Vatican conference draws all sectors to Rome, welcome or not | ET REALITY

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Rome today is a Catholic menagerie.

An excommunicated woman dressed in a bishop’s red robe marches toward the Vatican behind a procession of would-be priests. Conservative culture warriors headline theaters, delivering speeches against Pope Francis to outcast cardinals and exorcists seated in velvet seats. The leader of Catholics for Choice, a defender of abortion rights, is knocking on the doors of the Vatican. Progressives will hold a meeting this week that will include panels with titles like “Patriarchy, Where Did It All Start?”

They have all arrived in the Italian capital hoping to share the attention of an important assembly of more than 400 bishops and lay Catholics, convened by Pope Francis to discuss issues vital to the future of the Church: the ordination of women deacons, the celibacy of the clergy, the blessing of same-sex couples.

The smorgasbord of juicy topics at the confidential Vatican meeting, known as the Synod on Synodality, has attracted all ideological stripes of Catholic activists, cultural warriors and special interest groups. The result is a Joycean, “Here comes everyone” vision of the Church that reflects all the gradations of faith and all the flashpoints of division across a broad Catholic spectrum.

“People are coming together, and that’s really fantastic,” said the Rev. Tom Reese, a veteran Vatican watcher and senior analyst for Religion News Service. “The danger is that all these groups fight each other. “The church is a family, but sometimes we have food fights.”

It’s already getting complicated.

Miriam Duignan, leader of Women’s Ordination Worldwide, said her group was so concerned about attempts by conservatives to shut down its events that it had kept secret the location of its first meeting in Rome, in a basilica dedicated to St. Praxedes, an ancient Roman woman who cared for persecuted Christians.

“There is a certain type of man who has sought refuge from the modern world in the Catholic Church as a bastion of male supremacy,” he said. “They are very afraid of women marching to the Vatican.”

On Friday they were close.

The purple-clad group, some of its members wearing “Ordained Women” stoles, buttons or wrap dresses, gathered on the steps of a 16th-century church that houses a relic of the biblical figure of St. Mary Magdalene. Its leaders, who have been arrested several times in the last 20 years, pointed out their police escort.

This year, they obtained a permit to demonstrate in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, a landmark near St. Peter’s Basilica. But along the way they were not allowed to carry signs or protest.

“We are simply pilgrims walking silently in the footsteps of Saint Mary Magdalene, whose left foot is here right behind me,” Ms. Duignan said.

They had decided it would be wiser for a woman, dressed in a red tunic and a homemade felt miter, to keep her distance behind them.

“I am a bishop,” said Gisela Forster, a German theologian and professor and one of the “Danube Seven,” a group of women who were unofficially ordained by a rebellious former bishop on the Danube River in 2002, and then officially excommunicated by the church. one year later.

The group marching toward the Vatican, she said, included many women whom she had personally ordained, but who had asked her to keep their distance after police warned them that their clothing violated the no signs, no banners policy.

She took it in stride and continued 20 meters behind the procession.

“Look at this one,” said a delighted taxi driver as she crossed the street.

“You should be Pope!” said a tourist eating pizza.

Beneath a sculpture of an angel holding the nails of the crucifixion on the busy Ponte Sant’Angelo, Ms Forster expressed skepticism about significant change that will emerge from the synod, which will meet again next year.

“Francis, he’s an events guy. He likes events,” he said, adding: “He is not a Pope for problems: abuse, celibacy, women. When he dies, no one will remember him. He is very sad because he can do a lot.”

Conservatives hope she is right.

Last week, the de facto leader of the conservative opposition to Francis held his audience in a theater across from the Vatican.

In a venue more accustomed to a Barbra Streisand tribute concert, the lights illuminated the scarlet squash of Cardinal Raymond Burke, an arch-conservative who has been steadily toppled from his exalted positions in the Vatican by Francis over the past decade.

At an event called “The Synodal Babel,” he read a long speech in which he presented him and his allies as defenders of church doctrine against a synod that, according to him, was nothing more than political cover for Francis. make progressive changes.

Afterwards, a media crowd formed outside the theater exits. “Burke is the Taylor Swift of the Cardinals,” said a cameraman with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

The cardinal’s followers and the synod’s enemies were also there. The Rev. Tullio Rotondo, an exorcist who has been suspended for suggesting that Francis is a heretic, called the cardinal “a point of reference in these years.”

Michael Haynes, a Vatican reporter for LifeSiteNews, North America’s ultraconservative Catholic website, said his colleagues would cover the synod closely and that more of them “will come.”

Maria Guerrieri, 77, who spoke to friends after the show, said the synod was “as evil as it gets,” a “Protestant revolution 500 years later.”

Liberals coming to Rome for an alternative synod later this week believe a revolution is needed.

They will hear suggestions from Germans who lobbied against the Vatican’s disapproval of blessings for gay couples, and they will hear from Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and, according to the program, a “prominent critic of the Catholic Church’s teaching on” a list of Topics too copious to fit here.

There will also be Sister Joan Chittister, whom Duignan called “a super famous nun in the United States; Oprah interviewed her.”

Other activists argued that all the partisanship obscured the real problem.

“The divide between conservatives and liberals is the only thing you will hear at the synod,” Peter Isely, a founding member of the Ending Clergy Abuse advocacy group, told reporters at a news conference. “It is a false division. The dividing line is: are they going to stop child abuse in the Catholic Church or not?”

But perhaps no advocate outside the Synod has a tougher dispute than Jaime Manson, who identifies as queer, feels called to the priesthood and leads the pro-abortion rights group Catholics for Choice.

On Thursday morning, she risked arrest by displaying a sign reading “Catholic faithful abort” on the Sant’Angelo Bridge in front of the Vatican.

“I can confirm it,” he said of his impossible mission, adding that both the Vatican and the conservatives: “Yes, they are definitely not happy that we are here.”

She was pleased that welcoming LGBTQ people and ordaining women deacons were on the synod’s agenda. But, like some conservative culture warriors, she also felt that abortion had received little attention, although for entirely different reasons.

“There are many more Catholic women who have abortions than there are LGBTQ Catholics or even women called to the priesthood,” she said.

It was a question, he acknowledged, on which the more liberal prelates and bishops brooked no disagreement. Francisco, he recalled, had equated having an abortion with hiring a hitman.

However, he tried to give the cardinal in charge of the synod a personal note and a book with stories of Catholics who had had abortions.

“What you have to do?” said the sleepy doorman of the Vatican building.

“This book,” Mrs. Manson attempted in Italian.

When he said “synod,” the doorman exclaimed that no one was there: everyone was behind the walls of the Vatican, gathered in the large assembly hall. She should go there.

“Have a good day and good job,” he said.

“Can’t I leave this?” she asked.

“No, no, no,” he said, throwing up his hands. “No no.”

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