On October 4, the XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops from around the world will begin in the Vatican, which will last until October 29, and is entitled “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”, that is, a Church. who “listens, meets and dialogues, who needs to be humble, knows how to ask for forgiveness and has a lot to learn”, according to the preparatory document “Instrumentum laboris”.
There are many issues that need to be resolved in this assembly and which are expected to make important changes in the Church. That is why some call it the “Synod of the Renaissance” and others speak almost of a kind of Vatican Council III, in memory of the Vatican Council II of the 1960s, during the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI, which produced great change. in Catholicism.
Among the hot issues today is the possibility for women to become deacons and thus be able to baptize and distribute communion, and for married men to become presbyters (priests). But other interesting topics will also be discussed such as the spread of the Church on a digital level and contact with young people through this media.
Because of the changes that may occur, a group of five conservative cardinals led by the American Raymond Leo Burke (who has many positions in the offices of the Vatican), in August sent a letter to the Holy Pope asking him not to accept the changes and to approve the traditional Catholic doctrine. .regarding hot topics such as the role of women in the Church, married men and the attitude towards homosexual unions, which have been the subject of discussion for several years due to the openness expressed by Francis.
This synod began its preparation in 2021 at the level of local churches and will end in 2024, probably with a new assembly. The General Assembly that begins this Wednesday has 464 participants, 363 of which have the right to vote (including many lay people). More than 80 women participate but only 54 of them have the right to vote.
Of the participants, 169 were bishops appointed by the respective episcopal conferences. Others present were lay people (among them a Jesuit close to the LGBT+ community and a member of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that helps migrants in the Mediterranean), heads of Catholic churches in East, heads of the Vatican dicasteries, cardinals and other appointees. directly to the Pope like the Spanish theologian Cristina Inogés and the Nicaraguan nun Xiskya Valladares.
Three bishops appointed by the Argentine Episcopal Conference will attend: Oscar Vicente Ojea, bishop of San Isidro, Marcelo Daniel Colombo, archbishop of Mendoza, and Carlos Alfonso Azpiroz Costa, archbishop of Bahía Blanca. The new cardinal created by the Pope last week, and the archbishop of Córdoba, Angel Sixto Rossi, were also invited.
The Synod as a whole is a forum for meeting and reflecting on topics that are only suggested and advisory. As usual, at the end, a document is voted on which shows all the proposals made by the Pope. But some versions of the press say that this year there may be no final document, perhaps postponed until next year.
There is, however, a basic document for discussion called in Latin “Instrumentum laboris” (working document) in which the topics to be discussed are listed and are the result of listening sessions, debates and meetings that done in different bishoprics. .
The work carried out in different regions, shows the Instrumentum Laboris, has been able to identify different situations “that stain our planet with blood and demand a new commitment to build a just peace.” But also “the threat represented by climate change with the consequent priority of taking care of the common home”, the economic system “that produces exploitation, inequality and ‘rejection’, the standardizing pressure of colonialism in culture that crushes minorities, the experience from suffering persecution. to the point of martyrdom, migration that gradually empties communities, threatening their own survival. In many regions the Churches “deeply affected” by the “crisis of sexual abuse” but also by crises “of power and conscience, economic and institutional.” “These are open wounds, the consequences of which have not been fully addressed. In addition to apologizing to the victims of the suffering caused, the Church must join the growing commitment to conversion and reform to prevent similar situations from being repeated in the future,” stated the introduction of the text.
In addition to the many questions that must be answered on each topic during the synod debates, a part of the text is dedicated to women. “Truly united, despite the different views of each continent, the Continental Assemblies call to pay attention to the experience, situation and role of women,” the document said. “Women have an important role in the transmission of faith, in families, in parishes, in consecrated life (…) How can we recognize, support, accompany their already great contribution? How can we value learning to be a more synodal Church?” the text is presented. And he added: “all continental Assemblies call for solving the issue of women’s participation in government, decision-making, missions and ministries at all levels of the Church.”
It should be remembered that Pope Francis, during his ten-year pontificate that began in 2013, increased the number of women working in the Vatican, reaching 1,165. In 2013 there were 846. But the number of women in leading positions in the Vatican has also increased. The first appointment to the highest position held by a woman was that of the Italian nun Alessandra Smerilli as secretary of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. And in 2022 he was followed, among others, by the Argentine theologian Emilce Cuda, appointed secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Despite this, women occupy less than 5% of the Holy See’s management positions.
The issue of women does not only refer to positions within the Vatican or national and regional churches, but to the possibility of the female diaconate, a point that arose especially after the Pope’s meetings with the indigenous people of the Amazon and that he later dedicated the apostolic. encouraging “Dear Amazonia” in 2020. From the meetings with the natives and local population, it emerged that the Catholic priests have many difficulties in moving among the indigenous communities in the middle of the forest and bringing sacraments, and that native women help. them as deacons.
In this context the possibility of giving the position of priesthood to married men appears in the text. And on these two points, female diaconate and presbytery for married men, the Instrumentum Laboris raises many questions that will surely provoke an interesting debate, for example, is it possible, as suggested by some continents , which opens up a reflection on the possibility. to review, a little in some respects, the discipline of access to the priesthood of married men?
The reform of structures and institutions, as well as the working mechanisms of the church, is another burning topic.
What is sought, says the document, is “greater transparency” especially in the contexts most marked “by the crisis of abuse (sexual, economic, spiritual, psychological, institutional, conscience, power, jurisdiction). ”
“Part of the problem is often the inadequate treatment of cases of abuse, which calls into question the mechanisms and methods of structures and institutions, as well as the mentality of the people who work in them,” the text added. all these points.
In fact, the way in which cases of sexual abuse are dealt with by some bishops’ conferences has caused great criticism against the Church. In many cases, for example, abusers are changed into parishes or cities, without ending the problem. And in this Pope Francis is very clear, opening the possibility that the accused will be judged by the Vatican and the justice system of each country. But it is expected that the new regulations in this regard may go further.