PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish


December, 2019

Rising Awareness of Women’s Role

                At the conclusion of the recent Amazon Synod, the bishops said in their final document that the idea of ordaining women deacons had been very present during their discussions. Pope Francis himself announced after the close of the synod, “I am going to take up the challenge that you put forward, that women be heard.” (Voice of the Faithful, Oct 28, 2019.)  Bishop McElroy of the San Diego Diocese was present and said, “I was struck by the tremendous support of the ministry of women in the region among the bishops who were here, among the indigenous leaders, among the women themselves who were participating, among the communities that were represented.” He added, “There was tremendous support for enhancing women’s roles in every possible way in the life of the Church and thinking creatively. . . How can women’s roles be expanded so that they can serve even more effectively than even they are at the present time?” (America Media, Oct. 29, 2019)


Taking the Next Step

            At the Synod, Bishop McElroy remarked, “One of the parish leaders got up and said what she does. She does everything in the parish except saying the Eucharist and hearing confessions. She baptizes, she celebrates the weddings, she preaches when there is the Eucharist, she has the communion service.”  The bishop saw broad support at the Synod for that and commented, “That really has already expanded there (in the Amazon region) beyond what we do in the United States.”

            Could the Church in the United States be approaching a critical moment similar to the Church in the Amazon?  Pastors are being spread thin these day, serving either very large congregations or being responsible for two, three or more parish communities.  Consider the liturgical and sacramental demands this creates, let alone overseeing all of the other pastoral, administrative and community-building responsibilities.  There was a trend to hire pastoral administrators or parish life coordinators, very often a woman, to carry out many of the leadership duties of a pastor, leaving presiding at the Eucharist and hearing confessions to an ordained minister, usually a retired priest.  This option does not appear to be as common now as has been.  Instead, many dioceses are merging or closing parishes as a way of dealing with the shortage of priests.  What suffers is being present to the community and providing adequate care for parishioners and others in need.

            What follows is a suggested progression for going beyond what is now happening in parishes with regard to the role of women.

  1. Begin with a small Fact-Finding Team. Keep it small, no more than 8 members so all can be engaged in the discussion. Include men and women of various ages and backgrounds.  Its mandate is to discover all that is going on now that relates to the role of women in the parish, as well as what more might be possible.  It is important that the pastor both affirms and supports this group.
  2. Within six months of its existence, a report of its findings is presented to the parish community as a whole, along with a process that helps people digest and discuss the results.  One option is the World Café method based on small group interaction.  (
  3. Based on the results from the gathering, various task groups could be formed to explore where  greater awareness, inclusion and involvement of women might be possible, such as in liturgy, music, partnering with the pastor, chairing various ministries, fostering a greater gender balance.
  4. Various pilot projects might then be formed to implement what the task groups uncovered.  After six months, build in an evaluation process to assess successes and make any changes necessary.