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Pope to open major Vatican meeting as battle lines emerge over his reform plan

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis opens a major meeting Wednesday on the future of the Catholic Church, with…

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis opens a major meeting Wednesday on the future of the Catholic Church, with progressives hoping it will lead to more women in leadership roles and conservatives warning that the doctrine of Church on everything, from homosexuality to the authority of the hierarchy, is at risk.

Rarely in recent times has a Vatican meeting generated as much hope, hype and fear as this three-week closed-door meeting, known as a synod. It will not make any binding decisions and is only the first session of a two-year process. But it nonetheless drew a sharp battle line in the Church’s perennial left-right divide and marks a defining moment for Francis and his reform agenda.

Before it even began, the gathering was historic because Francis had decided to let women and laity vote alongside bishops in any final document produced. Even though less than a quarter of the 365 voting members are not bishops, the reform represents a radical departure from a hierarchy-focused synod of bishops and proof of Francis’ belief that the Church cares more about his flock and his shepherds.

“This is a watershed moment,” said JoAnn Lopez, a lay minister of Indian descent who helped organize two years of consultations before the meeting in parishes where she worked in Seattle and Toronto.

“This is the first time women have had a very different voice at the negotiating table, and the opportunity to have a voice in decision-making is huge,” she said.

On the agenda are calls for concrete steps to elevate more women to decision-making positions in the Church, including as deacons, and for ordinary Catholic faithful to have more say in governance of the Church.

Ways are also being explored to better accommodate LGBTQ+ Catholics and others marginalized by the Church, as well as new accountability measures to check how bishops exercise their authority to prevent abuse.

Women have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens in the Church, excluded from the priesthood and the highest ranks of power, but responsible for the lion’s share of the Church’s work – teaching in the Catholic schools, run Catholic hospitals and transmit the faith to others. generations.

They have long demanded a greater voice in Church governance, at least with the right to vote at the Vatican’s periodic synods, but also the right to preach at Mass and be ordained as a priest or deacon.

Although they have secured high-level positions in the Vatican and local churches around the world, the male hierarchy continues to run the show.

Lopez, 34, and other women are particularly excited about the potential that the synod could somehow approve allowing women to be ordained deacons, a ministry that is currently reserved for men.

For years, supporters of women deacons have argued that women in the early church were deacons and that reestablishing the ministry would serve the church and recognize the gifts women bring to it.

Francis has convened two study commissions to study the issue and was asked to examine it at a previous synod on the Amazon, but he has so far refused to make any changes.

The possibility that this synodal process could lead to real change on previously taboo topics has given hope to many women and progressive Catholics and has sparked concern among conservatives who have warned it could lead to a schism.

They have written books, held conferences and taken to social media to argue that Francis’ reforms are sowing confusion, undermining the true nature of the Church and everything it has taught for two millennia. American conservatives are among the most virulent.

On the eve of the meeting, one of the synod’s most vocal critics, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, launched a scathing rebuke of Francis’ vision of “synodality” as well as his overall project of reform of the ‘Church.

“It is unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit by some is intended to advance an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine,” Burke said during a conference titled “The Synodal Babel.” .

He even lambasted the term “synodal” as having no clearly defined meaning and said its underlying attempt to shift authority away from the hierarchy “endangers the very identity of the Church.”

In the audience was Cardinal Robert Sarah, who, along with Burke and three other cardinals, had formally challenged Francis to confirm the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and the ordination of women before the synod.

In an exchange of letters made public Monday, Francis didn’t bite and instead said cardinals should not be afraid of the questions posed by a changing world. Asked specifically about church blessings for same-sex unions, Francis suggested they could be permitted provided those blessings are not confused with sacramental marriage.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.


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