The Synod, Women and the Temptation of Arithmetic

To the “yes” or the “no” test, the role of women in the Church is confirmed as a divisive topic including in the Synod. While the homosexual question doesn’t take off and the atmosphere changes (perhaps) as egards the fight against abuses.

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Simone Varisco

(ZENIT News – Caffe Storia / Rome, 31.10.2023). The Synod of Doubts does not give room to doubts. This is the sensation experienced when leafing through the results of over 200 votes in  25 working days on the Summary Report of the first Session of the 16thOrdinary General Assembly of Bishops, made public by the Holy See Press Office. “Yes,” “no,” but no “perhaps,” not even the possibility oof abstention.

This turns out to be even more striking a few days after the debate sparked in the UN General Assembly, which on October 27 approved a Resolution presented by Jordan regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The Resolution was approved by 120 votes in favour , 14 against and 45 abstentions, including Italy’s. As is known, votes such as these are an indicative thermometer of global geopolitical balances, where abstentions also have an operative and moral weight which is anything but secondary.

In recent weeks, however, it has been repeatedly recalled that the Synod isn’t a parliamentary assembly, or the Church an organism called to follow the rules of State policy. Hence it prohibits, at least officially, majorities and minorities, alliances and currents, as well as abstentions. “May your words be yes, yes [or] no, no, more than that is of the Evil One,” it would be said jokingly, although those in favour boast overwhelming numbers, which, however, leaves some with a bitter taste in the mouth, especially the Bulgarian hawks of the German Synod, who expected even greater “openings.”

The Temptation of Arithmetic: The Role of Women, The Most Controversial Question

Let’s admit it: the vote counting, in politics’ best tradition, is a temptation that is difficult to resist. Hence, it’s impossible not to focus on the most controversial paragraphs (namely, those that received a greater number of votes against in the Synodal Assembly, including in the always broader majority of the yeses), at least for two reasons: first because confrontation is more news than agreement; second, because agreement in this case moves tediously on numbers close to unanimity. The only curiosity is that the Conclusions (10 votes against) are, as ever, more problematic than the Introduction (only one vote against).

In the text there are no less than 14 references to migrants and refugees, a strong subject of Francis’ pontificate, but it’s another issue that has weight in the Synod: the chapter that gets more votes against in total (390, as opposed to 5,8838 in favour) is no. 9, which addresses the role of women in the life and mission of the Church. They are, in fact, the 18 paragraphs of the chapter that, individually, have more votes against in the whole text of the Synthesis: 69 against and 277 in favour in paragraph J, and 67 against and 279 in favour in paragraph N.

The writing of the Summary Report attests to a heated debate. “Different positions have been expressed on women’s access to the diaconal ministry. Some consider that this step would be unacceptable, as it would be in discontinuity with the Tradition. For others, however, to grant women access to the diaconate would restore a practice of the primitive Church. Others see in this step  an appropriate  and necessary response to the signs of the times, faithful to the Tradition and able to find echo in the hearts of many who seek a renewed vitality and energy in the Church. Some express the fear that this petition is an expression of a dangerous anthropological confusion, that, by accepting it, the Church would align herself with the spirit of the times” (paragraph J).

The proposals request that the “theological and pastoral research” continue “on women’s access to the diaconate, taking advantage of the results of the Commissions created  especially by the Holy Father and the theological, historical and exegetic research already carried out [. . . ]” (paragraph N).

Celibacy, Former Priests and Women Again

Significant also is the total number of votes against (264, as opposed to 3,888 in favour) counted in chapter 11, the second most impugned, on the subject of deacons and presbyters in a synodal Church. It’s interesting that the topic of women returns also in this chapter: the most controversial paragraph (61 no and 285 yes), recalls, in fact, that “the uncertainties that surround the theology of the diaconal ministry are also due to the fact that in the Latin Church it was only restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy after Vatican Council II. A more profound reflection on this matter will also illumine the question of women’s access to the diaconate” (paragraph I).

There were also marked differences of opinion on “priests’ celibacy” (paragraph F, with 55 votes against and 291 in favour) and on the fate of former priests, so that their inclusion is considered “in a pastoral service that enhances their formation and experience” (paragraph L, with 53 votes against and 293 in favour).

The Homosexual Question Doesn’t Take Off

If the issue of the role of women in the Church is kept, the same cannot be said of what before the Synod was announced as a stumbling block: the pastoral care of homosexual people and, in particular, the suitability of a blessing of same-sex couples, already at the center of the pre-Synodal controversy and of many expectations, both ecclesial as well as of the media. Although debated, and notwithstanding the presence of some “great names” of gay activism, the question didn’t take off, at least according to the recount of votes.

Terms such as “homosexual” or the more politically correct “LGBT” do not even appear in the text, substituted by more nuanced formulas such as “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.”

Found, with a slight vote rebound against (39, as opposed to 307 in favour), in the long section G of chapter no. 15 (Ecclesial Discernment and Open Questions):

Some questions, such as those related to gender identity and sexual orientation  in the text, are substituted by more nuanced formulas such as “gender identity” and “sexual orientation, the end of life, difficult marital situations and ethical problems related to Artificial Intelligence are controversial, not only in society but also in the Church, because they pose new questions. At times, the anthropological categories that we have developed do not suffice to understand the complexity of the elements that arise from the experience or knowledge of the sciences and require perfecting and deeper study. It’s important to take the necessary time for this reflection and to invest our best energies in it, without yielding to simplified judgments that wound people and the Body of the Church. The Magisterium already offers many guidelines that hope to be translated into appropriate pastoral initiatives. Also where further clarifications are needed of Jesus’ conduct, assimilated in prayer and conversion of heart, which point out to us the way to follow.”

Even more contained is the opposition (20 no and 326 yes) to section H of chapter 16 (For a Church that listens and accompanies):

“In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church –because of their marital situation, their identity and their sexuality — also asked to be heard and accompanied, and that their dignity be defended. Perceived in the Assembly was a profound sentiment of love, mercy and compassion for people that are or feel wounded or neglected by the Church, who desire a place to return “home” and where they can feel safe, heard and respected, without fear of being judged. To listen is a prior requisite to walk together in seeking the Will of God. The Assembly reaffirms that Christians cannot lack respect for the dignity of any person.”

Fight Against Sexual Abuses: Is the Atmosphere Changing?

A hot topic in the media, but which still struggles to warm the hearts of the whole ecclesiastical body, is that of “sexual, power and economic abuses” in the Church. Mentioned in Section F of the said chapter 9 on women, with a slight increase in the number of votes against (26 out of 346), which, however, is more contained than other sections of the same chapter, which, as was said, is the most controversial.

Neither do other references to the fight against abuses in the heart of the Church raise special blisters: it’s mentioned thus in chapter 12, paragraph I: “It is necessary to develop more structures dedicated to the prevention of abuses”(again 26 out of 346 votes against) and especially in chapter 16, paragraph F: “The Church must listen with particular attention and sensibility to the voices of the victims and survivors of sexual, spiritual, economic, institutional abuses of power and conscience by members of the clergy or of people with authority in the Church. Genuine listening is an essential element in the path to healing, repentance, justice and reconciliation” (only 7 out of 346 votes against).

In terms of the fight against abuses, is it a sign that the atmosphere is improving?



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