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VATICAN CIY (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinals Robert McElroy and Blase Cupich have given their thoughts on the Synod on Synodality’s process, saying that is “impossible” for the Church to go back and mentioning a need to “officially recognize” women as “pastors.” Both cardinals were personal appointees to the synod by Pope Francis.

With the Synod on Synodality’s October 2023 meeting having concluded Saturday, members are no longer bound to practice as much secrecy surrounding the discussions as they did for the past four weeks.

No way back

Speaking to Jesuit-run America Magazine, Cupich praised the “synodal” experience in particular. “The document is not as important as the experience that we had,” he said. “I think the document tries to convey that experience.”

He highlighted how the synod’s synthesis document – as reported by LifeSite here – looks to restructure all future synods “rather than going back to what we did before.” 

READ: Synod on Synodality report pushes female deacons and lay governance but avoids giving firm answers

Cupich defended the lay voters at the synod, something which has sparked widespread criticism of making the synod canonically, not a synod. He stated that there was no “need to go back. We have made some real progress here, and the bishops enjoyed having lay people there.”

Such themes were echoed by the cardinal alongside San Diego’s Cardinal Robert McElroy in a joint interview with the National Catholic Reporter (NCR). Citing the fact that Catholics are all baptized, Cupich argued that lay voting was key for the Church’s future: “We all have authority, and that means that we all have something to say.”

“It would seem to me impossible to go back now,” agreed McElroy. 

Indeed, such statements echo the themes of the synod’s synthesis report, which sets the stage for a permanent mode of “synodal” operating in the Church. Accordingly, in presenting the report on October 28, relator general Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich gave yet another hint that the process was not likely to actually end. “The process really starts at the end of the process,” he stated.

Women’s role as ‘pastors’?

Much focus was placed on the role of women in the Church as part of the synod discussions. The Instrumentum Laboris called on synod participants to examine the question of the female diaconate, citing the common Baptism as evidence of a common dignity. While the synthesis document did not propose anything concrete on the issue, it did call for “theological and pastoral research” on the female diaconate to continue, and requested that the results of the 2016 and 2020 commissions on the topic be presented at the October 2024 meeting.

Notwithstanding this, numerous calls were made in the synod report for more women to assume governance roles in the Church, a topic deemed to be “urgent.”

Commenting on this, Cupich told America that “we’re talking about a real paradigm shift here.” The synod’s aim was about also dealing “with how you include women in important decision making, how you place them within the life of the community so that their leadership is regarded, respected and protected.”

READ: Pope Francis ‘scandalized the faithful’ from the outset of the Synod

Asked about the possibility of new roles or ministries for women, Cupich told America: 

There could be, but I would say, talking to some bishops, they tell me already that they have women serving ‘as pastors,’ who are serving as the head of communities because they don’t have enough priests. They don’t have the title, however. How do we officially recognize that, rather than seeing it as kind of an exception? 

I think we have to ask the question: Are these roles for lay people in the life of the community today just a matter of temporarily substituting [them because of] the shortage of priests? Or is there something about their baptism that, in fact, allows them to be able to have those roles not just in a temporary way, but as really a part of the ministry that belongs to their baptism?

Cupich added that the synod aims were not just about female deacons, stating that a question remaining was “how do we take advantage of their gifts and charisms? That’s an agenda that’s not complete yet.”

Cdl. Robert McElroy enters the synod meeting halls.

Cardinal McElroy also welcomed the synod document’s focus on female governance, stating that of all the topics it was the “only one that’s called urgent.” 

As LifeSiteNews has reported, synod discussions included attempts to change the understanding of the diaconate, and this the two cardinals confirmed to NCR. The synod discussed whether the diaconate needs to be “reimagined,” the cardinals said.

McElroy stated how “there was a lot of feeling that [the diaconate] should be focused not on liturgical things, as much as on serving the poor and the marginalized,” and that this raised the question of retaining the diaconate generally.

The San Diego cardinal is on record in calling for women to become deacons. Acknowledging this, he stated how with such questions being raised about the role of deacons, “there may be a pathway here that would be very promising that would, I think, invigorate in many important ways the diaconate as a whole and perhaps provide a pathway.”

For his part, Cupich told NCR that the process of ordaining a seminarian to the diaconate before the priesthood should perhaps be reevaluated. He cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 amendments to Canon Law regarding (in part) the role of deacons, as being behind the call to “reimagine” the diaconate. 

“Does it un-complicate some of the theological questions that some people have?” said Cupich. “It’s valid to ask, if that’s the case … why are we ordaining candidates for the priesthood to the diaconate? It’s a legitimate question to ask. And if, if you start with that, then maybe you can begin reimagining what the diaconate is about.”

READ: Pope Francis affirms Catholic teaching regarding female deacons: ‘Orders are reserved for men’

While such activist arguments have been, and will continue to be made in conjunction with the synod, the Catholic Church has clearly pronounced the impossibility of female deacons. 

In his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II wrote, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” 

Then in 2018, the current prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer S.J., defended the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis as bearing the mark of “infallibility,” with John Paul II having “formally confirmed and made explicit, so as to remove all doubt, that which the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium has long considered throughout history as belonging to the deposit of faith.”