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Synod 'setting the stages for future changes' on role of women, first woman presides over assembly

Sister María de los Dolores Palencia Gómez, Superior General of the Congregation of St. Joseph of Lyon, speaks to journalists during a press briefing for the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican on Oct. 14, 2023. / Credit: Screenshot from Synod on Synodality livestream video

Vatican City, Oct 14, 2023 / 17:20 pm (CNA).

The first woman to preside over a Synod of Bishops described the experience of sitting with Pope Francis at the head table as “a gift and a grace” — and a sign of things to come in the Catholic Church. 

Speaking at a press briefing today, Sister Maria de los Dolores Valencia Gomez, a Sister of St. Joseph, described the participation of women in the ongoing Synod of Synodality as “setting the stage for future changes.”  

“I feel that this is a gradual process,” said Gomez, who is from Mexico. “Little by little, we shall see changes.” 

The Oct. 4-29 Synod on Synodality is an assembly meant to advise Pope Francis on how the Catholic Church can more fully incorporate all of its members. The assembly includes 54 women among its 365 delegates, the first time women have ever voted in a Synod of Bishops. 

Gomez led the Synod on Synodality assembly yesterday morning in her capacity as one of Pope Francis’s 10 president-delegates. She described the experience of sitting with the pope “as a symbol of this opening, this wish that the Church has…for something that places all of us at the same level.” 

Significantly, the Mexican sister’s presiding role came as the synod assembly began its work on the topic of “co-responsibility in mission,” which includes a focus on the role of women in the Church. One of the questions under consideration during this stage of the synod is the possibility of admitting women to the diaconate. 

Affirming past Church teaching, Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the Church does not have the capacity to sacramentally ordain women. At the same time, the pope has broken from precedent to give women governing roles in the Church, including in the Vatican. 

Gomez described the involvement of women in the synod as a new “modus vivendi” for the Church, “a way of life for forever, journeying together with a permanent and ongoing dialogue.” 

The Mexican sister did not directly address the question of women in the diaconate during the press briefing, but another synod member did.  

Abbot Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, the head of the Cistercian Order, shared that while the synod is discussing the possibility of admitting women to the diaconate, the topic is not “dominating” the discussion.  

Instead, the Cistercian said that the focus at his table has been on the deeper theme of how the Church can “recognize better the baptismal dignity of women.” 

Lepori said that the question of women deacons needs to be addressed “from the awareness of what the Church is and the awareness of men and women’s vocations in the Church.” 

“The temptation is to be too superficial, in terms of slogans or groups who claim this or that,” he said. “This is something I do not see at the synod.” 

However, Lepori also would not express his own opinion on the possibility of opening the diaconate to women, nor would he say what he expects to come from this question at the synod. 

“The important things is not so much that we think about specific claims, but we seek what is good for the Church and for her mission in humanity, and undoubtedly the theme of women and their role in the Church is essential,” he said. “But I can’t say what this is going to bring.” 

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