CNWE Welcomes Vatican Declaration that Approves Blessings for Same-Gender Couples

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE), Canada welcomes the Vatican declaration (December 18) approving blessings for same-gender couples. The document, “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings” from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is a significant and positive shift toward a more inclusive and welcoming Church.

The essence of blessing in a biblical, theological and liturgical sense is an expression of God’s limitless love and is not for Church teaching to withhold. Permitting the blessing of same-gender relationships is a long overdue affirmation that moves the Church toward the full recognition of the God-given dignity and equality of 2SLGBTQ+ persons.

This change is due in large part to the decades-long advocacy of 2SLGBTQ+ Catholics and the groundswell of voices for inclusion that have been raised during the synodal consultations of the last two years. It reflects a level of trust in the authority of the people of God to call the Church hierarchy to love as the greatest good.

As CNWE works toward the equality of women in the Catholic Church, we stand in solidarity with all who remain marginalized by Catholic church teaching and practice. As we celebrate this declaration, we look forward to the continued transformation of the structures of the Church through the synodal process, so that the hope of Pope Francis and Catholics around the world for all – “todos, todos, todos,” – to be welcomed and find their home in the widening tent of the Church as whole persons, blessed and beloved of God.

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Canadians Going to Rome Call for Catholic Church Reform 

A delegation of ten Catholic Canadians, members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) will be travelling to Rome October 1-6, 2023 to call for the full and equal participation of women in ministry and leadership in the Catholic Church. We will join reform-minded Catholics from around the world as the Vatican Synod on Synodality Assembly begins.  

SYNOD ON SYNODALITY

Pope Francis initiated the ‘Synod on Synodality’ to invite Catholics to listen to each other and to discern what the Church is called to be in our time. The three-year process began with surveys and consultation at local and diocesan/regional levels (albeit with varying degrees of support by clergy). These reports have been synthesized by clergy-selected writing teams at national and continental levels. Vatican-selected voting delegates will assemble in Rome for the month of October in 2023 and 2024 to discuss what has arisen.  

WHY THIS SYNOD IS HISTORIC

For the first time at a Catholic synod, non-clerical women and men will have voting rights. (Women make up only 15% of delegates, however, and participate at the invitation of an all-male hierarchy). It is also unprecedented that a Synod working document is comprised of questions for discussion, rather than statements for review/ratification. 

WHY CNWE IS GOING TO ROME

CNWE is going to Rome to be a visible reminder (in solidarity with Catholics from across the globe) that it is past time to end the sexism, misogyny and clericalism that has permeated the structures of the Church for centuries. While many societies have made strides toward women’s equality, the Catholic Church remains a place where women are second-class citizens. Catholics are currently denied the opportunity to have gifted, qualified women preside and preach at mass and to contribute equally to the development of Church teaching and important decision-making. It is time that the voices of all those marginalized by Church teaching and practice — women, LGBTQIA2S+ persons, divorced and remarried Catholics, Indigenous peoples and clergy abuse survivors — are heard. For the Catholic Church to credibly uphold belief in the dignity and equality of all persons, it must stop being an international body that condones sexism, a key indicator that contributes to the global impoverishment of women and their families. Bold, concrete structural change toward an inclusive, credible and accountable Church must result from this Synod.  

THE TIME IS NOW FOR WOMEN’S EQUALITY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

The Synod on Synodality offers a historic opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church. Delegates, together with Pope Francis, must be bold enough to heed the calls for real change. We are church and we are going to Rome with this conviction in mind and heart – voices raised for reform. We invite you to share in our journey.

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Media Inquiries: central@cnwe.org

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE), Canada welcomes Vatican decision to open Synod Assembly to 70 non-bishop voting delegates, including women

April 27, 2023

The Catholic Network for Women’s Equality welcomes the announcement from the Vatican Secretariat for the Synod that 70 non-bishop members out of 370 delegates will be appointed by the Pope and able to vote at the Synod General Assembly in October 2023. Pope Francis has expressed a desire that half of the delegates proposed by bishops’ conferences be women. This is the first time that a Vatican Synod will be comprised of 21% non-bishop voting participants and the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that women and young people will have a vote at a Vatican Synod.  

This limited but significant structural shift toward justice and equality for women and all in the church reflects decades of advocacy by Catholics who have persistently and respectfully called for a ‘discipleship of equals’ in Church ministry and decision-making. As echoed in the North American Final Document for the Continental State of the 2021-2024 Synod, “There can be no true co-responsibility in the Church without fully honoring the inherent dignity of women.” 

The further evolution of such co-responsibility in the church will require synodal assemblies to have participants elected (not appointed) in transparent processes that welcome the engagement of a broad cross-section of Catholics, particularly those who, like women, have been largely disenfranchised. Such a rich diversity of participants would embody the varied lived faith experience of the whole church and could not help but renew its vitality, relevance and credibility. 

We invite all Catholics to let their parish priests and bishops know that they support this opening toward non-bishop participants and especially women at the 2023 Vatican Synod on Synodality. 


 

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE), Canada responds to the March 30th, 2023 Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development on the “Doctrine of Discovery”

April 3, 2023

The Catholic Network for Women’s Equality, Canada welcomes the repudiation of the “Doctrine of Discovery (#7) in the Vatican Joint Statement. We credit the repeated requests of Indigenous peoples and those in solidarity with them that have led the Vatican to rescind this doctrine. Most recently, this request was made to Pope Francis during his pilgrimage to Canada in July 2022. 

In our assessment, the remainder of the Joint Statement however, lacks sufficient and whole-hearted institutional self-scrutiny. Rather than unequivocally acknowledging the systemic nature of centuries of colonialism and racism embedded in the Catholic Church, the statement only says “many Christianshave committed evil acts against indigenous peoples”. The same sentence then proceeds to justify the hierarchy by stating that “recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions”(#3). In our experience, a public admission of wrongdoing should be a sincere apology and little else. 

It would seem, however, that most of this statement has fallen prey to the temptation of ‘virtue signalling’, a contemporary expression defined as “the public expression of opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or social conscience or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue” (Oxford). It does this by:

  1. Highlighting at the outset the actions of individual Popes, clergy, religious and lay Catholics in defending Indigenous peoples, (#2) 
  2. Pointing to the hierarchy’s renewal of dialogue and greater awareness of the suffering of Indigenous peoples. (#4). The statement points to government-led policies but does not acknowledge the damaging role of the Catholic Church’s policies and practices designed to eliminate indigenous language and culture through ‘assimilation’. 
  3. By claiming that only “certain scholars” (#5) argue that the papal bulls are the foundation of the Doctrine of Discovery, and that the bulls were limited to historical and political circumstances (#6) the statement downplays the scope of the Church’s self-serving cooperation in centuries of colonialism and racism, rather than honestly acknowledging it. 
  4. Citing one papal bull from 1537 as evidence of the Church hierarchy upholding Indigenous rights (#8), neglects to mention that the bull was functionally rescinded a year later. 

While we agree with Pope Francis that learning of the suffering of Indigenous peoples should constitute “a powerful summons to abandon the colonizing mentality”, (#4) the full commitment of the Catholic Church to the work of reconciliation remains to be seen.  In the words of former chief of Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba Ernie Daniels, ‘There must be a fundamental change in attitudes, behaviour, laws and policies from that statement.’ We hope that the one penitential comment in the statement, (“It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon.” #6) will spur the ‘Catholic entities’ in Canada to fulfill their financial commitment to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. 

Tangentially, we hope that all future Vatican documents will refrain from the use of the word ‘fraternity’ (#1) (from the Latin for ‘brother’ ) and use instead the more inclusive term, “kinship”. 

Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world are reclaiming their culture and language, and demanding the right to clean water, livable housing, food security, health care, environmentally sustainable communities, and an end to violence particularly against indigenous girls and women. With humility, may Catholic Church leaders and all the faithful live into truth-telling and the work of reconciliation in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

(For ease of reference, the link to the Joint Statement is: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2023/03/30/230330b.html

Response of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synodal Process

The Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) in Canada welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod (DCS). Reflecting on the DCS, as well as diocesan reports from around the world, it is evident that the Spirit is calling the church to ‘enlarge the space of our tent’. 

We offer this reflection, not as a comprehensive review of the DCS, but to draw attention to the segments of the document that relate to our work for women in the church and in the world. 

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

As a preliminary comment, we regret to say that the website for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB)  https://www.cccb.ca has very little information about the Synod, demonstrating to us a lack of engagement, transparency, and accountability. There may well be good things happening, but how would one know, especially if one is on the ‘periphery’ of the Church and would likely consult the CCCB website for information? Furthermore, there has been no transparency regarding who the bishop-appointed delegates to the North American Assemblies were. We have no way to know if the voices of those marginalized by the church have been included in the Continental Stage, as was intended (DCS, #108). Secondly, the Vatican Synod link for the Continental Stage for North America links to the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and contains nothing about Canada’s involvement in the North American Continental Stage process: https://www.synod.va/en/synodal-process/the-continental-stage/continental-assemblies.html. (Website content up to Feb. 28, 2023)

DCS Introduction 

#11. (3,4). We agree that living the mission of the Church requires the “co-responsibility of all the baptized” and that this work is founded on “our common baptismal dignity”. We also agree that this statement needs to move beyond a lofty claim to “the construction of concrete possibilities” in the structures and lived reality of the church. Women as equal disciples must be an integral part of this transformation. 

Listening that becomes welcoming

#32. While we are encouraged that the voices of women are being mentioned in the DCS, some of us are skeptical. We have been here before. In 1985, the CCCB developed a ‘conversation kit’ for parishes titled “Women in the Church” that included ideas of ‘co-responsibility’. Nothing came of those conversations. Rather than seeing this synodal path as a “gradual process”, we sense a deep urgency for long overdue bold change, led by the Spirit.

Listening to those who feel neglected and excluded

#38. Again, while ‘being heard’ is a good first step (#32), we cannot emphasize enough that this cannot be the only outcome of the synodal process. Listeners must be compelled, by Jesus’ call to justice, to act. The hierarchy, together with the whole church, must dismantle the barriers that prevent women’s full participation in ministry (including ordained ministry) and decision-making. Once women are present around tables of decision-making, and are celebrants at Eucharistic tables, the clergy will not need to develop a ‘deeper theology of women’. We find such a suggestion patronizing. It suggests that women are ‘objects of curiosity’ to be studied rather than partners in building the kin-dom of God, 

The Church’s mission in today’s world

#44. The DCS rightfully lists gender inequality as a “wound” experienced in both the world. We encourage priests and bishops to decry the global wounds of sex trafficking, domestic violence, discrimination, lack of access to education/career opportunities and the resulting poverty and trauma for women and their children. Yet we also urge the clergy to recognize that at present, the Catholic Church offers a shameful model to the world in terms of gender inequality and this serves to tacitly condone gender inequality in other settings.  

Walking together with all Christians

#49. The Gospels are replete with examples of the hospitality of Jesus as he gathered to break bread. We yearn for a Catholic church that does likewise, offering a common table at Eucharist so that our inter-church and interfaith family members feel welcomed. In the gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus ask: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matt 7:9). This teaching should impel us not to set limits around Christ’s boundless gift in the Eucharist.

Cultural contexts

#51. We have been horrified by the traumatic harm and profound betrayal of trust that the global clergy sexual abuse scandal and cover-up by bishops has caused. We cannot emphasize enough the need for thorough and impartial criminal and ecclesial investigations of every allegation of abuse by clergy, past and present. In the Canadian context, we stand in solidarity with those harmed by the ongoing legacy of Catholic Indian residential schools and call the CCCB to lead in meeting the terms of the Catholic Settlement Agreement. 

Rethinking women’s participation

#60/61/62. We echo the call from all over the world “for Catholic women to be valued first and foremost as baptised and equal members of the People of God.” For this to become a reality, the ‘roles’ for women in the Church cannot be delineated by male priests and bishops alone. A synodal church cannot continue to have sexism embedded in ministry and governance structures that prevent qualified women from answering the call of the Holy Spirit. How can a ‘Synod on Synodality’ have only one woman, Sr. Nathalie Becquart, eligible to vote in the global Synod assembly? We agree with the New Zealand report: “This lack of equality for women within the Church is seen as a stumbling block for the Church in the modern world.” 

We suggest that the Synodal process adopt the principle of “nothing about us, without us” regarding all who have been relegated to the periphery of full engagement in the church. This is the only principle that is respectful of women (especially regarding issues of women’s reproductive health), persons who are LGBTQIA2S+, Indigenous persons, racialized minorities, couples who are divorced and remarried, those experiencing poverty, migrants, and refugees.  

Pope Francis rightly warns against the dangers of “ideologies” taking precedent over relational concern for others. Yet we see concerning ideologies also preceding respect for the inherent dignity of all persons in the teaching of the magisterium. For example, the ideology of ‘complementarity’ imposes inflexible, idealized stereotypes of what it is to be “woman” or “man” and limits opportunities for women to fully share their gifts. As church, we must not be afraid to learn about new understandings of gender that are rooted in sound science and to weave this together with Jesus’ call to loving inclusion. We feel called to move from a diminished understanding of gender as a dualistic polarity, toward an affirmation of humanity’s God-given gender diversity. 

#65. We agree that the church could learn from the models of synodality evident in many women’s religious communities and feminist movements for reform. As members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality, we too are “church”. From our place on the margins, we continue to evolve non-hierarchical, collaborative forms of working together. 

#67. We very much resonate with the Italian report that envisions the Church as “all-ministerial” and “a communion of charisms and ministries”. This inclusive model of intersecting ministries, rather than a hierarchical church “built around ordained ministry”, must become the central organizing principle of our church. This principle is not an innovation of modernity but rather a “ressourcement” – a return to the models of the early Church. 

Managing tensions: renewal and reconciliation

#91. We concur that a spirit of synodality must encourage the “full, conscious, and active participation” of all in liturgical celebrations (SC,14). To dismantle the culture of clericalism, we need to stop placing clergy on a lonely pedestal, removed from the rest of the people of God and encourage them to live among us as collaborative pilgrims on the journey.  

Conclusion

The members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality in Canada sincerely hope that the voices of women, so cogently expressed in the initial stages of the synodal process, will not be lost as the synodal process becomes more hierarchical. We have been ‘exiled’ and excluded for too long in the Catholic Church. We want to be welcomed home and take our rightful place, serving in a discipleship of equals. (#24). Our challenging times call for the courageous renewal of the Catholic church. Led by the Holy Spirit, may it be so.