of Bishops has published a document to provide a “frame of reference” for the next phase of its work. You can find the complete document here.
Here are the poor and the indigenous, families, remarried divorcees and single parents, LGBTQ people, and women who feel excluded. Here are the victims of abuse or trafficking or racism. Here are priests, laicized priests, and lay people; Christians and those ‘distant’ from the Church, those who want reforms on priesthood and the role of women, and those who “following the liturgical developments of the Second Vatican Council, do not feel at ease.” Here are those who live in countries of martyrdom, those who deal daily with violence and conflict, those who fight against witchcraft and tribalism. In short, here within the approximately 45 pages that make up the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) is the whole of humanity, with its wounds and fears, its imperfections and demands,.
This is the Document that will serve as the basis of the work for the second stage of the synodal path launched by Pope Francis in October 2021, with the consultation of the People of God. Precisely during this first stage, the faithful — and not only the faithful — of every diocese in every corner of the globe were involved in a process of “listening and discernment”. And the results of meetings, convocations, dialogues, and innovative initiatives — above all, that of the digital Synods — have flowed into syntheses or summaries that were sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod, and have now all been collected in a single document: the “Document for the continental stage.”
Developed simultaneously in two languages (Italian and English), the Dicastery explains that the text “intends to allow dialogue between local Churches and between the local Church and the Universal Church.” So, it is not a summary nor a magisterial document, nor a mere report of local experiences, much less a sociological analysis or a roadmap with goals or objectives to be achieved: “It is a working document that seeks to bring out the voices of the People of God, with their insights, their questions, their disagreements.” The experts who met between the end of September and the beginning of October in Frascati to draft the text speak of a “frame of reference” for the local Churches and the Bishops’ Conferences in view of the third and final stage, the universal stage, with the Assembly of Bishops to be held in Rome in October 2023 and again in 2024, as recently announced by the Pope.
In particular, the Document notes “a series of tensions” that the synodal path has brought out: “We should not be afraid of them, but articulate them in a process of constant communal discernment, so as to harness them as a source of energy without them becoming destructive” (DCS, 71). The first is “listening as openness to welcome” starting from “a desire for radical inclusion.” “No one is excluded” is, in fact, one of the key concepts of the text.
Indeed, the summaries show that many communities have understood synodality as “ an invitation to listen to those who feel exiled from the Church.” There are many who feel “denigrated, neglected, misunderstood,” first and foremost “women and young people who do not feel that their gifts and abilities are recognized.” Being seriously listened to was therefore a “transformative” experience.
Among those who ask for a more incisive dialogue and a more welcoming space are, for example, priests who left the ministry to get married, but especially those who “for various reasons, feel a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships,” such as “remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a polygamous marriage, [and] LGBTQ people.” “ People ask that the Church be a refuge for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect,” reads a contribution from the US; while from Lesotho comes the call for discernment on the part of the universal Church: “There is a new phenomenon in the Church that is absolutely new in Lesotho: same-sex relationships. […] This novelty is disturbing for Catholics and for those who consider it a sin. Surprisingly, there are Catholics in Lesotho who have started practicing this behavior and expect the Church to accept them and their way of behaving. […] This is a problematic challenge for the Church because these people feel excluded.”
Catholic News Agency has details about another aspect raised in the text: the ordination of women.
64: “After careful listening, many reports ask that the Church continue its discernment in relation to a range of specific questions: the active role of women in the governing structures of Church bodies, the possibility for women with adequate training to preach in parish settings, and a female diaconate. Much greater diversity of opinion was expressed on the subject of priestly ordination for women, which some reports call for, while others consider a closed issue.”
The document says that “almost all reports raise the issue of full and equal participation of women. … However, the reports do not agree on a single or complete response to the question of the vocation, inclusion and flourishing of women in Church and society.”
61: “The Church faces two related challenges: women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life.”
The document also quotes the Holy Land’s report: “In a Church where almost all decision-makers are men, there are few spaces where women can make their voices heard. Yet they are the backbone of Church communities, both because they represent the majority of the practicing members and because they are among the most active members of the Church.”