In the Vineyard: January 17, 2022


In the Vineyard :: January 17, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 1

National News

Sign Up for Synod Sessions

Roman Catholics worldwide have embarked on a two-year journey together along a path called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The Synod provides the most significant opportunity ever for the Church’s laity to influence the future of the Church.

Appropriately for an organization whose mission calls for Spirit-led voices participating in the Church’s governance and guidance, Voice of the Faithful is offering Synod sessions as opportunities for people to express how they see the Church becoming the synodal, pastoral, evangelical Church it should be. The combined views will be forwarded to the General Secretariat for the Synod.

In addition to gathering the views of its own members, VOTF will open its Synod sessions to all who desire to attend. The organization also will help any groups seeking assistance with their own sessions.

Each VOTF synod session includes two meetings, by Zoom video, and an optional third session depending on the desire of session participants. Each session is designed to run 90 minutes, with the flexibility to run longer, again depending on the desire of the participants. Sessions also are limited to 10-12 participants, including the facilitator and the scribe assigned by VOTF, to allow sufficient time for all to speak. 

The initial schedule offers three sets of sessions: January 25 and February 1 at 7:30 pm Eastern (6:30 Central, 5:30 Mountain, 4:30 Pacific), January 27 and February 3 at 2 pm Eastern (1 pm Central, Noon Mountain, 11 am Pacific), and January 29 and February 5 at Noon Eastern (11 am Central, 10 am Mountain, 9 am Pacific). You can sign up for one of the sessions here. Additional dates and times will be announced at the end of January.

According to Pope Francis, synodality is the way of being the Church today, in a dynamic of discerning and listening together to the voice of the Holy Spirit. “Synod” derives from the Greek and indicates not only the path along which the People of God walk together, but also how Christians originally were called “followers of the Way (of Jesus).”

This past September, while addressing about a thousand representatives of the Diocese of Rome, including bishops, clergy, women and men religious, and members of the laity, Pope Francis said the synodal process involves “a dynamism of mutual listening, conducted at all levels of the Church, involving the whole People of God.”*

The Synod on Synodality has three phases. The first phase, called the diocesan phase, began October 2021 and concludes in August 2022. During this phase, input from all the faithful will be collected and sent to local bishops or directly to the Vatican. Many dioceses, local groups, and organizations have already begun this process. VOTF started its own sessions with a model the evening before its 2021 national conference Oct. 23. Attendees from the United States, Canada, and New Zealand discussed their dreams for a Church that recognizes the Spirit-led voices of all the faithful, both lay and ordained.

Prior to October 2023, when the world’s bishops meet for the general assembly of the Synod in Rome, Catholics everywhere will be “recalling how the Spirit has guided the Church’s journey through history and, today, guides us to be, together, witnesses of God’s love; living a participative and inclusive ecclesial process that offers everyone—especially those who for various reasons find themselves on the margin—the opportunity to express themselves and to be heard in order to contribute to the edification of the People of God.”*

*From the Preparatory Document for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission

Women’s Roles Are an Important Component of the Synod on Synodality; But Perhaps Not in the Way You Think

Pope Francis’s Synod on Synodality has been officially open since October, and women’s roles are at the forefront of many discussions, but not as a topic of conversation: women are stepping up and leading many of these discussions.

Sr. Maureen Sullivan, OP, will be leading a weekly discussion series in February examining documents of Vatican II and their implications for this synod. Sr. Maureen Sullivan is a Dominican Sister of Hope and a scholar of the Second Vatican Council. She is from New York, and she earned her MA in Theology from Manhattan College and her PhD in Theology from Fordham College. The series is free and open to all, but requires pre-registration that can be found here

Another woman leading discussions for the synod is Sr. Nathalie Becquart, the undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops. Her take on the process is refreshingly simple and accessible: “coming from the ‘I’ to the ‘us.’” She explains that while some have criticized the synod for starting slowly, more than half of U.S. dioceses have named coordinators and started listening sessions. She describes this synod as less of an “event” and more of a process, starting at the local level and centering around humility and willingness to hear others’ voices. She acknowledges that around the world and particularly in many aspects of church life, “the experience of women is mainly of being dominated by men,” but in spite of or perhaps due to that, women have a “capacity of resilience.” While she understands the symbolic power of her vote as a woman at a Catholic Synod of Bishops, she insists that “what is more important is to have the voices of women at every stage,” not only the final decisions. 

Many influential women in the Catholic Church hope that this synod will give greater voice to women in the church. Sr. Patricia Murray, a member of the Spirituality Commission of the Synod on Synodality, says, “I’ve seen the leadership of women flourishing. I look at the roles of superior religious generals and their collaborators, lay and religious women, from grassroots levels to all levels within the church, and we’ve seen some pretty significant appointments.” She spoke at a panel held in December, at the Roman headquarters of La Civilta Cattolica. The theme of the panel was Women in Synodality, and only one man spoke: Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro. 

The two-year synodal process offers many opportunities for women to be involved, and thus far, they are taking the message of participation to heart. Women’s ordination will be a hot topic on the roster, but so too will women’s roles in the myriad ways they support the Church. 

For more information, please see herehere, and here

For VOTF’s position on women’s roles, please see here. 

International News

“Explosive” Report on Potential Abuse
Cover-up to Discuss Pope Benedict XVI

In a report scheduled for release later this month, German law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl will cover the management of clerical sexual abuse allegations in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. Three of the highest-ranking officials from the diocese in the period covered are still alive: Cardinals Friedrich Wetter and Reinhard Marx, and then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, now known as retired Pope Benedict XVI.

The report is the culmination of two years of research on the period 1945-2019, and investigates who knew what about sexual abuse and what they did about that knowledge. Last summer, Cardinal Marx, the current archbishop of Munich, tried to resign from his office in an attempt to take responsibility for mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis, although he himself was not implicated in any deliberate cover-up or sexual abuse at the time. In his letter of resignation, he wrote, “I believe one possibility to express this willingness to take responsibility is my resignation. I therefore strongly request you to accept this resignation.” Pope Francis rejected his resignation and said he should continue to lead by example.

A significant portion of the report covers the period 1977-1981, when retired Pope Benedict XVI was archbishop of Munich. During this time, a priest known as Peter H. sexually abused numerous children. Peter H. went to Bavaria for therapy after committing abuse as a chaplain, but was soon back to providing pastoral care and abusing children again. Now 29 victims have come forward in Munich and Essen and the total number may be higher.

In 1986, Peter H. was given a suspended sentence for sex abuse, but reassigned yet again by senior church officials. He was finally removed from pastoral care only in 2010. That year, Father Gerhard Gruber, the Munich vicar general in 1980, signed a statement taking sole responsibility for Peter H. being permitted to continue his work as a priest under Archbishop Ratzinger. Father Gruber later said he was forced to sign the statement of responsibility, a claim that church officials denied, saying he was only assisted in writing the statement. 

Another report, this one from 2016, was leaked to Die Zeit weekly’s Christ & Welt supplement, provided a drastically different view. The report claimed that “then archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and his ordinate council were, knowing the facts, ready to take on priest H.” The leaked report exposes a “complete cover-up” of the events in Munich and Rome, according to German canon lawyers. These actions allowed Peter H. to continue to abuse children. 

For more information, please see here and here

To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.

For survivor support resources, please see here.

Pope Francis Puts His Translations Where His Mouth Is

Pope Francis has been calling for a less-clericalized Catholic Church. He put those words into action recently when, at his first weekly catechism lesson of 2022, a layman and a nun, rather than a cloaked monsignor, provided the English and Spanish translations.

Announcing the change prior to the discourse, the Vatican stated “men and women, religious and lay employees of several dicasteries of the Roman Curia, will be present at the General Audience for the reading of the greetings in various languages.” Pope Francis has often called for more lay participation in Church life, rather than a culture that puts priests and ordained religious on a pedestal. 

To read more, please see here.


Coming abuse report to review retired Pope Benedict’s tenure as German archbishop
“In mid-January, the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl is scheduled to publish a report into the handling of clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The potentially explosive aspect is that three of the highest-ranking officials are still alive: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now retired Pope Benedict XVI — and Cardinals Friedrich Wetter and Reinhard Marx, reported the German Catholic news agency KNA. The investigation followed two years of research and covers the period from 1945 to 2019, centering on who knew what about sexual abuse and when, and what action they took, if any, KNA reported.” By Catholic News Service in National Catholic Reporter

20 years after Spotlight investigation of Catholic sex abuse crisis, is the church a safer place?
“On Jan. 6, 2002, on the Feast of the Epiphany, The Boston Globe published the first in a series of reports from its Spotlight investigative team, headlined ‘Church allowed abuse by priest for years.’ While the findings were not a surprise to abuse survivors, the revelations that a previously unknown number of priests in the Boston area had sexually abused minors for decades devastated Catholics in Boston and, ultimately, the faithful around the world.” By Kathleen McChesney, former F.B.I. executive and first executive director of the Office of Child Protection for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Catholic Church in Australia publishes annual report on abuse
“The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) on Thursday (Dec. 17) published their Annual Progress Report on initiatives implemented at national and local level to fight abuse in the Church. The report has been issued yearly since 2018 on recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It summarizes reports provided by more than 50 Catholic entities across the country to give an account to the Australian government of the progress made in the field of child protection.” By Lisa Zengarini, Vatican News

El Pais Newspaper: Catholic Church in Spain faces major abuse investigation
“Spain’s Catholic Church is to open an investigation into alleged sex abuse of hundreds of children by members of the clergy dating back 80 years that the newspaper El Pais has uncovered, the daily said on Sunday (Dec. 19). The investigation will look into allegations of abuse against 251 priests and some lay people from religious institutions that the paper has uncovered, El Pais said.” By Reuters on

Priest who led diocesan office of child protection charged in abuse case
“A retired priest of the Diocese of Arlington, who for seven years oversaw the diocese’s program on protecting minors from clerical sexual abuse, was indicted shortly before Christmas on two counts of sexually abusing a minor. A trial is scheduled next October for Father Terry Specht, 68, who now lives in Donegal, Pennsylvania. The priest was the director of the diocese’s Office of Child Protection from 2004-2011. The Washington Post reported that Father Specht was indicted on two felony counts related to sexual abuse of a child under age 13. The indictment said the assault took place in 2000, when Father Specht was chaplain and assistant principal at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax.” By Catholic News Service in National Catholic Reporter

Click here to read the rest of this issue of Focus …


Conference features survivor voices

Georgetown University is sponsoring Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church–Listening to the Voices of Survivors on January 20, 2022, from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST. It is an online Zoom Webinar and requires an RSVP.

This conference culminates a series of events on Listening to the Voices of Survivors, hosted as part of the Global Culture of Safeguarding Program, Georgetown University. Two of these events focused on understanding the recent report in France from the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE), led by Jean-Marc Sauvé. The report is a momentous accomplishment filled with important recommendations and yet remains controversial. This conference will feature an interview with Jean-Marc Sauvé, attempting to understand how the commission came about, what the major findings of and responses to the report were, and what needs to happen now.

Following this interview, a panel of global experts will discuss the similarities and differences between the French findings and findings from their own countries and attempt to provide an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each report and their key findings.

The final panel of this conference will highlight the voices of noted female experts in the Church. They will engage in a conversation about what might have been different had women been given a seat at the table earlier in this process, what the findings of the CIASE report and other reports mean for women going forward, and how women can help lead the Church’s cultural transformation going forward.

For more information, click here.