The Synod could use a woman’s touch

The Extraordinary Synod for the Family that will be held in Rome next month has attracted more attention than any synod since their introduction following Vatican II.

Oct 01, 2014

By Fr William Grimm
The Extraordinary Synod for the Family that will be held in Rome next month has attracted more attention than any synod since their introduction following Vatican II.

The media are focused on the possibility that changes may be made in such matters as birth control and reception of the Eucharist by Catholics who have divorced and remarried. The majority of Catholics who are aware of the synod are focused on those same concerns.

In the meantime, five cardinals are among those who have authored a book that is clearly meant to head off any relaxing of discipline inspired by Pope Francis' pastoral approach. In fact, they go beyond trying to head off relaxation and actually attempt to refute the pope, though they use Cardinal Walter Kasper (whose views the pope has endorsed) as their ostensible target. Clearly, they are worried.

However, low expectations are in order. There may in fact be some pastorally oriented moves at the synod, but it is unlikely that there will be immediate change. A call for "more reflection, study and prayerful consideration" is the likely outcome.

As with just about everything in the Catholic Church, decisions about what is worth consideration and what should result from such reflection will be made by people representative of no one but themselves.

Though celibate males are a statistically insignificant portion of the human race and even of the Church, the synod for the family will consist of post-middle-age celibate males who, in the phrase jokingly used by clerics, "have no children to speak of". Those men do not live in families, and probably have not done so since adolescence. They do not know of what they will speak nor the implications of what they will decide.

Even worse, the larger portion of the Church and the group most intimately involved in the life of families -- women -- will only be present as a few decorative elements.

Pope Francis has admitted that the Catholic Church has "not yet come up with a profound theology of womanhood", and has named five women to the International Theological Commission, bringing women members to 16 percent. So what?

Until women are in a position to actually exercise authority, it is window-dressing. More significant is the fact that the commission the pope appointed to develop a more pastoral approach to annulments contains not one female member and only one male representative of the laity who will be affected by the work of the commission.

As is invariably the case when there are calls for a more just order, whether in society or the Church, the response is that changes must not be made precipitously. "Slowly, slowly" is the motto.

But hasn't a wait of some 15-18 centuries been slow enough?

Those who actually read the New Testament and early Church history instead of reading into the New Testament and early Church history developments that came later know that Jesus was scandalously unconventional in his dealings with women and included them among his disciples.

The early Church had women in leadership roles (Junia, Prisca, Lydia, et al). So, female-free leadership in the Church is not an evolution, but a deviation. Making changes is a restoration and there is no excuse to further postpone a return to the ancient tradition.


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