woman protesting through a megaphone

The feminine voice in the Synodal process

Written by: Barbara Cookson, St Aelred’s York (Middlesbrough Diocese)

Women of Middlesbrough Diocese, we need to hear you. Do not be afraid to speak up. Many parishes like ours will be continuing to hold synodal gatherings during January and early February. The discussion groups we have held using the spiritual conversation process recommended in the Vademecum have been very well received. It has been really encouraging to hear people who would normally remain silent be directed by the Spirit to make valuable contributions.

Since 1968 when the Humanae Vitae encyclical of Pope Paul VI was published, many women of childbearing age have tended to hold themselves remote from the mainstream of Catholicism. For many, the Church’s sexual teaching is simply not reconcilable with societal changes in women’s education and expectations that have taken place in the United Kingdom since 1968. These include various items of equality legislation promoting equal pay and opportunity.

A woman of today cannot choose between a Catholic marriage with a family supported by a well-paid husband, and a holy life of virginity as the Church’s teaching appears to anticipate. Is the Holy Spirit truly asking women capable of very high academic achievements to choose instead motherhood and poverty. This may indeed be the answer that should go forward in the synodal process, but it would really be helpful if we could hear more feminine voices on this vital topic.

Do not be afraid. Even in 1968 and referencing one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Pope said that “men (sic) of science can considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family and also peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they strive to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favourable to a proper regulation of births”. Men of science have not responded.

On November 1, there was a debate in Parliament that had been originally promoted by David Amess on the need for research into endometriosis, for which the contraceptive pill is the only offer. Society and the Church must move in harmony and in dialogue on this topic.

The synod is not a survey. There are no recriminations and if your parish priest is embarrassed by mention of menstrual blood, the menopause and endometriosis, counselling can be arranged.

The Adsumus prayer is well worth meditating on as you consider your response. We must not let ignorance lead the male hierarchy of the church down the wrong path nor partiality influence its actions. If you don’t want to speak at a meeting at least ensure you contribute your thoughts in writing and extend the invitation to those Catholic women and girls who have been placed on what Pope Francis calls the periphery. They are still beloved members of the church and we must recognise that.

If, after you, your neighbours, friends or daughters wish to speak up and cannot participate in advertised parish events, then they can contact the Diocesan team via

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