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Brian DoyleFebruary 21, 2024

Over the past two years, many questions have been asked regarding the participants of the ongoing Synod on Synodality. The degree of inclusivity—so much greater than in past church deliberations—has excited many Catholics, myself among them, who finally see some recognition of the Holy Spirit’s work through laypeople, especially women. One question I do not hear being asked, however, is this: How many of the delegates ever have had to change a diaper, wait in the carpool line or deal with a moody teen?

The makeup of October’s synod gathering in Rome demonstrated that there are still essential voices not included in many delegations: parents. The current structure of the synod, meant to be representative of the universal church, is, to a large degree, silencing the domestic church.

This is not an application to join the synod in Rome next October. There are holier parents and wiser theologians who should be considered instead of me. But the voices of parents, especially those raising children now in a challenging world, ought to be heard.

How many of the delegates ever have had to change a diaper, wait in the carpool line or deal with a moody teen?

As we learn of the issues being addressed at the synod, I have found myself reflecting, not as a theologian but as a parent who is (trying to) raise three Catholic children, on a number of issues facing the church.

The first is the role of women in ordained ministry. But concerns around Jesus’ choice of men for apostles or Paul’s mention of Phoebe as a deacon do not address the marginalization my daughters have felt in our church. How do we, as church, address the role of women so that my daughters and my son, who loves them, can continue to belong to the church as they age?

A second issue: My kids are blessed to have friends who are Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Hindu and nonbelieving. They have learned what and when we can feed their friends, which holidays are important to them and the ways in which they celebrate joy and tragedy with their families. Their hospitality cannot be influenced by fear that they are watering down the Gospel or denying the necessity of the Incarnation for salvation. The companionship of these friends is essential as my kids traverse the growing complexities of their world—and as my wife and I find companions on our journey with their parents. How do we, as church, address issues of religious diversity and respect for other faiths?

A third question: While I am trained to reflect on homosexuality and gender dysphoria through the use of natural law and the intended ends of human sexuality, that is not how I encounter these issues most of the time. I encounter the L.G.B.T. community through my children and their friends. My questions as a parent are not driven by doctrinal concerns or the canonical definitions of licit sexual relations or gender identities. My questions center more on what pronouns or names to use when my kids’ friends come over and how to ask about whom they’re dating. These issues are not (only) academic and ecclesial. They are personal. In my life as a parent and professor, the people I encounter are not youth concerned about Thomistic moral theology. They are youth who are hurting, marginalized and searching—often for love and acceptance from a Christian community. How do we, as church, offer a home to them, too?

The makeup of October’s synod gathering in Rome demonstrated that there are still essential voices not included in many delegations: parents.

Parents ask these questions—and can offer the church some helpful input toward answering them. But they, too, need to be asked.

I understand that the structure of the synod makes it nearly impossible for most parents to attend the session in Rome. I do not work for the church (directly), so my employer would not give me a month off work. More importantly parents have familial obligations. My wife is awesome, and the kids would be good without me—but that is not how I intend to be a partner or a father.

Catholic children (and many adults) are hurting. They are lost. The church has an amazing opportunity and responsibility to address them beyond World Youth Day. I believe that the greatest gift the church can give to our youth, however, is to better serve their parents. This would begin with listening to us.

I remain hopeful for the success of the synod. I pray for my archbishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, for James Martin, S.J., and other delegates I know in their attempts to witness for me and so many Catholic parents. Nevertheless, it would be better if a few of us parents were there to speak for ourselves.

So maybe I am submitting an application to be invited next October. Pope Francis: Sabbatical applications are due soon and child care takes time to arrange, so if you want to hear more of my voice or the voices of other parents, please don’t delay.

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