By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY -- If the Catholic Church did more to recognize and promote women's responsibility within the church, it could help their status in societies as well, said the Synod of Bishops on the family.
The church should show "greater recognition of their responsibility in the church: their participation in decision-making processes, their participation in the governance of some institutions, their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers," said the final report of the synod, approved Oct. 24.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters the next day that the document, after speaking about "the dignity of women and the way in which women are treated from country to country and within the church ... talked about the importance of the charisms" that women bring to families, society and the church.
"So while nothing specifically was proposed in terms of where that would be in terms of church structure, there is the call to continue to move forward on this," the archbishop said.
The position of women in the synod itself came up Oct. 24 at a press briefing a few hours before the synod's full voting members -- all men -- began the process of approving the document. Brother Herve Janson, superior of the Little Brothers of Jesus, was asked how, as a person who is not ordained, he can vote at a synod and why the superior of a women's order could not.
"It's a question I raised as well and I wondered whether or not I should accept," particularly because both religious brothers and religious sisters have consecrated their lives to the Lord, said Brother Janson. He was elected to the synod by the men's Union of Superiors General as one of their 10 voting delegates. Pope Francis appointed 30 women as observers or experts at the synod, but none had the right to vote.
In the section of the synod's final report dedicated to women, a section approved by a 251-9 vote, members wrote of the "determinant role of women in the lives of individuals, the family and society."
The condition of women in the world "is subject to great differences that derive mostly from socio-cultural factors," the report said. "The dignity of women must be defended and promoted."
In too many situations, in both developed and developing nations, the synod said, women are subject to discrimination and, at times, even "the gift of motherhood is penalized rather than valued."
The synod report denounced the "phenomena of growing violence to which women are subjected in the family," as well as the exploitation of women and attempts to force women to have abortions or undergo sterilization.
The "emancipation of women" that has occurred over the last six or seven decades, they said, "requires a rethinking of the tasks of husband and wife in their reciprocity and common responsibility for family life."
In a separate section on men, the document urged husbands and fathers to recognize how important they are in families, especially in educating their children. But the final report also told them that as their wives spend more time working outside the home, they must learn to take more responsibility for their fair share of domestic chores.
In highlighting the importance of preparing seminarians and priests to accompany and minister to families, the synod report insisted that seminary training include time spent with families so that future priests know the real issues they face. "The presence of laypeople and families, particularly a feminine presence, in priestly formation promotes an appreciation of the variety and complementarity of the different vocations in the church."
Synod members also mentioned the role of single people in the family and in the church. Not only are many of them "dedicated to their family of origin, but they often are of great service to their circle of friends, the church community and through their professional lives," the final report said. Too often they are overlooked or isolated, synod members said, but they enrich the lives of their families, societies and the church.