Will the Bishops’ Synod Open Doors for Women?

For several weeks, the world Synod of Bishops on the “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” has been meeting at the Vatican. And for several weeks, the pope and the bishops have made statement after statement about their feelings on teaching the Word, proclaiming the Word, forcing the Word on others by trading aid for faith…you know, that kind of thing.

But here comes the good part. On Friday, Bishops divided into groups by language (Latin didn’t make the cut—sorry, Benedict), each of which presented reports to the Synod on their recommendations.

Many of the reports were redundant. The bishops reported on the unfamiliarity of Catholics with the Bible, warding off fundamentalism, warding off modernism, how to preach a good homily, etc. However, the French bishops made an interesting recommendation (conveniently left out of the Vatican Information Service’s excerpt).

Representing that group, Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carre of Albi made twenty recommendations. Here are the highlights of their propositions:

7. We could recognize—institute—extraordinary ministers of the Word. These ministers—catechists, readers, animators of base communities, men and women—would be specially prepared for this mission and officially delegated by the bishop.

20. Woman, “passer” of the Word.

We hope that women, and especially mothers, may receive a formation appropriate to this condition as the “passer” of the Word.”

So, if the Synod heeded the advice of the French-working group and instituted “extraordinary ministers of the word” and included women, then would this be a “win” for folks working for women’s rights in the Church, would it not?

Partially; it would be a formalization of what is already happening. In many places around the world where there is a priest shortage, lay people—women and men—are taking on the role of ministers of the word. However, in its formalization, it could be one step toward the Vatican actually recognizing women’s role in the Church.

One point for the French-language working group.

They lose a point, however, on their last recommendation. Just in case we thought that the working group saw women as equal—they put women into their place as passive nurturers. Equating women with motherhood, equating women as passer while men are knowledge holders will only inhibit the advancement of women’s rights in the Church. We will have to wait and see what is included in the final Synod “nuncio” or message. A proposal for the message was given on Saturday and comments were read and written in. Apparently, the message at this stage is too lengthy. Archbishop Ravsi—the writer of the message—said his job would be “to take away, not to add.”

When the Synod ends on October 26 we will see where the Church places women in the ministry of the Word.

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