People’s Catholic Seminary Response to the Synthesis Report of SYNOD October 2023 A SYNODAL CHURCH IN MISSION

Fostering Empowered Transformational Inclusive Leadership in a Synodal Church

People’s Catholic Seminary Response to the Synthesis Report of SYNOD October 2023

A SYNODAL CHURCH IN MISSION:

Introduction

The People’s Catholic Seminary (PCS) has enthusiastically embraced the invitation to participate in the 2023 Synodal Assembly.  With the ability to gather representatives from emergent Church communities who support the women priest movement, innovative Zoom technology was used in PCS forums during January, February, March and April 2024.  In the spirit of ‘conversation’ an open global invitation was extended to engage in dialogue so that interested women and men could participate in sacred listening.  Representatives from communities across the USA, Canada, Europe, and South America reviewed and discussed the findings reported in the October 2023 synthesis report as co-equal and co-responsible people of God.  The forums offered an opportunity to hear the voices who are currently living into a renewed vision of Church that was initiated following Vatican II.  As a contribution to the current historical synodal process, deeper understanding of the issues and possibilities surfaced among participants offering additional insights amidst current lived experience.

Ambitious Proceedings

The statements and questions raised by participants are deeply rooted in the teachings of Vatican II.  It was noted that Pope Francis took innovative steps by appointing a woman, Sister Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, to help lead the Synod. The new format provided opportunities for interaction at circular tables whereby conversations between synodal lay people, nuns, and bishops occurred introducing a new way of thinking and behaving.  The potential for change is now evident at multiple levels as outlined in the documented ‘convergences, matters for consideration, and proposals for change’.  Despite notable resistance, this brilliant process may help change hearts and minds, opening a door into possibilities that Karl Rahner and many other insightful theologians envisioned during Vatican II.

The faithful are being co-responsible by contemplating an implementation process by asking: “How can we be fully a sign and instrument of union with God and the unity of all humanity?”  By referring to the synodal process Church as a ‘conversation’ there is hope that it will be “more than mere dialogue:  it interweaves thought and feeling, creating a shared vital space” (pg. 8).  Symbolically, this is representative of the circle of life, that we are all connected within smaller pastoral circles co-existing in the much larger circle of the Creator’s entire cosmos.  This hope filled intention reflects the opening paragraph of Lumen Gentium that the women priest movement has embraced, “to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission.

 

The current unfolding reveals a deep respectful and reflective inquiry in the search for a path forward.   Similarly, those who participate in PCS forums recognize that synodality is a journey together as the People of God involving “reciprocal listening, dialogue, community discernment and creation of consensus that renders Christ present in decisions according to responsibilities” (pg. 6).  Bold questions engaged participants in the PCS forums: i) how to better address the ‘preferential option for the poor’ in its entire scope including those living at the margins (Section 4), ii) how to be truly inclusive and listen to the estranged voices of LGBTQ+ Catholics and others who feel alienated (Section 15) and, iii) how to heal the wounds of those who have suffered from sexual abuse and the abuse of power and authority (Section 9).  The sexual abuse crisis also raised the extent of a lack of trust in leadership and identified a need for structural changes that are encompassed in canon laws.  The underlying fact discussed is that many baptized Catholics are being drawn into emergent spiritual communities because “it was no longer possible to continue in the traditional Church due to conflicts of conscience, marginalization, and/or outright rejection of the Church’s hierarchical structures, policies, and clergy.” 

 

As Jesus welcomed everyone, including ‘sinners’, the women priest movement has opened the liturgical conversation by welcoming everyone into their renewed vision of Church.  In seminary tradition PCS provides support that exemplifies Section 9 of the Synthesis Report entitled ‘Women in the Life and Mission of the Church’: “Churches all over the world have expressed a clear request that the active contribution of women be recognized and valued and that their pastoral leadership increase in all areas of the Church’s life and mission.”   Yet after initial consultations the synodal debate settled on a perplexing proposal for deeper study and additional research to determine a means for women to enter the diaconate – not the priesthood. 

 

What is glaringly missing in the synodal conversation is an inquiry into the history of a devastatingly painful and divisive issue as to whether women are truly equal in Christ, and as equally capable as men to minister to all Catholics as inclusive and welcoming priests.

 

An Alternate Vision of Service

 

Turning to scripture to rationalize the tendency to enshrine power and control into Canon law, a pastoral scene is depicted at the Last Supper described in Luke 22:24-27.  A dispute surfaced about individual greatness among those who were gathered.  This is a critical juncture in the life of Jesus where He applies his mastery of questioning to get people to think with their minds and hearts, a goal for the current synod: “For who is greater, the one at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.”  Even at this critical juncture of Jesus’ life, He needed to remind his intimate circle of disciples about the importance of mutuality and inclusivity by equalizing the social status of unnamed servants who are in humble service.

 

A new priesthood was being born in Christ, one that surpasses the limitations set in the Old Testament and centuries of patriarchy that was the dominant thinking in the ancient Mediterranean world.  The barrier was an entrenched mindset that influenced sociocultural norms of interaction.  Motivations for power and privilege slipped into the Christian movement which has been difficult to dismantle.  John Wijngaards, a Catholic scripture scholar and laicized priest identified the barrier embedded in canon law by bluntly stating, “The blame for women’s subservient role in the Church should squarely be put on male dominance in traditional Western societies.  Men molded theology, pastoral practice, and hierarchical structures.  Each of these defenses has yet to yield before women can be ordained priests.” 

 

The synod has provided an opportunity to challenge this demeaning perspective.  Many women are heeding the message given by Paul when he reiterated the message from Jesus in his teaching to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).  Changes in canon law that govern pastoral structures could reflect the belief that every baptized Christian be co-responsible by sharing in Christ’s priesthood.  This is acknowledged in the Synod document and recognized by women’s participation in the priestly work they are called to do.  Service is the mainstay of the Good News echoed throughout the New Testament.  As written in 1 Peter 4:10-11, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies.” 

 

Individual strengths are the unique gifts given to everyone regardless of gender.  Canon law that legitimizes the notion of only men being ‘commissioned’ to share the Good News negates the importance of women in ministry who have been bringing the wisdom of truth to all people throughout the ages.  Peter’s profound wisdom of service provides inspiration to live out a vision of co-responsibility by creating a companionship of equals that transcends the patriarchal compulsion to dominate and control.  Members in the PCS forum raised this time and time again when they shared their diverse stories of service in ministry. 

 

Empowering Inclusivity and Leadership

 

Jesus challenged the status quo and offered a different vision but what was not defined is the ‘unfolding’ or implementation phase of His revolutionary message.  The Synod appears to be attempting to reconcile exclusionary cultural practices with an inclusionary vision that re-surfaced after Catholic Social Teaching was formalized through papal authority in the 19th century.  For those who favor the legitimized patriarchal mindset there is a need to be flexible enough to rethink and reimagine flatter power structures for decision-making.  A barrier to equity and inclusivity that must be challenged is the self-evident authoritative bias toward gender roles reflective in hierarchical leadership.

 

This truth is being passionately revealed by other progressive theologians and scholars so that embedded fallacies can no longer defend a hierarchical tradition.  Diarmuid O’Murchu, Richard Rohr, Ilia Delio to name a few have delved deeply into scripture images of inclusivity and mutuality.  In the collective works that report the actions of Jesus, women are never disgraced, belittled, or stereotyped.  By affirming women beyond the known cultural norms of the first century, gender roles were liberated, and social justice was being redefined.   Other esteemed theologians such as Karl Rahner have weighed into the gender controversy as illustrated by the collection gathered by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research and many agree that there isn’t a dogmatic reason for denying the priesthood to women.  

 

The proposal for deeper study and additional research to determine a means for women to enter the diaconate incurred a unanimous voice of disagreement based in historical fact.  Archeologists have discovered inscriptions and images on frescoes, mosaics, papyri, and tombstones that clearly demonstrate that early Christian women served in all roles needed for pastoral communities as disciples, prophets, priests, deacons, and bishops.  Female theologians Dorothy Irvin, Joan Chittister, Miriam Therese winter and Elizabeth Johnson have cited this archaeological evidence and argue that priestly ministry is a call that by the ‘grace of baptism’ all people are gifted with His empowering spirit and are legitimate members of the inclusive ‘Body of Christ.

 

For centuries the movement to reinstate women’s rightful place was ignored but a crack in the wall of resistance occurred fifty years ago when Ludmila Javorova and others were ordained by Bishop Felix Davidek in the 1970s.  Davidek’s vision of justice was later rescinded when the Vatican denied any ordained females the right to perform priestly duties.  Unabated, on March 24, 2002, Bishop Romulo Braschi ordained six women deacons and on June 29, 2002, seven other courageous women were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Braschi and Bishop Ferdinand Regelsberger on the Danube River.  On May 19, 2003, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Gisela Forster were ordained bishops. The presiding bishop was the male Roman Catholic Bishop X (who remains anonymous for his own security reasons.) On May 29, 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, stating that the “women priests and the bishops who ordain them are excommunicated latae sententiae.” Roman Catholic Women Priests leaders issued the following response: “Roman Catholic Women Priests are loyal members of the Church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit’s call to change an unjust law that discriminates against women. Women priests will continue to serve our beloved Church in a renewed priestly ministry that welcomes all to celebrate the sacraments in inclusive, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered communities wherever we are called.“  It is the unanimous position of those who participated in the PCS forums that this unjust decree of excommunication must be rescinded, and the pain and harm caused be acknowledged.

 

The Present:  Evolving Priestly Ministry

 

Inspired by Jesus’ intention of inclusivity, the courageous participants in the PCS forum echoed their personal commitment to service in ordained ministry.  Many women are following their ‘Primacy of Conscience’ enshrined in our Roman Catholic tradition and the result is a new paradigm of pastoral service has surfaced.  To reflect social justice teachings and meet the needs of the 21st century, the women priest movement emerged out of the possibilities of Vatican II which transformed a vision about the nature and structure of the Catholic Church.  A mutual Divine nature is a sacred gift as the synodal document professes in “how reciprocal relationships are the place and form of an authentic encounter with God” (pg. 7).  The fact that women have been among those who carried influence and helped to create a world-wide movement of followers is not disputed.  The primary stumbling block in the Catholic Church is overcoming exclusionary practices when attempting to implement ‘eucharistic hospitality’ and the ‘inclusive messaging’ from Jesus Christ.   Relying on the notion that only men can be ‘commissioned’ to perform sacramental duties and interpret the Good News negates the historical importance of women who brought wisdom of truth to all people.

 

It is encouraging to hear affirmation from the synod, “The long history of women missionaries, saints, theologians, and mystics is also a powerful source of nourishment and inspiration for women and men today” (pg. 21).  Those who are in the women priest movement are not waiting for permission any longer.  Non-ordained members and ordained deacons, priests, and bishops in the movement have answered a call to service by being engaged in a wide variety of pastoral settings.  Various unique and traditional ministries are thriving as they share their gifts.  Taking to heart the mission of ‘ad gentes’ members of the movement are active: in parishes, in evangelisation, among those living in poverty and who are marginalized, in the world of culture and education, in theological research, at retreat centres and places of spiritual renewal, and many others (pg. 25).   Every participant described how they reach out to all with healing blessings and provide the opportunity for those estranged to receive the sacraments once again.  This welcoming attitude is extended to everyone regardless of religious affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation, or having a romantic partner outside of marriage.  

 

Those who have embraced the movement are working with the marginalized in many different settings including homeless encampments.  They offer comfort and support to the immigrants, the sick, the aged, the downtrodden, and the brain injured.  There is also a commitment to improve interfaith dialogue so that deeper understanding will build bridges across divisive differences.  Global outreach is another example of diversity in ministry as foundational initiatives are being supported to construct wells, schools, medical facilities, and orphanages in impoverished countries.  Courageous political activism for social justice is another example of spreading the Good News of the gospel.  Personal sharing of ministries also occurred during the PCS forum series based on the book Women Called to Catholic Priesthood:  From Ecclesial Challenge to Spiritual Renewal by scholars Sharon Callahan and Jeanette Rodriquez. 

 

Ordained participants are bravely following in the courageous footsteps of early Christian trailblazers who ministered to frightened disciples during the events that surrounded Christ’s death and resurrection.  Denying wisdom to retain power in a male patriarchy is fear-based characterizing entrenched resistance to reveal truth and is a grave misrepresentation of discipleship. 

 

Modern-day Catholic women priests do not walk alone so they have taken on the challenge to advance the teachings of Jesus Christ by promoting a circular model of consensus building.  Guided by the same synodal theme, that ‘Church is Mission’ all are considered equal and welcomed as “One in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Leadership surfaces within intentionally designed pastoral circles that reflect a flatter power structure.  This key ‘inclusive’ variable challenges the status quo of power and privilege.  Every voice is given the opportunity to be respectfully heard with the intent to maximize agreement through contemplative practice.  As a participant said, “When the ‘mission’ is to seek innovative solutions and each voice is given respectful consideration, it is then that the journey becomes a transformative process toward empowerment.”

 

Lessons Learned and a Willingness to Share

 

People’s Catholic Seminary has provided opportunities in emergent communities to nurture Christ-like prophetic action since its inception in 2017.   As a support mechanism for the evolving women priest movement, many lessons have been learned and the synod is invited to consider this model of service.  A variety of roles will be needed as a renewed conception of church emerges to tend to the needs of local communities.  A digital environment has been developed as the ‘Church Without Walls’ providing new opportunities.  Lapsed Catholics, youth and other Christians have been engaging in online liturgical and spiritual groupings for spiritual nourishment.  With the assistance of modern-day technology forums have been provided to discuss formation and implementation of circular decision-making when developing new structures that will foster co-responsibility – a dominant theme in the Synod of 2023.  Spiritual leaders from other religious denominations have worked with PCS creating a network of emerging Churches. 

 

Courses are being provided by experts in historical and progressive theologies, philosophy, spirituality, and discernment to prepare candidates for ordination.  Providing access to educational opportunities has enriched liturgy and shared homily preparation promoting a movement away from priest dependent celebration to a community liturgical celebration.  The synthesis report (pg. 10) supports a vision of unity and diversity by making liturgical language more accessible, which is a work in progress.  Sharing ecumenical experiences reflects a joyful willingness to work with new groups that are geographically spread out across the globe. Significant steps have been taken in the building of a “big-tent church that welcomes everyone to celebrate sacraments and work toward full equality of women in every ministry in the institutional Church.”  

 

Moving Forward into the Future: 

The synod is considering divisive elements counter to the revolutionary message of love and unity that Jesus professed.  PCS forum participants agree that when divorced Catholics and married priests are prohibited from participating fully in the life of the Church the community suffers and needs to be brought forward for consideration.  Proposals calling for continued dialogue with scientists, theologians, and those who have lived experience related to sexuality and “bodiliness” is encouraging.  The synod has recognized that women are being called to be co-responsible at every level of the Church’s life in a new model of ministry for the Roman Catholic Church and this offers hope.  But again, the time has come to fulfill what is written in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “By their baptism in Christ, women and men receive equally of gifts of the Spirit.”  

 

Synodal engagement is an opportunity to listen to what is currently being done in vibrant grassroots communities where all are equal, and all are welcome.  Living into the mystery of life is filled with twists and turns yet living a fulfilled life may be as simple as the inclusive and equitable intention behind Jesus’ two commandments given to a Sadducee expert of Mosaic Law: “You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.  That is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it: ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law is based – and the Prophets as well” (Matt 22: 37-41; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-28).   

 

Transformational empowerment is grounded in relationships, and it is the power of love that will bring us into the wholeness of life.  Building on the understanding of past generations to meet the needs of the 21st century necessitates exposing injustice so that inner sacredness and personal responsibility can be fully expressed.  Moving forward, the Synod of 2024 has the difficult task to consider how exclusionary doctrine in its many forms and the denial of equal representation by all genders in religious life reflects injustice as unloving acts.

In John 7:37, Jesus was moved to describe his presence to followers by citing Old Testament psalms and the prophet Zechariah 14:8, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living waters.’  It is the heart of love, the oneness of the cosmos and the living water that is flowing in this sacred conversation, embracing in the heart of love, all people, all creation, all our calls, all our chosen services and ministries, all our being the presence of the Holy, one in our world as the universal Christ presence.  It is a new time of birthing forth new life out of our hearts.  This is the inclusive loving image that the women priest movement has set forth in their ministries.

It Is Love that Matters – Inspirational words by Ilia DeLio Theologian and Author

https://youtu.be/DG_CIHDM4SY?si=0sGPRifnahqaIdd3

People’s Catholic Seminary

A New Paradigm – Innovative and Empowering – Following Jesus in 21st Century – Creates deep connection with liberating message in scripture and Christian tradition of mystics and prophets – Rooted in lived experience of people – Fosters Partnership in Ministry – Raises up Voices of Marginalized – Expands Theological Landscape – Cultivates a Healing Learning Community – Dismantles Patriarchy – Promotes Gospel Equality and Inclusiveness

 

Resources:  Hear from lived experience of those in the women priest movement in videos featuring Roman Catholic women priests talking about their call, ministries, spiritual practices and priestly leadership

Session 1:  Our Call https://youtu.be/-Eedvw-G1Uw

Session 2: Our Ministries https://youtu.be/2onnMx7dGwY

Session 3: Spiritual Practices https://youtu.be/wCwaxQWUwgI

Session 4: Priestly Leadership

 

 

Spanish Translation


Upper Room inclusive Catholic Community – Testimonial Video 2023

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4TVKIIUjxE

RCWP Communities in U.S. features Roman Catholic Women Priests in priestly leadership in inclusive communities in USA.  https://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/worshiping-communities/


Recent coverage in media in France and Spain: Christina Moreira ARCWP

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X9SE69XN9Q