The Catholic bishops and laypeople at Pope Francis’ large meeting stated on Saturday the importance of including women in church leadership roles and requested a report on the possibility of women serving as deacons to be published within one year.
Following a month of private discussions, Francis’ assembly regarding the future of the Catholic Church concluded on Saturday evening with the endorsement of a lengthy 42-page document. The document addresses a variety of topics that will be further examined in a subsequent session next year. It should be noted that none of the suggestions are mandatory, as they are simply presented for Francis’ contemplation.
All paragraphs received the required two-thirds majority, except for the ones regarding women and priestly celibacy, which received the most “no” votes. However, organizers considered the voting to be a success as none of the paragraphs were rejected.
“A more inviting environment”
Two years ago, Francis initiated the synod as a part of his efforts to reform the church and create a more inclusive environment where lay people have a greater influence on church affairs. The process, along with the two-year consultation of everyday Catholics, raised expectations and concerns about potential changes within the church.
The church should be more inclusive towards LGBTQ+ individuals and provide more opportunities for women to hold leadership positions, even though they are currently not allowed to become ordained. Those with conservative beliefs stressed the importance of remaining faithful to the church’s 2,000-year-old traditions and cautioned against discussing these topics, as it could potentially lead to division within the church.
As a new approach, Francis granted the right to vote to women and non-clergy members, implementing his belief that the congregation, or “People of God,” hold more significance than the clergy and should have a stronger voice in church decisions. This objective and his plea for “co-responsibility” specifically motivated women advocating for the reinstatement of female deacons, a role that was present in the early days of the church.
Ultimately, after the votes were counted, the assembly put forward its most significant recommendations regarding women. The final text emphasized the importance of ensuring that women have opportunities to engage in decision-making and take on leadership roles in pastoral and ministry work.
The Vatican acknowledged that Francis had made a substantial effort to elevate the number of women in influential roles within the organization. It also suggested that this same progress should be made in local churches by amending canon law. The proposal was approved by a vote of 319-27.
Casting votes based on proposed ideas.
Despite receiving the most “no” votes, a follow-on proposal still passed with a large margin beyond the required two-thirds threshold, 279-67.
The proposal suggested that further theological and pastoral research should be conducted on the topic of women being ordained as deacons. It also requested that the findings of two study groups, which were commissioned by Francis, be made public before the second session of the synod in October 2024.
Ultimately, the text did not address homosexuality, despite the initial document acknowledging the need for the Catholic Church to be more inclusive of “LGBTQ+ Catholics” and those who have traditionally been marginalized by the church.
The last statement stated that individuals who feel excluded by the church due to their marriage, identity, and sexuality are requesting to be heard, supported, and their dignity protected.
In other places, the representatives agreed that there were still concerns regarding gender identity and sexual orientation within the church. These concerns were listed alongside other issues such as the moral implications of artificial intelligence and end-of-life care, which are currently being discussed in society as a whole.
The decision to involve non-clergy individuals as voting participants at the meeting raised doubts about the authenticity of the event. It was pointed out that the purpose of the “Synod of Bishops” was to offer the pope insight from bishops who are considered the successors of the apostles.
The appointed member of the synod, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who openly opposes it, expressed that the meeting cannot truly be considered a Synod of Bishops if lay people have equal speaking rights and time, ultimately limiting the bishops’ opportunities to share their perspectives.
Warning against anticipating alteration
On Saturday, Mueller gave an interview to the National Catholic Register where he strongly criticized the meeting. He stated that it was a controlled and lacking in theological depth, pretending to be guided by the Holy Spirit but actually seeking to undermine church doctrine.
The German theologian stated to the Register that everything is changing to promote acceptance of homosexuality and the ordination of women. Upon closer examination, it seems that the main focus is on convincing us to embrace these two ideas.
The Reverend Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican from Britain who was invited by Francis to offer spiritual reflections throughout the gathering, had a significantly contrasting perspective. He commended the involvement of lay individuals as truly embodying the essence of a synod.
“He mentioned a meeting where members of the College of Bishops come together. This highlights the fact that a bishop is not isolated, but actively involved in communicating with their community. They engage in listening, speaking, and learning together,” he stated.
However, Radcliffe warned against anticipating drastic transformations.
He informed journalists this week that the meeting was a synod aimed at exploring new ways for us to function as a church, rather than solely making decisions. He also mentioned that this was just the beginning of the process, which may encounter challenges and errors, but that is expected as we are still on the journey.