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Montreal Catholics vote for women, married men as priests

NCR Staff

Resolutions supporting the ordination of women as priests and deacons and calling for married priests, a greater lay role in decision-making and a new approach to divorce all received broad support at a synod of the Montreal archdiocese Nov. 29 and 30.

More than 600 delegates, both lay and clergy, took part in the synod. Most were elected by parishes and pastoral regions.

While the results are non-binding, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte pledged to carry them to Rome as an indication of the wishes of the 1.7 million Catholics in Montreal.

The vote on women priests fell just short of the two-thirds majority required under synod rules for adoption, garnering 66.33 percent.

The statement called upon Turcotte to “welcome the request” of those who support women’s ordination. A stronger resolution, asking Turcotte to advise Rome that there is a consensus in Montreal in favor of ordaining women, received 56.4 percent.

The vote in favor of female deacons was 73.3 percent.

“The synod gave us new information,” said Fr. John Walsh, pastor of St. Monica’s parish in Montreal and a delegate. “We now know that people here are almost ready for the ordination of women as priests, and that they’re ready for women deacons.”

“It’s one thing to see that in a poll,” Walsh said. “But after the synod, this can’t just be dismissed as a feeling. This was a concrete, almost scientific way of discerning what the diocese wants.”

Carole Mathieu, who coordinates a committee on the status of women for the archdiocese, was similarly upbeat. “I can now look to the future with a hope that wasn’t necessarily there before,” she told NCR. “I didn’t always feel like I was listened to. But now there’s no way my voice will fall on deaf ears,” she said.

“I really feel that I will see women deacons, that I will be here when that happens. And I can keep hope alive for women’s priesthood.”

Brian McDonough, who served on the synod’s seven-member executive committee, said he thought the failure to get a two-thirds majority on women’s ordination reflected the desire of delegates to “remain in communion” with Rome. “Communion is an important value, but there was also a clear desire to respond to the pastoral giftedness of women,” McDonough said. “People want to keep talking about this.”

The resolution for ordaining married men passed with 74 percent. The same percentage voted to permit priests who left their ministry and got married to carry out some priestly functions. A resolution calling for celibacy to be optional for future priests captured 66.26 percent, again just short of a two-thirds majority.

“There was a real shift toward married priests,” McDonough said. “This wasn’t expressed just as a response to the priest shortage, but that married men have special experiences that would allow them to be effective priests.”

The proposal for more openness to divorced and remarried Catholics passed with 91 percent, and the request that laity, especially women, be entrusted with “real pastoral and administrative responsibilities, including the coordination of the pastoral life of a parish” got 75 percent.

On divorce, McDonough said that many delegates felt that annulment, a church declaration that a marriage never existed, is often “inauthentic.” Many delegates felt it would be more honest, he said, to admit that marriages sometimes break down.

Delegates also adopted statements calling for improved faith education, better liturgies and homilies, and more emphasis on social justice issues and cultural diversity.

Turcotte said that he would take to Rome even those resolutions that fell a point or two short of a two-thirds majority, such as the statements on women’s ordination and married priests. If he does so, he’s likely to receive a chilly reception. After a recent assembly of Catholics in Austria voted overwhelmingly for similar changes (NCR, Nov. 6), John Paul curtly admonished the bishops of that nation that truth cannot be determined “in a democratic manner” or by “someone from below.”

The two-day delegate assembly in Montreal capped a three-and-one-half-year process that involved mail-in surveys, a series of hearings, an open telephone line for Catholics to provide input, more than a thousand small-group meetings and a preparatory meeting of delegates in October where amendments to resolutions were debated.

Turcotte said that he would implement immediately the results that fell “within his authority,” a caveat that excludes ordaining women deacons or married priests.

Nevertheless, Turcotte said that female deacons did not pose the same theological problem as female priests, noting there were female deacons in New Testament times.

The archdiocese will immediately implement the synod’s call for a consultative body of women to be involved in decisions on all “pastoral practices and priorities,” according to McDonough.

In terms of follow-up, delegates called for a new diocesan assembly that would monitor what happens to the synod’s decisions and “consult the people of God on a regular basis.”

The assembly “must have strong grassroots credibility,” McDonough said. “We want people who have indicated they care about the future of the church of Montreal, but who have a certain critical distance from the institution itself.”

National Catholic Reporter, December 11, 1998