Potentially major changes are astir in the Catholic Church.
It may not seem like a huge deal to allow women to be deacons or to allow married priests in some areas of the countries of the Amazon, but both of those possible changes came out of the just-concluded bishops' conference on the Amazon, and they have the possibility of remaking the church in significant ways.
Neither change is yet a done deal. And as we all know, religious institutions move at agonizingly slow speeds at times. So even if these changes pass the remaining hurdles, it will be awhile before they are put in place formally.
The National Catholic Reporter article to which I linked you above said that "after the 185 male prelates at the monthlong Synod of Bishops said in their final document that the idea of ordaining women as deacons had been 'very present' during their discussions, (Pope) Francis announced he will be summoning his commission on the issue back to work, and adding new members to its ranks.
"'I am going to take up the challenge. . .that you have put forward, that women be heard,' the pontiff said in spontaneous remarks after close of the synod's business Oct. 26."
The conference produced a final 120-paragraph document, NCR reported, and the paragraph calling on Francis to consider priestly ordination of married men received 128 yes votes and 41 no votes. Approval of any particular paragraph required 120 yes votes.
As the NCR report makes clear, the bishops also spent a lot of time talking about the need to rescue the planet from environmental degradation.
But for how the final document may change the institutional church, the recommendations about female deacons and married priests are the most important.
Most other branches of Christianity allow members of the clergy to be married, and many such persons say it has both pluses and minuses. A major plus is that it helps pastors understand marital and family issues in a deeper way and, thus, better equips them to offer pastoral care to marriages and to families in crisis. At the same time, having the responsibility of being a spouse and, often, a parent, means that a pastor simply cannot devote full attention to the needs of the church.
It's also true that many other branches of Christianity allow the ordination of women, not just as deacons but also as pastors. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), for instance, began ordaining women as pastors in 1956, and the Episcopal Church began to allow for such ordinations two decades later.
It's been my experience that having female pastors has been extraordinarily beneficial for the church in almost limitless ways, including having a feminine voice and perspective available at the center of church power. Many argue -- including me -- that the Catholic Church might have avoided at least some of the scandal of priests sexually abusing children had women had a larger and more authoritative voice in the church.
Whether the idea of allowing women to be Catholic deacons will reasonably quickly lead to female priests remains highly doubtful. But female deacons might help to soften the opposition to female priests. We'll see. It seems to me that it's much more likely that allowing some priests to be married will more lead to allowing all priests to be married who want to be more quickly than having women deacons will lead to women priests.
(The photo here today shows the sanctuary of the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City.)
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WHAT NOW FOR THE LEADERSHIP OF ISIS?
It seems odd to cheer the death of anyone, but it felt perfectly understandable when Osama bin Laden met his end and, yesterday, when Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi apparently met his end at the hands of U.S. special forces. Al-Baghdadi has been the source of fermented and demented fanaticism and he needed to be stopped. But this surely is not the end of ISIS and it's certainly not the end of terrorism rooted in distorted religion. As reassuring as his death might have been, the reality is that there is always a successor and then a successor to the successor. The only way to stop this evil is by somehow helping people see that a better future for all can be obtained not through war, terrorism and monochromatic religious thinking but through peace brought about by justice and through a willingness to listen to all voices.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about a KC-area Muslim-Jewish partnership -- now is online here.