In the Vineyard: September 25, 2023


In the Vineyard :: September 25, 2023 :: Volume 23, Issue 17

National News

Rome Meeting of Synod on Synodality Begins Oct. 4

The upcoming Synod on Synodality may very well be the most important event in the life of the Church since Vatican II, not least because this will be the first synod in which the laity, including women, will vote. The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in two sessions in Rome in October 2023 and October 2024. Considering Pope Francis’ selection of delegates, the decisions made at the Synod could alter the course of the Catholic Church forever.

In April, the Vatican announced that, for the first time in history, the October 4-29 Synod of Bishops will include laymen and women as full voting members of the Catholic Church’s primary consultative body. Each of the seven global regional bishops’ conferences has also nominated 10 participants for the gathering, along with five religious women and five religious men from the two global umbrella groups representing men’s and women’s religious orders.

The list of delegates, released this past July, includes noted LGBTQ+ advocate Jesuit Fr. James Martin and all four U.S. cardinals created by Pope Francis, offering a clear sign that, despite often being a minority in the U.S. church, voices such as these—in alignment with the Pope’s thinking on synodality and renewal—will become part of the discussion on the future of the Catholic Church.

Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago; Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C.; Robert McElroy of San Diego; and Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, are among the 48 individuals hand-selected by the Pope to take part in the October Synod. The meetings there will consider a range of sensitive issues in church life, including the role of women, LGBTQ Catholics, clergy sex abuse, and more. In addition, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley—a member of the Pope’s council of cardinal advisers—and Seattle’s Archbishop Paul Etienne were among the Pope’s personal nominations.

The 10 North American delegates include:

  • Sami Aoun, a Maronite Catholic from Quebec;
  • Cynthia Bailey Manns, director of adult learning at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota;
  • Catherine Clifford, a theology professor at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada;
  • Richard Coll, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for the U.S. Catholic bishops;
  • Sr. Chantal Desmarais, Sister of Charity of St. Mary;
  • Fr. Ivan Montelongo of El Paso, Texas;
  • Wyatt Olivas, a young adult musician from Cheyenne, Wyoming;
  • Julia Oseka, a student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia;
  • Sr. Leticia Salazar, Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady and chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California;
  • Linda Staudt, recently retired director of the London District Catholic School Board in Canada.

You can find the entire list of participants on the Vatican website by clicking here. To read more about how the Synod Assembly process will work and what will be live streamed, click here.

Voice of the Faithful Focus News Roundup

Top Stories

Vatican Considers Child Sexual Abuse Allegations Against a Former Australian Bishop “The Vatican is considering the findings of a church investigation into ‘very serious and deeply distressing’ child sexual abuse allegations against a former Australian bishop,” a church leader said on Tuesday (Sept. 19). Christopher Saunders, now 73, resigned in 2021 as bishop of Broome, an Outback diocese of northwest Australia larger than France but with a population of only 50,000, after police announced they had dropped a sex crime investigation. He had stood down a year earlier after media reported the allegations. (By Rod McGuirk, Associated Press, in The Seattle Times)

Research Reveals Over 1,000 Cases of Sexual Abuse by Swiss Catholic Church Clergy “The latest study revealed over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse by Swiss Catholic Church clergy and other employees, with 74% of such abuses involving minors,” the University of Zurich said on Tuesday (Sept. 12), describing the cases as the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ The University of Zurich conducted a study commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference that documented 1,002 cases of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy, church employees, and religious in Switzerland from 1950 to the present. The university said in a press statement that this is the first study that has allowed an independent research team to look into church archives for files on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church environment. (By Tino Kirez, Anadolu Agency, on

Editorial: Pope Francis, It’s Time to Release the Women Deacons Report “By all accounts, Pope Francis has had an eventful papacy. This first pope from the Americas has breathed new life into the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, refashioned the Vatican’s staid bureaucracy, and pushed the Catholic Church to focus on the needs of the environment and global peripheries. One especially interesting turn: Only 22 years after Pope John Paul II claimed the church had ‘no authority whatsoever’ to ordain women as priests, Francis in 2016 created a first-of-its-kind papal commission to study the history of the ordination of women as Catholic deacons. Even more, in 2020, after that commission had wrapped up its work, the pope created another.” (By National Catholic Reporter Editorial Staff)

Synod 2023: What Has Pope Francis Said About Synodality? “The Synod on Synodality is set to launch the first of two assemblies on Oct. 4. The global meetings in Rome are the culmination of two years of preparation, and during that time, much has been said about synodality, including by the pope. In some of his more recent comments on synodality, Pope Francis said, ‘Speaking of a ‘Synod on Synodality’ may seem something abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical, of little interest to the general public, but it is ‘something truly important for the Church.'” (By Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency)

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

Book Review

VOTF Trustee Svea Fraser reviews Irene Kelly’s, RSHM, book “What’s a Deacon?”

What Is a Deacon?

How many Catholics do you know who can answer this question? At this unprecedented time in the Church’s history, it is a question worth asking, and it demands an answer now!

Why? Because the First Session of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops convenes in October 2023. An Instrumentum Laboris (Working Document) will guide the discernment of those present at the meeting. It provides a worksheet for questions on the priorities that have most strongly emerged from the work of the Continental Assemblies.

Of significance for those interested in women’s participation in the Church is the section labeled “Suggestions for Prayer and Preparatory Reflection.” Question 4 (page 42) asks: “Most of the Continental Assemblies and the syntheses of several Episcopal conferences call for the question of women’s inclusion in the diaconate to be considered. Is it possible to envisage this, and in what way?”

Our own reflection on the topic requires knowledge about this ministry and the issues surrounding it. It is a woeful reality that few have a basic understanding of diaconal ministry. Where can an adult be catechized on this important ministry? Without it, how can anyone confidently answer the question, “What’s a Deacon?”

Irene Kelly, RSHM, comes to the rescue. She is a Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary with a long career as an elementary educator in the United States and Europe. She answers the question in an informative little book titled, “What’s a Deacon?” Through the eyes of a sixth-grader, Sister Irene explains it all in a delightful story starring a girl named Beth.

From her observations following Mass one Sunday, Beth asks her parents about the differences in the clothing worn by the men at the altar. There is a priest and a deacon celebrating, and she notices that they are not dressed alike.

This opens the door to a lot more questions for Beth. She tells her best friend Carol about her new knowledge. And, like any best friend, Carol agrees to join her to find out more. They compose a list of questions and present them to their CCD teacher. Not only are Beth and Carol interested in what deacons do, but they also want to know if girls could be deacons, too.

Sister Catherine is very pleased to answer all their questions. The girls were happy to learn about St. Paul’s friend Phoebe, a little-known deacon in the early Church. They also learn that Pope Francis invited two groups to study women deacons so that the question could be answered for everyone.

Sister Irene’s words are beautifully illustrated by Pilar Campos. Her drawings charmingly captivate the world of ten-year-old children.

Although the title of the book answers the question “What’s a deacon?” the answer to the question, “Can girls be deacons?” is not. As all the People of God respond to the Pope’s call for dreams for the Church, there is a growing number of women who are discerning a call to the diaconate. Little girls are watching. And they are asking.

Let us pray to Saint Phoebe for her intercession. In words from the Prayer for the Synod, we turn to the best catechist of all and ask the Holy Spirit to “teach us the way we must go and how to pursue it.”

A first step on the journey is to educate ourselves and others about the diaconate. For that reason, I enthusiastically recommend Sister Irene’s gem of a book. It makes a lovely gift, an aid for catechists, and even a homily help for pastors introducing St. Phoebe to his parishioners!

It might be a children’s book, but like all good stories, it is enlightening for adults as well.

What Is a Deacon? by Irene Kelly, RSHM Illustrations by Pilar Campos Lower elementary reading level M/L Available in English and Spanish

Clear Faith Publishing

Looking for Something to Watch?
Learn about the History of Black Catholic Nuns

In this lecture, Shannen Dee Williams, associate professor of history at Dayton University, shares the little-known story of a radical group of Black women and girls called to the sacred vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, who fought against racism, sexism, and exclusion to become and minister as consecrated women of God in the Roman Catholic Church. She is the author of “Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle” (Duke University Press, 2022).

Watch it on YouTube, here.


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