Australian Bishop Anthony Randazzo speaking to reports at a Synod press briefing this afternoon in Vatican City. Vatican Media

Australian Bishop says it’s a ‘good thing’ Pope spoke out in support of same-sex blessings

On the eve of the Synod, Pope Francis signalled an openness to blessing same-sex couples.

Diarmuid Pepper reports from the Vatican

AN AUSTRALIAN BISHOP has said that it is a “good thing” that Pope Francis spoke out in apparent support of conferring blessings onto same-sex couples on the eve of a historic Synod.

Meanwhile, a woman who was chosen to represent Australian Catholics at the Synod criticised the focus on women’s ordination, labelling it a “distraction” and a “niche issue”.

Bishop Anthony Randazzo and Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan were speaking to reporters at a press briefing from Vatican City on the historic Synod which is ongoing.

The topics to be addressed at the synod include the place of LGBTQ+ people within the Church, whether women should be ordained, and whether married men can serve as priests in regions with insufficient clergy.

On 4 October, Pope Francis opened up the Synod that has been several years in the making.

The Synod is an assembly that “consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world” and for the first time, women and laypeople will have a vote in the assembly.

Just two days before the Synod opened, the Vatican published a letter from Pope Francis in response to a list of five questions from conservative cardinals.

The five cardinals challenged Pope Francis to affirm Church teaching on gay people, women’s ordination, the authority of the pope and other issues, claiming that the Pope is misleading the faithful.

On the topic of ordaining women, Pope Francis was somewhat guarded and said it is a topic that can be further studied.

When addressing blessings of same-sex couples, Pope Francis said “pastoral charity” requires patience and understanding and that priests cannot become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude”.

Speaking to reporters in Vatican City today during a press briefing on the ongoing Synod, the panel were asked if it was “helpful” for the Vatican to give these “indications” on the eve of the Synod.

Bishop Randazzo replied: “I probably would simply say this is not the first time a Pope has been asked a question before a gathering of bishops or an assembly of the faithful.

“I think it’s a good thing that the Holy Father took the lead and he’s good at that.

“He is able to speak into issues that are real for people, by listening to them and not dismissing them, and allowing them to sit where they are so that they may come to a maturity.”

He added: “Nobody expects to pick fruit off a newly planted tree, so sometimes it takes a little bit of time to mature.”

Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan, who is Head of the University Notre Dame Australia’s School of Philosophy and Theology, was also on the panel.

She was invited to the Synod as a lay person to represent Australian Catholics.

IMG_2512 Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan speaking at today's Synod press briefing. Vatican Media Vatican Media

She noted that this is her “first synod for reasons you are all aware of”, referencing changes that allowed women and laypeople to vote.

She described the Synod as an “opportunity to hear from many different voices and that emphasis on listening together has been very important”.

“It is going to look a little bit different than people might think it might look, we are not making snap decisions, it is an ongoing process,” she added.

This is the first stage of the Synod and a second phase will take place this time next year.

On the intervention of Pope Francis on the eve of the Synod, she said: “It’s always good to get a lead on what the Holy Father would like to guide us in as our spiritual leader.”

Many of the questions from reporters focused on the issue of women’s ordination, something that Köhler-Ryanwas critical of.

“What I find as a woman working in the Church and alongside bishops and other theologians, everyone in the Church, both men and women alike, I’m not focused at all on the fact that I’m not a priest.

“I think that there’s too much emphasis placed on this question and what happens when we place too much emphasis on this question is we forget about what women, for the most part, need throughout the world.

“I want my children to have a house, to have food on the table, they need to be clothed, I want a future where they and everyone they know and love is welcomed into the Church.

“That isn’t possible for every woman across the world.”

She added: “We’ve spent so much time in the past week looking at how we have unity with diversity.

“So I think we can become too distracted by this particular issue and what it does is it detracts from all of the other things that we could be doing.

“We could be making sure that professional women aren’t forced to choose between having families and being out there in the workforce, for instance.

“So I think that that’s a far more interesting conversation for most women, than what I tend to think of as a fairly niche issue.”

Pope Francis has emphasised that the Synod “is not a parliament” and that there will be a priority on listening.

A notable sign of this priority on listening is seen in the physical layout of the venue.

In previous synods, the Pope was aloof on the stage, with the rest of the members seated in an arena setting – cardinals, bishops and priests at the front, and the few laypeople who are invited at the back.

This time round, laypeople and bishops sit at roundtables of 10 to 12 people (who all share a language) and discuss rather than read from scripts as often happened in the past.

However, it is felt by some that the Church has overemphasised how important this layout change is.

IMG_2472 Opening prayer at Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican. Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal Diarmuid Pepper / The Journal / The Journal

Pope Francis had also called for a media “fast” during the Synod so that discussions at these roundtables could be frank and open.

But some say this caution amounts to a media blackout.

A reporter put it to the panel that the symbol of the roundtable is not as innovative as the Church may think it is.

Catholics all over the world took part in local discussions and these insights were distilled into national documents, which in turn fed into continental documents which were presented at the Synod.

The ordination of women and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community came up in most of the documents. 

“They want to know that the issues they raised are issues that are being taken seriously, even passionately.

“This idea of, ‘well look at our roundtables,’ I don’t think that is going to satisfy people who have invested in this process and are not in the room and are not being able to see the results of the small group work,” said Cindy Wooden of the National Catholic Reporter to applause from other journalists present. 

Bishop Randazzo said the Synod is “an ongoing investment”. 

“Speaking personally, I am invested in this, not just as a process, but as part of an unfolding of a deep and profound listening of the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church and for the Church. 

“It’s an ongoing learning experience for me to listen and to engage in dialogue which is respectful and meaningful, but not in an attempt just to say, ‘I’ve ticked that box, I’ve done what I’ve had to do and I’ve moved on’.

“This is something for our life in the Church, it’s not something that is just, ‘well I did that and let’s turn the chapter now and move on to another project.

“This is not a project, this is a deep listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in and through the community of the Church.” 

Professor Köhler-Ryan noted that “it is a long process” and said that “may be part of the issue here”. 

“I like the idea that you draw attention to the idea of a roundtable being a symbol, but it’s a symbol of only one very small aspect of what is a very long and serious process.

“Relatively speaking, we might be working pretty quickly, but it certainly has that feeling that we’re going in-depth and there is the sense that things are tightening up and emerging, but through that process of hopeful patience.

“It is going to take time but it has to in order to give all of these issues the seriousness that they deserve.

“This is a consultative process, it is not as though we’re making decisions here, but we are focusing on things and using our lived experience to do so, in the hope that there will be something that will be really beneficial and hopeful to offer the Church of the future.” 

- Diarmuid Pepper is reporting on the Synod from Rome and you can follow on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @Diarmuid_9