Synodal church ‘fundamental’ to Pope’s vision

A synodal church is “fundamental” to Pope Francis’ vision for women in the Church, papal biographer Austen Ivereigh says.

In such a church, women challenge clericalism without being co-opted by it, Ivereigh told a webinar on the role of women in church leadership.

Ivereigh said Francis had indicated the vital need for those women to have recognition and be commissioned by their bishops.

“He often puts women in positions where they can, not just exercise governance, but also challenge governance,” Ivereigh noted.

“I would say Francis is dismantling what you might call the imperialist or clericalist model of governance…”.

The papal biographer warned webinar participants against a “grievance culture”.

In this he referred to Querida Amazonia, in which Francis highlighted the Amazon’s lay ecclesial culture, where most Catholic communities have no priest and are run by women.

Another webinar speaker was Sr Patricia Murray (pictured), whom Francis appointed as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture. She is also the executive secretary of International Union of Superiors General (UISG).

Murray noted lay and religious women’s voices are missing despite some women taking up significant roles in the Church.

After lobbying, women religious received three places at the synod on the family, three at the youth synod and 20 at the Amazon synod. The body representing male religious doesn’t have to lobby, Murray said. It automatically secures 10 places.

Murray says “change has begun to happen” and “as we set out on our synodal journey, we will see the presence and leadership of women flourishing.”

The issue of women’s leadership in the Church was also the subject of a working group report in Limerick this week. The preparation of the report was a central recommendation from Limerick’s Diocesan Synod in 2016.

Acknowledging the difficulties and struggles for women, both lay and religious, particularly in a parish environment that revolves around the priest the working group suggested rethinking the balance of leadership within the Church and the entire Christian community.

It also highlights the “need to honour the dignity of Christian women in ministry” who are generally unnoticed.

Rose O’Connor, who chairs Limerick’s women in leadership working group, says there are “very significant challenges” and “opportunities for women in … leadership roles in the Church.”

“While the issue of ordination of women is at the forefront of most people’s thoughts when it comes to inequalities … we concentrated on what is possible within canon law; what we can impact … what we can change.”

O’Connor says two important questions emerged from the report.

One is whether the Church provides women, men and children the spaces and opportunities to exercise their gifts and calling in the service of the common good.

The other is whether the official and de-facto structures within which people operate, facilitate or frustrate them in their ministry.

Canon law does not distinguish between women and men, O’Connor says. “The principal distinction is between ordained and lay. So, if an office or function is available to a lay person, it is equally available to both women and men.”


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