Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposes synod on women

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By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church in Latin America
must recognize and appreciate the role of women and end the practice of using
them solely as submissive laborers in the parish, said members of a pontifical

In addition, at the end of their plenary meeting March 6-9
at the Vatican, members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposed
that the church hold a Synod of Bishops “on the theme of the woman in the
life and mission of the church.”

“There still exist ‘macho,’ bossy clerics who try to
use women as servants within their parish, almost like submissive clients of
worship and manual labor for what is needed. All of this has to end,” said
the final document from the meeting.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported April 11 that the theme of the three-day meeting, “The woman: pillar in
building the church and society in Latin America,” was chosen by Pope

In addition to 17 cardinals and seven bishops who are members of
the commission, the pope asked that some leading Latin American women also be
invited; eight laywomen and six women religious participated in the four-day
meeting and in drafting its pastoral recommendations, the newspaper said.

While the assembly expressed appreciation for and based many of
its proposals on the Latin American bishops’ Aparecida document, participants
said more needed to be done to implement concrete solutions to the problems
facing women in Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal
Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the drafting committee for the final document of
the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean,
in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The Aparecida document’s call to renew the church’s
commitment to mission and discipleship in Latin America must be followed
through by local churches, especially “in denouncing every form of
discrimination and oppression, violence and exploitation that women suffer in
various situations,” the Pontifical Commission for Latin America’s final document stated.

Expressing appreciation for the Christian witness given by
women in consecrated life, mothers who are “authentic ‘martyrs’ giving
their lives for their families” and widows who serve their communities in
charity, the commission document said women can and
should play a greater role in church life, including in the formation of future

In order for priests to benefit from the “feminine
genius,” it said, it is important for married women and
consecrated women “to participate in the formation process.”

Women should be a part “of the formation teams, giving
them authority to teach and accompany seminarians, as well as the opportunity
to intervene in the vocational discernment and balanced development of
candidates to the priestly ministry,” the document said.

The commission also warned of the negative influence “telenovelas”
(soap operas) have on Latin American women because the programs undermine
marriages and families that are labeled “traditional” while
advocating a variety of other forms of cohabitation.

In addition, the document said, “they attempt to
undermine motherhood, which is depicted as a prison that reduces the
possibilities of a woman’s well-being and progress.”

In Latin America, meeting participants warned, poor women
are subjected to “undignified and horrible forms” of exploitation by
“renting out their wombs” for surrogacy and influenced by foreign

“Feminist lobbies that are well-funded and orchestrated
by international agencies” play a role in diminishing the dignity of
women, the document added.

The figure of Mary as “a free and strong woman,
obedient to the will of God,” can be crucial in “recovering the
identity of the woman and her value in the church,” the document said.

Like Mary proclaiming the “Magnificat,” women can
have a prophetic voice and demonstrate “the feminine and maternal
dimension of the church,” the document stated.

“The Catholic Church, following the example of Jesus,
must be very free of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination against
women,” the final document said. “Christian communities must
undertake a serious review of their life and a ‘pastoral conversion’ capable of
asking forgiveness for all those situations in which they were and still are
accomplices in attacking their dignity.”

Participants at the meeting called for improved relations
between local bishops and the religious orders of women who minister in their
dioceses, saying women religious “must be recognized and valued as jointly
responsible for the communion and mission of the church.”

Women should be more involved in decision making on a
parish, diocesan, national and global church level, participants said. Such
openness is not “a concession to pressure,” but the result of an
awareness that “the absence of women in decision making is a defect, an
ecclesiological lacuna, the negative effect of a clerical and chauvinistic

Greater efforts, they said, must be made to educate men to
overcome chauvinism, counteract the abandonment of their children and
“irresponsibility in sexual behavior.”

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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