Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE), Canada Continues to Engage the Synodal Process

The Synod on Synodality Process

In 2021, Pope Francis initiated a process to seek global input from Catholics about how we could become a more synodal church. “Synodality” (walking together) requires the participation of all to discern what the Spirit is calling the Catholic Church to be in our time.

After this two-year consultation, a new kind of Synod Assembly occurred in Rome in 2023. For the first time, 20% of participants were non-bishop voting delegates, including women and youth.

CNWE’s Synodal Experience in Rome and Canada: Something New is Being Born

As delegates met inside the Synod Hall, nine CNWE members joined reform-minded Catholics in actions outside the Assembly, raising our voices for women’s equality and an inclusive, accountable Catholic Church.

It became apparent when we met with two of the Canadian women Synod delegates in Rome, that something new was happening at this Synod. The delegates’ experience of roundtable ‘conversations in the Spirit’ (with an emphasis on deep listening, sharing from experience, and prayer) meant that the voices of women, among other marginalized groups, were being heard.

As CNWE member Louise Dowhan from Winnipeg, MB said,

“Being in Rome, as women’s greater participation was discussed in the Vatican Assembly gave me a sense of hope for a renewed way of being church.”

The press coverage of the Synod and reform actions in Rome amplified this message of hope around the world. A blog of CNWE’s Rome experience can be found here.  

In Winnipeg, members and friends of CNWE gathered on October 4 to pray in solidarity with CNWE members in Rome and with all Synod delegates at the grave of former Winnipeg Archbishop Cardinal Flahiff. Cardinal Flahiff advocated for women’s participation in all aspects of ecclesial life, and at a Synod in Rome in 1971, he presented the Canadian bishops’ proposal to open a discussion on the possibility of ordaining women.” Learn more about the Winnipeg event here.

A Call for Co-Responsible Participation in the Work of Synodality

CNWE has been continuing the Synodal conversation by sharing the hope of our Rome experience with Catholic, ecumenical and Roman Catholic Women Priest (RCWP) communities.

CNWE is also embracing synodality by working with new conversation partners: hosting an online gathering with Synod delegate, Sr. Elizabeth Davis in February, and in March, we will partner with Concerned Lay Catholics as part of their ‘Nurturing Synodality Series.

The Synod resources, Synthesis Document “A Synodal Church in Mission” , “Towards 2024” and “Worksheet” invite all members of the church to consider the question: “HOW we can be a Synodal Church in mission?” prior to the 2024 Synod Assembly.

Catholics who have been engaging questions of deep importance in the life of the church (including structural changes to church ministry and governance) must make good and urgent use of this interim period between Synodal Assemblies.

CNWE welcomes the challenge of working toward a church that incarnates in word, action and structures, the radical equality, inclusion, and love of Christ.

We hope that Canadian Synod delegates, clergy and bishops will join with CNWE and all Catholic individuals and groups by planning concrete opportunities for robust, inclusive dialogue at local, regional, and national levels. May this ‘something new’ in the life of our Church be guided by the Spirit to grow and flourish in our time.

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.


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.  


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.  


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. 


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 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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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: