Over at America’s blog “In All Things,” Fr. James Martin points out a significant oversight at the Synod: all the voting members are men, including one — Brother Herve Janson of the Little Brothers of Jesus—who is not ordained and is considered, technically, a layman. Why were there no laywomen?
Brother Janson said (my translation from the French): “That is a big question….I felt very uncomfortable (malaise)….Before, the distinction was between cleric and lay. And now, it became between man and woman, exactly as you said very well….I asked myself the same question.” Strikingly, Brother Janson said he thought of refusing (renoncer) the invitation to be a voting member, out of solidarity with women religious. (This exchange can be viewed at 42:00 in the video below.)
This is a serious failure for the Synod. Previously, at least as far as I had known, it seemed that ordination was a prerequisite for voting. That is, there were priests who were appointed, in addition to the bishops, as voting members. There were strong theological arguments that could be advanced for that: it was a synod of bishops, and, in Catholic theology, priests participate in the ministry of the bishop through the sacrament of holy orders.
Now, it seems that the prerequisite for being a voting member was not ordination, but being a man.
It would have been extremely easy for the Synod to have invited—as it did with Brother Janson—a Catholic sister to participate in the Synod, with voting rights. Perhaps the head of a women’s religious order could have been invited, or a woman religious who worked in the Vatican, or a woman religious who had experience in the theology of family life. It would also have been easy (since Brother Janson is a layman) to invite another layman or a laywoman to vote.
Commonweal, meantime, published Brother Janson’s intervention at the Synod a few days ago:
First of all, I would like to clarify the uniqueness of my situation among you, bishops from all over the earth, since I am a simple brother, the moderator of a religious congregation which is international, to be sure, but very modest, with less than two hundred brothers: the Little Brothers of Jesus, inspired by the example of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.
My brothers of the Union of Superior Generals told me that they voted for me because, by our vocation, in the imitation of Jesus of Nazareth, we live among the people in their neighborhoods, shoulder to shoulder with very simple families who often struggle as best they can to live and bring up their children. We are witnesses of so many families who, for me, are models of holiness; they are the ones who will receive us into the kingdom! And sometimes, I suffer from what our mother the church imposes on their backs, burdens which we ourselves would not be able to support, as Jesus said to the Pharisees! For there are many women and men who suffer from being rejected by their pastors. Through a very special grace which dumbfounds me but for which I should thank you, I find myself the only brother who is a full-fledged member of this synod of bishops which is reflecting on the situations and mission of families. Astonishment and trembling, all the more so in so far as the status of the sisters is different, the same as that of the families. But we cannot ignore the fact that families make up the immense majority of the People of God that we are. But what value do we give to our reflection upon them?
There is an Oriental proverb that says: “Before you judge anyone, put on his sandals!” The paradox of this affair: we are all celibates, for the most part. But can we at least listen to people, listen to their sufferings, their propositions, their thirst for recognition and proximity?
I am thinking of these African Christian women I knew when I lived in Cameroon, spouses of a polygamous Muslim husband: they felt excluded from the church, unaccompanied, very much alone.
Among others, I think of a Belgium family, good friends of mine; one of their daughters has admitted that she has lesbian tendencies, is living with another young woman and has decided to have a child through artificial insemination. The problem is how the parents should react, precisely as Christians parents. They have showered her with treasures of sensitivity, tenderness, and proximity!
Is the church not also a family and should it not have the same attitudes toward these men, these women so often helpless, in doubt and in darkness, feeling themselves excluded. What kind of proximity? What kind of accompaniment? What sort of attitude would Jesus have and what would he do in our place, as Father de Foucauld always asked himself? He was filled with compassion when he saw the abandoned crowds.
He restored hope to this Samaritan woman by speaking to her, this foreign heretic in the eyes of the Jews, she who had had five husbands! “If you knew the gift of God!” There are so many men and women—to say nothing of the children who are always the first victims—who have need of tenderness and love, need that someone open their door to them: yes, whether they be divorced and remarried, homosexuals, spouses in polygamist households, they are all brothers and sisters of Jesus, and hence our family! We who are all sinners, are invited to love one another and to let ourselves be comforted and healed by Jesus who came not for the healthy but for the sick. The Eucharist is the food of those who are in the process of forming the Body of Christ.
The mercy of God is for everyone. Jesus did not come to judge but to save what was lost. He gave his apostles and their successors a heavy responsibility with regard to his mercy: that of binding it or loosening it. Let us be firmly attached to Jesus and let us loosen through the Spirit which makes us free and links us together to Life.
There is more. Read it all.