Europe’s synodal continental assembly appealed Thursday for “courageous decisions on the role of women within the Church.”
According to the assembly’s final document — which is in draft form and is not expected to be finalized for weeks — participants at the meeting in Prague supported the greater involvement of women “at all levels, also in decision-making and decision-taking processes.”
The text did not specify what it meant by “courageous decisions” or which “decision-taking processes” it was referring to.
Some delegates, notably from Germany, had urged the assembly to endorse the ordination of women as deacons and priests, but they faced pushback from other participants.
Irme Stetter-Karp, the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), told delegates Feb. 8 that “the confinement of women to the space outside of the ordained ministry” was driving young women out of the Church.
But on the same day, Polish delegate Aleksander Bańka criticized what he called “the deceptive charm of superficial solutions, such as the idea of women’s ordination,” which seemed “to fall into the trap of neo-clericalism.”
Following the ecclesial assembly, an episcopal assembly — attended by the presidents of Europe’s bishops’ conferences — began Feb. 10 at the same venue. The bishops are expected to approve a “commentary” on the final document before their gathering ends Feb. 12.
The final text, which is currently 20 pages long, has not been published as it is likely to incorporate a significant number of changes suggested by participants both during and after the assembly.
But the assembly’s organizers did release a statement entitled “final remarks,” which was almost identical to the conclusion (see below) of the draft final document read out Feb. 9.
The draft text offered a firm endorsement of Pope Francis’ efforts to promote “synodality” within the worldwide Catholic Church.
“Throughout the days of the assembly, we went through a form of Pentecost, which for the first time led us to experience that it is possible to meet, listen to each other, and dialogue, starting from our differences and beyond the many obstacles, walls, and barriers that our history puts in our way,” the draft text read out Thursday said.
“We need to love the variety within our Church and support each other in mutual esteem, strengthened by our faith in the Lord and the power of His Spirit. This is why we wish to continue walking in a synodal style. More than a methodology, we consider it a way of life of our Church, of communal discernment, and of discernment of the signs of the times.”
The draft final document noted a proposal for “an ecclesial assembly for Europe” in 2025, marking the 60th anniversary of the publication of Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
The assembly would “gather to share the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguishes, of the people of our times,” the proposal said, as well as to “listen to the cry of the poor and the Earth in Europe and in the world.”
The draft final document itself called for the continental assembly “not to remain an isolated experience, but to become a periodic appointment.”
Four days of intensive discussions in Prague highlighted sharp differences between national delegations.
Irme-Stetter Karp, one of the leading figures in Germany’s controversial “synodal way,” complained at one point that when the word “Devil” was mentioned, several delegates looked at her. “That hurt,” she said.
Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, the president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), which oversaw the assembly, said: “For the most part, we have been able to maintain a respect for each other and the dignity we see in each other, even with our differences and tensions, and we can thank God for that.”
He referred to an image of Jesus nearing his death on the Cross and asking: “Can you love me when I am like this?”
He said: “The image referred to the Church with all its injuries, with all its bruises, and we are called to love the Church when it is bruised, when we are hurt.”
“And we continue on this journey, bruised and beaten, and full of hope for the future, step by step with an openness to be healed and an openness to hear each other.”
The final document and the bishops’ commentary will be submitted to the General Secretariat of the Synod at the Vatican. The texts will help to inform the working document of the synod on synodality, a gathering of the world’s bishops in Rome beginning in October.
In an interview in Prague with the German news agency KNA, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich suggested that lay people could have voting rights at the synod on synodality.
“The assembly in Rome will be a synod of bishops according to canon law. But there will also be a larger number of lay people, and I could imagine that some of them will also have voting rights,” said the cardinal, who will serve as the synod’s general rapporteur.
The European assembly’s final document is likely to be released when it is in completed form on the event’s official website and in various languages on bishops’ conference websites.
Conclusion of the draft final document of the European Synodal Continental Assembly in Prague
Transcribed from the prague.synod2023.org live stream
At the end of four days of listening and dialogue, based on the resonances aroused by the working document for the continental stage within the churches from which we come, as the European continental assembly, we realize that we have had a profoundly spiritual experience through the synodal method.
We give thanks to the Spirit, who guided us, for the gift we received. And here we wish to share it. We deepen the insights that the ecclesial communities of our continent have gained through the synodal processes, as well as the tensions and questions that the European churches are facing.
Above all, we once again felt the pain of the wounds that mark our history, starting with those that the Church has inflicted through the abuses perpetrated by people who are performing an ecclesial ministry or office, and ending with those caused by ruthless violence of the war disfiguring Ukraine and the earthquake that devastated Turkey and Syria.
Our work has been rich and exciting, though not without its problems and difficulties. It has allowed us to look into the eyes of the Church in Europe, with all the treasures of the two great Latin and Eastern traditions that make it up. With an awareness that has grown over the course of the assembly, we feel today that we can affirm that our Church is beautiful, showing a variety that is also our wealth. We feel that we love her even more deeply in spite of the wounds she has inflicted, for which she needs to ask forgiveness in order to be able to move on to reconciliation, the healing of memory, and the welcoming of the wounded.
We are convinced that these sentiments also fill the hearts of all the people who have been involved in the journey of the Synod 2021-2024 since September 2021. Throughout the days of the assembly, we went through a form of Pentecost, which for the first time led us to experience that it is possible to meet, listen to each other, and dialogue, starting from our differences and beyond the many obstacles, walls, and barriers that our history puts in our way.
We need to love the variety within our Church and support each other in mutual esteem, strengthened by our faith in the Lord and the power of His Spirit. This is why we wish to continue walking in a synodal style. More than a methodology, we consider it a way of life of our Church, of communal discernment, and of discernment of the signs of the times.
Concretely, we want this continental assembly not to remain an isolated experience, but to become a periodic appointment based on the general adoption of the synodal method that permeates all our structures and procedures on all levels. In this style, it will be possible to address the issues on which our efforts need to mature and intensify: the accompaniment of the wounded, the protagonism of young people and women, the learning from marginalized people.
The synodal style also allows us to address tensions from a missionary perspective without being paralyzed by fear but drawing from the energy to continue along the way. Two in particular have emerged in our work. The first encourages unity in diversity, escaping the temptation of uniformity. The second links the readiness to welcome as a witness to the Father’s unconditional love for His children with the courage to proclaim the truth of the Gospel in its entirety. It is God who promises: love and truth will meet.
We know that all this is possible because we’ve experienced it during this assembly, but even more because the life of the churches from which we come bear witness to it. We are thinking here, in particular, of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, which have echoed strongly in our work. But above all, we believe that it is possible because grace is involved. Building an increasingly synodal Church, in fact, is a way to concretely implement the equality in dignity of all members of the Church, founded in baptism, which configures us as children of God, and the members of the Body of Christ, co-responsible for the unique mission of evangelization entrusted by the Lord to His Church.
We are confident that the continuation of the Synod 2021-24 can support and accompany us in particular by addressing at the level of the synodal assembly some priorities:
- The deepening of the practice, theology, and hermeneutics of synodality. We have to rediscover something that is ancient, belongs to the nature of the Church, and is always new. This is a task for us. We are taking the first steps on a path that opens up as we go along it.
- The meaning of an all ministerial Church as the horizon of a reflection on charisms and ministries, ordained and non-ordained, and the relationships between them.
- The forms of a synodal exercise of authority. For example, the service of accompanying the community and safeguarding unity, and engaged and courageous decisions on the role of women within the Church and on their greater involvement at all levels, also in decision-making and decision-taking processes.
- Intentions around the liturgy, so as to synodally re-understand Eucharist as the source of communion.
- The formation to synodality of the whole people of God, with particular regard to the discernment of the signs of the times, with a view to carrying out the common mission.
- The renewal of the living sense of the mission, overcoming the fracture between faith and culture, to return to bringing the Gospel to people’s hearts.
- Finding a language capable of combining tradition and aggiornamento, but also above all journeying together with the people, instead of talking about them, or to them.
Loving the Church, the richness of its diversity, is not a form of sentimentalism for its own sake. The Church is beautiful because the Lord wants her to be so in view of the task entrusted to her to proclaim the Gospel, and invite all women and men to enter into the dynamic of communion, participation, and mission that constitutes her raison d’être, animated by the perennial vitality of the Spirit.
To love our European Church means then to renew our commitment to carry out this mission, even on our continent in a culture marked by the many diversities we know. Adsumus, Sancte Spiritus. Amen.