Women fear their voices will be sidelined in Catholic synod’s final report

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Pope Francis leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, on October 5, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Max Rossi  
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SYNOD-DISCUSSION, originally transmitted on Oct. 6, 2015, or with RNS-SYNOD-DIVISIONS, originally transmitted on Oct. 14, 2015, or with RNS-SYNOD-WOMEN, originally transmitted on Oct. 22, 2015.

Pope Francis leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, on October 5, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Max Rossi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SYNOD-DISCUSSION, originally transmitted on Oct. 6, 2015, or with RNS-SYNOD-DIVISIONS, originally transmitted on Oct. 14, 2015, or with RNS-SYNOD-WOMEN, originally transmitted on Oct. 22, 2015.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The rows of seats in the synod hall, where Catholic bishops are meeting to discuss family issues, are filled with bishops and cardinals — all male. To find any women, look to the back of the room.

The women’s distance from the heart of the synod hall reflects fears raised by women’s groups that their participation is a mere token on the Vatican’s part.

There are 270 bishops and cardinals participating in the synod and voting on its outcome. A number of other participants, including lay couples and representatives from other churches, have been invited to give their opinions but will not be able to make decisions on the final text. That includes more than two dozen women who have been called to present their views.

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.


READ: Bishops admit: We don’t know much about sex, need married advisers


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.

Her view was backed by U.S. Sister Maureen Kelleher.

“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.”


READ: Who’s that bright Anglican outsider at Vatican bishops’ synod?


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.

Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch, a group that campaigns for broader participation in church life, lamented the way Kelleher has been treated: “There are so few women, but then to hear that when they were in the group dynamic they felt demeaned.”

Despite women being “vastly underrepresented” at the synod, Rose-Milavec said she thought there was “some enlightenment going on.”

The extent to which the women’s words have had an impact on bishops will become known on Saturday (Oct. 24), she said, when the synod’s final document is produced.

Going forward, Rose-Milavec said, the structure of a synod on the family should be changed to allow women to tell their stories and play a more active role:

“The hope would be that the synod process would be vastly changed in order to have lay input,” she added, “not to just create decision-making roles from one demographic, but to really create a way for those who are not ordained.”

YS/MG END SCAMMELL

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  • Bernardo

    Blame it on Paul:

    Anti-female comments in “Pauls” epistles.

    8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
    9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
    10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
    11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
    12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
    14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
    15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
    ( Timothy 2:8-15 KJV)”

    Continued below:

  • Bernardo

    “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)”

    “He (Paul) feared the turn-on of women’s voices as much as the sight of their hair and skin….. At one point he even suggests that the sight of female hair might distract any angels/ “pretty wingie talking fictional thingies” in church attendance (1 Cor. 11:10). (from Professor Chilton’s book Rabbi Paul).

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  • dmj76

    There are 13 Pauline epistles in the New Testament. Seven of them were actually for sure written by Paul. In these seven, nine women are mentioned by name. Phoebe is a deacon, Junia is called “coworker with the apostles”, none of the nine women is in any way attacked. It looks like Paul might have been working with them. What is going on? Copy damage – we have copies of copies of copies for centuries, much of it copied by men who did not see women as equals., The actual historical Paul might not have been as anti-women as he appears.

    (There is a good consensus among non-fundamentalist scholars that Paul did not write either of the Timothy epistles.)

  • Bernardo

    But Paul did write the following as per the analyses of Professors Crossan and Reed in their book “In Search of Paul”.

    “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)”

  • SteveInCO

    Timothy was almost certainly not written by Paul. The problems addressed there are distinctly second-century issues (churches didn’t have those features before then) and the style is totally wrong.

    That doesn’t take Xianity off the hook though, as they decided to adopt Timothy as canonical.

  • SteveInCO

    So in spite of almost every bit of evidence you presented that it was Paul’s fault being slammed down, there being one exception…we are still supposed to blame it ALL on Paul?

    In point of fact even 1 Cor 14:34-35 is so similar to the Timothy forgery, and so unlike everything else Paul wrote, that many scholars think it was a later insertion. (See Ehrman, The New Testament, A Historical Introdoction, pages 409-410.)

    Mind you this does not excuse Xian excesses against women, it just indicates Paul isn’t the source of it.

  • Bernardo

    But Paul’s words still stand and until the RCC and Christianity in general refutes these words, said religion is guilty as charged. The RCC is more culpable by forbidding women to be priests.

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