ROME – Women’s roles in the Church and the clerical sexual abuse scandals were both in the air Friday at the monthlong Synod of Bishops in Rome, on the same say the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington, D.C.
In comments to the press after Friday’s announcement on Wuerl, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles said that while he had only just heard the news, “I know Cardinal Wuerl, (and) I think he discerned something in good conscience.”
“I’m sure he did what he felt was right for the good of the Church, and I’m sure the pope saw it from that perspective too,” he said, adding that he needs to reflect on the matter further before giving a more in-depth answer.
Wuerl’s resignation followed months of scrutiny over his handling of clerical abuse cases in the 1980s and 1990s while overseeing the diocese of Pittsburgh. He was cited more than 200 times in a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in mid-August.
In an unusual move, Francis asked Wuerl to stay on as apostolic administrator until his successor is named, praising him in a letter for putting the good of his archdiocese above personal interests and distinguishing between mishandling cases and cover-up.
“You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you,” Francis said.
Inside the synod hall, the topic of clerical abuse continues to be a recurring theme. According to Barron and Bishop Everardus Johannes de Jong of Roermond in the Netherlands, discussion on the issue has been frank, open and honest.
According to Barron, many participants have linked the problem of abuse to the Church’s ability to evangelize, with a major question being: “If the Church has lost credibility, how can it guide young people?”
Other major talking points were migration and Christian persecution, with an Iraqi youth delegate, the only young person inside the synod hall representing the Middle East, getting the longest round of applause of the meeting thus far.
Several of the participants, including young women, women religious and a few token young male delegates, brought up the topic of women and the need for them to have a greater role in the Church.
In comments to the press, Korean Sister Mina Kwon, a member of the Sisters of Saint Paul Chartres and who is director of the Catholic University of Daegu and in charge of young women religious in the Daegu province, spoke of the role women religious play in youth ministry, and the need for sisters to share equal rights with clergy.
“Women religious are a good influence on young people in Korea,” but the problem, she said, “is that not all women religious work in equal conditions.” Women are often absent from decision-making roles, she said, and cited clericalism as a main factor.
“We are called to protect the people of God from any form of authoritarianism,” she said, saying clericalism stands in opposition to the community that followed Jesus, which consisted not only of Peter but Mary Magdalene and many other lay apostles.
However, given her experience inside the synod hall, Kwon said “the situation is getting better. This is the hope that I see from the Church.”
Questioned on why there are certain non-ordained male religious who are able to vote on the final document in the synod, a right typically afforded only to bishops and cardinals, and why no women religious are allowed the same privilege, Jong said they “should be heard and taken into account in the final document,” but they are not being excluded.
“This is an advisory synod,” he said, adding that in his experience, the contribution from women “counts seriously” in the discussion and deliberation process. “There is so much openness to everyone,” he said, but noted that since Jesus chose men to be his apostles, that must be respected.
Jong also questioned whether some who press the women’s issue are perhaps trying to “conquer the male caste” in the Church, or whether they truly believe women’s voices aren’t being heard.
“Please, let us know,” he said, and urged women to “speak up.”
Barron weighed in, saying the synod is one of bishops, meaning only the synod fathers have the ability to vote.
“Are women present? Absolutely. Are they speaking? Absolutely. Are they speaking around the tables in small groups? Absolutely.”
Women, he said, have spoken in “a very articulate way” and are “well represented” in the discussions.
Touching on the issue of homosexuality and LGBT Catholics who want to be a part of the Church, Barron said the first response ought to be: “You are a beloved child of God.”
“But the Church also calls people to conversion,” he said, adding that Jesus always calls people but also invites them to a deeper transformation.