Catholic Women Protest Synodal Sexism

Categories: Opinion

Abby Rampone ’20 is currently in Rome to participate in feminist advocacy around the October 2018 synod.

This afternoon, I joined a group of more than twenty people, mostly women, outside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. Formerly known as the Inquisition, the CDF is the site of the October 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocations. For a month, Pope Francis will preside over a gathering of over 300 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, and lay experts, including youth representatives. Just 10% of the participants are women and none of them has the right to vote at the synod. Non-ordained religious brothers have been granted votes, but their female counterparts have not. This blatant injustice was a point that we could rally around.

We took our places at 3:30 outside police barriers around the CDF plaza. The steady trickle of cardinals and bishops in their red or pink skullcaps had to pass us to reach the building beyond.

Our peaceful protest began with two Hail Marys, each of us praying in our mother tongue. Pope Francis has asked Catholics to pray a rosary during the synod, so we took a moment to ground ourselves in the community that sustains us.

Then: “Pope Francis,” a woman yelled, and then we joined in: “Pope Francis, let women vote!” From there, we unleashed a litany: “Cardinal Baldisseri, let women vote!” Cardinal Sako, Cardinal Bo, Cardinal Schonborn – the list went on. Most of the bishops passed without making eye contact. Some smiled. Others stood at a distance, watching us. At one point, two Irish bishops noticed an Irish woman in our group whom they knew from home. They hugged her and, smiling, came over to chat with our group for a moment. Press and tourists instantly swamped us to capture the moment. Others were uneasy: Cardinal Sarah passed as we shouted his name and fidgeted with his skullcap.

“Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” “More than half the Church!”, we shouted. Tourists stared, the Italian police kept an eye on us from afar, and we repeated our litany again and again.

Members of a half-dozen feminist Catholic organizations turned out for the Women’s Ordination Conference-organized protest, as they were in town for a Catholic Women Speak symposium earlier in the week. Protestors came from the U.S. and Ireland, India and Italy, the Czech Republic, South Africa, the U.K., Chile, and more.

After half an hour or so, police approached the group. They told us to move along, but most of us stayed put and continued chanting. As we peacefully disobeyed the officers’ orders, they became increasingly angry. The police called for backup. A core group of protesters stayed put. The police then started asking us to hand over our passports and generally intimidated us, telling us that they could detain us for up to twelve hours. After my passport was confiscated, I couldn’t leave the area – we were effectively detained. We kept shouting: “Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” “More than half the church!”

It got uglier: an officer grabbed one of the organizers roughly. Another young woman who was live-streaming was told to hand over her phone. When she refused, the officer became increasingly angry with her. He eventually got the phone and told her to delete all footage and photographs of the event – an impossible demand, of course, as the footage was already live on the RKF Facebook page.

Abby Rampone (center) witnesses police intimidate a protester.

The protest finally dissolved as women argued with the cops and demanded their passports. Taking advantage of the disarray, the police closed the gap in the barricades and used their cars to block the area where we’d been standing. After a long wait, everyone got their passports back. No arrests were made, so we adjourned to a bar to regroup and process.

Police grabbed and shouted at women of faith who gathered outside the Vatican to demand that their Church hear them. They threatened to detain us and made some of us cry. If only religious and secular authorities directed half that aggression at abusive priests.

The word catholic means “universal,” and the group gathered around common values drawn from our Catholic faith and commitment to women’s rights. It is simply unacceptable that women are not granted votes at a gathering that will produce an official document to instruct our youth – and the entire Church.

I’m not surprised, but I am angry. My throat is hoarse and my feet are sore, but that’s okay. If I have to stand outside a barricade and shout at cardinals, I will. It’s a shame that they won’t listen to us otherwise.

By abby rampone