I've grown tired of people singing Pope Francis' praises. Yes, he is an awesome human being with one of the hardest jobs in the world. He is deeply compassionate. He is a man of prayer and discernment. He centers the experience of the poor. He cares for creation. He provides us with stirring documents. He has to deal with backstabbing garbage from people like Archbishop Viganò, and he does so with grace. And yes, he has appointed women to positions of power, even giving one of them an actual vote (yes, but one out of how many--let us not get too excited about the tiny crumb from the table).
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He's great. He's so great, that he has been pushing for synodality for years, working to decentralize power so that decision-making in the Church is more collaborative and consultative. Synodality is all about journeying together, accompaniment, dialogue. In fact, there is an excellent article by Cardinal Tobin in this month's Commonweal that describes this "long game" and its benefits.
I get that. Synodality is super important and absolutely must be pursued. But pin our hopes on it? I don’t know. Maybe this is easy for the people at the top to do. But down here on the bottom, things are a mess. We have a Church that people are leaving every year BY THE THOUSANDS. Bishops have zero credibility in the secular world after the sexual abuse crisis (and clamoring to deny people communion based on this or that reason ain't gonna earn it back, guys). Parish staff are being crushed to death by never-ending workloads and poverty wages. Every week there seems to be yet another atrocious scandal in the media (mother and baby homes, anyone?). And, oh yeah, we are running out of priests. The Titanic is sinking, so forgive me if I roll my eyes every time I hear about the long game of synodality. By the time the long game kicks in, how many of us will have drowned? (And, by the way, is true synodality even possible when women are not part of the magisterium?)
Here's the thing: This colossal mess—it's not just about the Church. It is about the world. The Church's mission is to be God's love in the world, and let's face it, we are in such a mess at this point that it is very difficult for us to do this effectively. Let's take Ethiopia, for example. Right now women are being systematically gang raped by Eritrean soldiers as a tactic of war. Really think about what that must be like for a woman to experience, about the impact it must have on her life, her family, her relationships, her health, her dreams. Now, I ask, how can the Catholic Church--with no credibility in the eyes of the secular world and with its very own long history of oppressing women--say one damn thing to confront this situation in any sort of meaningful way?
The truth of the matter is that there are millions and millions of people both in and out of the Church that simply cannot afford to wait for the long game to materialize. This does not mean the long game should not be played--it should. But, we also need a short game, and an aggressive one at that. To this point, I invite Pope Francis to more boldly claim his papal power even while he diligently works to decentralize it. And one thing he can do right now is #LiftTheBan and allow us as a Church to freely dialogue about ordaining women to the priesthood. For we will never--and I mean NEVER--get out of this mess as long as women are excluded from fully participating in leadership and governance. We cannot wait any longer. The only way forward is for both men and women to collaborate with the Spirit on charting the course to tomorrow.
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