News Analysis

Vatican synod calls for women leaders ‘at all levels,’ avoids using LGBT or gay

Cardinals, wearing red caps in the two front rows from left, and bishops attend a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the closing of the month-long synod of bishops, inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, on Oct. 28, 2018. (Claudio Peri/Pool Photo via AP)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — A global summit of Catholic bishops on Saturday (Oct. 27) issued a powerful call for the inclusion of women in decision-making roles in the church “at all levels” and sought to welcome gay people and commit the church to a historic shift on fighting clergy sexual abuse.

But in the wide-ranging final document, approved late Saturday after a series of votes by 249 cardinals and bishops, the synod on young people did not open the door to the ordination of women.

The document, based on deliberations over the past four weeks among bishops and young Catholics, used unusually strong language in advocating on behalf of women, saying integrating women fully into the Catholic Church was “a duty of justice.”

Women, the document said, play “an irreplaceable role in Christian communities” but are often shut out of “decision-making processes.” The church must become aware of the “urgency of an unavoidable change.”

It added that the church’s view of the inherent difference between men and women can give rise to “forms of domination, exclusion and discrimination from which society and the church alike must free themselves.”

The bishops said the language on women’s issues was due in part to the passionate advocacy of the more than 30 young adults invited to take part in the meeting — a dynamic that made this synod much different from others.

“I want to thank the young people for the music they brought into the synod,” Pope Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks closing the deliberations in a Vatican lecture hall.

“And music,” he joked, “is the diplomatic word for noise!”

On the clergy sex abuse crisis, bishops from English-speaking countries, in particular, fought to include strong language in the final document. Many bishops from the developing world were adamant that the issue not be emphasized too strongly. They feared it would come at the expense of life-and-death issues young people face in their countries.

Pope Francis sits among bishops and cardinals during a meeting with youths attending the synod in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

According to a report by National Catholic Reporter, a call for “zero tolerance” for abusers in an earlier draft was stripped out in the final version as part of a compromise.

In the end, the bishops denounced abuses of all kinds but singled out “clericalism” as a chief culprit in the clergy scandals. Clericalism, the document said, is a phenomenon born from “an elitist and exclusionary” view of the priesthood that allows clergy to exercise power over the vulnerable rather than serving them.

The document pointed toward promised efforts from Pope Francis to use all necessary “actions and sanctions” against clergy abuse and said this effort “can truly be a reform of epochal significance.” The next major step in the Vatican’s anti-abuse campaign will be a February meeting of top bishops from around the world that the pope wants to use to promote policy objectives for them all to follow.

In another nod to the advocacy of the young participants, who were able to speak but not vote at the meeting, the final document also found a way to reach out to gay people, albeit in roundabout language that clearly was necessary to pass.

Even with the watered-down phrasing, the section on gays reached the threshold by just two votes, the narrowest margin of any ballot on the 167 proposals and reflections in the document.

Bishops from Africa and some of their conservative allies in North America, along with conservative Catholic media outlets, had lobbied hard to eliminate any language that could be seen as affirming homosexual identity — such as the acronym LGBT or the word “gay” — while church progressives and some American and European bishops wanted a more explicit opening to gays.

Conservatives were concerned that language which welcomed gay people might undermine Catholic teaching against homosexuality.

The final language seemed likely to please neither side while effectively giving bishops greater latitude in welcoming LGBT people if they wanted to, and using the wording they preferred.

However, the document does not use the terms LGBT or gay.

But it did reiterate “that God loves every person and so does the Church,” and it renewed the church’s stance against “any sexual discrimination and violence.”

The youth section behind the bishops in the Synod Hall at the Vatican on Oct. 23, 2018. RNS photo by David Gibson

The document above all appears to be a clear victory for Francis in that it endorses his sharply contested efforts to push the Catholic Church toward a more collaborative and inclusive form of governance that gives local bishops greater flexibility in running their dioceses and ministries.

“We recognize in this experience a fruit of the Holy Spirit that continually renews the church,” the document said. It called on the bishops to practice “synodality” — as this collective discernment is known — “as a way of being and acting, promoting the participation of all the baptized and of all people of good will.”

That’s a strikingly expansive mandate — and it was language that also faced a relatively high number of negative votes – that endorses Francis’ vision for a “listening” church, as he likes to put it.

But it may trigger conservatives who have worried that this signals a shift to “democratizing” or “Protestantizing” Catholicism.

Indeed, an obvious and immediate effect of this more inclusive style of synod was the presence of the young adults, along with some 40 other lay people, nuns and representatives of other churches.

The young people had a decisive impact on the meeting, addressing the closed-door assembly and cheering speeches they liked or reacting with polite applause to those they did not.

Formally known as “auditors,” the young people also took part in small group discussions, and most of the bishops at the synod were effusive in their praise of the contributions they made — contributions that were evident throughout the final document.

During the synod, which officially closes with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, the bishops regularly gushed over the almost revolutionary dynamism that the young people imparted to a process that under previous popes had been carefully controlled events that pleased few and excited no one.

The sense of goodwill, however, was overshadowed throughout the synod – as throughout Francis’ five-year pontificate — by conservative misgivings and criticisms.

In past synods, the hot-button issues had been the possibility of Communion for divorced and remarried couples, for example. In this synod, a chief concern was the synod process itself, or “synodality,” which was viewed as perilously close to turning the church into a “debating society” that would lead to constant change and an inevitable erosion of tradition and orthodoxy.

“The synod is not a parliament,” Francis said in his remarks Saturday evening, an effort to push back against the criticisms. “It is a protected space where the Holy Spirit can work.” And, he added, “It was the Holy Spirit working here.”

(David Gibson, a former national reporter for Religion News Service, is director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture.)

About the author

By David Gibson

61 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • “the inclusion of women in decision-making roles in the church ‘at all levels’ ”

    How many women are right now on Francis’ special advisory council? How often did Francis consult with Marie Collins when she was on the Abuse Commission?

    Is there going to be real follow-through? Or is this just one more example of the Church talking a much better game than it actually plays?

  • That “…. the synod on young people did not open the door to the ordination of women.” is hardly news.

    The Catholic Church considers the matter closed, no longer open for discussion, and settled.

    “However, the document does not use the terms LGBT or gay.”

    Of course not. It is a document of the Catholic Church, not western media.

    “‘The synod is not a parliament,’ Francis said in his remarks Saturday evening, an effort to push back against the criticisms.”

    And this reiterates the Catholic Church’s constant teaching on authority resting with the successors to the Apostles.

  • The church is about to be investigated for the hundreds of homosexual pedophile priests who have molested children for decades. This could be the beginning of the end for that church.

  • The Church will not cease to exist. There will always be dogma-addicts to provide a market for the Church’s dogma. But the Church will probably shrink, not because of the pedophile priests but because of the cover-up of the pedophile priests. It is the cover-up that has destroyed the Church’s credibility and trust in the Church to do the right thing.

  • What investigation might that be specifically?

    Since the Church itself has not been tried, but members and employees of it, there is no particular reason to believe “This could be the beginning of the end for that church” except wishful thinking based on some animosity or other.

  • There will always be folks who wish to find the meaning of the Christian Scriptures within a Church with credible claims to being the one which Christ founded and avail themselves of its sacramental system.

    The Church is growing at an exponential rate despite the jibes of ex-Catholics, anti-Catholics, and other enemies.

  • The RCC is an apostate church. It denied the gospel in its canons at Trent and teaches doctrines that the apostles never taught and circumvent the gospel.

  • As an outsider, I have a hard time seeing where women are involved in Catholic decision making at any levels, let alone all levels. Having nuns in education and social service is not the same as having them write the doctrine. But, on the other hand, Catholicism—–through Mariology—–has always managed to put a female face on God which other parts of Christianity neglected. As my own (off the wall) imaginary dream, I have always wished the forefathers had managed to venerate equally two women named Mary. We could have had Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mother of Jesus, and Mary (Magdalene), The Blessed Forgiven Friend, Confidante, and Helper of Jesus. (Seriously, we COULD have had that—-and there is only one reason we didn’t and don’t. Men didn’t think it was important enough to write in.)

  • “Shapiro confirmed in the days following publication of the report that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had reached out to him with questions. Government sources confirmed with Church Militant that the DOJ was seriously considering the possibility of a RICO prosecution of the Catholic Church. McSwain’s Oct. 9 letter to the U.S. bishops further signals a move in that direction, based on whatever evidence is gathered in the preliminary investigation.”
    https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/feds-order-bishops-not-to-destroy-documents-related-to-sex-abuse

  • When the investigation gets underway, you’ll have something to post.

    The notion of a “RICO prosecution” of the Catholic Church is quite amusing.

    Whoever came up with that needs to consult real lawyers.

  • I notice that the usual calls from the left for “married priests” as a remedy for the problem has been notably muted in this latest crisis. Sure, it exists in some small circles, but the memo has gone out…”Don’t link this crisis to gay pederast priests. Proposing that more straight, married men join the ranks of the priesthood would be an insult to all the gay priests whom we are trying to ‘celebrate.’ Let’s blame it on ‘clericalism.'”

    I guess there’s a rash of Roman Catholic clericalism going on the public schools, what with all the cases of teacher-student relationships reported in the news everyday. Who knew so many non-Catholic teachers at secular schools were so clerical!

  • Trust me. This is going to expose the RCC to the evils it has been covering up for decades. Just look at one diocese. 300 priest molested 1000 kids who were mostly boys. Multiply that by 50 and what should expect?

  • I certainly trust that you’re an anti-Catholic.

    I also trust that the only thing you know about RICO is how to spell it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racketeer_Influenced_and_Corrupt_Organizations_Act

    The constituent components of the offense are missing in the case of “300 priest molested 1000 kids who were mostly boys” – that leaders ordered others to do these crimes or assisted them in committing them.

    I am sure you will be disappointed.

  • There will always be a RCC. The church is made up of believers. The current believers are well aware that there are (some) unholy men that make up the priesthood and hierarchy of the church.
    They, more than anyone else ( victims, atheists, anti-Catholics, etc) want to purge the church of the evil that currently resides in it. These investigations will reveal the homosexual and pedophilia undercurrents that exist; and will address them as the issue unfolds.
    The federal government, or any other government for that matter can drive the church to the point of extinction; but as long as one holy priest and two faithful believers exist; the church will continue.

  • Please, for your sake, look up the meaning of ‘apostate’. For now, your ignorance is on display.

  • “Clericalism, the document said, is a phenomenon born from ‘an elitist and exclusionary’ view of the priesthood that allows clergy to exercise power over the vulnerable rather than serving them.”

    Only partly right.

    The doctrine of the ordained “priesthood” — aka, the “ministerial priesthood” — is at the heart of clericalism. It was made abundantly clear to us even before Vatican II that this “priesthood” consisted of males *who stood between God and Man” in official worship. They were “mediators”, and this doctrine reinforced the position of the laity as spectators at mass. This liturgical understanding carried over into all other areas of Catholic life including parish and parochial school administration. Laity could advise and recommend, but it was the “priests” who decided.

    This elevated status of “priests” is reflected in CCC-1538:

    “Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordinatio, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word ‘ordination’ is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a ‘sacred power’ (sacra potestas)5 which can come only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecratio, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church. the laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination” (footnote 5 references Vatican II’s “Lumen Gentium”, section 10).

    The key phrases are “the exercise of a sacred power” and “setting apart”. Never mind the earliest Christian liturgical presiders, in imitation of Jesus himself, were not regarded as cultic priests (Jesus never describes himself as a “priest” in the Gospel but says he is a “prophet”; other N.T. writings — excepting HEBREWS [ca. 70s?] — acknowledge him as a “prophet”, and James 5:14 [ca. 90-100 CE] uses the phrase “presbyters of the church” who are called to anoint a sick person whose sins, if any, are thus forgiven).

    Vatican II retrieved the term ‘presbyter’ from primitive church history. Unfortunately, Rome continues to employ the term ‘priest’ as in “ministerial priesthood” to refer to its liturgical presiders. The two terms have different meanings. If the Church of Rome wants to pursue ecclesial renewal, the main theme of the council, it must jettison language about the “ministerial/ordained priesthood” and return to the more ancient and scripturally faithful acknowledgement of the “presbyterate”. Otherwise, the Church of Rome will continue to “dance around the issue” of an ordained ministry that, by its very doctrinal definition, elevates the ordained and subordinates the laity — at the expense of the laity!!!

    More background information is available free online at:

    + https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/why-not

    + https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/mind-gap-0

  • So… they hypocritically target “clericalism” while fully demonstrating and exercising it.

  • Re: the drama over the use of “LGBT” and “gay”… this is what happens when closet cases get together to forge policy on homosexuality.

  • Not deflecting from the problem at all.
    I’m correcting the intentional lie put forth by Cupich, et alia, that the root of sexual abuse of teenagers is “clericalism.” That is so patently false, that’s it’s both laughable and insulting at the same time.

  • It is only misdirection if her facts are not in order and not germane.

    Ending clerical celibacy is a solution in search of a problem.

  • 1=1=2 is not very original at all.

    It is, however, true.

    So, what about public school teachers?

    Public schools do not mandate celibacy, but the rate of abuse among public school teachers is higher than among Catholic clergy.

  • There will always be Hindus and Muslims also. This is just another example of the gates of hell prevailing against the RCC.

  • Just google “the Catholic Church in Africa,” and do the same for Asia.
    The Church grew on every continent except Europe, where it shrunk.

  • For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, English Standard Version 1 Timothy 2:5

  • The old men in charge of Catholicism and Mormonism are on the same twisted, senile page, trying to hold onto to adherents without actually progressing forward into the end of the last century, let alone the beginning of this one. Humbug on all the little old men behind all of the curtains pretending to be their version of “Great and Terrible.” It’s time to let the gas of out of their hot air balloons.

  • My neighbor from Westminster, who used to work as a barman at the local restaurant three days back bought a brand new Kia Niro by working online 90 min every day, with the help of this page this page

  • Whataboutism always makes the speaker look like a scumbag. You are saying with such arguments that you do not care about abuse by priests and simply want to avoid the subject.

    Why do you support abuse by priests?

  • The problem which you are deliberately deflecting from is the notion that institutions feel above criticism and the law. Like the Catholic Church has demonstrated on numerous occasions.

  • As would a culture of reporting crimes and scandals by priests instead of covering them up. But why take responsibility when you can assign blame and walk away?

  • The issue in a Catholic context is historical sexual abuse and its episcopal coverup in the Church of Rome. Let’s not deflect.

  • No ordination of women = No women’s leadership “at all levels”. So true. Just more Vatican deflection out of Rome.

  • Many Church leaders have acted as if laws and common sense do not apply to them or their diocese. Shame on them. I’m all for holding them accountable.

    I’m also calling out the (few) current crop of leaders who are lying about the cause of sexual abuse. It is not clericalism. That is an slap in the face to the vast majority of children and teenagers who have been taken advantage of by someone other than a priest – which is the overwhelming majority of them. Stop lying to push an agenda! And the agenda is, “gay priests are good, ‘clerical’ priests are bad.”

  • Not really, since you decided to deflect as your first argument here. You were trying to hijack the discussion in an act of avoidance.

  • Thanks for mentioning Africa and Asia. I suspect that as Catholics in these areas continue to become better educated and supportive of women’s rights, etc., they will increasingly gravitate toward progressive social, political, and religious attitudes mirroring those of Catholics in Europe and North America.

    Thanks for not mentioning the USA where the Church of Rome is losing membership “share”. See Pew Research Center’s “7 facts about U.S. Catholics” at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/10/7-facts-about-american-catholics/. Furthermore, while the U.S. hierarchs are relying on Hispanic/Latino Catholics to maintain numbers, it has been reported over recent years that immigrants from south of the border are not necessarily remaining in the Church of Rome.

  • The issue that I addressed was a specific comment.

    It placed the comment to which it was responding in context.

  • When people start losing on the substance, they usually resort to arguments about the process. Your replies are textbook examples of that.

  • You never had any. You tried to deflect and divert. People with substance address issues directly and don’t play whataboutism games. You clearly have no idea what that means.

  • Fhew! I just read some of your other posts to people.
    You’re a rage-aholic who comes to these sites to berate and demonize. No thanks.

  • Than we should see the same level of abuse among Catholic lay teachers as we do in the secular world. Why don’t we? There are a lot of gay Catholic school teachers as well as heterosexual school teachers. We don’t see near the level of abuse we do with secular teachers or Catholic priests. Why is that?

  • It depends on how you define clericalism. I define it as an enculturated religious ‘power’ over others that is both believed in, and supported by. the subordinate group. Cupich has a Masters in Social Work, he would have learned the same power dynamic. In the Catholic Church, clericalism is a power dynamic inbuilt into the sacramental system and Confession seals it’s power over life and death. That’s a lot of power.

  • So the word is “power” not “clericalism.” Harvey Weinstein is not a cleric, nor is Charlie Rose, or Bill Clinton, or Anthony Weiner, or Al Franken, or Kevin Spacey, or Mark Halperin, or Jerry Sandusky, or the high school lacrosse coach, or the junior high English teacher, or your best friend’s father, and on down the line.

    Power differentials exist in all walks of life. It’s is not the sole domain of Catholic clergy. So the problem is with people who leverage that power differential, regardless of their chosen profession or status viz. the victim, to satisfy inappropriate or illicit sexual desires.

    In the case of the Catholic Church, the overwhelming majority (80%) of priests who manipulated that power differential were gay men who preyed on sexually mature teenage boys. That’s called pederasty, not clericalism. The problem, Your Eminence, is that the Church, in order to hold the line on celibacy, ordained far too many mal-adapted gay men. Those thousands of men, down through the decades, manipulated that power and status differential to satisfy their sexual desires for striplings.

    Many of the episcopal coverups reveal a form a clericalism (and tribalism, and a “circle the wagons” mentality, as is also seen in most professions and in unions), but the crimes are classic aberrant sexual predation.

  • Smoke and mirrors, nothing more. I know the drill from my years of Mormonism before I got wise enough to kick the organized religion addiction altogether.

  • Madam, my liberal friends would describe me as the last person on earth “dripping with racism and cultural bigotry”, and my conservative family members would complain that I’m way too liberal (I support same-sex marriage, abortion to save a woman’s life, women’s ordination to the presbyterate and episcopate in the Church of Rome, and full voting and all other rights for sexual and racial/ethnic minorities). I was a federal poll observer in the 1970s and 1980s in GA, AL, MS, and LA under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I have black and gay friends (I’m a DWM and a heterosexual guy with one adult offspring). With an undergraduate degree in political science and a grad degree in the adult training field, I am very much interested in politics, both civil and ecclesial, not to mention international affairs.

    Your comment is “dripping” with frustration and concomitant anger.

    Grow up.

  • The comment of yours to which I was responding mentioned “public school teachers”. That’s deflecting.

  • Thanks for your bona fides. I’ll spare you mine, other than to say most of my African and Asian friends and associates who are Christian have talked about comments like yours and tell me how patronizing and racist it is. I agree with them.

  • Women and LGBTQI individuals continue to endure discrimination in many parts of South Asia and Africa. I stand by my earlier comments. The Church of Rome is complicit often enough.

    So you’ll “spare” your bona fides?

    OK.

ADVERTISEMENTs