Religious and lay women pleaded today with the Catholic Church to listen to them, treat them as equals and allow them to vote in Synods like that on the Amazon, which gets underway in the Vatican Sunday.

Driving the news

The women, from the United States, Sweden, Senegal, Germany and beyond, came together in Rome’s Vallicelliana Library, in an event organised by the association Voices of Faith.

The big picture

“Many times in the history of Christianity, religious sisters stood at the frontiers of change”, Voices of Faith said Thursday in a Facebook post presenting the conference.

“As prophets and pioneers, attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit, they have discovered new horizons of our faith in changing times”, the organisation continued.

And yet, in Synods like that for the Amazon, “women religious who outnumber brothers almost 10 to 1 globally and whose female superiors have the same canonical status as brother superiors, do not have the right to vote”, Voices of Faith denounced.

Along with 184 men, 35 women will be attending the Amazon Synod, but none will be allowed to cast their ballot on the topics discussed.

“This must change if we want to see equality in the leadership of our Church”, Voices of Faith warned.


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Go deeper

“Our church is in crisis because it follows a medieval system. It simply cannot work today”, said Doris Wagner, a German former nun who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.

This medieval constitution that excludes women, Wagner continued, is at the heart of all the other problems in the Church today, and is the reason why Church “constitutional reform” is necessary.

Sexism is a textbook example of the clergy living as rulers and the laity living as peasants, Wagner said, denouncing that in Catholicism today women don’t have any enforceable rights at all.

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Where it stands

“We cannot wait in passive silence. We know what women are capable of”, said for her part Sister Chris Burke, from Australia.

“The Church can’t give witness in the world if it ignores the voices and perspective of women”, added Spanish Sister Teresa Forcades, lamenting the “patriarchal” structure of Catholicism.

“Why can a man who is not a bishop or priest vote and no women are allowed to?”, Forcades asked Spanish agency EFE.

“I not only agree (with asking the question): it seems to me common sense to agree”, the Spanish nun continued.

“My faith has led me and I hope all of us will be more bold”, explained American nun Simone Campbell.

“We, the nuns, have to get our Church leaders to have a different vision. (…) We have an obligation to raise our voice. How is it that the nuns cannot have a voice or vote in the Synod?”, Campbell lamented.

On women’s exclusion in the Church, “silence is not an option”, the American nun stressed.

Around Novena:

Women demand “equality and inclusion” in Church, votes at synods

Why it matters

In her turn to speak, Swedish nun Madeleine Fredell denounced women’s forced “silence” in the Church today.

In the Church, she lamented, “there are abuses of all kinds: sexual abuse, economic abuse, the abuse of power”.

“We [women] are not allowed to share our interpretations of faith, we are silenced (…) We’re not begging for power – power always corrupts – we ask only to be respected”, Fredell said.

For his part, the Bishop of Basel, in Switzerland, Felix Gmür – the only bishop to take part in the Voices of Faith event today – said simply: “Women should be able to vote at the Synod”.

Women “are equal to men”, Gmür stressed: “I would be willing to defend that”.

“It is important that these concerns (of women) be studied at the theological level”, the Swiss bishop added.

See also:

German Catholic Women’s President: “Without women, the Church wouldn’t work”

What’s next

The powerful pleas of the Voices of Faith women and Bishop Gmür for voting rights for women at Synods seem to have had no effect, at least for the moment, on Vatican authorities.

Presenting the Amazon Synod today at a press conference in the Vatican, Synod Secretary Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said current rules restrict voting rights to priests and bishops.

“I think we must stick with the norms, and the interpretation of these norms rests with the Holy Father”, Baldisseri said.

Baldisseri and Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes were more optimistic on the debate over the possible ordination of married men to the priesthood, however.

Both cardinals insisted that the proposal represents “the voice of the local Church” in the Amazon region.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.