Deborah Rose-Milavec, Executive Director, Future Church, Reporting from Rome, Synod on Youth

Cardinal quotes Pope Francis insistence -- no cosmetic changes for women in the Church

Today, Cardinal Desire Tsarahazana of Madagascar, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, Cardinal Gerald Cypriaen Lacroix, I.S.P.X., of Quebec, and Sr. Nathalie Becquart of France summarized their experiences of the synod and answered questions.

One of the most interesting responses of the panelists was that of Cardinal Gracias who confessed that he was surprised by the number of young people who want better liturgies.

In 2015 and today, I have been surprised by how little sustained interest there is from the press corp regarding women's full participation in the church. So far this year, only Sheila Pires of Radio Veritas in South Africa and I have approached these questions.

So today, I posed my question to the panel asking how young women at the synod are addressing women's participation in the Church and the lack of opportunities there given the growing opportunities for them in society.

I received three responses.

Sr. Nathalie Becquart 

At the Pre-synod meeting of the 300 young people, half were women. It was quite natural to be together.

Young women have expressed very strongly that nowadays in society they do not yet feel it is easy to have equal place. And also in the church I think that many young women express that it is difficult for them to imagine what could be their place. We discussed this topic in our small group. It is a question for discernment. It is not a question of the organization of power. Yes, young men and young women would like to be protagonists in decision-making, leadership, but it is more complex for young women because they do not have role models in their local church.
Now I hear and understand that it is a question for young men too.

Cardinal Lacroix

Among the young women at the synod, many are holding important responsibilities for episcopal conferences and in dioceses as youth ministers and in other important posts. There is a lot of joy to see that. They speak with authority. Two in our small group are from Africa. They are not just spectators but part of the parade and they have influence in their episcopal conferences.

Cardinal Gracias

It has come out very clearly that this is a concern. I know that Pope Francis has been insisting that there would not only be cosmetic changes but that women would be in roles of decision making.

In our bishops’ conference, when we worked for the protection of women in the workplace, we worked together with the women’s group. I felt that they were happy and satisfied, but we have not come to the end point. We must search for more possibilities about the involvement of women in the church, especially in positions of responsibility.

I appreciated Sr Nathalie's observation that while both women and men want to be in decision-making roles, it is more difficult for women. They face greater barriers. And it is important that women like Sr. Nathalie help young women understand how our foremothers in faith shaped our tradition, and how women today should be confident in their baptismal claim to fully participate in all areas of church life, ministry, and governance.

Cardinal LaCroix's response points to the general lack of imagination that surrounds the issue of women's full and equal participation by those in governance. While youth ministers have important influence, the issue of full participation in decision making and governance is not on the radar screen. There is still an unquestioned assumption that ordination is the path to authority in the institution and that women will be assigned roles of influence but not decision making.

Cardinal Gracias' animated response was hopeful. He cited Pope Francis saying that we don't want cosmetic changes, but changes in governance that include women in decision making roles. The cardinal's response also shows he is listening to women and wants to satisfy their call for progress in this arena.

Whether women in India are satisfied with the progress of the church is certainly another topic. My colleagues there are undoubtably calling for more.

But at least the cardinal seems to be tuned in. Let's hope that is contagious here.

Deborah Rose-Milavec
Reporting from Rome

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