Radical ‘Counter-Synod’ Denounced by Participating Theologian for ‘Grave Lack of Honesty’

Sister Josée Ngalula, a voting member at the ongoing Synod on Synodality, criticized ‘Spirt Unbounded’ organizers for not disclosing the conference’s push for ‘women’s ordination’ and ‘same-sex marriage’ when they asked her to contribute.

Sister Josée Ngalula, a voting member at the ongoing Synod on Synodality, speaks on Oct. 9 to participants of the ‘Spirit Unbounded’ ‘counter-synod.’
Sister Josée Ngalula, a voting member at the ongoing Synod on Synodality, speaks on Oct. 9 to participants of the ‘Spirit Unbounded’ ‘counter-synod.’ (photo: Screenshot from Spirit Unbounded livestream video)

An event pushing for radical deviations from Catholic doctrine on the sidelines of the ongoing Synod on Synodality has received harsh criticism — from one of its most prominent participants.

Sister Josée Ngalula, a voting member at the ongoing Synod on Synodality, accused organizers of the Oct. 8-14 “Spirit Unbounded” “counter-synod” of a “grave lack of honesty” for not disclosing to her ahead of time that the conference would highlight voices pushing for practices inconsistent with the Catholic faith, such as “same-sex marriage” and the sacramental ordination of women.

“I absolutely do not share at all these options of ‘Spirit Unbounded’ you are talking about,” Sister Josée, the first African woman member of the International Theological Commission and a voting member in the Synod on Synodality, told CNA via email. “It is against my African culture and against the Bible.”

The Spirit Unbounded event is being held with the intent of influencing narratives surrounding the Synod on Synodality, a monthlong assembly of bishops, priests, religious and laypersons to advise Pope Francis on how the Catholic Church can enhance the participation of its members.

After a week of digital presentations, a live portion of the Spirit Unbounded conference began Oct. 13 at the Casa Bonus Pastor Seminary in Rome, less than a mile walk up the Aurelia Hill from the where synod proceedings are taking place. Attendees have staged several publicity events around the Vatican, drawing attention to their demands for change, and a press conference is scheduled to bring the counter-synod to a close later today.

“We are here to encourage the synod to capture the zeitgeist and reorient the Church towards its Christian mission of a discipleship of equals which may yet write a history that ends in love,” said Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland, in a speech at the Spirit Unbounded event given last night.

Call for Doctrinal Change, Not ‘Pastoral Sugarcoating’

Sister Josée, a Catholic University of Congo theologian and member of the Sisters of St. Andrew, provided a 10-minute pre-recorded video presentation on clerical sex abuse in Africa that was shared digitally with Spirit Unbounded attendees on Oct. 9. Based off of her 20 years of research on the subject, she described disturbing patterns of abuse, such as priests blackmailing women who confess grave sins into non-consensual sexual relations.

But views on gender equality and human sexuality contrary to established Church teaching have been the dominant themes during Spirit Unbounded event’s weeklong proceedings and were especially a focal point at the Rome venue Friday afternoon.

Bridget Mary Meehan, who self-identifies as a “Catholic bishop,” spoke on “Roman Catholic women priests.” She claimed that she was “ordained” in secret by a Catholic bishop with apostolic succession, but then also claimed that women priests can minister without obedience to their local ordinary because “we don’t have any rules we have to listen to, so we can just respond to the spirit and minister where we’re called.”

 ‘Spirit Unbounded’
‘Spirit Unbounded’ discussed such topics as ordination for women. Panelists also explicitly called for sacramental marriage of two people of the same sex.(Photo: Jonathan Liedl/National Catholic Register)

Her presentation was preceded by a panel discussion on the “Synod’s Meaning for LGBTQIA+ and Ally Catholics.” Moderated by Jamie Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice, the panel included Marianne Duddy-Burke, co-chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, as well as two proponents of LGBTQ ideology within the Catholic Church in Germany. One panelist said that the only acceptable outcome of the synod’s exploration of how the Church can better include LGBTQ-identifying people is “an updating of teaching” related to sexuality, not “pastoral sugarcoating.” Panelists also explicitly called for sacramental marriage of two people of the same sex.

Sister Josée told the Register that organizers did not tell her about “their campaign on sexual orientation” when they discussed her participation.

“I will never support an opinion that encourages these ideologies of sexual orientation: never, never,” said Sister Josée, whose email response was bolded and in all caps.

Spirit Unbounded organizers, however, seemed to give a different impression by using an abbreviated version of Sister Josée’s presentation on sex abuse as the lead-in to the panel discussion on LGBTQ issues. One speaker even appealed to her presentation on sex-abuse victims to justify calls for changing the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

Pope Francis has frequently warned of the danger of “ideological colonization,” or the imposition of Western secular values on people in places like Africa. 

Event Spokesman Responds

In a response to Sister Josée’s criticisms, event organizers said that each participant “represent[s] themselves” and that their intent was to “present a range of views from people seeking reform.”

“Our theme has been about tackling human-rights violations in the Catholic Church. It is not for us to pick and choose which violations are more or less acceptable,” said Brian Devlin, a former priest and spokesman for Spirit Unbounded.

Entitled “Human Rights in the Emerging Catholic Church,” the conference’s speakers frequently appealed to secular concepts of human rights as the basis for Church reforms and often characterized basic Catholic understandings of sexuality and gender as discriminatory and even violent.

In fact, two major players at the conference were employees of the Wjingaards Institute for Catholic Research, a U.K.-based organization “dedicated to maximizing the potential of the Roman Catholic Church to contribute to human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals,” a set of United Nations priorities that include universal access to abortion. 

Luca Badini Confalonieri, Wjingaards Institute’s research director, who described the organization’s mission as integrating the findings of secular social science into Catholic teaching on sexuality, governance and ethics, gave a presentation attacking the natural-law foundation of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. And Miriam Guigan, Wjingaards’ communications director and head of the affiliated “women priests” initiative, served as the master of ceremonies of the Spirit Unbounded proceedings in Rome.

The Wjingaards Institute has also coordinated the development of “A Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church,” which seeks to remake Church governance in the mold of secular Western democracies.

Sister Josée was not the only participant in the Synod on Synodality to take part in the Spirit Unbounded event. Venezuelan theologian Rafael Luciani, who is serving as a theological expert at the synod, also provided a video presentation entitled “It Is From the Base We Renew the Church.”

Luciani did not respond to the Register’s request for comment about his participation in the Spirit Unbounded event.

Edward Reginald Frampton, “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” 1908, Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin.

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