Pope Francis Calls for Greater Women’s Participation in Catholic Church Governance at Synod Meeting

  • Pope Francis calls for greater participation of women in church governance and a year-long study on the ordination of women as deacons
  • Proposals related to women’s roles and responsibilities in the church pass with overwhelming support
  • Inclusion of laypeople as voting members prompts debate over the synod’s legitimacy and its purpose as a collaborative process towards a new way of being the church.

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The gathering called by Pope Francis to discuss the future of the Catholic Church concluded on Saturday with a call for greater participation of women in church governance and a year-long process to study the ordination of women as deacons. The meeting, which lasted for a month and was attended by Catholic bishops and laypeople, resulted in a 42-page document that will be considered again at a second session next year. None of the proposals are binding, as they are intended for Pope Francis’ consideration.

While all the paragraphs passed with a two-thirds majority, the ones concerning women and priestly celibacy received the most “no” votes. However, organizers still considered the voting a success since none of the paragraphs failed to pass. This meeting was part of Pope Francis’ efforts to make the church more inclusive and give laypeople a greater say in decision-making.

Progressives had hoped that this synod would signal a more welcoming stance towards LGBTQ+ individuals and offer women more leadership roles. Conservative members emphasized the importance of maintaining the traditions of the church, warning against the potential risks of opening certain debates. Pope Francis allowed women and laypeople to vote alongside bishops, exemplifying his belief that the voices of the people are integral to the decision-making process. Many women attending the synod advocated for the reestablishment of female deacons.

The proposals related to women were the strongest, emphasizing the need to guarantee women’s participation in key decision-making processes and roles of responsibility in the church. The final text also acknowledged that Pope Francis had increased the number of women in high-ranking Vatican positions, and it called for similar changes to occur at the local church level, possibly through alterations to canon law. These recommendations passed with overwhelming support.

Another proposal that received significant support called for ongoing theological and pastoral research on the topic of women serving as deacons. The results of the research conducted by two study groups commissioned by Pope Francis are expected to be released before the second synod session takes place in October 2024. The final text did not mention homosexuality specifically, but it acknowledged the importance of listening to and accompanying people who may feel marginalized due to their marital situation, identity, or sexuality.

While there remains ongoing debate within the church regarding gender identity, sexual orientation, and various ethical issues, the inclusion of laypeople as voting members in this synod prompted some to question its legitimacy. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a critic of the meeting, argued that it no longer upheld the traditional role of the Synod of Bishops, which is supposed to provide the pope with the reflections of the bishops. Conversely, others saw the inclusion of laypeople as an accurate reflection of the synodal spirit.

Despite the progress made in discussing women’s roles and other important topics, caution remains necessary amid expectations of radical change. The synod’s purpose is to explore new ways of being the church rather than making immediate decisions. Reverend Timothy Radcliffe, who provided spiritual reflections during the meeting, highlighted the importance of the synod as a collaborative process and acknowledged that mistakes and challenges are part of the journey towards a new way of being the church.

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