“Discerning Women: Voices Outside the Synod”

“Discerning Women: Voices Outside the Synod”

A speech by Paola Lazzarini founder of Donne per la Chiesa (Women for the Church), given at an event organized by Women’s Ordination Conference

Rome, October 4th, 2018

Good morning to all, it is a great joy to be here with you to breathe the fresh air of a young, lively, walking Church!

I am Paola Lazzarini and I represent Women for the Church, a new group, born about a year ago when forty women from different parts of Italy met thanks to the social media and wrote together our Manifesto. After the publication, for the resonance that has had, many local groups started and currently there are active groups of women for the church in Rome, Milan, Turin, Naples, Genoa, Cagliari, Catanzaro and Lugano , Italian switzerland (in these groups we do training, sharing and advocacy).

What is perhaps useful to remember here, in an international assembly like this, is that in Italy there has never been feminine awareness in the base ... we have excellent theologians, small advanced groups of believers, but most of the women who attend parishes, associations and ecclesial movements have never expressed critical positions, at least not in an organized way. The reason for this is that in the Italian imagination there is still the Catholic woman as mother wife, angel of the heart and this image is carried forward by successful writer, today even more than a couple of decades ago.

It is not easy in Italy to say that women must be assertive, that we shall have no fear to speak clearly and to ask for positions of responsibility in Christian communities ... We are immediately labeled as aggressive, nuisance, or - worse - feminist (a dirty word). Yet something is changing and I can measure it by travelling Italy, in our newborn groups. I discovered that problems and sufferings are common. Italian women are tired of keeping pastoral care, charity, training and being systematically out of the room in which decisions are made. Things are changing and the success of our initiative brings evidence to this. This is the premise, to say that you must not feel strangers in this city of Rome, even in this diocese there are women who are starting to express their impatience and their will to speak.

Now, coming to the topic of our meeting, I must say that my feeling is to live a time when things that seemed more solid, crumble under our eyes day after day. The news of child abuse, growing as a wave, committed by clerics and even bishops all around the globe have undermined not only the institutional church, but our very own idea of church. At the same time we have under our eyes the power games, the pettiness and the pitfalls that the ecclesiastical hierarchy hosts, even at its highest levels. I am convinced that in reality this is a time of particular grace, a Good Friday that we can travel with faith in Easter, “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand”, willing to do our part (whether small or big) to rebuild on rubble. And it is clear, undeniable that this Easter will be announced, once again by a woman, by women, and that it will be a woman to bring the announcement to Peter ... not vice versa.

This is why I do not look forward to this synod with great confidence: with the exhortation Episcopalis communio the final document can become a magisterium, one more reason to be discouraged by the fact that the invited women will not be able to vote for it. Although pervaded by good intentions I do not see a real news there and I expect nothing decisive, but this is also good news: the synod on young people is taking place in Vatican, the synod of young people takes place every time young believers are together to pray, to serve the poors, to help catechism for the little ones. So, as adult women (I am a mother, I can not identify with youth), what can we offer to young people and especially to young women? At stake is our responsibility to convey not only faith but also an idea of the Church.

Young people especially ask us to accompany them (it emerges in the instrumentum laboris, but it’s a common experience), they need adults that will be next to them and help them to discern, in these uncertain times, their vocation in the Church and in the world. This is where I feel urgent to be.

Of course young people can and must be protagonists, proactive, but I do think we have a special responsability: betrayed by abusive fathers, they must not be betrayed even by the silence of us – mothers - (From instrumentum laboris: “The answers to the Online Questionnaire show how mothers are the preferred reference persons for young people, whereas a reflection is needed regarding fathers, whose absence or evanescence in certain contexts, especially in Western countries, generates ambiguity and vacuums that also affect the exercise of spiritual fatherhood.“). It is up to us, women who have found the strength to pose ourselves as interlocutors, to support them and help them find their place in the church: make them feel that it is their home and that no one has the right to make them feel inadequate or wrong.

Their battles must be our battles: young people are ashamed of a church hostile to LGBT people, we must be ashamed as well of that and be the first ones to fight. Young people find no nourishment in a church that forgets the gospel and promotes moralism: we must become transmitters of the Word of God, call priests to proclaim the Gospel rather than focus on sin, but we must offer ourselves the bread of the Word, that is something that no one can stop us from doing. Young women want to feel that their vocation, their spiritual life is as good as that of their male peers: we adult women must be with them and be ready to defend them as mama bear when someone dare (as they did with us when we were in our twenties) to diminish their desires or call them visionaries because they are called to the priesthood.

Here I see these priorities for young people, which are the priorities of the church of the future: an egalitarian Church, a church that puts the Gospel at the center, an inclusive church. I am sure that the male hierarchy will not create the conditions for young people to find what they are looking for, we will do it if we will be able to break the patterns, in alliance with all men of good will who (it must be said) exist among priests and lay Catholics.