Role of women, diversity in unity among issues debated at synod

Several women participating in the Synod of Bishops on the family said they are encouraged that their views are not only respected but included in the discussions taking place.

"It's not just a feeling," said Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute. "Many of the things that we have said are included in the reports. I am very happy that more women are being included, but once inside the actual meeting, I don't feel any distinct separation."

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Several synod participants spoke to the press Oct. 13 during a Vatican briefing. Speaking alongside McQueen were Therese Nyirabukeye, a Rwandan who works for the African Federation of Family Action, and Benedictine Abbot Jeremias Schroder, president of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Ottilien.

Although both McQueen and Nyirabukeye said they felt included in the various discussions taking place at the synod, Abbot Schroder said he had hoped for a greater presence of women religious. He confirmed that a request was made by the men's Union of Superior Generals to give half of their 10 places to representatives of the women's religious orders. After a meeting with the secretariat of the synod, the women were given three places, although they do not have a vote like their male peers do.

"There is a small recognition that women religious must be present," he said. "I had hoped that those nuns, who are involved in so many apostolates of the family, would be a much greater presence than it is currently."

The three synod participants also were asked about the synod discussions on diversity in unity and about sensitive issues such as allowing divorced and civilly remarried couples to receive Communion or pastoral ministry to homosexual men and women. 

Abbot Schroder said he counted about 20 speeches in favor of dealing with those issues at a regional level and only about two or three bishops who spoke against it, maintaining that the unity of the universal church must remain intact. However, he also said that there have been no votes on concrete propositions, thus "it's a bit difficult to ascertain with precision the mind of the assembly."

"I'm from Germany and the issue of divorced and remarried people or (people who are) divorced and living in a stable union with children is felt very strongly and very broadly in the German Catholic public," he said. "It seems to be much less of a concern elsewhere."

Local pastoral solutions also may be the answer to addressing issues that different cultures view differently, such as the acceptance of homosexuality, he said.

"The social acceptance of homosexuality is culturally very diverse, and that also seems to me to be an area where bishops' conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a prayerful context," he said. 

While agreeing that certain issues may be better or more easily dealt with locally, both McQueen and Nyirabukeye said the church also must look at the risks of allowing pastoral solutions at a regional level.

"Personally speaking, I believe that on one hand, it is better and positive to have this diversity, but on the other hand, I think there are some doctrinal aspects that should be maintained," Nyirabukeye said.

"This is a very delicate issue," she said, "and the synod fathers should examine it and then within the church they should really take time to better study and analyze all the consequences and concrete applications of it."

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