Women Deacons: If Opened, We Will Ordain Them

Today, Bishop Rafael Cob García, of of Puyo, Ecuador; Deacon Francisco Andrade de Lima, Executive Secretary of the North Region of the CNBB in Brazil; UISG representative Sister Zully Rosa Rojas Quispe, M.D.R.of Puerto Madonado, Peru; and Bishop Dom Adriano Ciocca Vasino of São Félix, Brazil joined us.

A new idea always faces steep resistance in the Catholic Church. That is no less true for the concept of a female permanent diaconate.

But Bishop Dom Adriano Ciocca Vasino of São Félix, Brazil confirmed what we know will happen widely once we have opened the doors to women deacons.

Deacon Francisco Andrade

When asked about women deacons in the Amazonian communities where women are already ministering and leading, the bishop noted that many women in his community are already trained in theology, and “they know that if this synod, with the pope, opens up the possibility of the diaconate for women…I will ordain them.”

When Deacon Francisco was asked, as a deacon who ministers in the Church and who serves as the Executive Secretary of the North Region of the formation program for deacons in the CNBB in Brazil, if he supported women deacons, he was clear.

He said:

When we listen to the people where we live we realize this church has a female face. Women whose faith is alive, lead the communities.  A priest comes maybe once or twice a year.

He continued:

I am married and have 2 daughters and they often help me in ministry...I don’t see any problems with having women carrying this ministry. But we must start with the vocational aspect and the history of the Amazon Church.

And, we must start with women.  

There was also a lively discussion on the priesthood that shed light on the fact that vocations to the priesthood are not exactly booming.

There are "very few vocations to the priesthood in the Amazon region," said Bishop Rafael Cob Garcia. Two obstacles are present. First, seminarians who go to the cities to study often "get discouraged and leave." Secondly, celibacy as a precondition to priesthood is a foreign concept. So, for this bishop, they need seminaries in the regions where indigenous live, and they need "new paths" to the priesthood, which is shorthand for married priests.

And a practice that I wish was present in all dioceses, Bishop Dom Adriano Ciocca Vasino said that seminarians who learn the classical theology and philosophy are immersed into the community to learn the lived reality of people. If after four years, the community approves of him, he is ready to be ordained. If not, he is not ordained.

Wow! How many priests who abuse their power in multiple ways including those who abuse children and vulnerable adults, might we have stopped if this practice were in place? While no silver bullet, it would be a system of accountability that would help.

There shall be progress

The promise: There will be progress at this synod that will help prepare the Church for present and future realities.

The disclaimer: It is clear that the synod process is a very faulty process. By its very design, it lacks the diversity needed to develop sound new ways of being Church. The synod process cries out for a new form that is inclusive of women and lay men as co-partners.

The reality: But even an imperfect process can produce something extraordinary if the right people are being heard. And I think, in good part, many of the right people are being heard.

This synod is very different from past synods, although I would say the 2018 Synod on Youth comes close to the character and make up of this synod. Although they had no vote, young Catholics were hard to ignore and their sometimes radical call for change rang throughout the synod hall and helped formulate new language and new ideas into the final document.

So recognizing the danger we face as people living together on this fragile sacred planet, Pope Francis and company called a synod to open our minds and hearts to the destruction of the Amazon, and to take decisive action to heal and protect this vital center, "the lung", of our planet and all people who depend on it.

And in that process, he has gathered indigenous peoples, women religious, lay persons and bishops who know the realities on the ground, know the suffering there, and have walked in solidarity with each other.

They have street cred.

Or as one observer said, "the great novelty of this synod is that indigenous peoples will be the teachers; Catholic priests the students."

And what the indigenous and those in the church who walk with them need in order to save their land and to construct the institutional vehicle urgently needed to build a cadre of faith filled people to heal the Amazon and the earth will be taken seriously.

And it is clear to me, from listening to the bishops, women religious, and others who have sat on the panels in the press briefings, they know and love their people and they are fearless, faith-filled innovators who know that God does not live in a rule-bound institution, but in the faces of Her people and in the rivers, trees and skies that hold them.

So get ready for some real changes.

Below is a quick study of the prophetic words and wisdom sayings of the movers and shakers this first week.

Women, Women Deacons, Women Voting

As the synod opened: Sr. Simone Campbell said, "How can the institution turn their backs on the voices of our Sisters who live with the people of this threatened region? How can our Sisters not have at least one vote at the Synod? And my Sisters, how can we not speak up for the most marginalized people and for our wounded earth?"

Day one: Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazillian chair of this synod: From communities in Amazonia, there is a request that this service [of women] be acknowledged and there be an attempt to consolidate it with a suitable ministry for the women who lives in these communities." One report said the reference to women drew applause in the synod hall.

Sr. Teresa Cediel Castillo reported that indigenous women know, "they are baptized as prophets, priests and queens. Women baptize children. If there is a marriage, women witness the marriage. If someone has need of confession, we listen to the bottom of our hearts. We may not be able to absolve [according to the Church], but we listen with humbleness."

Day three: Bishop Erwin Krautler reports, Two thirds of our communities are animated by women. We have to think about this. We have to proclaim the women and their work. We need concrete solutions. So why not women deacons?

Day four: Sr. Liliana (in speaking about the possibility of women deacons) explained that in this synod there are 40 women. And that behind these 40 women there are many others. The Church has a female face - it is a mother and a teacher. But in this time in the Church, [the female face] is also a sister and a disciple. We are not the protagonists,but we follow St. Claire, our mothers and grandmothers, others who played a part in reconstructing the church. The church is doing discernment and we don't know if this [women deacons] will happen. But we continue to make sure that the female face [of the church] is clear knowing God will continue to lead this process and open up new opportunities and paths.

Bishop Wilmar Santin says that he is training women (9) and men (39) as Ministers of the Word and when the diaconate opens up (assuming he meant for women since it is already available for men), "We shall see, then, when the ordination of deacons is made possible."

Day five: Sr. Birgit Weiler said that at the last synod, Pope Francis already made it possible [for women religious to vote], saying that it is not [necessary to have] ordination to priesthood to be able to vote. When you are participating fully in the whole process of sharing faith, of discerning together, then the vote is also an expression; you also want to responsibly participate in the decision that is taken. And, yes, we hope very much that something can happen there.

It is expressed, and clearly expressed. There is no real reason for not [having women religious superiors vote] because when the brethren can vote, women religious are equals. Both have votes and both are not ordained.

Sr. Birgit Weiler, when speaking about women's freedom of expression in the small groups, she said There is a very open atmosphere. With me, there are two other religious sisters. And so, we experience that we are really accepted as part of the group. There is not a clerical attitude. There's a lot of freedom of speech and it is a beautiful experience, really, to discern together. And also, we could speak how we sometimes feel about the Church -- what hurts us, what we desire to change so that we can really be a community of sisters and brothers sharing faith, learning together, and trying to live together out of the Spirit - what the Spirit wants to tell the Church today so that we follow the path of Jesus in today's context -- with today's potentials and today's demands. Yes, it is certainly strong. And I also heard from other women religious who are participating in some other small circles, and they say it is the same -- it is really an open atmosphere. So, more critical questions can be put openly and respectfully on the table.

Sr. Birgit Weiler said that in her small group, it was a strong point even said by the bishops that when you want to become a church that expects to be a synodal church, really walking together and discerning together, [it] means we must come to the point to decide together. And that means you have to have more women in positions of leadership. [Already] there's a wide field where you do not need to be ordained, and we hope this will be much more the reality in the future that women -- lay women, religious women -- will be invited to also assume responsible positions. Now, already many of them already do [assume responsible leadership roles] and that is recognized in the working document. Practically [speaking], the major pastoral work and presence is given by women. But is not only the work that we do, but we want also to be included in positions where we take responsible decisions. How to design pastoral work? How to go forward with inter-cultural [work]. Or liturgy, for example. Or the way you walk together with indigenous people to really form and shape Christian communities, rooted in their cultures.

Day six: Bishop Dom Adriano Ciocca Vasino tells us the many women are already trained in theology, and “they know that if this synod, with the [permission] of the pope, opens up the possibility of the diaconate for women… I will ordain them.”

Married Priests

Day one: Cardinal Claudio Hummes defined the extreme priest shortage saying there is a "lack of priests at the service of local communities in the area, with a consequent lack of the Eucharist, at least on Sundays, as well as other sacraments. This means pastoral care made up of sporadic visits instead of adequate daily pastoral care."

Day three: Bishop Erwin Krautler: There is a campaign against the indigenous people and the people feel the church is not standing next to them, helping to protect their lives. So we need to increase the presence of the church. And we need another way to increase that presence - married men. I am saying this with great sincerity. There is no other option. The people do not understand celibacy. They ask me, 'Where is your wife?'

Bishop Krautler reports that 2/3rds of the bishops in the Synod hall are ready for married priests.

Day four: Bishop Wilmar Santin of Brazil, said Pope Francis has a dream of having "an indigenous priest in every community."

Day five: Canon lawyer Nicolas Cafardi wrote, Celibacy is a discipline of the church. Disciplines exist by creation of the law, so if the law were to be changed, the discipline would change. Pope Francis could, since he is the sole legislator for the universal church … allow married priests in the Western church, either across the board, or in limited areas and in limited situations.

Canon lawyer Sr. Sharon Euart explained, Celibacy is not demanded of the priesthood by its nature. The practice of a married clergy existed in the early church. The church law in question is Canon 277, which states that Catholic clerics are 'obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy.'

Cafardi and Euart both suggested that Francis could issue norms allowing bishops in the Amazon countries to deviate from that canon in choosing which candidates to ordain to the priesthood.

Synod process

During the first part of the week, there were presentations by various participants in the synod hall to the large group. Beginning on Thursday, 12 small language groups (5 Spanish, 4 Portuguese, 2 Italian, 1 English/French) met for the first round. People could express their concerns and ideas for the final document.

Unlike other years, the small language groups will not simply modify the working document or the Instrumentum Laboris. It is said here that the working document must "be martyred" in order to truly let the Spirit take hold. That means everything is on the table and those ideas that will not take the Church forward will hit the trash heap.

At the end of this week, the Moderator of each group collects the themes and decides how to go forward.

That means these folks will have a lot of influence.

But first, This is a reordered list from the one we received. It is comical to see the loyalty to the Italians in the Vatican Press Bulletin listing the Italian small groups first, instead of the 5 Spanish and the 4 Portuguese groups that represent the Amazon region and the participants here:). They did get one thing right. The English and French are last.

Card. Carlos Aguiar Retes, Moderator (Spanish A)

Archbishop Edmundo P. Valezuela Mellid, SDB, Moderator (Spanish B)

Bishop Rev. Mgr. Jonny E. Reyes Sequera, SDB, Moderator (Spanish C)

Bishop Omar de Jesús Mejia Giraldo, Moderator (Spanish D)

Cardinal Oscar A. Rodrigues Maradiaga, SDB, Moderator (Spanish E)

Bishop Jesús M. Cizuarre Berdonces, OAR, Moderator (Portuguese A)

Bishop Rev. Mgr. Pedro Brito Guuimaraes, Moderator (Portuguese B)

Bishop José B. Da Silva, Moderator (Portuguese C)

Bishop Alberto Taveira Correa, Moderator (Portuguese D)

Bishop Flavio Giovenale, SDB (Italian A)

Card. Luis F. Ladaria Ferrer, SI, S.I. Moderator (Italian B)

Card. Jean-Claude Hollerich,SI, (English/French group)

What difference would it make in the final document if half of these folks were women?

A lot.

There will also be a second round where more concerns and ideas will be discussed in the small language groups.

In the third week of the synod, participants will receive a draft of the final document prepared by the drafting team. They will discuss the document and negotiate the final form that week.

Then the final document will receive a final vote.

And, as we know, right now and unfortunately for this synod and the church, women will not be taking part in the voting.

What are your questions? Send them to me: debrose@futurechurch.org

I will be interviewing a number of synod participants this next week, women religious, lay women, and bishops. What questions would you ask? What burning issue would you want them to address? Let me know.