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Home Church Women are (again) barred from voting rights at the Amazon Synod

Women are (again) barred from voting rights at the Amazon Synod

The Amazon Synod is due to begin in early October. It is expected to discuss and vote on environmental concerns in the Amazon region and its inhabitants’ access to the sacraments. In particular, the synod will examine how ordained deacons and women can assist in the celebration of the sacraments and building the life of the church. In light of this, Annemarie Paulin-Campbell finds it unacceptable that women will once again be barred from voting at a synod in which their contribution will be discussed.

Women are once again excluded from voting at the upcoming synod on the Amazon which will meet in Rome from the 6th to the 27th October. Many critical issues will be addressed at the Synod. The main issues are environmental concerns regarding the region, which have global consequences, and the evangelisation needs of its indigenous communities “who are often forgotten.”

Given the extreme difficulties in the region with lack of access to the sacraments,  the Synod’s preparatory document (Instrumentum Laboris) also raises for discussion the possibility of ordaining some married men of proven virtue “Viri probati” and women (who already lead communities there) as deacons.

[Representatives of] women’s religious congregations … will only have speaking rights, but none of them be permitted to vote.

The list of synod participants and voting members was recently released. The overwhelming majority of the participants are priests and bishops from the countries within which the Amazon rain forest falls. The list includes heads of men’s religious congregations (one of whom is a religious brother, and therefore not ordained.) The women’s religious congregations have been invited to send ten representatives.  These will only have speaking rights, but none of them be permitted to vote.  (There are also other observers and special guests, some of whom are women).

The continued silencing of women is disturbing

The fact that, yet again, women will not have voting rights at the meeting is deeply disturbing.  It is expected that 185 men will vote but no woman will.  Why can a brother who is head of his religious congregation vote but a women who is the head of hers may not? They have exactly the same ecclesiastical status.

Yes, a Synod is a meeting of Bishops and given that no women are permitted to be ordained, the vast majority of participants will be men at this point. But leaving that issue aside, when non-ordained men and women are treated differently, one cannot pretend that this is a theological issue. It is an issue of gender justice, plain and simple.   At the Youth Synod, the final document recognised the need to include women in decision-making as “a duty of justice.”

So why are we once again in the same situation?

True gender equality in the church: an example for society

We face terrible gender-based violence in our country and this is a serious problem in many places in the world. If we constantly exclude women from decision-making, we as church are complicit in sustaining a context, in which it is seen as acceptable for women not to be treated with dignity and respect. Part of being treated with dignity and respect is that your voice and opinion are heard and valued, and count in decision-making.  

If we constantly exclude women from decision-making, we as church are complicit in sustaining … women not [being] treated with dignity and respect.

Speaking rights are important and the church is making some small degree of progress there, but ultimately the document is voted on!  And no woman gets to express her voice by voting on issues that impact us all. This is untenable.  Women are still silenced in our church. It is a very serious problem with ramifications for our society.

We should be modelling ways of treating both men and women as equally made in the image and likeness of God. Instead people see a church in which women are not listened to and do not have a real share in decision-making. The criticism often made in the church when these issues are raised, is that ‘these women are just looking for power.’ Does anyone say this about men? No. The women I know who are calling for women to be able to vote alongside men have many years of dedicated service to the people of God in a church they love deeply. They long to bring the perspective and wisdom gained from that experience of ministry and service and to make a meaningful contribution to the on-ongoing shaping of the church, which belongs to us all. 

It’s is time for women’s voices to be heard.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell currently heads up the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality (JISS). Annemarie is a Catholic laywoman who has studied and worked in the area of Christian Spirituality for the past 16 years doing spiritual direction and retreat work, and training spiritual directors in the Ignatian tradition. Her particular focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and retreat givers. A related area of interest is in the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie's doctoral research is on "The impact of imaginal and dialogical processes on shifts in image of self and image of God in women making the Spiritual Exercises as a 19th Annotation Retreat." Annemarie is also a registered psychologist (and life coach), and has worked in particular in the areas of trauma counselling and community psychology.

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