TORONTO (CCN) — Archbishop Paul-André Durocher loves women. He wants to hear their voices, take their advice and see them active in the church.
“Let us accept Pope Francis’ invitation to elaborate in our churches a true synodality in which all voices are heard, those of women too,” the archbishop of Gatineau wrote in the Feb. 1 issue of the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
Durocher was invited to contribute to one of the church’s most influential organs by Lucetta Scaraffia, editor of the paper’s monthly supplement called “Women Church World.” Scaraffia is the Christian feminist who has almost single-handedly redeemed the name of feminism inside the Vatican.
For the Canadian archbishop the invitation was a chance to push his arguments for women in the church a little deeper than his headline-grabbing proposal to ordain women deacons launched at the beginning of last year’s synod on the family.
Durocher’s proposal at that time went beyond just the idea of women deacons and was concerned mainly with violence against women in the family. When the media reached for a headline in his three-minute speech, Durocher was left frustrated by the shallowness of the resulting debate.
This time Durocher wrote his own headline, “Speaking, advising and deciding — the future of women in the church.”
Durocher’s proposals this time include: married couples preaching in the context of a homily at mass; decision-making roles for women at the Vatican and in dioceses around the world; more women as speakers and organizers of Catholic conferences and events; ex-officio roles for leaders of women’s religious congregations, particularly the International Union of Superiors General; and invitations to women to attend and participate in meetings of bishops’ conferences around the world.
“I saw this as an occasion to look at other aspects than simply the question of ordination of women to the diaconate,” he told The Catholic Register.
Whether women might be ordained as deacons is an open question debated seriously by canon lawyers, theologians and historians. Durocher recognizes it “would be a huge step within the church.”
But in his essay, Durocher wanted to look at “smaller steps that we could take without changing any structures, any discipline within the church.”
So far, Durocher is only talking about possibilities. If you want to hear a woman or a married couple preach next Sunday, don’t rush off to Gatineau’s St. Joseph Cathedral.
“I also very much believe in church unity,” the archbishop said. “I don’t think it’s proper for people to be setting out in directions of their own choosing. . . . We need to debate these ideas and work together.”
There’s plenty of room within church practice, liturgical and canon law for experimentation, said Durocher.
“There’s a lot of space for creativity. There’s a lot of space for innovation without having to break down or to go against church discipline,” he said.
In fact, when it comes to women attending plenary meetings and advising bishops’ conferences, that’s already a reality in Canada.
“The CCCB plenary assembly has for many years invited women to their annual meeting,” said Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops spokesperson René Laprise.
But that isn’t necessarily the case in every part of the world, said Durocher.
The Canadian prelate isn’t trying to win over women who have dismissed the church as hopelessly patriarchal — a boys’ club bonded by fear and suspicion of women. But he does want to talk with women who are frustrated with the pace of change.
“It’s important to keep dialogue going with anybody who doesn’t agree with what’s going on in the church — to be able to truly understand and to be able to deepen our own understanding,” he said. “It is in dialogue and it is in trying to explain where we’re coming from that we understand ourselves better.”
The pope’s call for bishops to speak boldly and frankly, and listen with humility, at the beginning of the 2014 extraordinary synod on the family was not just intended for bishops behind closed doors. It was a call for a more joyful, evangelical and fearless church that revels in ordinary, human conversation, Durocher said.
“I don’t think we should ever shy away from that kind of dialogue,” said Durocher. “I don’t think the purpose of this is to somehow kind of bring back to the fold people who have left. I think for me the question is, we as a church are impoverishing ourselves by not giving greater space to the voices of women within the decision-making processes of the church.”
You can read Durocher’s essay at osservatoreromano.va/en/news/speaking-advising-and-deciding.