If a brother, why not a sister in the synod?

This story appears in the Family Synod 2015 feature series. View the full series.

by Thomas Reese

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If a religious brother can be a voting member of the synod of bishops, why can't a religious sister?

This was the question I asked Br. Herve Janson who is the first voting member of the synod of bishops who is not a bishop or priest. He is the superior general of the Little Brothers of Jesus and was selected by the International Union of Superiors General to be one of their 10 representatives at the synod. All the rest are priests. 

Theologically and canonically, he is are no different from the superior of a women's religious order, except for his gender. He is not a cleric. He is not ordained. As one of my Jesuit brothers used to say to people who thought all Jesuits are priests, "think of me as a male nun." 

So how exactly did Br. Janson get in? What is the rationale for his being admitted to the synod and for women religious not being admitted to the synod? 

I felt bad picking on poor Br. Janson at the Oct. 24 press conference at the Vatican. He is a lovely person as you can tell by his response, which was transcribed by Deborah Rose-Milavec of Future Church from the simultaneous translation of his French response done by the Vatican press office. 

"This is a huge question," he said. "I did not feel at ease when I learned that the pope was admitting me. It showed the distinction between men and women."

"There were only three women religious and they did not have voting rights," he continued. "I wondered whether to accept or not."

"We try to be their brothers," he explained. "Friars try to live with the people."

He acknowledged, "This is a bishops' synod. I asked the questions you asked. I asked myself and a cardinal. I said, 'we are brothers, we are religious people.' I am not ordained."

Janson concluded: "[My] having a voting right is too much -- in regard to our sisters. I think they should have a voting right." 

Amen to that brother!

You can listen to the French response of Br. Janson in the video of the press conference beginning at 42 minutes into the video. 

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org.]

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