Dorothy Cummings McLean

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Amazon Synod kicks off with confusion, liberal questions

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Editor’s note: Our Scotland-based reporter Dorothy Cummings McLean has been sent to Italy to join our Rome Correspondent, Diane Montagna, in covering the Synod for the Bishops of the Pan-Amazon region. A lifelong diarist, Dorothy has volunteered to give readers a glimpse into life off-camera as she carries out what she calls “a dream assignment.” Read all of her Amazon Synod diary posts HERE.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Roman sky was unusually grey when I walked to early morning Mass. The marble floors and walls of the seventeenth century church still shone in the candlelight, though, and I perceived friends among the handful of worshippers: Virginia Coda Nunziante from Marcia per la Vita (March for Life) Italy, Maria Madise from SPUC International, and LifeSiteNews’ own John-Henry Westen. After Mass, they all prayed late and long, and I remembered how very much the pro-life, pro-family movement depends on prayer. 

John-Henry was laden down with luggage and clearly tired from his extended, meeting-heavy stay in Italy. We all went to a nearby café for a quick cappuccino before John-Henry called his taxi. It was clearly a brief moment of calm for all three pro-life leaders, who were grimly aware that, tired as they were, the most serious events of the month had just begun. 

Light rain spluttered down as I walked along the Tiber back to my apartment. I had a lot of reading and writing to get done before the first press conference of the synod, so lunch was just a hastily assembled caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) salad well-dosed with olive oil. I was glad to see the sun back by then. 

The press conference was in the Sala Stampa, the Vatican Press Office, where I saw more friends, acquaintances, and, well, competitors sitting in the audience chamber. Large tables were set up at the front of the room with name plates indicating the speakers.

At the far left was Sister Alba Teresa Castillo, MML, a Colombian nun who works with aboriginal people. Beside her was Msgr. Emmanuel Lafont, the Bishop of Cayenne, which is in the French colony of Guiana in South America. Then there was Msgr. David Martínez De Aguirre Guinea, the Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Maldonado in Peru. Beside him sat Cristine Murray, the Deputy Director of the Vatican Press Office, who served as a moderator. Next was Fr. Giacomo Costa, SJ, who is the Secretary of the Vatican’s Commision for Information, and finally there was Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.  

The latter began the press conference on a strict note, saying that the Holy Father had voiced concerns about there being two synods: the real one and the one portrayed in the media. He promised that his staff would provide clarity and transparency but also protect the ability of synod participants to speak freely. 

Castillo, Lafont, and Martínez all gave presentations, but the real drama was provided by reporters who asked tough questions about, for example, the fact that Guiana is still a European colony, the strange ceremony that took place in the Vatican gardens on Friday, and the inability of women invited to the synod to vote. 

The question about the odd ceremony came from Austen Ivereigh of Commonweal, who speaks fluent, rapid Spanish. He suggested that the American media were making a mountain out of a molehill or, dare I say, a fertility goddess out of a wonderfully inculturated representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

If he was expecting to be told that the naked pregnant figures in Friday’s ritual obviously represented St. Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary, he was mistaken, for Martínez sidestepped the question. He said the primary figure could be understood in different ways, and probably represented "Mother Earth, fertility, woman, life."

This, naturally, gave the paganism story new legs. 

Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch also provided a big story to grateful colleagues by asking Castillo about the lack of a vote for the women at the synod. Castillo, sympathizing, said that women would get there “slowly, slowly” but could not apply much pressure. She also emphasized that women already perform priest-like ministries in the Amazon, baptizing, witnessing marriages, and even hearing confessions, albeit without giving absolution. She wasn’t clear which women she meant: indigenous grandmothers or Latin American religious of European descent. 

I was reminded of Polish Catholics in female-only concentration camps of the Second World War. When there is absolutely no access to a priest, yes, I can see lay people stepping in, and when there are no “viri probati” around either, to fulfill the functions pertaining to the male priesthood (like, incidentally, lay altar servers are meant to do), then clearly women have to do it. However, the fact that Blessed Natalia Tułasiewicz led prayer services in Frauen-KZ Ravensbrück has not, to my knowledge, been used as an excuse to create a “suitable ministry” for women. 

Outside after the presser, I greeted Michael Voris and his team, who were setting up for his report right outside the Sala Stampa. Michael told me that someone close to Pope Francis had warned him that the faithful were confused, and the pontiff had declared that he “wanted the confusion.” 

That made me feel sad and even a little frightened, but to be honest, I haven’t felt the same about many of our Rome-based current shepherds since news of the mid-term relatio at the Synod on the Family in October 2014 hit the Internet. If I’m not crying on camera, it’s because I did my crying in 2014.   

I went back home to participate in the LifeSiteNews daily call for journalists and finished writing articles to go out that afternoon. Then at 5:00 p.m. I met my colleagues Jim Hale and Diane Montanga in St. Peter’s Square to report the day’s big stories on camera. We don’t have handy young assistants to hold up scripts, so we have to speak off the top of our heads ― not as easy as it sounds! 

Then it was an evening of more writing for me, and then a quick bite purchased from a nearby “Tavola Calda” (which is like a cafeteria, only better). No three-hour-long Roman feasts for LifeSiteNews reporters on the job, alas. 

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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.