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Of Radicals, Excommunicates and Sojourners

“Synodality manifests the ‘pilgrim’ character of the Church…The path is the image that clarifies our understanding of the mystery of Christ as the Way that leads to [God]”.[1]

“So while some may want to believe that women’s ordination advocates are lost in the wilderness, we are very much on the journey, and if you ask me, leading the way”.[2]

“‘Nobody is turned away from communion. Whether or not you’ve been divorced, none of that matters. Everybody is welcome, LGBTQ people are welcome at the table,’ she says”.[3]

What is the radical vision and praxis that threads the three quotations above? The first, taken from one of many Vatican resources in the lead-up to the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 2023), frames “synodality”, a neologism on synod, as a journey and conversation that is not only open to the global church but all, particularly those at the margins. The second embodies one of such faithful from the margins – Kate McElwee who is the executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, a “grassroots-driven movement that promotes activism, dialogue and prayerful witness to call for women’s ordination and gender equity in the Roman Catholic Church”. The third profession of faith, exhorting gender equity and inclusion, is from Anne Tropeano, a member of the Roman Catholic woman priest movement who was recently ordained, an “excommunicate” in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church yet hailed by the BBC 100 Women.

As sojourners of truth in our faith journey where “the [synodal] path is the image that clarifies our understanding of the mystery of Christ as the Way that leads to [God]”, who the Church includes or excludes as conversational partners, is pivotal. Criteria for inclusion, is based on the “three principal manifestations of the sensus fidei fidelis in the personal life of the believer” that enables them: 1) “to discern whether or not a particular teaching or practice that they actually encounter in the Church is coherent with the true faith by which they live in the communion of the Church”, 2) “to distinguish in what is preached between the essential and the secondary”; and 3) “to determine and put into practice the witness to Jesus Christ that they should give in the particular historical and cultural context in which they live”.[4] The synodal process is as much for the faithful as it is for the magisterium who governs and includes: time for sharing, humility in listening, courage in speaking, openness to conversion and change, leaving behind prejudices and stereotypes, overcoming clericalism, and giving rise to hope.[5] The time is now for the Church to walk the talk as those from the margins, have.

[1] International Theological Commission (2018), Synodality in the life and mission of the church, paragraph 49. Vatican. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_20180302_sinodalita_en.html

[2] Kate McElwee (2022, February 10), Grant women’s ordination advocates the respect of encounter. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved from https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/grant-womens-ordination-advocates-respect-encounter?fbclid=IwAR3vWa5XmXjBiKG9CgZso9UC-shyZkzY96OGoM_CmpchKz-4mGjyiisi7i0

[3] Valeria Perasso and Georgina Pearce (2022, December 13), Excommunicated: The women fighting to be priests. BBC 100 Women. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-63923460

[4] International Theological Commission (2014), Sensus Fidei: In the life of the church, paragraph 60. Vatican. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_20140610_sensus-fidei_en.html#2._Manifestations_of_the_sensus_fidei_in_the_personal_life_of_believers

[5] General Secretariat of the Synod (2022), Who is the Synod for? Synod 2021, 2024. Retrieved from https://www.synod.va/en/what-is-the-synod-21-24/who-is-the-synod-for.html