A Synod on Women?
Following last month’s Synod of Bishops on Youth, suggestions have been made that the next synod might be dedicated to women.
This would be a natural progression: after the two synods on the family and this year’s on youth, the Church would put its mind to the critical issues concerning women: in the Church, in society and in the family.
It would be a brave decision to call a synod on women. For one thing, more so than was the case with youth, the bishops would need to take extreme care not to appear patronising, never mind giving an appearance of men dictating to women. Last month’s synod did not create ideal optics, with the various prelates sitting in front, carefully ordered by rank, with the priests behind them and, behind a barrier, youth and other laity.
Last month’s synod did not create ideal optics, with the various prelates sitting in front, carefully ordered by rank, with the priests behind them and, behind a barrier, youth and other laity.
For all the evidently productive work done in group meetings and informal encounters, the seating arrangement seemed to reinforce a sense of exactly the clericalism Pope Francis is criticising.
It might have been a fruitful innovation to pair up each voting member in the synod hall with a young person authorised to advise their respective bishops when speakers made particularly good or bad points.
Should there be a synod on women, the messages conveyed by (presumably unintended) optics would need to be carefully considered.
Likewise, last month’s controversy, when women religious were denied the right to vote in the synod while their male counterparts were, would have to be avoided (indeed, this must be prevented whatever the theme). By giving a synodal voice to women, the Church would encourage the necessary development of a revitalised theology of women.
There is a need to give women influence and authority in the Church, to give substance to the notion of the “feminine genius” which so often sounds like no more than condescending rhetoric. A synod would need to explore how to adapt the Church’s structures to achieve this.
By giving a synodal voice to women, the Church would encourage the necessary development of a revitalised theology of women.
A renewed theology of women would revisit the application of the principle of complementarity, which for all its merits also bears the historical baggage of having been used to deny women equal rights, for example to justify withholding their right to vote. Of course, a synod on women would also create prospects for awkward discussions, within the synod and more so outside.
The role of women in the family, especially motherhood, merits further discussion proceeding from those in the synods of the family and youth, especially taking into account the various understandings of motherhood that differ from the dominant Western worldview.
Of course, a synod on women would also create prospects for awkward discussions, within the synod and more so outside.
One issue that would inevitably come up involves the opinion that Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which declared the question of women priests definitively closed, exceeded its authority, in content and effect.
Related to that, the question of opening the permanent diaconate to women would need to be advanced by then.
A synod on women would also place the spotlight on the Church’s teachings on reproduction, some of which are not fully lived out by all Catholics, and are actively opposed by many outside the Church.
Some of these issues could be sidestepped by extending the focus of such a synod to the broader theme of gender issues.
This would give focus to critical issues such as domestic violence, sexual violence and exploitation, social and economic inequality, and so on, with a special attention on the role of men in counteracting these injustices.
The World Health Organization has declared violence against women a global epidemic; a synodal discussion would help formulate the Church’s collective response to that crisis — building on actions and programmes that are already in place, such as the Justice & Peace Tavern Project in the diocese of Klerksdorp. A synod on gender would stimulate a reflection on masculinity and manhood in an age when old patriarchal systems are challenged.
A synod on gender would also create space for a dialogue on patriarchy, the Church’s relationship to it, and what might be done to address the crises linked to patriarchy.
A synod on gender would stimulate a reflection on masculinity and manhood in an age when old patriarchal systems are challenged.
Such a dialogue would give substance to the Church’s pastoral ministry to men in a changing world.
These issues and more require the Church’s response, with a synod or without.