synod proposal for women deacons is a call to dialogue

Source: Synod should reflect on possibly allowing female deacons, says archbishop | CNS top stories

Archbishop Paul Andre Durocher, of Gatineau, Quebec, used his three minute intervention at the Synod on the Family to address the following section in the working document on the role of women.

A contributing factor in acknowledging the determining role of women in society could be a greater appreciation of their responsibility in the Church, namely, their involvement in the decision-making process, their participation — not simply in a formal way — in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers. (Instrumentum Laboris, 30)

He offered several practical proposals.

  • Opening more opportunities for women in decision making curial and diocesan roles
  • Allowing married couples to give homilies
  • Welcoming women into the permanent diaconate

This last proposal has caused quite a stir within the media and on various Catholic web-sites.

I was excited to read the news, and doubly proud that this progressive proposal was made by one of our own Canadian bishops. A dialogue is good and necessary and, I believe, this is what Archbishop Durocher was proposing. A quick read of some discussion boards showed how far we are from civil and reasonable dialogue in our church.

An NCR online article quickly garnered over three hundred responses. What was surprising, at least to me, was the lack of enthusiasm from some progressive posters. Instead of supporting Durocher’s proposal, they vehemently insisted that opening the diaconate to women was a half measure and nothing less than full ordination would do.

Not surprisingly, zealous traditionalists were quick to attack not only the proposal, but Archbishop Durocher himself; even on his own blog. 

Meanwhile, the Women’s Ordination Conference published this statement,

We applaud Archbishop Durocher for raising the suggestion to the exclusively male-voting body, and furthermore, for highlighting the relationship between the “degradation” of women in Church and society and violence against women around the world…

Though restoration of an ordained women’s diaconate would not alone be a satisfactory progression to including women in all realms of Church leadership, governance, and sacramental ministry – only ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy could begin to accomplish this – WOW supports restoration of the diaconate.

This response acknowledges and affirms the common ground held by the Archbishop and WOW. It is a gracious statement of gratefulness and hope, not an angry demand for more.

Dialogue is impossible if heels are dug deeply into idealogical trenches with no intention of the slightest of movements. Simply reiterating our position as proof that the discussion is closed does not allow for genuine listening or the seeking of common ground. Taking an extreme position on either side of the trad-lib pendulum posits the risk of a fundamentalism that too often leads to judgmental diatribes and uncharitable words.

What Archbishop Durocher has proposed is one way to better include women’s voices in the church. It will not give women the full decision making authority that is currently within the exclusive domain of ordination. But, it is a step forward.

The diaconate is considered to be more a role of ministerial service; especially to the poor and those in need. And, it can be argued, countless women are already doing this service. But, the diaconate also includes administering the sacraments of baptism and marriage, presiding at funerals, proclaiming the Word of God and breaking open that Word in the homily.

Stop for a moment and picture a woman you know who would do a brilliant job in any of this tasks? Think of how different your parish life would be with a woman deacon?

more sharing of parish experiences at synod, please!

Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, said his Indian, Eastern-rite Church’s contribution to the Synod will be its example of how families are woven into parishes and parishes are centred on families.

Source: Synod fathers can learn from familial bond by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

The Synod of the Family has begun, and the media is already buzzing with stories of ongoing controversy and division among the bishop members. The church nerd in me is hooked on following the back-room politicking. But, then again, I did love The Borgias! In the sonorous voice of Jeremy Irons, “What would Rome be without a good plot?”

Plots aside, some bishops are attending the synod with the hope that there can be more personal sharing of practical strategies to support families in the church. Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, in an interview with Michael Swan, described his local experience,

Syro-Malabar parishes are divided into family groupings or units of no more than 40 people. Each group of families meets at least once a month for an evening spent studying essential questions of faith and speaking with each other about family challenges. Twice a year all the family groups come together for a larger catechetical event.

“So there is a sharing,” explained Alenchery. “And then there is a sharing of all these family units together at least two times a year. That kind of uniting together of families is a great help in our Church.”

Cardinal Alenchery stresses that this is only one example of how churches can minister to families. He believes that local churches must be given the freedom to seek solutions that will address local situations and cultures.

The Cardinal gives us at least two concepts to ponder.

The first is the need to uphold subsidiarity. Subsidiarity requires acknowledging and respecting wisdom gleaned from local experiences to address local challenges. Society is finally understanding the negative impact of western colonialism. It is time for the church to do the same. The church is not European or North American. It is universal. Diversity (in issues and experiences) must be respected, while upholding unity. Alenchery said,

It will be a diversity that can be very much reconciled on the basis of our faith and our witness of charity — faith working through charity and mercy,

The second concept is the deep value in a sharing of experiences. I’ve attended several international meetings in my leadership years for the Marianist Lay Communities. The meetings that caused the most frustration for delegates, were those that focused too much on document writing. The most fruitful meetings allowed generous time for sharing  personal challenges and successes.

I hope that there are more bishops like Cardinal Alenchery, who are coming to the Synod to share positive and practical pastoral experiences as well as challenges. His model of parish ministry, though far from unique, is an effective form of evangelization through small faith communities. What other models are being used around the world?

pope francis and st. thérèse of lisieux

francis and therese

October 1st is the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I fell in love with Thérèse as a child. In contrast to the big sacrifices of martyrs and missionaries, Thérèse promoted a “little way” to holiness.

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.

Her own struggles showed that this was not necessarily an easier way. We all know that the “patience of a saint” is needed to face the frustrations and annoyances caused by trivial events and daily encounters with those closest to us. They may be small, but the effort is often a substantial sacrifice.

Pope Francis is a big fan of Thérèse and looks to her for guidance,

When I have a problem, I ask St. Thérèse to take it in her hands and help me solve it.

There were echoes of Thérèse in the pope’s homily at the closing mass of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures…They are the little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.

Holiness by way of little gestures. Such simplicity. Such wisdom.