Bishops Urge Greater Inclusion of Women in Church Decisions

By Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times
October 27, 2018

Pope Francis on Saturday with clerics and other participants in the Synod of Bishops. The assembly called for a more inclusive role for women and young people.
Photo by Fabio Frustaci

After a nearly monthlong global assembly dedicated to youths, Roman Catholic bishops called Saturday for a more inclusive role for women in church decision-making and greater participation of young people.

The appeal was part of a new document that urged bishops to help renew the church through a more participatory approach, making greater use of the energies and capabilities of young lay Catholics.

The document given to Pope Francis for his consideration also called for urgent changes so that women could play a bigger role in church decisions at all levels.

“It is a duty of justice,” it said, adding, “The absence of women’s voices and viewpoint impoverishes discussion and the path of the church.”

The document also acknowledged the church’s shortcomings amid new revelations on clerics’ sexual abuse of minors, a continuing global scandal that has damaged the church’s credibility in recent years and that risks undermining attempts to engage younger generations.

The Synod of Bishops, as the assembly is known, “recognizes that dealing with the question of abuse, in all its aspects, with the precious help of young people, can really be an opportunity for an epochal reform,” the document said.

It praised those who had called out their abusers, and admitted that many past cases had been badly handled. Several of the participants said throughout the three-week gathering that the abuse issue had weighed on the discussions.

But some said a more appropriate venue for discussing the topic would be a meeting at the Vatican that Francis has called for February with the presidents of more than 130 bishops’ conferences.

Many had hoped for more from the document.

“It’s kind of the same old stuff,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for gay Catholics, who said the Vatican would have had a better understanding of the complexities of the issue had one of the 34 young lay auditors at the synod been gay.

The working draft of the document given to bishops at the beginning of the synod, for example, specifically used the acronym L.G.B.T. — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — while the final draft did not. Some Catholics had welcomed its use as a sign that the church was listening to them by speaking their language.

While the final draft renewed the church’s “commitment against every discrimination and sexually based violence,” that section got the most negative votes: 65 “no” votes, and 178 in favor.

In receiving the document from the synod participants on Saturday — 249 clerics with voting rights as well as about 90 more experts and auditors — Pope Francis described the synod as “a protected space” where the Holy Spirit could operate.

This is the third synod convened by Francis, now in the fifth year of his papacy; one in the Amazon region is scheduled for next year.

Compared with the previous two synods on the family, when the issue of giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics provoked open dissent against Francis, the participants spoke of an open, enthusiastic and relaxed atmosphere. Many credited the presence of 34 auditors between the ages of 18 and 29.

In accordance with Francis’ vision of a bottom-up church, the document calls for young people to take on leadership roles within their Catholic communities and dioceses, working alongside, and not under, priests and bishops to build stronger church networks.

One concrete suggestion in the document was the establishment of an international advisory board of young people.

In a letter written to the pope, and read to him Friday evening during an impromptu variety show, the 34 youths who participated in the synod told Francis they shared his vision for “an outgoing church, open to all, especially the weakest, a field hospital church.”



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