How Long Will Our Labor Last?

I have had sisters and friends who spent long hours in labor. One of my friends was in labor for 48 hours. She was absolutely worn out by the time she gave birth.

But the longest labor recorded to date was 75 days! A Polish woman who lost one of her triplets, managed to keep the other two babies alive by keeping her feet above her head for 75 days until the babies could be born, safely.

I think most mothers will do whatever they need to do in order to bring a child safely into this world and to keep them safe after they are born.

This evening in the press hall, as I read the final document, I felt the pangs of of a labor that has gone on and on, so very long for so many women and their allies.

There is no doubt that we entered a new phase in the realization of women's ministries and especially the diaconate during this synod.

At the 2015 synod on the family, Archbishop Andre Durocher asked to open the discussion on women deacons. In 2016, UISG prompted Pope Francis to take action on the question by studying the possibility. In May 2019, Pope Francis delivered a report that disappointed many saying there was not enough consensus to go forward.

But we sprang forward at this synod. Unlike any prior synod, there was a majority -- women religious, indigenous women and men, and bishops -- who advocated strongly, not for further study, but for ordaining women as deacons who are already providing diaconal ministry in their villages.

So when paragraph 103 (the second most controversial paragraph in the document with a vote of 137 to 30) called for further study, I wanted to say with tears for my sisters who are so faithful and who have waited so long, "How blasted long is this labor is going to last?"

The paragraph reads:

In the many consultations carried out in the Amazon, the fundamental role of religious and lay women in the Church of the amazon and its communities was recognized and emphasized, given the multiple services they provide. In a large number of these consultations, the permanent diaconate for women was requested. For this reason the theme was important during the Synod. Already in 2016, Pope Francis has created a "Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women" which, as a commission, arrived at a partial result based on what the reality of the diaconate of women was like in the early centuries of the Church and its implications for today. We would therefore like to share our experiences and reflections with the Commission and await its results (103).

While this means ordination to the permanent diaconate is still in play, there are also reasons to be concerned.

The Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith's Prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, has been at the head of this commission. He has a powerful role in how this plays out. He was appointed in 2017 for five years, so re-opening the commission will only result in success if we have our champion Phyllis Zagano there, but also a fresh infusion of theologians and bishops from the Amazon region and other regions where women's ordination is welcome. Otherwise, a re-opening will likely result in another stalemate and stall.

Further, Paragraph 111 (the most controversial in the document with a vote of 128 to 41) opens the door to a married priesthood for the Amazon region and perhaps the wider church. While that is a cause for rejoicing in that it opens the door to a more inclusive priesthood, this, in itself, could also serve as a new barrier to ordination of women deacons since in practice, it will be permanent deacons who will be considered first for this ordination since they are "proven men."

Paragraph 111 reads:

Many of the ecclesial communities of the Amazonian territory have enormous difficulties in accessing the Eucharist. sometimes it takes not just months but even several years before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation or anoint the sick in the community. We appreciate celibacy as a gift of God (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 1) to the extent that this gift enables the missionary disciple, ordained to the priesthood, to dedicate himself fully to the service of the Holy People of God. It stimulates pastoral charity and we pray that there will be many vocations living the celibate priesthood. We know that this discipline "is not required by the very nature of the priesthood...although it has many reasons of convenience with it" (PO 16). In his encyclical on priestly celibacy, St. Paul VI maintained this law and set out theological, spiritual, and pastoral motivations that sustain it. In 1992, the post-synodal exhortation of John Paul II on priestly formation confirmed this tradition in the Latin Church (PDV 29). Considering that legitimate diversity does not harm the communion and unity of the Church, but expresses and serves it (LG 13; SO 6) which testifies to the plurality of existing rites and disciplines, we propose to establish criteria and dispositions on the part of the competent authority, within the framework of Lumen Gentium 26, to ordain priests suitable and esteemed men of the community, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region. In this regard, some were in favour of a more universal approach to the subject.

This practice, for all intents and purposes, cripples a key argument that has been a cornerstone for the case for women deacons -- the argument and reality that the permanent diaconate is a separate ministry from the priesthood. The actual practice blurs the distinction since it is married permanent deacons who will be considered first for this new pathway to a married priesthood.

For the churchmen who want to keep women's ordination to the priesthood at bay, this will provide another "reason" for scrapping the idea of women's ordination to the permanent diaconate.

There is much more to write about in terms of the implications of the final document and I will be posting more on it.

In the meantime, Cindy Wooden does a poetic job of bringing all the elements of women's ministry together in this final document. I suggest you read it.

Pope Francis ended the synod this evening with a few remarks about women.

The final document falls short in expressing the real value women have within the Church and their role in the transmission of the faith. They should be in commissions but the role of women in the Church goes much farther than function.

When in labor, there is a pattern of breathing that allows one to get through the contractions, to get through one painful moment to the next. I got rather good at this particular pattern of breathing as a mother of five.

And when it comes to opening doors to ministry and governance for all my Catholic sisters, there is nothing I want more than to deliver.

We are a body, the Body of Christ, women and men together, pregnant with a brand new life...brand new ways of being women in the church...of being church together.

Our pains are sharp and the contractions are strong.

We are ready to deliver new forms of ministry for women! We are ready to deliver the diaconate! The vote! The priesthood! Governance! The cardinalate! Authority! Decision making! The papacy!

And we stand together, breathing, sometimes crying out when the pain is great, until this new life is born.