Bishop Who Will Attend Synod: We Must Address Issue of Women Deacons and Priests

St. John Paul II wrote in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the ministerial priesthood is reserved only for men and that the Church has no power to change this.

Bishop Alfredo de la Cruz of San Francisco de Macorís, Dominican Republic.
Bishop Alfredo de la Cruz of San Francisco de Macorís, Dominican Republic. (photo: IacobusL / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The bishop of San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic, Alfredo De la Cruz, who will be participating in the Synod on Synodality in October at the Vatican, said the event should discuss mandatory celibacy, the diaconate, and the ministerial priesthood for women, among other issues.

The prelate made the remarks during a virtual event titled “International Synod Conversation of the Church. Will anything change in the Church?” organized by the Academy of Catholic Leaders and held Sept. 18.

Also participating in the event were Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; Luis Cabrera, archbishop of Guayaquil, Ecuador; and the Spanish laywoman Eva Fernández, coordinator of the International Forum of Catholic Action.

Asked about what could change in Catholic doctrine, Bishop De la Cruz noted: “We must first distance ourselves from everything that fundamentalism signifies, from believing that doctrine can’t be touched. That would be the first temptation we would have, to believe that doctrine can’t be touched. Doctrine is there in order to reflect, to see.”

Regarding the topics the synod should address, “in the light of the word,” Bishop De la Cruz noted there is “without a doubt, the protagonism of women. The Church cannot turn its back on this entire movement, this growth, these victories of women. I’m going more specific. For example, in the case of the diaconate, we have to address priestly ministry.”

The Commission for the Study of the Female Diaconate was established for the first time by Pope Francis in August 2016. In May 2019, the Holy Father indicated that he was not afraid to study the topic further, “but up to this moment it doesn’t work.” In April 2020, the pontiff established a new commission to review the issue.

St. John Paul II wrote in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the ministerial priesthood is reserved only for men and that the Church has no power to change this.

“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was pronounced by St. John Paul II, and this remains,” Pope Francis said during the press conference on his return trip from Sweden to Rome in November 2016.

BishopDe la Cruz also pointed out in his participation in the online event that “we would have to address mandatory celibacy; we will have to address Communion to all those who participate in the Eucharist as a feast of the Lord and as a community of faith, because we say that Eucharist is the meeting place of all brothers. ‘Ah, I encounter my brother, but to one group I don’t give anything to eat’ and I leave them hungry,” he added.

Canon 277 of the Code of Canon Law states: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy, which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”

Regarding the limits for the issues he mentioned, the bishop from the Dominican Republic commented that “the pope is very wise to sometimes leave that time for reflection. There are things that need time... When we often say that doctrine can’t be touched, the pope has pointed out the temptation of ‘backwardness.’ Rather, they don’t go to the doctrine as such, but to the ways in which we express and live the faith.”

“And God spoke to us concretely through Jesus at one time. He took up truths that in his time were difficult to address, yet he dared. I believe that we have to have that strength of Jesus, that daring, that ability to dare to propose things that have not been proposed,” the prelate said.

The bishop of San Francisco de Macorís also highlighted the importance of doctrine in seeking the truth and commented that “when we seek that truth about God it cannot be something non-dynamic; it has to be in motion.”

‘Great Possibilities’

“I believe the synod has great possibilities,” Cardinal O’Malley commented. “Of course, much will depend on us, the members of the Church, if we are willing to work with this issue and let the Holy Spirit guide us.”

Given the concern of many of the faithful who believe the synod is going to change the doctrine of the Church or that it is going to undermine the profession of faith, the cardinal said that “the idea of the Holy Father is to help us live that beautiful principle that we received from St. Augustine: unity in the essential, freedom in the accidental, and charity in everything.”

“I believe that the Holy Father wants us to use as a paradigm for the Church the life of the early Church, which we find in the Acts of the Apostles. There is where we see a Church that had to face many very serious crises such as Judas’ betrayal, the difference between ethnic groups, and the theological debate on how to receive Gentiles into the Church,” the cardinal continued.

Cardinal O’Malley highlighted that “the way to overcome those divisions and those challenges was prayer, dialogue, and the Holy Spirit.”

During his participation, Cabrera referred to the issue of ideologies and said that these are partial visions of reality and each one of them “sometimes tries to declare itself as the only way and there we fall into a serious problem.”

“How to break with that? For us the first point of reference is the word of God. In these two thousand years we have a magisterium and a doctrine, which are very little known,” the bishop said. “The ideology is there, but if we analyze from the word, from the magisterium, we can overcome it.”

Eva Fernández highlighted the need of formation for the faithful: “a comprehensive formation for life that helps us to live our faith coherently in the midst of the world, and above all in that great unknown — which academics help us a lot here — the social doctrine of the Church.”

Liberation Theology and the Poor

Later in the online conversation, Bishop De la Cruz commented that “the synod becomes that light that is waking us up, keeping us alert in the face of all the problems. In the case of social issues, it has to do, especially in Latin America, with the rise of liberation theology, which was strongly attacked. “So those priests who were involved in social life found themselves persecuted and rejected.”

“In Latin America, it’s no secret that all this tension that was experienced around liberation theology caused that inaction we have today in concern for social issues,” he added.

“The neoliberal message,” he continued, “that the poor cannot be helped, that the poor must be given the hook to fish, that also permeated the Church in a negative way and this has also led to that certain inaction of not worrying about social matters.” 

“The synod is encouraging us to look again towards the poorest,” he concluded.

Liberation theology, which arose during the second half of the 20th century, presents an analysis of social reality from historical materialism. Many of its postulates were criticized during the pontificate of St. John Paul II and by the then-prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI.

Several of its main ideologues abandoned the Church or held ideas contrary to the magisterium. Some even became guerrilla fighters, such as the Colombian priest Father Camilo Torres.

In May 2022, Pope Francis addressed a video message to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in which he said that at the beginning of liberation theology, “Marxist analysis was played with a lot” and they didn’t have “the slightest idea” of the Latin American reality.

Pope Francis holds his rosary during the Mass for the conclusion of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 29, 2023.

The Need for a Deeper Theology of Synodality

COMMENTARY: Without explicit clarification, the synthesis document of the recent Synod on Synodality seems to teeter on a Protestant understanding of ministry, where all ministry flows from baptism, and a correspondingly Protestant ecclesiology, which is essentially baptismal and only secondarily Eucharistic, if at all.