Interim Stage Summary of a Synodal Event for Priests and Women hosted by the Women of the Church Working Group 

Women & The ChurchWorking Group Reports

On February 7, 2024, the Women in the Church Working Group of the Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP) hosted an interactive synodal webinar entitled “What Happened at the Synod: The Call to Dialogue on Co-responsibility and Women’s Participation in Our Church.” The call was inspired by three quotes from section 1 and 9 of the Synodal Synthesis Report, “A Synodal Church in Mission”:

1.      There is a need to find ways to involve the clergy (deacons, priests, bishops) more actively in the synodal Process during the course of the next year. 1(n)

2.      […] we desire to promote a Church in which men and women dialogue together, in order to understand more deeply the horizon of God’s project, that sees them together as protagonists, without subordination, exclusion and competition. 9(h)

3.     In Christ, women and men are clothed with the same baptismal dignity (Gal 3:28) and receive equally the gifts of the Spirit. We are called together into a communion of loving, non-competitive relationships in Christ, and to a co-responsibility to be expressed at every level of the Church’s life. 9(b)

The interactive webinar was conducted over Zoom and featured testimonies from Synod delegate Dr. Cynthia Bailey Manns, church leader Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, and other women who have studied and participated in the Synod. The target participant audience was Catholic priests and women. Over 425 priests and women registered for the call and over 400 either participated live or watched the recorded event afterwards. The demographics were roughly 40% priests and 60% women. Co-Chairs of the Women in the Church Working Group Dr. Sarah Probst Miller and Rev. Michael Hickin, a member of the AUSCP Leadership Team, served as co-facilitators. This event began with prayer and silence, then featured five thematic speakers, a synodal conversation practicing listening and silence, a synodal call to action, a Q and A session, and a closing prayer. All participants were encouraged to share what resonated with them in synodal discussion during and after the call. This document summarizes the event and the reflections of participants.

The conversation began with  Dr. Manns, Director of Adult Learning at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis, sharing her experience of being one of the ten non-bishop voting delegates chosen to represent North America at the Synod’s General Assembly. Besides covering the procedural nature of the assembly, Manns said that the “Conversation in the Spirit” method is not “merely a generic exchange of ideas” but a “Spirit-led process” that enables participants to draw closer together. She emphasized that it is “a slow exercise” designed to “avoid artificial and shallow and prepackaged responses.” It is also a means to “honestly acknowledge the challenges and gifts of today’s church.”

The next speaker, Dr. Maureen O’Connell, offered a definition of co-responsibility for attendees: Co-responsibility is “a posture of ongoing discovery,” an “invitational way or form of discipleship” whereby “God calls us to be co-creators in this very messy world.” She continued, “Co-responsibility also fosters a sense of solidarity,” [and confirms that] “we truly do belong to each other.” O’Connell also emphasized the rediscovery of the link between baptism and mission; ways that spiritual conversation “across ranks and status” is remaking the “relational conditions” of the church and forming it for mission; how synodality is giving the church courage to wade into areas of potential tension and conflict, such as the role of women and the exercise of co-responsibility within a hierarchical structure; and the emerging pathways around issues of women in the life and mission of the church.

Ellie Hidalgo, co-director of Discerning Deacons, focused on a specific proposal from the “Women in the Life and Mission of the Church” section of the Synthesis Report which states: “Theological and pastoral research on the access of women to the diaconate should be continued, benefiting from consideration of the results of the commissions specially established by the Holy Father, and from the theological, historical and exegetical research already undertaken. If possible, the results of this research should be presented to the next Session of the Assembly” (9.n). Acknowledging that “women’s ministry is often unstable,” Hidalgo spoke of how the issue of women in the diaconate is being discerned on a global level. The guiding question in this discernment, she said, is “What is the will of the Holy Spirit for women’s participation in a co-responsible church?”

Next, Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, expressed delight “to see the women’s issue come to the forefront” during the Synodal process. Alongside this observation, he praised the contributions of the women coordinating and participating in the event. Stowe said, “I want to work with [these women] on a regular basis and share in that co-responsibility.” He added, “I love the phrase co-responsibility. Co-responsibility helps to overcome the clergy-laity divide.”

Bernadette Rudolph of the Cranaleith Retreat Center in Philadelphia concluded with a brief presentation on how the “Conversation in the Spirit” method of Synodal conversation is taking root in local parishes. Rudolph has assisted with training of parish leaders in Synodal practices. Rudolph described the “deep listening” of the Synodal method as “an ancient practice reclaimed.” Deep listening “amplifies co-responsibility,” she said, while fostering intentional silence and purposeful speech. She noted “how much hope [Synodal conversation] inspires in people. People say, ‘This is making me feel good about church again.’”

In the seventy plus participant reflections submitted during and after this event, a leading theme was “love for our church.” Participants expressed delight “to be with others who love our Church!” Another expounded, “I am especially inspired by the young people who are approaching these subjects, not with anger, but with love.” More expressed joy to be a part of what they viewed as “a historic moment” for priests and women from across the US to have a safe place for synodal conversation.

A common thread which emerged was great hope. Often lament accompanied mention of hope. A woman reflected, “There is so much pain when the female voice is removed. I hope for  a co-responsible future for women and men.” Another priest said, “I feel both hope and trepidation; [we] need to bring priests and bishops on board.” When we asked him to expound, he said: “In many dioceses throughout the US and in most parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, people have heard very little about the synod. The priests and bishops in these parishes and dioceses view the synod with suspicion or even contempt. There is significant animus towards Pope Francis among many American clergy, especially the younger clergy. They fear that he is attempting to change the Church in a way that undermines Apostolic Tradition, rather than responding to the Holy Spirit’s movement  in the Church. So there is a big challenge in building a bridge of understanding and trust across a very polarized Church. My intention is not to be negative. But I do see a big challenge. Sadly, the political polarization of our society is mirrored in the Church. But I remain hopeful. God is faithful!!”

The next theme which emerged in comments was the beauty of and need for deep listening. Specifically, it was identified as a competency which needs further development. In reflection, both priests and women mentioned desires to approach listening with curiosity along with  humility. While some mentioned that the synodal process of listening does a lot to remove fear, others acknowledged that it can be both “sacred and messy work.”  Participants expressed a longing for synodal listening sessions at the parish level. Others noted that synodality will be a key part of “making our church relevant and appealing to young people.”  The hope was expressed that synodality could be “a good first step in breaking down the polarization in our church and society.” Another woman said, “we also need to learn how to respond actively as a member of synodality within our parishes, and even between our friends.” In the call to action, the question was asked, “Why wait for synodality to come to you? Be a synodal people where you are. It can start with you.” 

Many spoke of the synodal process having no expression locally due to resistance from priests and/or bishops. While some felt there is now a synodal door to “knock on” and that the synodal process is “alive and moving forward;” others expressed a longing to experience it with their parish priest. One participant said their parish priest has called synodality the “work of the devil.” In response to expressed frustration with how the synodal process is going locally, Rudolph spoke encouragingly by saying, “I have come to think of myself as water. Where there are cracks, I will go into them. Where I am hitting a hard rock surface, I simply move around.” An attending priest responded to her words in his reflection saying, “Flowing water that goes where it is received and sidesteps obstacles illustrates a strategy of flexibility that has served me well for decades. It was great to hear it so pithily stated by Rudolph. It is a telling image of the Holy Spirit, the Living Water that will accompany and carry forward the gestation of a Co-Responsible Church.” 

Co-responsibility was the final theme which emerged strongly in reflections and was often cited as the root of feelings of hope. Participants reflected back to us that, “the call of our Baptism is co-responsibility.” In Baptism we come to “share Christ’s life and thus mission. By creation, every human being is called to live and spread love.” Another participant cited co-responsibility as “urgent energy.” They spoke of “realizing co-responsibility and discovering what the Holy Spirit is calling us to—TOGETHER!” Others wrote the phrase “co-creativity as an expression of co-responsibility.” They further explained, simply, “We are all created for love.” And others encouraged, “We need to support one another as change agents.” Several priests noted, “A key issue [with co-responsibility] is how we teach at seminary.” They expressed that strategically, it needs to start there.

Sharing the enthusiasm and hope of her fellow panelists, O’Connell concluded the Q and A by proclaiming, “The synodal process is indeed working! We are becoming a pilgrim people of God. We are being co-responsible in mission by engaging in this discernment,” She added,  “What better time to be a disciple in our church?”

Unity Through Synodality: Testimony of a Best Practice by AUSCP

In the continental stage report, “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent,” Catholics from around the world named increased awareness of women’s roles and vocation in the Catholic Church as a “critical and urgent” concern (paragraph #60). At the same time, the synodal process has been critiqued for not having enough participation by priests, particularly parish priests. There is a need to engage parish priests directly in synodal conversations about rethinking women’s participation in our Catholic parishes. 

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) has endeavored to do its part by gathering priests from across the U.S.; offering educational talks in the history of synodality; and organizing synodal experiences. One effort is described below as an emerging best practice for engaging priests and Catholic women in synodal conversations in-person.

“Unity Through Synodality” was the theme of the AUSCP Annual Assembly in June 12-15, 2023, which gathered 135 priests at the University of San Diego, in San Diego, California, USA. The assembly began with a day-long retreat entitled “Responding from a Contemplative Heart: Living Synodality in a Polarized World,” led by Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM. Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego celebrated the opening Mass, and several theologians and scholars offered talks about the history of synodality and today’s context.

Dr. Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles was asked to address synodality at the intersection of women and Hispanic Catholics, since San Diego shares a border with Mexico and the diocese serves a large migrant population. Her talk on June 14th focused on how “difference” is part of God’s design which allows for a rich diversity of voices and talents in the People of God. “As a church, we can make ‘difference’ our superpower. That is where synodality comes in. Synodality is the tool that reveals the colorful variety of all that is and allows us to use those very colors to craft a new and hope-filled vision,” González-Andrieu said. 

For the first time, AUSCP welcomed women in ministry from the local diocese to participate in part of their assembly. AUSCP, in collaboration with Discerning Deacons, welcomed forty women serving in various ministries and leadership roles in parishes and in the San Diego chancery to listen to González-Andrieu’s address and participate with the priests in the synodal round table conversations that followed. One or two women sat at each of the 22 round tables. The majority of women were of Latina/Hispanic heritage. Priests and women in ministry took turns sharing their responses to the following questions: Why am I in ministry? Why am I doing this work? Where do I find the fire to keep going? 

The experience was impactful. Many priests said that this intentional time to listen and dialogue with Catholic women in ministry in a spirit of synodality was the highlight of their assembly experience. Said one priest: “Women’s participation was very joyful; some sadness at the way the Church treats them in the past and present. Best part of the conference.” Added another: “Graced morning with Cecilia; powerful sharing with women at the tables.”

The women also found this synodal encounter to be illuminating and hopeful: A woman director of faith formation/young adult ministry at a San Diego parish summed it up:  “For many of us women, it was the first time in a church setting that we felt heard and a sense of God’s gift of wholeness and worth. Many priests expressed their desire to be more intentional with God’s gift of wholeness in all creation, specifically women.” 

Submitted by the Women of the Church for AUSCP Working Group members: Rev. Michael Hickin, Dr. Sarah Probst Miller, Ellie Hidalgo, Svea Fraser. Selected quotes from the February 7th event are from Michael Centore, “Association of US Catholic Priests Hosts Event on Synodality, Co-responsibility, and Women’s Participation in the Church,” Today’s American Catholic, February 8, 2024,

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