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Family Synod neglects feminine genius

  • 29 October 2015

Hopeful signs have emerged from the extraordinary session of the Synod on the Family that ended on Sunday. Pope Francis will go away with much to reflect on. However, due to systemic inequities in the Synod process, the document that will form the basis of this reflection will be fundamentally limited. In particular, the omission of women's voices at the Synod was both stark and bizarre.

'Early church fathers preferred asceticism but figured out that without marriage and children the church would not last long. They wrote that married households are the basis of Christian community,' wrote Phyllis Zagano in National Catholic Reporter. 'Skip ahead several centuries and they are at it again. A room full of celibate men talking about marriage.'

Alice Priest, a Catholic educator with over 20 years experience working for the church, took a more whimsical but no less incisive approach. Her riff on Alice in Wonderland, published in The Good Oil, saw the White Rabbit (presumably Pope Francis) running late for a very important date — a Mad Hatter's tea party where the only participants are women in funny fascinators, rumbling about the life of bishops, a subject about which they know little. The piece touched a chord with many women in the Australian church.  

Priest and Zagano have a point. While there were a few people admitted to certain levels of the Synod (17 married couples and some women religious), they didn't have voting rights. That's right: not a single woman had a vote. They were effectively excluded from a subject that touches them deeply.

Such exclusion flies in the face of the reality on the ground in many places. Last year, I worked in one of the world's poorest (predominantly) Catholic countries, Paraguay. Churches there were full of women: single mothers, female religious and youth workers etc. There aren't many similarities between the Latin American church and the Australian church, but one is the presence of women, who outnumber men perhaps 2-1.

Demetria Martinez is a leader of a basic ecclesial community. She leads the group with songs, reflection on scripture, and faith sharing. Demetria has never studied theology at university, but still she is an undisputed faith leader of the community. She certainly doesn't kowtow to her feminist-theologian friend, Margaret Hebblethwaite, who regularly joins the group. 

Hebblethwaite herself runs numerous development projects in the little pueblo, while maintaining her own broader ministry as an internationally renowned writer and thinker