In the Vineyard :: October 4, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 19
Voice of the Faithful’s 2021 Conference:Re–Membering the Church: Moving Forward
The conference will look closely at the body of the Church to see how structure, power, participation, and accountability can be brought together within the Church to fulfill its mission of bringing Christ to the world.
The online Zoom conference takes place Oct. 22-23, 2021. At 7 p.m. (EDT), Oct. 22, conference registrants can gather for free Zoom listening sessions to talk about issues affecting the church today, especially the Synod startup. The full-day conference on Oct. 23 will begin at 8:30 a.m. (EDT), as registrants gather in a Zoom waiting room for the 9 a.m. start. The cost will be $50. Undergraduate students will be admitted free when using the link below(link is external) or filling out the mail-in registration form.
VOTF supports a vision in the Church of openness and respect between hierarchy and the laity, more inclusivity within the church, and collaborations that lead to more activities and initiatives within the church that reflect lay voices. As outlined at a previous VOTF conference, “There is no body without its members. There are no members without participation. There is no participation without mutual recognition and accountability. Structural change is possible. Accountability is necessary. Re-membering the church is essential.”
The Synod on Synodality: Largely Ignored in the U.S.
Pope Francis will officially open the synod entitled: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” on October 9 in Rome. Every other diocese in the world will open on October 17, and many dioceses in Central and South America, Australia, Germany, and Ireland have already begun setting up their meetings. Catholics in the United States, however, have barely heard of the synod.
Only a few U.S. Bishops have introduced the idea of the synod to the laity, an ironic challenge, given that the focus of this synod is grassroots consultation with lay Catholics. Bishop Coyne, of Burlington, Vermont, said “Whatever comes out of this really good effort is one that, more than anything else, hopefully will invite us to begin to see each other more in the sense of a collegial church, a church in which all the members have access to the Holy Spirit and have something to say within the work of the church as we strive within the tradition of the church to live in this culture… It’s a great opportunity for me to learn and for bishops all over the world to develop better habits of consultation with our people.”
Sadly, many bishops in the United States do not share his views.
As has been in the news recently, many Catholic bishops appear to be more interested in discussing denying Communion to Catholic politicians than getting input from their dioceses, despite criticism by other bishops in the global Church and from Rome.
In other countries, the bishops are more aligned with Francis’s goal for this synod: to hear from ordinary Catholics. Still, even in Australia, where the synodal process was already under way, conservative factions reportedly are sidelining women’s concerns despite thousands of voices seeking wider attention.
Pope Francis has said “the periphery is the center” and this synod is his way of listening to the periphery, bringing in the needs and goals of everyday Catholics to the “common road,” as the word synod comes from in Greek. He hopes that this process will help leaders ascertain what is needed for the future of the Catholic Church, but some bishops’ focus on politics, as Francis has pointed out, is not what the Church needs.
Some specific changes born out of the Pan-Amazon synod in 2019 included the installation of women as lectors and acolytes, which were brought about through changes to canon law. Previously, these were roles limited to men. In the United States, the strong arm of clericalism may limit who is heard and whether voices from the periphery are truly listened to, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is still focused on maintaining control. Francis’s goal for this synod to be about the process worldwide may be realized, although it seems that it may be realized in spite of some American bishops and not because of their efforts.
One major focus of the 2021-2023 Synod may be the future of women’s roles in the church. Women are still not permitted to vote in synods (a privilege restricted to bishops alone) and cannot be ordained. However, listening to the people may lead to some additional changes, particularly given that the mission for this process is focused on disrupting the existing hierarchy and looking forward with a new system “where all the baptized are part of the mission of the Church,” according to Sr. Nathalie Becquart, the first female undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, appointed by Pope Francis earlier this year. Her view of synodality is something that can only be understood through experience, like “dancing together,” “listening to the music of the Holy Spirit.” The emphasis for this process, she hopes, will be on “mutual listening” to find a consensus. She clarified that decisions will be made differently through this process, but it won’t involve “getting rid of the hierarchical principles.”
The actual impact of women’s voices in this process will depend heavily on the diocese in which they participate: Phyllis Zagano, a U.S. Catholic scholar, explained that the process and effectiveness of synodality in the U.S., and indeed across the world, “will depend on the individual bishop,” and based on recent events, there is a significant schism between the views of some bishops and the views of many Catholics.
If the process is respected and observed, the entire church will have the opportunity to engage in discernment. Many will consider the possibility of a female diaconate, as has been the focus of the commission last month, and the group “Discerning Deacons,” which was founded earlier this year. This incredible opportunity for Catholics to engage with their own faith and conversations with others around the future of the church may lead to further conversation around the hierarchy and structures of the Church, trickling down to the level of everyday Catholic life. It is the duty and the privilege of the lay Catholic to offer witness and visions for the future of an inclusive and welcoming church.
For VOTF’s list of Synod resources (updated frequently), see here.
For VOTF’s position on women’s roles in the Church, please see here.
For VOTF’s position on clericalism, please see here.
German Synodal Path: A Response to Abuse Crisis
Bishop Georg Bätzing has vigorously defended the German “synodal path” against critics who claim the country is using the abuse crisis to reshape the Church. Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg claimed “the fact that interested parties now continue to pretend that nothing has actually happened so far, that without a valid comparison of institutions and without a historical classification of the cases of abuse, the peculiarities of the Catholic Church are systematically blamed for it, feeds my suspicion that the sexual abuse is being instrumentalized here in an attempt to reshape the Catholic Church along the lines of Protestant church orders, where “synod” means something different than in the Catholic Church, namely a kind of church parliament.”
Germany’s abuse scandal was widespread: 3,677 cases of sexual abuse of minors in Catholic institutions were reported, with nearly 5% of all priests in Germany accused of being perpetrators. The synodal path was a direct response to the falling public trust in Germany’s Catholic Church after the scandal broke, and was unanimously agreed upon by all bishops in the country. That does not mean it was without controversy, however.
Prior to the opening of the synodal path in Germany, in 2019 Pope Francis wrote a letter “to the people of God in Germany.” Some saw this as an encouragement to change, while others viewed it as a threat not to. He was clearer in later comments, explaining that he feels “a great sadness” when the Church acts “as if it were a political party: the majority, the minority, what this one thinks of this or that or the other.” Germany’s synodal path has, indeed, been marked by factions disagreeing with the appropriate way forward. There is a liberal faction and a conservative faction, and they have competing ideas on the future of the Church.
The actual concepts being discussed in the synodal path concern mentality, rather than dogma: including priests in everyday parish life rather than isolating them as a method to reduce clericalism and respecting LGBTQ Catholics in a pastoral way, among others. Conservative critics argue that the synodal path risks changing fundamental church teachings, and liberal critics believe that if the synodal path is effective, it will change the structures of the church for good.
Germany’s Catholic church has been in the news for many reasons as of late, including a liberal majority that wants to create a more welcoming church. The two factions are set in their ways, much in the way that Francis warned against, but the ultimate goal of this synodal path is to find a way forward through the abuse crisis. The synodal path is ongoing, and will likely last longer than the originally projected two years–some of this is due to the controversial nature of the topics, and some due to the nature of the pandemic: It is challenging to carry on a nuanced conversation over Zoom. Ideally, the German Catholic Church will reach consensus on the best way to reform to avoid further abuse, but at very least, hopefully they will be able to seek discernment together.
For VOTF’s position on clericalism, please see here.
To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.
For survivor support resources, please see here.
Francis is set to open worldwide synod process. U.S. dioceses don’t seem prepared
“With about three weeks to go before Catholic prelates around the world are due to open a first-of-its-kind grassroots consultation period as part of an expanded vision for the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, church officials across the U.S. are still figuring out exactly what that process will look like. A range of dioceses contacted by NCR in recent weeks said they were still working out the details for the consultation period and would be in a better position to comment on the synod in coming weeks, after Pope Francis formally opens the two-year synod process with a ceremony in Rome on Oct. 9. Officials who agreed to interviews described plans that relied on parish listening sessions, online surveys, Zoom meetings and other avenues to get feedback from laity.” By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Reporter
Given abuse reforms, expert says bishops have ‘no excuse’ for failure
“Ahead of a three-day summit on child protection taking place in Poland against the backdrop of the country’s recent abuse scandals, perhaps Catholicism’s leading expert has said progress is being made and that new legal tools drafted over the past few years mean bishops now have ‘no excuse’ for failure. Speaking to Crux, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner said that while much still needs to be done in terms of awareness and safeguarding, on a general level, people in the Church now are taking the problem of clerical sexual abuse ‘much more seriously.’” By Elise Ann Allen, Cruxnow.com
- Pope to bishops: Listen to abuse victims for sake of church, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press
- Pope: Misguided concern for Church reputation should not sideline abuse victims’ welfare, By Vatican News
- Video Message of the Holy Father for the meeting “Our common mission of safeguarding God’s children”, organised by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Bishops’ Conferences of Central and Eastern, By Holy See Press Office
‘They knew and they let it happen’: Uncovering child abuse in the Catholic Church
“On his first day on the job in July 2001, Globe editor Martin Baron stopped by the desk of Eileen McNamara, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. A week earlier, McNamara had published a column about the Boston Archdiocese’s silence on three priests accused of sexually abusing children. One line, in particular, had irked Baron. McNamara had wondered whether an accused priest’s superiors had known about his crimes. Court documents were sealed. McNamara recalls Baron standing over her desk: ‘Why don’t we find out,’ he said.” By Joseph P. Kahn and Mike Damiano, The Boston Globe
Women are rising to new heights in the Vatican. Could they change the Church forever?
“When Nathalie Becquart, a member of the Congregation of Xavières, was appointed the first woman undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, she voiced an observation that made headlines around the world. In a press conference at the Vatican, she told reporters her appointment was evidence that ‘the patriarchal mindset [of the church] is changing.’ Is it true? Pope Francis has appointed women to positions of greater authority than any previous pontiff, but the Vatican remains a largely male-dominated space that, because it must be controlled by an ordained bishop, places a definite restriction on the heights to which women can aspire—a limit some have termed a ‘stained-glass ceiling.’ By Colleen Dulle, America: The Jesuit Review
Prof. Suchocka: ‘Clerical sexual abuse a universal problem, not only a Western one’
“As the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors holds a conference in the Polish capital of Warsaw, the painful history of Eastern and Central Europe is coming to the fore. Much of the region suffered for decades under the iron fist of communism and the Soviet Union. Throughout those years, the Church in many countries was seen as a stronghold against oppression. Now, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, another side of that history is showing its face, as the Church seeks to root out the scourge of clerical sexual abuse.” By Devin Watkins, Vatican News
- The voices of the victims of clergy sexual abuse, By Ewa Kusz, Vatican News
Three Things Talks: “Go to Joseph”
St. John’s University in Queens NY is hosting the Three Things Talks series, which addresses issues of Catholic belief and teaching. You can attend in person or virtually; the event will be live-streamed. The talks are intended for adult Catholics who want to know more about their faith and for those who are interested in what Catholics believe. Each talk emphasizes three important ideas.
10:30 a.m. Welcome and Prayer
10:45 a.m. “Joseph and Silence”
Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate-in-Residence. Department of Religion, Hofstra University
11:30 a.m. Break
Noon “Joseph and Prayer”
Matthew Lewis Sutton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, St. John’s University
12:45 p.m. Closing and Prayer
For more information and to register, please visit www.stjohns.edu/TTT, or contact VCCS@stjohns.edu; 718-990-1612. Queens Campus, St. Thomas More Church, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, NY 11439
Pope Francis’ October Prayer Intention
Jesus asks us all, and you as well, to be missionary disciples. Are you ready?
It’s enough to be available to answer His call and to live united to the Lord in the most common daily things —work, meeting other people, our daily duties, the chance events of each day— allowing ourselves to be guided always by the Holy Spirit.
If Christ moves you, if you do things because Christ is guiding you, others will notice it easily.
And your testimony of life will inspire admiration, and admiration inspires others to ask themselves, “How is it possible for this person to be this way?,” “What is the source of the love with which this person treats everyone —the kindness and good humor?”
Let us remember that the mission is not proselytism; the mission is based on an encounter
Please send them to Siobhan Carroll, Vineyard Editor, at Vineyard@votf.org. Unless otherwise indicated, I will assume comments can be published as Letters to the Editor.
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