Synod's actions mean improvement on some fronts, but where's the movement on women?

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

OK, the working document from the synod on the family was indeed a "pastoral earthquake" for the gay and lesbian community (no mention of transgender folks, as far as I can tell) and for divorced and remarried Catholics. The tone from the Vatican was so positive that I was conjuring up memories of the tone of the church at the time of the Second Vatican Council.

Of course, no one expected official teaching to change during this synod, and it has not. But this new pastoral approach provides a crack that can be further pried open with time. (That's what is worrying the conservative bishops who are screaming about this, I suspect.)

So it's time to roll out phrases that were common during the Second Vatican Council, like "development of doctrine" and "sense of the faithful." As I read it, the "sense of the faithful" has been moving ahead on all the issues being discussed (LGBT issues; divorced and remarried Catholics and Communion; contraception), and the folks in the pews would like to see not only pastoral changes, but doctrinal developments. Time will tell, even though some cardinals are screaming even at the pastoral changes.

However, nothing in this document addresses the key issue facing the contemporary church: the role of women. In this case, the synod needs to affirm the equal status of wife and husband in the family: their equal responsibility to support the family, care for children, make financial decisions, maintain the household. It's important for such an affirmation of equality to be heard in North America and Europe, but it is perhaps even more important in the developing world, where the status of women is often regarded as officially secondary to that of the male.

Of course, the synod itself has an inequality problem, just like the church as a whole. One hundred percent of the prelates in official attendance at the synod are male. They are not representative of families, which usually, but not always, have one of each: a woman and a man. The synod is, to put it mildly, not representative of family reality. Women and married men are totally unrepresented. The married couples in attendance are a step forward, yes, but they are observers and occasional speakers; they cannot vote.

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So I wonder what a difference it would make if half -- or, at least, a significant percentage -- of those cardinals and bishops were women and/or married men. What would the synod look like if clergy could marry and women's ordination were actually a reality? (OK, I'm dreaming, I know, but it's necessary in this church.)

I doubt that issues like contraception would even be up for discussion. Humanae Vitae would have long ago been tossed in the same bin as the Syllabus of Errors. And divorce? It would look different to people who themselves were in marital relationships, knowing the pitfalls and sympathizing with the problems.

 So as much as I revel in the positive tone coming out of the synod, I know this is just the first baby step on the road of reform.


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