Reform group in Rome calls for family input at synod

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

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Wearing pins declaring "families must have a vote in family synods," a global group pushing for greater inclusivity in the church is meeting here this week in an effort to influence the Vatican's upcoming global meeting of Catholic bishops.

The coalition, known as Catholic Church Reform International and claiming backing of like-minded groups around the world, is calling specifically for more ways for ordinary families to have input in the discussions at the meeting, known as a synod.

During a two-day conference Thursday and Friday held near the Pantheon, the group is calling on the synod and Pope Francis to "dialogue, dialogue, dialogue."

"Dialogue with spouses, with parents, and with families of every kind," it states in a press release. "Listen to them, learn from them, and trust their Spirit-led discernment by including them in the decision-making process."

In something of a sign of the importance the group places on the family experience, among the talks at the event Thursday were separate addresses by Australian married couple Marilyn Hatton and Paul Collins.

Hatton, a longtime church reformer who represents the Australian Catholic Coalition of Church Renewal, spoke on the importance of having women in decision-making roles in the church.

Using Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel") as a guide, she said policies of exclusivity in the church stand against the pope's own statements.

The pope's exhortation, Hatton said, "invites us to engage and have courage to say yes to inclusiveness, equality, dialogue."

"Universally, the church's stance on women's inequality in decision-making legitimatizes the unfair stance of women around the world," she said. "I really think in terms of women's participation ... it's time for a primal cry from all of us to really say, 'This can't go on. And we can't keep waiting.' "

Collins, a well-known Australian commentator, author and former priest, focused his talk on the political realities in the Vatican opposed to church reform.

People inside the Vatican, he said, "are already working very, very hard to make sure that there won't be any changes at this synod."

In order to effect change, Collins said, Catholics have to work to build a new structure for the church based on the model of the synod.

"We have got to get beyond this notion that the pope owns the church," he said. "The way that we do that is that we build in structures of accountability, structures that demand that bishops ... are answerable to the community."

The reform group, which last year circulated a petition asking Francis to give Catholic lay faithful an "effective voice" in church decision-making, was holding its event on the theme "Forum on the Family: Listening to the Faithful."

Among other speakers at the event Thursday were Vatican analyst and NCR columnist Robert Mickens and Benedictine Sr. Mary John Mananzan, an academic philosopher and Philippines native who serves as the national chairperson for GABRIELA, a network of women's organizations in the country.

Among the reform groups represented at the event: American Catholic Council, Association of Catholic in Ireland, Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and We Are Church Ireland.*

The Synod of Bishops, which Francis called last year, will meet Oct. 5-19 at the Vatican. It is the first of two synods for 2014 and 2015 called by the pope to focus on issues of family life and has raised a number of expectations that there may be changes in the church's pastoral practices regarding family issues.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

*This story originally included another organization that was listed on the group's materials but is not part of the group.

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