We were looking at Chapter 3 of Fratelli Tutti. Starting at Paragraph 97, under the subtitle ”Open Activities That Integrate Everyone,” Frances writes the following:
Some (people on the) peripheries are close to us, in our city centers or within our families. Hence there is an aspect of openness in love that is existential rather than geography. It has to do with our daily efforts to reach those who, even though they are close to me I do not naturally consider a part of my circle of interest. Frances mentions two groups of “hidden exiles.” The one group is persons with disabilities. Another group is the elderly.
A third group of people that feel “on the fringes” throughout the world are women. Fratelli Tutti mentions the plight of women in several places. The Pope calls for full human rights for women three times in Paragraphs 23, 121, and 136. He comments on women as victims of violence twice in Paragraphs 24 and 227. Yet the Holy Father has come under criticism that women are not more prominently considered in the encyclical.
I find it interesting what Francis wrote about these three groups. He mentions that we need to reach out and assist them. Francis also suggests something that I mentioned in my blog post last week. It involves a particular relationship young adults are looking for from the church. They want to be active participants in all aspects of church life. Young adults don’t want to be catered to. They want a place at the table. They want to be part of church leadership. They want authority. They want a place where they can set directions for the community in which they find themselves.
Pope Francis seems to be practicing what he is preaching. As we read in a Catholic News Agency article, along with a Spanish priest, Pope Francis recently named a religious sister, French Sister Nathalie Becquart as Under-Secretaries of the Synod of Bishops.
Let me provide some background. During Vatican II, bishops around the world enjoyed the fraternity of other bishops. After the Council, they wanted to continue this camaraderie. Thus, the office of the Synod of Bishops was created. The Synod of Bishops comes together at the behest of the Holy Father. This typically involves a discussion on a key issue in the Church. For example, in 2018, the Senate of bishops convened for the “Synod on Young People.” The final synod document was “Christus Vivit”: Post-Synodal Exhortation to Young People and to the entire People of God.”
Here’s where it gets interesting. From CNA:
During the 2018 youth synod, some people asked why religious and consecrated women could not vote on the synod’s final document. (The Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario) Grech noted Feb. 6 that “during the last Synods, numerous synodal fathers emphasized the need that the entire Church reflects on the place and role of women within the Church.
Even Pope Francis highlighted several times the importance that women be more involved in the processes of discernment and decision making in the Church,” he said.
What is new is that Sister Becquart will be a voting member of the assembly. According to the former canonical norms governing synods of bishops, only clerics – that is deacons, priests, or bishops – could be voting members. In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Grech said in this position, Becquart will vote in future synods alongside other voting members, who are bishops, priests, and some religious men.
Voices are asking for wider inclusivity in terms of authority, power, and responsibility in the Catholic Church. This is going to take time. Pope Francis seems to be moving towards this. I find it notable that Francis not only mentions the idea of new people being invited to a place at the table. The Holy Father is showing concrete action. He has now placed one woman in an authoritative position to run a group specifically composed of men.