Cardinal Says Synod Seeks to Give Women Greater Role in Church Governance

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By Melissa Butz and Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

ROME — Catholic bishops are not fully utilizing Church law to maximize the role of women in decision making capacities, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said on Oct. 23.

While acknowledging that women are unable to hear confession, say Mass, or administer confirmation, “she can do practically everything else,” said Cardinal Gracias. “Women can even be in charge of a parish according to Church law.”

Cardinal Gracias’s remarks came during a press briefing as the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon nears its final conclusion this week, where the role of women in the Church has been a repeated theme as the Church considers how to better respond to the pastoral needs of the Amazon region.

“We must use all of this,” he added, noting that Pope Francis “very [much] wants decentralization,” and for bishops to enact changes where they can already do so without the permission of the Holy See.

In addition to being the archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Gracias serves on Francis’s Council of Cardinal Advisors.

The role of women in the Church dominated much of Wednesday’s press conference with several of the other representatives from the Amazon speaking for the need for concrete and tangible action, while steering clear of addressing the question of women’s ordination to the diaconate, which is anticipated to be addressed in some form in the Synod’s final document.

Bishop Ricardo Ernesto Centellas Guzmán of Potosí, Bolivia, who heads the country’s bishops’ conference, also called for a change in “mindset” when it comes to women in the Church.

“We all have to change our mentality to make sure participation of women becomes authentic and that is equitable and fair,” he said.

At present, he said the role of women who are involved in decision-making power is “very low,” adding that in some places it is “almost invisible.”

“Things must change by starting with the smaller things,” he said, noting that work in the parish level and local communities is the place to start. He specifically called out pastoral councils that only give women consultation status, without any real decision making abilities.

A walking Church, he said, included “walking together and deciding together,” adding “otherwise we will be limping together, not walking.”

Sister Roselei Bertoldo, a nun from Brazil who works in human trafficking, echoed his words, telling reporters that the structure of the Church is often focused on men when it comes to questions of authority.

“We want to become the protagonist in this process,” she said. “We will not keep silent. We want space, and we will start building a space.”

Also a part of Wednesday’s discussion was the theme of inculturation and how to best adapt the practices of the faith to the Amazon region in a specific way that is mindful of local customs and traditions.

Inculturation, said Cardinal Gracias, “flows from the Incarnation. Our Lord became incarnated.”

Historically, he said when discussion of inculturation has been raised, the focus has been on questions of liturgy, which he deemed to be a “mistake” in its singular scope.

He argued for the need for greater consideration of question of inculturation when it comes to priestly formation, seminaries, and their staffs.

The Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is set to conclude with a Mass on October 27.

On Saturday, the bishops will vote on the final document, which on Wednesday, Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, said would not be the end result of the Synod, but rather a “tool” that “everyone can use to take steps forward.”