While the focus during the Synod on the Family has been on disagreements and documents, perhaps the real news is yet to come. Pope Francis has been clear in his vision for a synodal church, a listening church which makes room for all the People of God to be heard. Here is my latest article for the Prairie Messenger….
Following the daily proceedings coming from the Synod on the Family can leave you overwhelmed. And, depressed. I keep hoping that the Spirit of Wisdom will be allowed to fly freely through the synod halls, despite the efforts of some to batten down the hatches and barricade the windows. Maybe the same Spirit can give a gentle thwack on some of the more hard headed zucchetto’s during a fly by!
But, amid the wrangling and seeming confusion, heroes are emerging. One of these is Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who gave a briefing to journalists on Friday. His candour and openness reflects a respect for the uniqueness of each one’s journey. And, he believes, the bishops would benefit from hearing first hand from the travellers who are so often marginalized by the church, such as divorced and remarried Catholics and gay and lesbian couples, “rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops”.
Cupich doesn’t merely reiterate the black and white of doctrine, or paint a picture of a sinful world of doom and gloom. He seems comfortable in the messiness of the in-between that many of us inhabit.
He knew a retired archbishop who wants his tombstone to read, “I tried to treat you like adults.”
“I think that what he means by that is we really do have to have an adult Catholic response to living the Christian life,” said the Chicago archbishop. “That I think is where the Holy Father is leading us.”
This requires providing solid catechesis, but
“We can’t just refer to doctrines as though they’re syllogisms that we deduce a conclusion to,” said Cupich. “There has to be that integration of a person’s circumstances, case by case in their life.”
He shared a story, told to him by another priest, about a woman whose son committed suicide.
At the funeral Mass, the woman approached the priest for a blessing during Communion, as she was not permitted to the Eucharist because she was divorced and remarried.
“The pastor said, ‘Today you have to receive,’” Cupich recalled.
The woman did, in violation of Church law, and she then returned to her seat, in tears. Eventually, she met with the priest and the two of them worked through her anger at God and the Church. She eventually took steps that allowed her to be welcomed back to the sacraments.
“It was because that priest looked for mercy and grace to touch her heart, and that’s something we have to keep in mind,” he said.
This is more than a story. It’s a modern day parable. Can’t you picture Jesus sharing it, perhaps with the scribes and pharisees who still didn’t get the meaning of mercy? The archbishop goes on,
We have to believe in the mercy of God, and the grace of God, triggering conversion, rather than having it the other way around, as though you’re only going to get the mercy if you have the conversion,” he said. “The economy of salvation doesn’t work that way.
To believe in the mercy of God. To not demand conversion and perfection before welcoming someone into our community and to our table. To treat women and men as adults. To acknowledge that our personal worlds are seldom black and white, making black and white answers difficult or impossible to embrace. Here’s hoping that ears and hearts within the synod halls are open to this message.
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?