First woman appointed to synod

WelCom March 2021 Breaking with tradition and opening a new door in the synodal process, Pope Francis has appointed a woman, Nathalie Becquart, a member of the Xavière Sisters, Missionaries…

WelCom March 2021

Xavierian Sr Nathalie Becquart in Rome, February 2021. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Breaking with tradition and opening a new door in the synodal process, Pope Francis has appointed a woman, Nathalie Becquart, a member of the Xavière Sisters, Missionaries of Jesus Christ, in France, as one of two new undersecretaries for the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops. As such, she will have the right to vote in the synod of bishops. It is the first time this right has been given to a woman and raises the prospect that the right could be extended to other women participants at future synods.

Sr Nathalie Becquart, named by Pope Francis, on 6 February 2021, as one of two synod undersecretaries, expressed a desire that the church ‘include women more and more in the reflection, discernment and decision-making processes’. Speaking at a media briefing in a video conference on 10 February, organised by the International Union of Superiors General, the Rome-based umbrella network of women’s religious orders across the world, she said she hopes her appointment will help ‘open up new possibilities’ for women in the Catholic Church. ‘Co-responsibility is the way we are going to work ahead,’ Becquart said.

The office of the Synod of Bishops is primarily tasked with helping organise synod meetings, which bring hundreds of Catholic bishops to Rome every few years to discuss topics chosen by the pope.

The synod office is led by Cardinal Mario Grech. Francis appointed Becquart and Augustinian Fr Luis Marín de San Martín to share duties as the department’s second-in-command leaders. At the same time, the Pope also made San Martín a bishop.

Some have hailed Becquart’s appointment to the office as a signal Francis may choose to make her the first woman to serve as a full voting member at the next Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2022.

Although women have been appointed to synods in non-voting capacities as auditors or experts, none has yet served as a full voting member.

Becquart did not specifically say if she expected to be named a full member of the 2022 synod. She said synod meetings take place in an atmosphere of ‘common discernment’ and referenced how most synods successfully approve their final documents by wide voting margins.

‘The goal of a synod is to build a consensus in order to reach a common decision,’ said the new undersecretary.

Asked about the question of whether the Church might one day return to ordaining women as deacons, Becquart referenced the two commissions that Francis has created to study that subject.

‘I would say it’s part of an ongoing reflection. The main question that has also been underlined by Pope Francis is how can we bring women to participate in the decision-making process and to be empowered?’

Becquart also referred to the Pope’s recent decisions to make explicit laywomen can act as readers and altar servers in liturgical celebrations.

‘Now [women] have a ministry which is official, is permanent, is actually something new,’ she said.

Mentioning she focused on the Dominican theologian Fr Yves Congar during her theology studies, Becquart said she believes the Holy Spirit ‘works by innovating in continuity with the past’.

Becquart is now one of several women serving in undersecretary roles at the Vatican. Others include Our Lady of Consolation Sr Carmen Ros Nortes, at the Congregation for Religious, and Linda Ghisoni and Gabriella Gambino, at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

Also speaking briefly at the February 10 event were Claretian Sr Jolanta Kafka, the president of the International Union of Superiors General, and Loreto Sr Pat Murray, its executive director.

Source: Joshua McElwee, NCR Vatican correspondent and editor

Pope Francis has chosen the theme of ‘synodality’ for the next world Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, which will take place in October 2022. The synod will have the theme: ‘For a synodal church: Communion, participation and mission’.