Catholic Culture Overview
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Synod, October 16: women’s ordination to diaconate, LGBTQ ‘woundedness’ gain greater prominence

October 17, 2023

On October 16, participants in the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops began their day by thanking Pope Francis for his apostolic exhortation on St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Participants also recalled with “a long applause” the anniversary of the election of Pope St. John Paul II and the anniversary in 1978, said Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.

Press conference

Synod participants continued to discuss the Synod’s third topic: “Co-responsibility in Mission: How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?” (module B2). Ruffini and the other presenters at the October 16 press conference said that the following topics were being discussed:

  • the true meaning of synodality
  • the richness of diversity
  • the role of the baptized within the Church
  • missionary activity
  • ecumenism and interreligious dialogue
  • “the digital evolution; without forgetting the young people of the world’s poor countries who are completely cut off from the use of the most modern technologies”
  • “the role of women in the perspective of the female diaconate”

The prospective ordination of women to the diaconate was also the topic of an interview given by Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst (Australia), elected by fellow Synod participants as one the members of the Synod’s Commission for the Synthesis Report. The synthesis report issued at the conclusion of the Synod’s first session (October 4-29) will form the agenda of the Synod’s second session (October 2024).

Bishop Mackinlay told the National Catholic Reporter that “the question of the ordination of women is clearly something that needs to be addressed universally ... And if it were to be that the outcome was for ordination to the diaconate to be open to women, I’d certainly welcome that.”

Bishop Mackinlay’s support for women’s ordination to the diaconate is not surprising: in July 2022, he lamented the Australian plenary council’s failure to support a resolution in favor of a female diaconate.

“This is not the way we were anticipating or hoping the process would go,” Bishop Mackinlay, the plenary council’s vice president, said at the time. “It is disappointing and a lot of people—women and men, priests and laypeople and bishops—were very distressed”

Father Tirimanna

“Synodality happens when you do it,” Sri Lankan theologian Father Vimal Tirimanna, CSSR, said at the press conference, as he praised ““the great atmosphere of prayer, heavily complemented by… the method of spiritual conversation. We see how the synodal process, or rather the synodal way of living, is already lived.”

The arrangement of the tables at the Synod manifests a “concentric Church, not a pyramidal one,” Father Tirimanna continued. “The ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium is lived. [The] synodal way, the culture of synodality is lived here. The challenge is to take it outside the synod hall.”

In the same vein, Father Tirimanna said that the synodal process is “not a private agenda of Pope Francis,” but “a continuation of Vatican II.”

Lumen Gentium, to which Father Tirimanna referred, is the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964). His use of Lumen Gentium to support his vision of a “concentric Church, not a pyramidal one” is puzzling: an entire chapter of Lumen Gentium (Chapter III) is devoted to the hierarchical nature of the Church.

Focus on woundedness of ‘LGBTQ+ people’—but blessing of same-sex unions ‘not central’ to Synod

At the press briefing, a journalist from Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry, asked, “While this new spirit of synodality is greatly welcomed as a present and future way to be church, it is important to know if there has been any discussion of acknowledging and responding to the past hurts, and not just to LGBTQ+ people, before this spirit of synodality had begun.”

Sister Patricia Murray, IBVM (Ireland), executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General and a papal appointee to the Synod’s Commission for the Synthesis Report, responded:

Thank you for that question. I think at many of the tables, if not all of them, the question of hurt and the woundedness of people, individually and collectively, has been dealt with and listened to. . . There have been discussions about how to symbolically, in a sense, represent that hurt. Some people have said that sorry is not enough. How does the Church give a sign and symbol for hurts that have been caused? There is a deep awareness of the pain and suffering that has been caused.

In his response, Father Tirimanna described the topic as “a burning issue, in fact, all over the world today.” He added, “The Church doesn’t have issues only to do with LGBTQ, for there are so many other groups. Let’s not make it the issue because there are so many issues.”

Auxiliary Bishop Zdenek Wasserbauer of Prague, who was also a presenter at the press conference, said that he was “very happy that the Synod is very balanced, and it tries to talk about all the pain that exists in today’s world and Church.”

“If there are persons who are marginalized or are suffering, who have been wounded in some way, this of course does concern us in the synodal path,” added Ruffini.

In response to another question, Ruffini said that the blessing of same-sex unions “is not central” to the Synod—unlike “formation, ordained ministries, the preferential option for the poor, and colonialism,” according to Vatican News.

Ruffini also said that “Catholic teaching is at the heart of all that is being done at the Synod,” according to the synopsis of his remarks published by Vatican News.

“There is not going to be a decision on whether we can bless gay couples,” added Bishop Wasserbauer, who said that the “problem” is how “to tell everyone, including members of the LGBTQ community, that they are part of the Catholic Church, that the Church is open to everyone.”

The Synod and St. Thérèse

Bishop Wasserbauer also said that the Pope’s apostolic exhortation on St. Thérèse of Lisieux is particularly timely, as she experienced spiritual darkness and is copatroness of the missions.

“I realized that here all 400 members meet every day seeking the good of others, their salvation,” he said. “Some say that even today, the Church of the third millennium is going through darkness. Here, the Synod is a light that illuminates the darkness.”

Earlier coverage


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  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Oct. 17, 2023 7:30 PM ET USA

    If the Church permits women to be ordained permanent deacons, many will consider this to be transitional and scream for "full" ordination. On the other side, male vocations to the diaconate will dry up significantly. Sorry, but this goes on the pile with the "bad idea" jeans.