(LifeSiteNews) — The final report of Session XVI of the Synod on Synodality has been made public. It indicates that the successors of the apostles are no longer its exclusive protagonists or members; laypeople, including women, have been incorporated with their voices and votes. This is absolutely unusual and contrary to the Tradition of the Church. Things have been rearranged in such a way that it seems obvious, even logical, for this to happen – not according to canon law, but to the canons of the dominant modern culture. But for those of us who know Sacred Scripture and the history of the development of ecclesial institutions, it is a fundamental change that causes alarm for the future.
Some trends previously alluded to have anticipated the purpose of forging new paths, which are inspired by the progressivism that has spread to Rome as roads toward the future. This has a name – feminism – and it has been noted by the media. Among them is the Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa, which reports the Synod document in an excellent article expressing, with textual quotations, the new perspective on gender: namely, a greater presence of women in the leadership positions of Catholicism. A “mea culpa” is implicitly established, but not so implicitly, because it recognizes that up until now women have been discriminated against. This phrase is my own, but it is the right one to describe the nature of the Synodal document and what it implies.
The lack of familiarity with the work of St. John Paul II, who developed a very broad magisterium on women that was crowned by the encyclical Mulieris dignitatem, is striking. Pope Wojtyła, in his numerous interventions, recognizes historical defects and captures the results of a cultural evolution that responds to the natural order. But the present Synod chooses other paths: “It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral work and ministry.” The Synod has already begun: Around 464 participants at the meeting, and for the first time laypeople were included, including 54 women. Is this no small feat? It’s a start! The document, approved by a two-thirds majority, is divided into themes. Each theme is outlined by “convergences,” “issues to be addressed,” and “proposals,” and will be the basis for work throughout the coming year before the final session in October 2024.
One of the sections is dedicated to “women in the life and mission of the Church.” It states that “clericalism, machismo and the inappropriate use of authority continue to mark the face of the Church” and therefore “a profound spiritual conversion is necessary as the basis for any structural change.” Canon law “must be adapted accordingly.” These sentences do not merely state facts, but express an interpretation in terms of feminist ideology.
A task for the future is also proposed: “The need for greater recognition and appreciation of the contribution of women and an increase in the pastoral responsibilities entrusted to them in all areas of the Church’s life and mission.” Some questions are posed for next year’s meeting: “How can the Church include more women in existing roles and ministries? If new ministries are needed, at what level and in what ways?”
It is recognized that there is division over women’s access to the diaconate: “Some consider that this step would be unacceptable, since it would be in discontinuity with Tradition. For others, however, granting women access to the diaconate would restore a practice of the early Church.” On this point, those in favor of this extension make a mistake: The function of the deaconesses was to anoint women in the baptismal rite so that the bishop or presbyter would not have to do it, which obviously was considered improper. This was an elementary principle of modesty and delicacy. These women did not exercise an ordained ministry. It is interesting to note that in Greek there is no feminine of the noun “deacon.” In the Letter to the Romans (16:1), Paul makes mention of Phoebe, whom he designates as a deacon of the church of Cenchreae.
The document goes on to indicate that theological and pastoral research on women’s access to the diaconate should continue, based on the results of the commissions working on the matter: “If possible, the results should be presented at the next session of the assembly.” As we can see, feminism is tenacious. It does not surrender easily.
Finally, let us say that the Synod does not recognize the possibility of a humble office of service for religious sisters or that they are sanctified through the exercise of free labor. The language is union-like: “That cases of labor discrimination and unequal pay within the Church be addressed and resolved, particularly with regard to consecrated women, too often considered cheap labor.” The Synod members should be reminded that charity is free, and that out of love many things could be done that the world would not understand.
In response to the boasts of the Synod we can cite some texts of the apostle that – let us not forget – are Scripture and refer to the situation of Christian women in the first century Church. In the Letter to Titus he recommends to his disciple that he should teach “whatever is in accordance with sound doctrine” and sets out how women of age (in Greek, presbýtidas) should behave: They should neither be murmurers nor indulge in drinking, they should teach young women to love their husbands and children, to be modest, chaste women of their house (oikourgous), and to be good and respectful to their husbands (cf. Ti. 2:3-5).
Widows had their own place in the community. They were honored and cared for in a special way. In the First Letter to Timothy, rules are set down for placing widows onto a registry of those supported by the community. It was necessary to avoid incorporating the young ones, i.e., those younger than 60 years old. One compelling reason was that widows should only be married once and be committed not to remarry; the younger ones “when purely human desires prevail over their dedication to Christ, they want to marry again, and become guilty of failing in their commitment” (1 Tim. 5:11-12).
The apostle expresses his desire that young widows marry and have children. In a long paragraph he shows an insightful knowledge of female reality (1 Tim. 5:3-16). In the same letter (1 Tim. 2:11) he employs a biblical argument to establish the situation of women in the Christian community: Adam was created prior to the woman, and it was the woman who was seduced by the devil. “Let women learn (manthanetō) in silence (hesyjía)”; “I do not permit them to teach”; “woman will be saved by fulfilling her motherly duties” (dia tēs teknogonias) (1 Tim. 2:15). Also in this passage Paul shows his powers of observation: “Let her not seek to dominate her husband” (1 Tim. 2:12) – history gives a good account of this caution.
Another particularly significant text is 1 Cor. 14:34-35: “As in all the churches of the saints, let the women be silent, they are not allowed to speak (oú epitrépetai autaîs laleîn)”; to speak in the church is aisjròn; the term used is severe, it is something that is not right, shameful, obscene; turpe, in the Latin. “If they want to learn (mathein) let them ask their husband at home.”
Any progressive will explain that in this matter the apostle is representative of Jewish culture, or that he expresses himself in accordance with what was thought to be the custom of the time. However, the history of Tradition shows that the Pauline position was followed in the Church: it has been called mulieres in ecclesia taceant, with a dash of humorous intent. I have quoted these passages from the New Testament, thinking that the Synod participants should recognize their normative character; they were not written with discriminatory intent, but with an eye to social reality and the authority of the Bible.
The vicissitudes of the Synod will continue into 2024. The Synod’s existence and development reveal an ecclesiological dimension: Contrary to progressive illusions, they constitute a collapse. The numerical shrinking of the Church in the world corresponds to a shrinking before the Truth. At the same time, an eschatological question arises; as in other epochs, the mysterium iniquitatis is at work here too, and as we approach the end, it reveals itself to be much worse.
+ Hector Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata