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Synod: women’s expectations

 Sinodo l’attesa delle donne  DCM-009
02 October 2021

Interview with Undersecretary Nathalie Becquart

The synod is transformed. Changes have been introduced into its proceedings. Today, according to Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, everyone will be able to make their voice heard. But, concretely, what does this change mean for women?

We asked this question to Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French Xaverian religious, who has been the undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops since February 2021.

 “The really new fact since the promulgation in 2018 of Pope Francis’ new constitution on the synod, Episcopalis communio, is that we see the synod less as an event, involving mainly bishops, to more like a process in which the preparation phase is extremely important. Consultation at the diocesan level first, then at the national and continental levels, in a certain way, is a synod in and of itself. What is at stake in this synod, then, is the widest possible involvement of the diversity of the People of God, of the sensus fidei. In this process, women, who represent at least half of those who have been baptized, are encouraged to engage. In practice, what will change for women is that they will be active participants from the very beginning, particularly at the local level, be that in parishes, communities, movements or dioceses. In this new dynamic, they are truly expected”.

In what ways is (or is not) the contribution of women an added value?

The synodal process is an open path. So I believe that we should not have a preconceived idea about the contribution that women can make.  On the contrary, what is really at stake is that they dare to take the floor and occupy their rightful place. I would say that women need to contribute with what they are. At the end of the day, I think what they offer specifically is being an engine of synodality. Because they strongly desire that the Church is no longer a clerical Church reserved for an elite, where a few decide for everyone. Women aspire to participate in the decisions of the Church.  Besides, the last synods have clearly insisted on the challenge of women’s leadership in the Church.

Why do women aspire to assume their responsibilities in the Church?

If you look at the history of the Church and society, most Countries have inherited centuries of a patriarchal mentality. Even today some women are victims of this. Women everywhere have been dominated, and not allowed to do their part, make their voices heard and express their talents. Women strongly desire more egalitarian relationships, which are based on respect. Therefore, they are a strong engine of synodality. I often say that in the People of God, women and young people are at the forefront of enacting and promoting synodality.

The fact remains that the consultation process will inevitably build on existing structures. It is known that in certain local Churches women still play a marginal role.

Consultation will certainly begin with the dioceses; movements, international associations of the faithful, religious communities or communities of consecrated life. All these are invited to participate, first at the level of the dioceses, because they are part of the People of God and all the baptized must be subjects of the consultation. It is here in local churches that the consultation of the People of God must take place in an ordinary way. For it is here that the Church proceeds along its path.

However, Episcopalis communio also states in black and white terms that those instances are also places through which consultation must pass through, as well as the institutes of higher learning and Catholic universities. Furthermore, as it occurred during the Synod on Youth, it is foreseen that groups of people or possibly individuals could send their input directly to the General Secretariat of the Synod. Consequently, women could make their voices heard through, for example, the associations to which they belong, and in particular women's associations.

A synodal Church is a listening Church.  Today, with good reason, many women feel that they are not being heard.

Pope Francis’ pontificate is deeply rooted in what the Second Vatican Council says about the Church seen as the People of God. The Church, by its nature, and therefore constitutively, is synodal. After all, in the early centuries of the Church, governance was collegial and synodal. Subsequently, this emphasis was lost and is rediscovered today as a fruit of Vatican II. It is sufficient to recall that in the conciliar constitution Lumen Gentium, Chapter II on the People of God is located before the chapter on hierarchy.  Pope Francis highlights clearly that beyond all our differentiation, in the Church we share the reality of having been baptized. The fact remains that, for things to change, there needs to be a conversion of mentalities and at the same time a reform of structures. Of course, this synod will not change everything overnight.  We have asked all the dioceses to set up synodal groups that can accompany and bring to life the synodal process. It is to be hoped that in these very concrete places we will be more open to the importance of group work, be that men and women, the laity, consecrated persons, or the clergy. Moreover, the fact that a man and a woman - the Spaniard Monsignor Luis Marín de San Martín and myself - were appointed as undersecretaries of the General Secretariat of the Synod at the same time could serve as an example elsewhere. A synodal Church is one in which we work and discern together.

Could this new synodical dynamic also ease tensions and claims in some churches?

I understand that some may think it is taking too long, but change in any institution is not made in a single day. The greatest challenge is for men and women to be able to listen to each other, and to understand each other. We truly hope that this synod will foster a much more intense dialogue between pastors and the faithful. This also requires getting to know each other, overcoming fears, and sometimes getting used to each other. 

In recent synods, the question of women being able to vote has aroused lively interest and some controversy; and, its nomination has raised expectations. How do you see the question of women and their vote?

I echo what Cardinal Grech said when I was appointed.  Thanks to the call I received and the function I exercise, a door has opened; however, I cannot say in advance what will happen. I understand the interest in the issue of voting; afterall we live in democratic cultures where voting plays an extremely important symbolic role. Nevertheless, when you examine what a synod is in depth, it becomes apparent that if the dynamic works well it must produce a consensus. In fact, the vote comes at the end of the process when we have agreed on a final text. During the Council, almost all the institutions and texts were voted on with near-unanimity.  And in the synod hall the same thing happens. Therefore, I do not want to diminish the importance of the vote. Yet, what seems particularly important to me is not so much that women can vote at the end, but rather that they can participate from the beginning of the process in the elaboration of the common discernment that should lead to consensus. The Synod is not a parliament; it is a human-divine reality, guided by the Spirit.

Could the Synod become a vector for renewal and reform of the Church?

The Synod of Bishops is one of many synodal forms that exist. Diocesan synods are another institutional form of synodality.  Nevertheless, what is at stake today is not only that we have synods, but also that the very style of the Church at all levels becomes synodal. Today, we are called to a synodalization of the Church in all its instances, at every level, to truly make synodality a daily modus operandi. In our very individualistic societies, we have often lost the communitarian and ecclesial dimension of our faith. Today, we are in a phase of re-learning synodality. Synodality that was present at the dawn of the Church. However, we cannot simply copy and paste from one situation to another, because the context in which we live is different. Therefore, this re-learning also passes through experience, through living.

by Romilda Ferrauto