Monday, October 5, 2015

Symbol Trumps Substance in Synod on the Family: Women As the Imagined Strawberries on the Cake

Few events in contemporary church life have been as hotly anticipated as this month's synod on the family. The global meeting of Catholic bishops is in many ways an incredible attempt to bring together the universal church's rich diversity in one place to discuss pressing issues of our time. More than half of voting participants of the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops come from the global South. Francis' appointments represent a breadth of theological diversity. 
There is, however, one glaring exclusion: Not a single woman has a vote. For a synod convened to discuss struggles faced by families, that is particularly appalling. Several women have been appointed as auditors (able to listen and occasionally join in discussions) and collaborators (to provide expert advice to members), but those are non-voting roles. Three women religious serve in non-voting roles, while the 10 delegates from male religious orders all get votes. 
The synod is, of course, a meeting of bishops, so it's not women as such who are barred from voting, it's non-bishops. And that's the trap. One can't be a bishop unless one is first a priest. And women can't be priests. That door, we know well, is shut. 
When asked about women in the church, Francis ardently calls for women to have a more "incisive presence" in the church, calling them in a recent Wednesday catechesis not just needed but necessary.  
Yet he bars the door for their entry to the halls that will discuss issues of great need.


• We need for women to have an "incisive presence" in the church.

• We need a "profound theology of women" in the church.

• Our delicious cake needs some delicious-looking strawberries on top of it.


• An all-male, ostensibly celibate group of ordained men who exclude women from ordination and governance power in the Catholic church have gathered to define the roles of men and women in church and society.

• That all-male, ostensibly celibate group of ordained men may or may not talk about women.

• With women absent from this gathering (as participants), voiceless in the gathering, nothing demands that the all-male, ostensibly group of men gathered to talk about and to — but not with — women should say anything at all about these matters.

The leaders of the Catholic church continue to ask the rest of us to accept symbol in lieu of substance. They continue to ask us to believe that symbol trumps substance, even when we can see with our own eyes that substance is the proof of the deliciousness of the cake topped by those delicious-looking strawberries. 

How long will those all-male, ostensibly celibate men, many of them closeted homosexuals defining the lives of LGBT human beings, too (homophobia is deeply rooted in misogyny), while openly LGBT human beings are totally excluded from this discussion, be permitted to get away with dangling symbols in front of us while refusing to open to discussion the substance to which those symbols point?

How long will the rest of us keep deluding ourselves that the strawberries atop the cake are so very delicious, when we haven't even tasted them — when we've only had pictures of them dangled in front of us?

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