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Synod on Synodality: LGBT issues, female diaconate discussed in emotional third week


VATICAN CITY – This past week the Synod on Synodality assembly delved into two crucial themes: the accompaniment of LGBT individuals and the topic of a female diaconate. Additionally, the assembly discussed the structure of the Church, all with the aim of shaping a more synodal future for the Church. 

Synod on Synodality spokesman Paolo Ruffini speaks to the media during a press briefing at the Vatican on Oct. 18, 2023. (Photo by Daniel Ibañez/CNA)

The process has been driven by what the Synod calls “active listening and speaking from the heart,” which, some participants have reportedly said, tends to be driven by emotions. It also raises a fundamental question: Will something truly defined ever emerge from the process?

Several notable events also took place: Pope Francis met with members of New Ways Ministry, a U.S.-based LGBT ministry group which was previously denounced by both the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s doctrinal office, three theologians held a conference designed to show support for the synodal journey, and a special prayer service for migrants presided over by Pope Francis was held at St. Peter’s Square.

The issue of the debate on LGBT inclusion was downplayed by Vatican spokesperson Paolo Ruffini, who stated that “the blessing of homosexual couples is not the theme of the Synod.” 

However, on Oct. 17, Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT+ organization which was previously denounced by both the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s doctrinal office for causing confusion on sexual morality among the Catholic faithful, met with Pope Francis, along with three other New Ways staff members. 

The meeting was publicized by Vatican Media, and perceived as an endorsement of New Ways Ministry’s approach by Pope Francis. It occurred despite a controversy surrounding the Synod’s website, which was forced to remove a New Ways Ministry video that invited LGBT people to participate in the assembly.

The Synod also engaged in discussions related to the female diaconate and even contemplated the possibility of women delivering homilies, which already happens in situations such as in German-speaking Switzerland, where the priest is treated almost like a mere consecration official. The topic of “female priesthood” was even broached, raising fundamental questions about the role of women in the Church despite assurances from Synod organizers that changes to doctrine were not on the agenda. One intervention during a morning session was reportedly significant in this discussion. Responding to calls for women’s ordination not only to the diaconate, but in some cases also to the priesthood, a laywoman participant argued that the focus on women’s ordination is a distraction from what women in the Church need and is an attempt to clericalize the laity. The intervention received loud applause. 

The week also saw deliberations on the role of parishes, priests and bishops. Ruffini emphasized that the Synod is not just a “roundtable or a talk show,” but a “conversation of the Spirit.”  However, it remains to be seen what the fruit of these conversations of the Spirit will be, the methodology of which is explained in great detail in the synodal process, but the practical results of which have yet to be understood.


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