Listening is a powerful antidote to clericalism, speakers say

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prayerful listening synodality women
Pope Francis shares a laugh with some of the women members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, including Spanish theologian Cristina Inogés Sanz, left, at the assembly's session Oct. 6, 2023, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The first assembly of the Synod on Synodality demonstrated that an effective way to break the chains of clericalism and highlight the voices and experience of women in the Church is to begin by listening and praying together before discussing issues, said two synod participants.

Clericalism exists “because we do not listen to one another; the clergy do not listen to women or the laity,” said Momoko Nishimura, a consecrated laywoman from Japan who served as one of Pope Francis’ delegate presidents at the assembly in October.

Nishimura and Susan Pascoe, an Australian who served as an expert and facilitator at the synod, jointly inaugurated the English-language program of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations‘ School for Synodality Feb. 29. Separate webinars were offered in Spanish and French as well.

‘Conversations in the Spirit’

The work of the synod assembly in October was built around “conversations in the Spirit,” a process through which every person in a small group — usually 10 or 11 people — speaks on a topic for four minutes without interruption. Then there is a pause for prayer. Then each person has three minutes uninterrupted to respond to what struck him or her about what others shared in the first round. After another pause for prayer, an open discussion begins.

Members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops pray before a working session of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 17, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“This is a very synodal way of sharing,” Nishimura said, and one that forces participants to listen and to pray before reacting.

“It is also a very effective way that all the people of God can be involved in the decision making” that is part of a commitment to promote shared responsibility in the church, she said.

In preparation for the second assembly of the synod, scheduled for Oct. 2-27, dioceses and bishops’ conferences have been asked to hold further listening sessions and consultations focused on the synthesis report of the first assembly and the question, “How can we be a synodal church in mission?” Bishops’ conferences are asked to send a summary of the discussions to the Vatican synod secretariat by May 15.

A female majority

Pascoe told webinar participants that the synthesis report insisted that women and men in the Church “are clothed with the same baptismal dignity,” that women make up the majority of people in the pews and they usually are the first to transmit the faith to a new generation.

Synod members said, “Let’s stop talking about women as a problem and instead promote a culture where women and men dialogue together,” she said.

To move the process forward, Pascoe said, women need to advocate in their parishes, dioceses and bishops’ conferences for “more equal participation of women,” and they should do so using Scripture, tradition and canon law to support their arguments.

They should seek ways to be involved in and contribute to the preparation for the second assembly of the synod, contacting their diocese or bishops’ conference if an open invitation has not already been extended, she said.

Religious sisters and lay women should form closer bonds, Pascoe said, “because we are stronger together.”

And “find male champions,” she said. “Some of the bishops and cardinals at the assembly, they can be the champions of women in the church.”

Catholic women need to push for more opportunities for education in theology, pastoral practice, spirituality, canon law and administration, she said. “Access to formation increases the options available to women in the church, in different ministries, in pastoral work and decision making roles, and that’s very important.”

Cindy Wooden

Cindy Wooden is a journalist with Catholic News Service.