Archbishop Durocher: Address violence against women, empower women in the church
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Canada, who devoted his intervention at the Synod of Bishops to the reality of violence against women within families and encouraged his brother bishops to consider an increased role for women in the church, told America in an interview on Oct. 22 in Rome that violence against women is a “whole social phenomenon we’re still not dealing with adequately,” and he described several factors that influenced his decision to speak about women at the synod.
As a young parish priest, he said, part of his rectory was used as a shelter for abused women, so he had close contact with these women and even had to “intervene” in some cases. The archbishop said he recently read that 30 percent of women in the world are abused by their husbands, a statistic he described as “abominable.” He also recently attended two international conferences on human trafficking, and he praised the work of religious women on the issue.
Turning to the status of women in the church, Archbishop Durocher described the challenge of “clericalism” and said, “If we have power and decision-making structures where women are not included, then the message is sent that somehow women’s voices are not important to the decision-making process.”
He said that every priest, bishop, and national conference could “identify roles and ministries open to women right now” and then ask: “Do we have women in these roles or not? And when we do, do we treat them as equal partners?”
The archbishop said he also supports further study of ordaining women to the diaconate. “It’s not a closed issue,” he explained. “There has been no dogmatic statement saying that women cannot be ordained deacons.”
Asked about the work of the Holy Spirit in the synod, Archbishop Durocher said there is an “important realization” at the synod that God’s grace is “broader than what we often imagine” and that the Spirit “is working in a lot of situations that, on the face of it, do not correspond to church teaching.” As a concrete example, he pointed to divorced and remarried couples “where one of them develops Alzheimer's and the other one is caring for them and is faithful to the end,” which he called a “love of kenosis.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How have you seen the Holy Spirit at work in the synod?
First of all, in the intensity of the commitment of all the bishops, the observers, the fraternal delegates, the workers and even the translators. This synod is my third, and I have never felt such intensity—in the good sense of the word—a real desire to seek out the directions God wants for us.
Second, at least in my small group, you see openness of discussion, intensity of the listening and honesty of the people. People really took the pope’s words to heart: to speak what’s in your heart and to listen with humility. In that sense it has been a real exercise in synodality.
I also see a growing sense that God’s grace is broader than what we often imagine. Instead of speaking about “good families” and “hurt families,” in my small group there was a real recognition that we are all hurting and in need of God’s mercy. Mercy isn’t just for a certain category of people. We all stand in the need of God’s mercy.And, at the same time, the Spirit is working in a lot of situations that, on the face of it, do not correspond to church teaching. That’s what I mean when I say that God’s grace is greater than the channels we often imagine. That realization is an important realization within the synod.
What concrete situations come to mind?
I was at a parish before Christmas, and they were going door-to-door collecting goods for poor families. Of the 400 people who came out to work all evening in the cold—and up in Gatineau it can get cold, you know—half of them were young people under the age of 30. If I were to venture a guess, most of them were couples who are not married in the church, and they came out to do something at the parish level to help the poor. For me it is a sign of the Spirit working through those couples.
I see it in divorced and remarried couples, where one of them develops Alzheimer's and the other one is caring for them and is faithful to the end. I mean: They’re getting nothing out of this anymore. It really is a love of kenosis. It is a sign of the Spirit.
I also see it in the way a lot of the priests in my diocese receive people as they are, and try to journey with them, as Jesus on the way to Emmaus. In the heart of all pastoral workers, there is always this yearning that we can announce the good news, and as Cardinal [Thomas] Collins says, to get people to leave Emmaus and journey back to Jerusalem with joy in their heart, saying, “We met the Risen One.” It doesn’t always come to that point, but at least we are taking time to journey. I see that in my diocese.
How did the lay auditors contribute to your small group?
I felt there was a real desire on the part of the bishops to hear the observers’ thoughts and points of view. They were listened to not only politely but also attentively, and with a lot of warmth. There was a lot of compassion for the things they had to bring forward.
I think particularly of a couple who belongs to Le Equipe Notre-Dame in France and works with divorced and remarried couples. At one point, one of them said: It is not just a question of [admission to] Communion but being accepted by the community. A lot of them feel rejected by the community. Those words were taken to heart by all of us. Their presence really made us reflect: We speak about conversion on the part of couples who are not living church teaching, but there is also conversion on the part of the couples who are. We all stand in need of conversion.
Earlier today, Cardinal Oswald Gracias described the first draft of the final synod document by saying, “The questions will be clear. The answers will not be so clear.”
Two nights ago I sat down at my computer and asked which questions have been raised, and which areas of theology we have touched on here. I realized we have touched on ecclesiology, exegesis, moral theology, canon law, fundamental theology, sacramental theology, anthropology, Christian anthropology—all of these areas bear together on some of the issues.
One of the ways I have been changed is a much greater appreciation for the complexity of some of these issues. I’m leaving this synod with many more questions—and clear questions in my mind—than I was last year.
At one of the first press conferences, I was asked, “The pope said doctrine would not be changed here. Does that mean that communion for the divorced and remarried is off the table? They said: Is it a question of discipline or doctrine? I said I think it will depend on the bishop you talk to. Some people didn’t like that answer.
Yesterday I reread “Familiaris Consortio,” in which John Paul II clearly distinguishes between the doctrine of indissolubility and the church discipline of not allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive Communion. I wish I had read that before I went into the press conference. Now I know what I need to go read and study and develop a better grasp of, to continue to reflect on this issue.
What inspired and informed your intervention about domestic violence and the role of women in the church?
I think my experience as a parish priest, having accompanied women who are victims of violence. As a young priest, two-thirds of our rectory was used as a shelter for abused women—the first of its kind in that part of our country. So I was very aware; it was part of my daily life. And in some situations I had to intervene.
Last year when I asked the Canadian bishops for suggestions on what to talk about, the cardinal of Toronto [Thomas Collins] told me it was one of the issues I should address, and he wrote a very strong paragraph that stayed with me.
I read an article recently that quoted the World Health Organization saying that 30 percent of women in the world are abused by their husbands. I find that statistic just abominable.
And the recent number of shootings where men who are angry kill their wives or their exes before taking their own lives. It’s the tip of the iceberg that we see, but it hides a whole social phenomenon we’re still not dealing with adequately.
In “Familiaris Consortio,” John Paul II said we need resolute action to stop this [violence]. Thirty years later, what have we done as a church? I’m not sure that we’ve taken the pope’s words to heart.
That’s not true. That’s not fair. A lot of people have, particularly communities of religious women. Also, during the past year I have participated in two international conferences on the trafficking of human beings, and most of those victims are women. I have heard women speak about the violence they have experienced, and that has shaped my mind.
How can the church, at the parish and regional levels, effectively and concretely address this violence?
At the parish level, we can inform parishioners about local resources available for women who are victims of abuse. We can have fliers in the back of church, put a little article in the parish bulletin and preach about it once in a while.
Every time the text comes up in the liturgy—you know, “wives be submissive to your husbands”—in my preaching I always bring it around to the issue of violence against women. We need to be doing that. Every time I do it, people come to me and say, “Thank you.”
In Canada we don’t have to set up new centers, but we can certainly support those who are doing it, and we certainly have people in our parishes who are involved in some of these organizations. We could celebrate them and give them a chance to speak about their work.
And among bishops at the regional level?
In Quebec there a huge thrust a few years ago to look at the whole question of partnership between men and women in ministry and in the vocation to marriage. The bishops of Quebec held a lot of workshops and developed resources. That’s the kind of thing a conference of bishops could be doing. And as we look at tools for marriage preparation, we could be touching on these issues.
In an interview with Salt + Light Media on Oct. 11, you offered this question: “Can we in the church manifest as an institution the equal dignity of women?”
All institutions that have a strong presence in society—by the way they are structured and work—send messages. If we have power and decision-making structures where women are not included, then the message is sent that somehow women’s voices are not important to the decision-making process. As an institution we have to be asking ourselves that question.
This is not about, first of all, allowing women to be priests. It’s a question about how we exercise priesthood within the church. It is a question, ultimately, of what Pope Francis is identifying as one of the difficulties within the church: clericalism, where only those who wear a Roman collar have the gift of discernment in the church.
We need to be open to seeing how we can bring lay men and women into decision-making bodies. There are some countries that have a lot of experience with that. Many dioceses have women as chancellors, financial administrators and executive directors of offices and pastoral services. These women are playing important management and decision-making roles within their dioceses. That says something when people know that and see it as the parish level.
It’s a practice that could spread throughout the church. Pope Benedict said it is a just question to ask ourselves: Are there new areas of ministry that could be open to women in our church?
Why did you ask the synod to consider the ordination of women to the diaconate?
It’s been said a few times that we should open new ministries for women. Well, what kind of ministries are we talking about? So I thought I would give three examples we could study.
The first is assigning positions that are presently open within diocesan curias and the Roman Curia to women. The second is allowing lay women and men, couples, to share in the preaching responsibility at Sunday Mass, where they could witness to the relationship between the Word of God and their lives as a parents and a married couple. And third, why not look at the question of ordaining women to the diaconate? It’s not a closed issue. There has been no dogmatic statement saying that women cannot be ordained deacons.
So I threw those three out as possible avenues to explore, and there are others. It was an effort to get the wheels turning and to get people to start thinking in this sense.
How can the church move forward with these suggestions?
We could identify roles and ministries open to women right now and ask: Do we have women in these roles or not? And when we do, do we treat them as equal partners? Every priest in his parish, every bishop in his diocese, and every national conference could be asking that kind of question. No special permission is needed.
Academic centers, theology centers and centers of pastoral ministry could be looking concretely at how ministry is exercised and how we receive various gifts in the church. Somebody once said that, theologically, we speak of hierarchical gifts and charismatic gifts. Well, it’s very clear how we receive hierarchical gifts in the church, but how do we identify and receive charismatic gifts in the church and integrate them into the church?
As the synod concludes, what will you bring home with you?
A desire to look at how our diocese could be doing more to help, elevate and recognize the role families play in church and society.
There is a beautiful response in the French liturgy, just before the Preface: “For the glory of God and the salvation of the world.” Is there a way we could help couples and their families to discover that their marriage is doing something for the glory of God and for the salvation of the world? It would bring a sea change in attitudes.
In my diocese we have a four-year project to develop attitudes that will invite and support people. Last year our focus was on being a welcoming community. This year we’re looking at being communities that affirm. Next year: accompanying. And then: inviting. When I go back, I want to look at what that means for families. How do we invite, affirm, accompany and invite families? I want to bring together some people to think about it and to work on it.