The Table

Last week I had the opportunity to meet an amazing young German woman, vocal about her call to the priesthood visiting Rome with her parish. Jacqueline Straub, her parish priest and I sat down for coffee and cornetti…

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Kate McElwee and Jacqueline Straub

Jacqueline was recently featured on a “LifeLinks” series called #ForChristsSake, highlighting the stories of three people who are called to ministry in their faith tradition, but because of their gender, sexuality, or relationships are not able to pursue their vocation. As soon as I saw the LifeLinks video, I wrote to Jacqueline on behalf of WOC to commend her bravery and offer our prayers and support for the prophetic witnessing that she brings to our church.

Many of our connections came to light during our meeting: Jacqueline went to parts of the “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” Germany tour and has met many of the European women priests. She was featuring in another documentary with Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (a WOW2015 speaker). Her parish recently attended a meeting with “Catholic Tipping Point” Helmut Schuller’s Austrian Priests’ initiative to discuss how some parishes are sharing roles, and their use of the “Thomas Mass” – for those with questions and doubts.  Incredible connections that not only make the world feel cozy, but led her priest to devise a plan to have Helmut, Jacqueline and myself all reunite in Vienna.

Jacqueline, a fellow parishioner, and her priest visiting Rome from Austria

I asked her priest about his “conversion moment,” and he didn’t express an “a-ha” moment, but simply said that he has met many women who are called to the priesthood, and he trusts them and God.      AMEN!

What I loved most about meeting with Jacqueline is that she says things that few people in the women’s ordination movement really say… 

“I have time. I can wait. Things will change.”

(Jacqueline’s priest however, seemed very ready to hand his parish over to her, within the year.)

Her spirit and energy were a shot in the arm — needed optimism, for someone who clutches to hope in what can feel like a lost battle.

While Jacqueline is not idealistic or naive about this, she believes that she must stay and work within the channels of the Roman Catholic Church — and to her credit, she has received what read like personal responses from Cardinals and officials at the Vatican. Jacqueline’s story will be in the Winter/Spring 2015 issue of New Women, New Church, available to current members of the Women’s Ordination Conference (renew here).

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In the beautiful Teatro Argentina around one hundred people, including actress Nancy Brilli and Cardinal Ravasi gathered to experience the production of the Pontifical Council for Culture and RAI tv’s collaboration on “Women’s Cultures” (#LifeofWomen). Videos and live-testimonials crowd-sourced over the ill-timed week of December 23 – January 4, were broadcasted for the first time and accompanied by three (male) jazz musicians.

Following the controversial report and Man Ray image of a headless and bound woman figure, expectations from the English-speaking world were low. The removal of the English language video featuring Brilli, and the overwhelming backlash should serve as a reminder (to all of us) that, as AP wrote: “the Vatican often forgets it’s a global institution, not an Italian one.”

Sour Rita Giaretta

Sour Rita Giaretta

While the report acknowledged some of the gender-specific violences against women, it was fraught with socially-constructed stereotypes and attempts to say they are “natural,” with corresponding gender-defined roles. This thinking and language have been challenged and rejected in scholarship for decades, and are wildly culturally and spiritually unacceptable.

The report also categorically rejected the idea of women’s ordination, stating that “statistically it is not something that women want,” despite the reports that said “a number” of the submission for the #LifeofWomen Campaign were from ordination advocates… and no statistics are cited.

There were high points and low points of this experience:

High points:

  • This happened. The Vatican asked women: “What is it like to be a woman?” – asking only for one week, and only in 1 minute video clips, but someone thought to ask. I know many of you are rolling your eyes, but this a crumb instead of the usual absence said crumb. 
  • Some of the work that women religious do to fight sex trafficking, domestic violence, poverty, and inequality was highlighted, although in a strange, “Vagina Monologue” starkness, three women religious were able to hold a microphone and talk about their life’s work, with Cardinals and ambassadors in the same room.
  • Clips from public policy expert Anne Marie Slaughter’s TED talk on why women “still can’t have it all,” where she discusses “real equality” as not valuing women on male terms. This excerpt expanded on the issue of childcare, maternity and paternity leave, “a culture of care,” socializing men and women to embrace roles within the family and the workplace, and generally how women (and family life) are treated in the workplace.
  • Theologian Marinella Perroni’s #LifeofWomen video was included in the final screening. Perroni was president of the Italian Women’s Theologian collective, and is a strong  advocate for women in the Church and society.
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Lots of men on stage, reading quotes from men. (Not in a #heforshe way)

Low points:

  • While men played music on a stage, men read quotes from other men: John Dunne; Joseph Conrad; Vittorio Zucconi. A young married couple came to the stage and only the husband spoke. In discussing maternity leave, an article and photo of Marco Buselli was used. These insensitivities to the loss of women’s narratives is not only jarring, but inexcusable. 
  • Stock images of women of color in colorful clothes without context, without a voice, without their stories (and I am assuming without their consent), flashed on a screen to uppity jazz music. Displaying images of women in war-torn countries, with children, praying, crying: who are these women? 
  • The event concluded with screenshots from social media, highlighting those who used the hashtag #LifeofWomen: a very selective sampling, void of the overwhelming numbers of those from @OrdainWomen and for those in favor of women’s ordination.  Again, this political editing undermines the Council’s very “attempt” to amplify the voices of women; women have been anonymous voices and instrumental players erased and silenced throughout history, and this was no different. As a colleague recently said, “There are good intentions. But the barriers are up against women.”

Overall, this exercise shows us how clumsy the Vatican can be with anything to do with women (even the name, “Women’s Cultures” – as if women are some sort of bacteria!).  Nevertheless, fighting the forces of Italian, Vatican, and patriarchal norms, a public forum where women were discussed, with women in the room, it’s not nothing.

For some of the stellar contributions from women’s ordination advocates See #LifeofWomen.

Updated: Here is the broadcast of the public event in Rome: http://www.rainews.it/dl/rainews/media/Life-of-women-teatro-Argentina-cf8822f7-58d6-4e5d-8fac-5ff3d83fa2bf.html

The Working Group on the Collaboration of Men and Women in Ministry is a small but mighty group organized by the Justice and Peace, and the integrity of Creation (JPIC) promoters. Last weekend nearly one hundred people (mostly sisters) attended a seminar organized by the group with Catholic theologian, Marinella Perroni, Professor of New Testament at the Pontifical University St. Anselmo in Rome and the former president of the Association of Italian Women Theologians.

Marinella Perroni

Marinella Perroni

Prof. Perroni offered a thoughtful and incisive reflection and exegesis on the role of women in the New Testament and the Church today. We discussed the balance of this work as between “resistance” and “resilience” – a very similar idea to the “hermeneutics of suspicion” and the “hermeneutics of recovery:”

la prospettiva di genere: una resistenza comprensibile, una “resilienza” auspicabile

resistenza: Là dove si solleva il sospetto sulla neutralità del discorso, dove si mettono in discussione stereotipi di genere e si tenta un’organizzazione più inclusiva degli spazi, certamente accade qualcosa (Lucia Vantini, Il Regno gennaio 2015).

resilienza è un termine derivato dalla scienza dei materiali. In psicologia connota proprio la capacità delle persone di far fronte agli eventi stressanti o traumatici e di riorganizzare in maniera positiva la propria vita dinanzi alle difficoltà. Bisogna concepire la resilienza come una funzione psichica che si modifica nel tempo in rapporto all’esperienza, ai vissuti e, soprattutto, al modificarsi dei meccanismi mentali che la sottendono.

With resistance we must challenge the “gender neutrality” of scriptures and storytelling, challenge gendered stereotypes, and work for more inclusive spaces in our Church and society. Resilience is more of a psychological coping of trauma and stress, the “reordering” of one’s life to live a positive or healthful life in the face of difficulties, informed by one’s experiences.

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A room full of mostly women religious, with photos of men all around the walls.

Perroni debunked uno stereotipo molto radicato: the modern understanding of the twelve apostles, especially in light of the resurrection(Jn 20,1-2.11-18), with several mentions of women who were followers of Jesus as part of  a discipleship of equals, where men and women followed and served Jesus together. In Mk 15, 41 (Mt 27,55s), women and men are mentioned as servants of Jesus, while in Lk 8,1-3, the women are in the scene to serve the others (the men).  Today we have departed from the model of a discipleship of equals to what Perroni described as a “patriarchy of love” — a striking description. The patriarchy preaches loving one another as brothers, (and later “sisters”), but that this gentle message comes from a model of inequality.

The patriarchy of love is one that glorifies women (“We are either Eve or Mary: nothing in between”), but reminded us that as soon as women are glorified, they are marginalized. Perroni in particular challenged the Marion/Pauline model in a book by Damiano Marzotto that Pope Francis is said to have read, as reproducing gendered stereotypes: “Women are the spirit of the Church” and men “do power.” We need both. 

Shed light on the role of women in the development of faith in the canonical Gospels.  Women are often “beyond the boundaries,” both territorially (Mt 15,21-28) and religiously (Mk 5,25-34). Perroni described this as being on the border of “religious taboos”– reminded me very much of the Roman Catholic Women Priests!

For those who are interested in studying the readings discussed, the lecture also highlighted: Jn 4,5-30.31-38.39-43; Jn 11.20 to 27; the anonymous disciple of Mk, from 14.3 to 9; Mary of Bethany (Jn 12.1 to 8).

A criticism we often hear of the women’s ordination movement (across any religion) is that women just want more power, to which Perroni refreshingly said: Of course we do.  “However, power should not be seen through the priesthood.” But it is. Our church has divided “sacred power” from “administrative power,” the latter which seems to be something within Pope Francis’ political will to change (“Although I don’t think there will be a woman in charge of the CDF… can you imagine!”).  Nevertheless, with a church that has decided on these divisions, that purports a clerical culture, women’s ordination is intrinsic to any equality.  As a dear friend recently said: “Either ordain women or let’s stop pretending our church fully values and respects women.”

The lecture was wildly well-received and sisters after the event spoke of how important it was to have such a strong and unafraid voice, many of whom plan to take back their notes to study and pray with their communities.  I am so grateful to be part of the Working Group and know that this lecture will embolden and inform our efforts to come.

In a connection that Roman Catholic woman priest, Diane Dougherty fostered, (she described the serendipitous networking as feeling “like Mary and Elizabeth… a baby is jumping in my womb……maybe all of ours”), I had the opportunity to sit down with Forbes writer, Cathy Huyghe on her recent trip to Rome. Cathy is a dynamic woman involved in various organizations and efforts to empower women and girls, fight sex-trafficking, and not to mention, writes about the culture and business of the wine industry. Who could ask for more? 

These three bottles of wine, made from Sangiovese, Syrah, and Merlot grapes, were part of a gift from the FONDAZIONE to the Pope. Photo Credit: Cathy Huyghe

These three bottles of wine, made from Sangiovese, Syrah, and Merlot grapes, were part of a gift from the FONDAZIONE to the Pope. Photo Credit: Cathy Huyghe

I met with Cathy fewer than twenty-four hours after she arrived to Rome and it seemed like she had already held dozens of meeting, fluttering between Vatican offices and various embassies.  The main focus of her time in Rome was to attend a meeting organized by Franco Ricci of the Fondazione Italiana Sommelier as well as the Italian wine guide Bibenda, and attend an audience with the Pope. Cathy is interested in wine as a metaphor, and particularly in the ways Pope Francis has used wine in his messages.

In Rome, it is not uncommon to have meetings with people passing through; many friend-of-friend connections come alive and over espresso one must uncover how we both got here. It was a lovely, lively meeting: we found we share several paths and passions, and will each be able to help one another in our collective work in elevating and promoting women in the Catholic Church.  (+1 for Diane the match-maker!) 

Cathy described our meeting on her blog:

Another coffee, a final one, was with an amazing woman, who is very young, with a spine of steel for the perfectly contrarian work she is doing. You have a sense, looking at her initially, that she is a lamb surrounded by a pack of wolves.

And guess what? The metaphor is here too. Those wolves think that they could smell her blood in the water. But she has a heart of her own, a powerful pounding one that beats for a mission. She survives. And so does the mission.

In a two-part series, “Psalms in Latin American Feminist Perspectives,” theologian Mercedes Garcia Bachmann of Buenos Aires, Argentina, brought a slice of feminist hermeneutics to the Faculta Valdese di Teologia, and unintentionally, a sliver of understanding to Pope Francis’ “blindspot.”

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Bachmann began her presentation by noting that many biblical scholars and teachers in Latin America are often too involved with social or public movements to contribute new scholarship in theological forums, so there is “more going on than to read.” 

I attended the first lecture just a few days after Pope Francis returned from the Philippines, where he spoke repeatedly about fighting a “colonization of ideology,” cautioning against “gender theory” as an unwelcome requirement to receiving foreign aid. Fighting corruption and capitalism are obvious themes of Francis’ pontificate, however hearing “gender theory” wrapped into the privileged colonizer stereotype stung for me (especially in knowing how harmful the “global gag rule” was for providing needed health education and services for families).

While usually the first to roll my eyes at the vague-reasoning of “well, he is an old Argentinian man,” as to why Francis doesn’t understand women, gender, or sexuality, it was in reading Psalm 91 in particular, through an intersectional lens of feminist liberation theology that helped widen my understanding of his context.

“Some of my students are born into democracies, but for those of us who were born into a dictatorship, there is a sense that we are always in danger of persecution and injustice.”

“Religion came to the continent with conquest and weapons,” Bachmann said, and so there is an awareness that persecution is always possible. And the colonizer is always present. I don’t agree with Pope Francis on his “ideological colonization” – especially with our Roman Catholic historical baggage, but for me (and perhaps to my ignorance), it became less confounding (though not less twisted) that he rejects western cultures of privilege and wealth.  After feeling completely deflated and disappointed from the reports from the Philippines trip, I think I needed a feminist theologian to shed some rational light from her own experience of Argentina onto what felt wrong and irrational. She didn’t mention the Pope, but her vigilance to perspectives of social and economic reasoning, often before (for me, the instinctual) feminist response, reordered the exegesis enough to make it feel distinctly Latin American, or at least less western. 

In reading Psalm 91 we “read from the body,” which Bachmann ascribes mostly as a technique of feminist theologians and women, but in this sense it is a matter of protection, from peril, war, and death.  Where I think Pope Francis falls short in his socio-economic approach, even if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he is “reading from the body,” is that his body is male (the norm, the un-gendered), and the “gendered” the others are out of his peripheries. In seeking protection, even bodily, it is not the same protection a woman or non-conforming gendered person might seek.

We discussed how many people create amulets from Psalm 91, or leave their bibles open to the Psalm to protect their homes. These “superstitious” or popular practices are generally dismissed as outside Catholic institutional norms. Here, as feminists we are asked to elevate these “outsider” practices as valid; while the Catholic institution attempts to restrict how the bible should be read or interpreted, women are always outside of these practices (in house churches, for example).

We also discussed Psalm 128 as a social critique of an economic system that might erode peasant family values: one which prioritizes family, land, children, and stability. Very simply, the ideal is described as children growing and working on one’s land (as investments), while one’s wife matures over years (like wine), the blessing comes from a stable family.  In doing so, the Psalm is postured against the temporary resident, the landless, those without inheritance: women’s dilemmas.

Just as biblical scholars in Latin America may be more involved in social movements than scholarship, Bachmann suggested that in the shadows of persecution, social needs take priority over the concept of salvation (which she described as an “after life” deliverance).  We concluded our first meeting noting that there is a salvation in reading the Psalms “from the body,” as God’s miracles are often bodily, coming through human bodies, feet, throats, wombs. Through women. 

VaticanI recently came across an article by an Italian theologian, Lilia Sebastiani, “Chiesa, ciò che manca alla parità,” where she describes why ordained ministry is important in the Roman Catholic Church: “Non perché io consideri il ministero ordinato così centrale nella prospettiva redenta,” but because Jesus did not intend to prioritize one community over the other.

It is not realistic to imagine the “disappearance of the hierarchy,” and so Sebastiani argues that we must imagine the removal of its power: when it is shared, the structure can be more fluid.

While aware that many women (not just traditionalists, but theologians as well) are not interested in the priesthood, especially as it stands, Sebastiani disagrees with the “no grazie” attitude.

While the problems of the current priesthood and the acceptance of women to the priesthood seem like two different issues, she argues that their root is the same.

Not only when women can be ordained, but when all ministers can live in a system that isn’t structured on the exclusion or absence of women, many things would change: “It is the only visible transformation consistent with the logic brought by the salvation of Jesus.”

She goes on to say that perhaps women can go on just fine without ordination, but the Church cannot go on excluding women from leadership and teaching, and furthermore asking the hierarchy to be “artificially protected” from women’s influence.

Read the full article on page 35 here

“Ma poiché una gerarchia c’è, e non è affatto realistico ipotizzarne la sparizione, ritengo che il modo migliore per togliere al potere i suoi aspetti antisalvifici sia condividerlo, renderlo fluido quanto più è possibile.

Molte donne (non parlo ora di quelle più tradizionaliste, ma di donne anche evolute, colte e impegnate, tra loro parecchie teologhe), dicono: no grazie, il sacerdozio così com’è non ci interessa!

Non sono d’accordo. «Così com’è», la categoria dei ministri ordinati si fonda su una certa connotazione di casta e sull’esclusione del femminile. Ma molte cose cambierebbero nel momento in cui le donne non fossero più escluse dal ministero e i ministri non fossero più tenuti per obbligo di stato a vivere senza donne. (Sembrano due problemi; in realtà, almeno alla radice, sono uno solo). Le donne saranno veramente accettate dalla chiesa quando potranno essere non solo spose legittime dei ministry ordinati, ma anche sorelle e colleghe nel ministero. È l’unica trasformazione visibile coerente con la logica della salvezza portata da Gesù.

Le donne forse possono andare avanti benissimo senza l’ordine sacro; ma la chiesa cattolica forse non può andare avanti continuando a escludere le donne da ogni funzione di governo e di magistero e tenendo i propri ministri artificialmente al riparo dalla loro influenza.

Non è un ‘problema delle donne’, ma della chiesa cattolica: un problema in cui si gioca tutto il suo futuro prossimo.”  Lilia Sebastiani 

The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Vatican’s “Women’s Consultation Group” launched a video campaign asking women: “who you are, what you do, what you think about your being a woman, your strengths, your difficulties, your body, and your spiritual life.”  The Vatican will host a meeting in February 2015 to reflect on four issues:

1) Between equality and difference: the quest for an equilibrium

2) “Generativity” as a symbolic code

3) The female body: between culture and biology

4) Women and religion: flight or new forms of participation in the life of the Church?

The Council for Culture took one week to crowd-source one-minute videos and photos to answer these questions. WOC members were up to the challenge. Make sure to check #LifeofWomen on Twitter and Facebook for more photos and videos.

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Alta's ordination 10-10-09

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A selection of videos:
 and more on You Tube! #LifeofWomen

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Incompatible with God’s Design: A History of the Women’s Ordination Movement in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church 

By Mary Jeremy Daigler

Incompatible with God’s Design is the first comprehensive history of the Roman Catholic women’s ordination movement in the United States. Mary Jeremy Daigler explores how the focus on ordination, and not merely “increased participation” in the life and ministries of the church, has come to describe a broad movement. Moving well beyond the role of such organizations as the Women’s Ordination Conference, this study also addresses the role of international and local groups.

In an effort to debunk a number of misperceptions about the movement, from its date of origin to its demographic profile, Daigler explores a vast array of topics. Starting with the movement’s historical background from the early American period through the early 20th century to Vatican II and afterward, she considers the role of women (especially Catholicism’s more religious adherents) in the movement’s evolution, the organization of the ordination movement in the United States, the role and response of clergy and Vatican teachings, the reality of international influences on the U.S. movement, and the full range of challenges—past and present—to the ordination movement.

Incompatible with God’s Design is compelling reading for any student of theology and women’s studies, as well as those interested in staying abreast with the changing role of women within the U.S. Roman Catholic Church.

Mary Jeremy Daigler has been a visiting scholar at the Mount St. Agnes Theological Center for Women in Baltimore since 2008. She holds a doctor of ministry in church administration, a master of divinity from the Andover Newton Theological School, Massachusetts, and a master of arts in Classical Languages from the Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Through the Windows: A History of the Ministry of Higher Education among the Sisters of Mercy (2001).

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Over the weekend I attended the meetings for a group called, “Council 50” – which is hoping to host a gathering in Rome in November 2015 to bring together representatives from all over the world to share their particular political and social contexts, and their positive experiences of being church. It sounds exciting but the irony of meetings about meetings is not lost on me…

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For a second I sympathized with the bishops and cardinals, meeting to discuss issues on marriage and family life the next two weeks, and really to plan for the Ordinary Synod in the fall of 2015: meeting about meetings.

The Council 50 group is unique for our work because of the large involvement with Italian reform groups and base communities. Again I put myself in the Synod hall as our meeting flickered between Italian, English, French, German, and half translations of each.  Words, intentions, and humor get lost and found around the table (try drafting a mission and vision statement simultaneously in several languages!) as we hope to understand each other. Again, a small semblance of sympathy for the bishops here, despite their professional outfitting and translation services, international meetings can be a bit of a circus.

However, while the bishops are meeting to discuss family and marital life, the obvious lack of families is a particularly embarrassing situation. While, it may be in the minds’ of bishops and cardinals, they think they are being inclusive and welcoming by hosting several couples, it cannot be stressed enough that these “decision makers” have actively chosen to not pursue married life, and presumably a reproductive life. I just think, are bishops not embarrassed at the sight and structure of their meetings?  Reports that married couples are “stealing the show” demonstrate the very lack of experience of family and married life in the Synod. And while Cardinal Nichols may have said the sexual lives of couples is not something bishops talk about much… they certainly talk a lot about the reproductive lives of women.

Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch

Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch with our report

As sometimes comical or scattered our meetings felt over the weekend, we were always discussing how we are Church and how to invite other people to tell us about how they are creating and building church communities, with some of these people shockingly in the room. The lack of diversity of who will actually contribute to the working document for the Bishops is one example of the painful separation of power in the Catholic church. The opaque selection process for lay couples and the layers and layers of interpretation, summary, and analysis of what is discussed in the synod halls indeed must partially explain the growing distance between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, the theological and the pastoral for many Catholics.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see the process of the bishops’ meetings starting with the stories of couples and families, and even in these first few days, the tone and topics seem encouraging. This morning Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch and I were able to hand several copies of our collaborative report, “Voices of the People” to Archbishop Kurtz, president of the USCCB, who thanked us both and shook our hands, and Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen from La Crosse, Wis. (who each hugged us!) on their way into the synod hall. All three were gracious and warm, thanked us for our work… before going behind gates and closed doors.   

Recommended reading so far:

Sex and Social Justice at the Synod on the Family

You’ve Got Male: Synod on the Family Slideshow

Cutback of information makes this synod harder to read

By all accounts, the theme of these Synod sessions should have been collegiality. Pope Francis, instead, has chosen a topic that interests and affects almost all Catholics, in some way: family. Every day, home-grown collegiality. Undoubtedly a populist, Francis has engaged the world’s Catholics in discussions of family life, the Sacraments, divorced and remarriage, family planning… it is incredible how this topic, (and even a flash of hope) has ignited the baptized to chime in.

In November and December 2013, fifteen U.S. Catholic reform organizations sent out a survey in preparation for the Synod on the Family. 16,582 participants responded.  Dr. Peter J. Fagan from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine analyzed the survey responses and produced the final report.

The results of the survey were similar to other sociological data, but the number of respondents who self-identified as weekly Mass-goers was 52 percent, a surprisingly high number given the overall average is 24 percent according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Demographically, 83 percent were laypeople and 11 percent vowed religious or ordained. On the important issues of contraception, sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics and same sex relationships:

Sr. Mary John Mananzan

Sr. Mary John Mananzan

● 1 percent said the teachings of Humanae Vitae were completely accepted. 76 percent supported alternatives.
● 75 percent of divorced and remarried couples felt they could approach the sacraments regardless of church recognition of their union.
● 73 percent said marriage equality was extremely or very important.

These numbers and the volumes of responses are not isolated to those in the U.S., but reflected many of polls from around the world.

“Right now it looks like there are very few participants at the Synod who will be representing the voices of many Catholics who already feel excluded from the Church,” said Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch.  “It is our work to do all we can to make sure those voices are heard and that the circles are widened to include those who represent the sensus fidelium on issues  where our lived experiences cannot be expressed adequately by male celibates.”

Kate McElwee and Sr. Mary John Mananzan

Kate McElwee and Sr. Mary John Mananzan

As a representative for WOC I was able to share some of this work at the Catholic Reform forum held in Rome these past few days. Among the other representatives was  Sr. Mary John Manazan, OSB from the Philippines. An incredible feminist theologian, Sr. Mary John took a more expansive view as she outlined her suggestions to the Synod-goers: address patriarchy and kyriarchy in our church and in our families.  Patriarchy in all forms creates a culture of violence against women; therefore, starting with the Church, we need non-patriarchal families, where dominance does not decide the safety or health of women and children. Sr. Mary John brought the taboo issues of FGM, incest, domestic violence right to the altar of the Church where this meeting was held. Her presentation brought the realities of what is often couched in vague terms to the devastating, on-going effects of our Church’s and our own complicity. Other speakers included Robert Mickens, Paul Collins, Marilyn Hatton, among others. (Read more about the event here ).

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Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaking at the European Forum for LGBT Christians

In the afternoon the European Christian LGBT Forum hosted an event  “The ways of love” in the Faculty of the Waldenses.  The forum was chaired by the Vatican expert Marco Politi, and featured Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and theologian James Alison. The room was full of familiar faces from New Ways Ministries, FutureChurch, and Council 50 organizers, but also about 100 attendees, mostly Italians. An obvious lack of women’s voices (and presence) was the only short-coming of this well organized event.   

The following day, the International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC) hosted a press conference with representative from three continents sharing recommendations to those attending the Synods sessions. Many of the speakers highlighted flawed doctrine, misapplied “traditions,” and emphasized that theological and theoretical discussions should not be “played against” pastoral needs. IMWAC surveyed their members worldwide and produced a list of seven questions for the synod:

IMWAC press conference

IMWAC press conference

1. What Images of the family will be used?

2. What is a family?

3. Will the complexity of the modern world be addressed?

4. How can the situation of families and partnerships in crisis be addressed?

5. Will the differing circumstances of women and men in families be address?

6. How will the status of children be viewed?

7. What impact do modern reproductive technologies have on families, marriages, and partnerships?

The reality shared in the room was that Catholic people are already making decisions about their families and reproductive lives without the church: “that train has left the station.” But as Catholics we believe our church can be a moral leader in the world, by following the example of Jesus. (If we first even humanize gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, affirm the bodily autonomy of women, embrace equality for women in all ministries and society, and reframe the imposition of celibacy on clergy, to name a few). One speaker referred to Pope Francis’ intentions to go the the margins of society and work there; however in our Church it is really the bishops who are on the margins of the complex realities of family life. Many mentioned the some “quick fixes,” the feasibility of some of these recommendations is seemingly possible and within reach — and yet Pope Francis has not made a move on some of these “easier” reparations.

It was acknowledged around the table that “women’s issues” always come last on these lists. And while as reformers we look to what Pope Francis not saying or doing, Miriam Duignan reminded the group that we must also pay attention to what Pope Francis is actively saying about women, the words that he does choose to say are flippant, sexist and rely on outdated and offensive gender roles.  If you haven’t watched WOC’s video, “Vatican: It’s a Man’s World,” most of these quotes come from Pope Francis.

Today another reform coalition called “Council 50″ will meet to plan a gathering in a year’s time, marking the close of the Vatican II Council and the signing of the Catacomb Pact. Rome truly has been transformed these past few days by the presence of so many engaged, interested Catholics who are here to give witness to the pastoral and sacramental needs of families. I will be looking for where the Synod of Bishops becomes permeable to the choruses of voices literally surrounding them. Where, in their closed sessions will we see any bubbles from the letters, surveys, and reports calling for a more relevant, a more pastoral church?