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Colleen DulleOctober 17, 2023
Loreto Sister Patricia Murray, a member of the synod and executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General, speaks during a briefing about the assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican Oct. 16, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

As I write this, participants in the Synod on Synodality are having their final discussions on the theme of mission. The question they are tasked with addressing is: “How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?” The conversation has focused largely on women, including women’s ordination to the diaconate.

In his introduction to this section, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich drew attention to the question of gender right away: “Most of us are men. But men and women receive the same baptism and the same Spirit. The baptism of women is not inferior to the baptism of men. How can we ensure that women feel they are an integral part of this missionary church?” He challenged participants, most of whom are ordained men, to examine whether they feel “enriched or threatened” when sharing responsibility for the church’s mission with women.

Only 54 of the synod’s 365 voting members are women: a historic number, but certainly not anything near gender parity. In the synod hall, it shakes out to one or two women and 10-12 men at each table.

Outside the Vatican, several groups advocating for greater inclusion of women in ministerial roles in the church have held events in recent weeks. Speaking with a few of the organizers, it is clear that these (mostly) women support Pope Francis’ effort to incorporate more women into the synod, even in the face of internal resistance from some clerics. But, they say, having one or two women per table is not enough.

The women who are in the hall, though—Catholicism’s first “synod mothers”—are extremely qualified. We have heard from other synod participants that the women are some of the most hardworking members; many are experts in synodality, and they have contributed powerful testimonies in the synod’s open discussions.

At a Vatican press conference yesterday, my colleague Zac Davis asked Patricia Murray, I.B.V.M., the secretary of the International Union of Superiors General, whether the women in the synod hall felt they were heard, despite being in the minority. Sister Murray replied as any tough nun might: “We have been well able to make our point and use our time and space well.”

As the synod turns its sights to its third major theme of participation tomorrow, the question of women’s role in the church’s evangelizing mission will, without a doubt, remain at the forefront.

More synod news:

  • Two bishops from mainland China who have been participating in the Synod on Synodality with the help of translators left the synod early, after having been given special permission from the Chinese government to travel to the gathering. Vatican spokesman Paolo Ruffini said the two had to return due to “pastoral needs” in their dioceses.
  • Tomorrow, Oct. 18, the synod begins its fourth “module” on participation. The section will begin with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a public “general congregation” in which Cardinal Hollerich will frame the conversation and some synod members will deliver initial reflections to the group.

Listen to our recent podcasts from Rome:

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