The Synod on Amazonia has concluded with many changes in motion, but not for women.
The Synod on Amazonia was a wonderful occasion to hear the voices and needs of Catholics. This special meeting was dedicated to the Church of Amazonia, where the faith is vibrant and where Catholic men and women are courageously searching for new ways of living the Gospel and serving human dignity. This synod has been received as a promise of concrete renewal for the whole Catholic Church.
Many new issues have been welcomed and discussed during the synod. The final document includes concrete answers to them and give hope that the Church in Amazonia is supported by the global community in their dreams and struggles. However there is one major exception: involvement of women in the Church ministry.
Although the document calls for new ways of involving women in leadership of local churches, it does not propose any concrete next step. It stops short of any implementation, although history and law have given facts for the female diaconate. No further discussion on it would be needed, just a simple implementation from the very top. The question to be asked is: why did the very concrete proposal to implement the female diaconate not make it into the final document if the majority of the bishops were in favor of it? The results of the synod show how difficult it is for the Church leadership to fully grasp the perspective of a woman's experience. At the meeting on the Amazon region, the majority of participants voted that "suitable and recognized men" can be consecrated in the rainforest region, even if they have a family. Sadly the interpretation of women to this is: women do not possess these wonderful "viri probati criteria's“. This is unacceptable and an affront to the women in the Amazon who are serving as deacons and priests already, and to women everywhere who have continued to serve faithfully, but are not recognized.
Allied lay organizations and female religious, who participated at the October 1st, Voices of Faith press conference, that focused on campaigning for #VotesForCatholicWomen, was a reminder that the exclusion of women from the voting members is putting the whole process of synodal discernment at grave risk. Throughout the year these united groups asked for a meeting at the synod office and twice we delivered a petition advocating for votes for female members of the synod. These petitions were signed by Catholics from across the world. But none of these efforts, nor our press conference or event focused on women religious prior to the synod, have ever been answered by synod organizers. Female members of the synod have not been granted voting rights.
Our message is clear: how can we expect the inclusion of female experience in Amazonia, if they are not taken seriously in the structure of the synod itself? Today we see how the everyday, courageous and dedicated experience of women who serve the Church and who have been doing the work of deacons for many years, has not been taken seriously.
The commission on the issue of the female diaconate has already been created, given time to research and interpret historical evidence and its theological meaning and has delivered the report summing up their common judgment and personal opinions of each member of the commission. Although they did not formulate a definite answer, it seems that all the historical evidences that are needed for the decision have been collected. The report has been given to the representatives of International Union of Superiors General (UISG), but has never been made available to the people of God. Today, Catholics around the world are asking the simple question, why do we need the commission to repeat the work that has already been done?
As this synod has come to an end, with no real change or hope for women's leadership and decision making roles in the Catholic Church of Amazonia, we need to repeat ourselves yet again, as we will not remain silent. The structures of power in the Church are shaped by the patriarchal mentality and historical forms of power known from feudal European societies. Excluding the voice of women in the decision-making processes is unjust and against the most basic message of the Gospel, where all baptized daughters and sons of God are one and equal. Excluding the voice of women disables the Church of taking their experiences and vocations seriously.
We do not need to think again about the special role of women in the Church, we just need to be finally treated with full dignity of baptized members of our community.