Italian synod observer Federica Ancona is pictured with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, at the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 19. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Editorial: A chance to change

  • October 24, 2018

From the Pope on down, sentiment is growing to more fully integrate women into the everyday life of the male-dominated Church. So far, though, it’s been a lot of talk and too little action. Events at this month’s Synod of Bishops on youth illustrate that point.

Speaking at the synod, Cardinal Marc Ouellet called for the Church to recognize and embrace “the creativity of the female genius.” The Canadian cardinal has made this case before, but his words to the synod members had a particular resonance in an atmosphere darkened by the shadow of the sex-abuse crisis. 

He called it “possible and necessary” for the Church to develop greater respect for women and their abilities in order to overcome a history of male chauvinism and a culture of clericalism that has contributed to so much harm. And he urged “equal integration” of women into the life and society of the Church.

There are many ways to elevate and weave women into the fabric of the Church without calling them to the priesthood. Unfortunately, when they gathered in Rome, synod fathers fumbled a chance to adopt one of them. 

In addition to more than 260 bishops, delegates include two religious brothers and seven sisters. The brothers, both superior generals of congregations, are full voting synod members. One of the sisters is a superior general and no different in stature from the two brothers. Yet, although welcomed as a full participant in discussions, she was denied voting privileges. 

As she put it, if the brothers have a vote, a sister in an equal position should too. Makes sense.

In his address, Ouellet echoed a theme introduced five years ago by Pope Francis. Although female ordination was not possible, he proposed development of a “deep theology” of womanhood that can explain, just as Mary was more important than the Apostles, why women today are “more important than bishops and priests.”

The Pope and the cardinal are correct, of course. For centuries the Church has undervalued and patronized women, and changing that culture is long overdue. So this topic definitely belonged on the agenda of a meeting about the future, a synod on young people, faith and vocations. 

Youth need to know their Church is just and fair. And they want assurance that a male-dominated institution, one that was deliberately deaf, dumb and blind as thousands of young people were abused, will now embrace inclusion and diversity and identify capable women to help create safe, faithful environments. 

Ouellet reminded the synod about a recent consensus of Latin America Church leaders that called for “a cultural conversion” to recognize and promote women in the Church. “It’s urgent,” he said, “and fundamental to meet the concerns of young people.”

He is absolutely right. This conversion is necessary and long overdue.

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