FROM THE VADEMECUM DOCUMENT:

In creating the opportunity for listening and dialogue on the local level through this Synod, Pope Francis is calling the Church to rediscover its deeply synodal nature. This rediscovery of the synodal roots of the Church will involve a process of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium.

By convoking this Synod, Pope Francis is inviting all the baptised to participate in this Synodal Process that begins at the diocesan level. Dioceses are called to keep in mind that the main subjects of this synodal experience are all the baptised. Special care should be taken to involve those persons who may risk being excluded: women, the handicapped, refugees, migrants, the elderly, people who live in poverty, Catholics who rarely or never practice their faith, etc. Creative means should also be found in order to involve children and youth. 

Since its small beginnings in early 2014, Catholic Women Speak has grown into a worldwide network of advocacy for women’s full participation and representation in the Church. Early on, we decided that we would seek engagement with Synods of Bishops, in response to Pope Francis’s opening up of the Church to dialogue and lay participation. We published a collection of writings by women, Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press, 2015) which was distributed free to all participants in the Synod Hall at the October 2015 Synod of Bishops on The Family. The book was launched on the Feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux—1st October 2015—at an international one-day conference held at the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome.

We repeated this exercise for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. Our second collection of writings was titled Visions and Vocations (Paulist Press, 2018). This too was distributed free of charge in the Synod Hall and launched at a conference at the Pontifical University Antonianum on the Feast of St Thérèse.

We are now gathering resources and ideas for all our members and friends to contribute to the consultative process ahead of the 2023 Synod. We begin by sharing some of the images from our gatherings over the last six years. In addition to our two events in Rome, we have had study days and workshops, and we have partnered with Ursuline High School for Girls in Wimbledon, London, to encourage young women to engage with their Catholic faith in creative and critical ways. We have studied and learned together, we have shared our frustrations, fears and hopes, we have feasted, prayed, marched, protested, danced, laughed and wept together. We have had run-ins with the Italian police and some of us have been banned by bishops and the CDF.

But we go forward in hope, and we invite you to share the journey with us.

Catholic Women Speak welcomes Pope Francis’s invitation to the whole Church to participate in the synodal process. The preparatory document envisions this as a transformative process brought about by close attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit speaking through each and every member of the Church:  “The ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions, in keeping with the mission she has received, depends largely on the decision to initiate processes of listening, dialogue, and community discernment, in which each and every person can participate and contribute.”

Our members are responding to this initiative in different ways. Most are keen to contribute, trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead us along a radical path of discernment, challenge and change.  Experience has however taught many to be sceptical about whether or not this process will lead to real action and not simply to more empty rhetoric as far as listening to and engaging with women is concerned. Yet this may be the last chance to appeal to those who are on the margins or who have already left the institutional church. It is vital that we do all that we can to ensure that women’s voices are heard and our concerns are expressed during this consultative process, in the fervent hope and expectation that the 2023 Synod will initiate the changes we wish to see.

Around the world, women’s groups and organisations are developing initiatives to prepare responses to the synodal process. CWS seeks to work with others to ensure that every woman is heard, to give space for the vast diversity of women’s lives to be acknowledged and respected, and to speak out on those issues which most profoundly affect women, however challenging this may be. We are a member of the umbrella group Catholic Women’s Council, which brings together representatives of groups and organisations from the worldwide Church campaigning for the equality and dignity of women. We are committed to holding the hierarchy to account with regard to the processes set out in the preparatory documents, and to ensuring that the Synod’s deliberations are shaped by women’s experiences and insights drawn from everyday life and from women’s professional and vocational expertise from across different cultures and contexts.

The Synod documents are available at this link. We suggest people read through these and reflect on what this invitation means for them in their different contexts and communities.

In hope, we take our place as full and equal persons in the synodal process. We seek to join with all who seek to make this a truly transformational time, guided by the Holy Spirit, discerning and patient but also as persistent and urgent in our demands as the widow in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 18: 1-8):

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge whoneither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

We take our inspiration from that persistent widow, and in that spirit we are opening up a space for women’s voices to be heard.

What can we do?

The document “Discerning the Path for Your Diocese” makes clear that every diocese in the world should “embark on a path of profound renewal as inspired by the grace of God’s Spirit”, guided by the question: “How is our “walking together” in synodality realized today in the Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘walking together’? It goes on to offer the following guidelines:

  • The sensus fidei of the whole People of God is sought on this question. Since each diocese has a unique context, its path for seeking, promoting, and reaping the fruits of this sensus fidei will be unique. Overall, the Synod guidelines remind us that: 
  • The goal is to ensure the participation of the greatest number possible, in order to listen to the living voice of the entire People of God. 
  • This is not possible unless we make special efforts to actively reach out to people where they’re at, especially those who are often excluded or who are not involved in the life of the Church. 
  • There must be a clear focus on the participation of the poor, marginalized, vulnerable, and excluded, in order to listen to their voices and experiences. 
  • The Synodal Process must be simple, accessible, and welcoming for all. 

With this in mind, we encourage all women to seek positive engagement with their parish priests, deacons, bishops and others in the hierarchy if they remain connected to the institutional church. If you find that your own parish priest or bishop is not engaging in the ways outlined in the preparatory documents, you might want to include that in your feedback through the CWS network.  The best way of sharing your experiences is to post a comment here, or  on our Facebook page. If you have confidential feedback, please email us at hello@catholicwomenspeak.com.

We intend to provide a public forum in which women can share their experiences of seeking to engage in positive and honest dialogue with church leaders during this first year of the consultative process.

Resources for reflection, study and discussion will be posted here on our website, and we invite you to join in our discussions on our Facebook page and Twitter. All are welcome to contribute, but comments will be moderated to maintain high levels of courteous, attentive and informed engagement which are necessary for effective dialogue.

Please visit this page to access resources, ideas and suggestions as we develop our dialogue over the coming months.