VATICAN CITY — American prelates hoping to spur a move to open non-ordained ministries to women came away with half a loaf Thursday at the conclusion of a monthlong international synod of Roman Catholic bishops.
The synod balked at specific proposals to strengthen the role of women in the church, but the Americans said they are satisfied that synod condemnation of discrimination against women has established the principle.
In formal presentations to about 230 delegates from around the world, more than 30 bishops had echoed the call of the U.S. church for a greater ecclesiastical role by women short of actual ordination. But subsequent round-table discussions, which included 60 lay participants, muted the issue, U.S. bishops said at a news conference Thursday.
Vatican sources said the Americans have encountered both cultural and theological opposition from fellow bishops.
One draft proposal called specifically for the admission of women to liturgical offices currently closed to them, but the call was omitted from the final recommendation to Pope John Paul II in favor of less specific language, the bishops said.
The deletion was seen by some observers as a victory for church conservatives at the congress, called to discuss the role of the laity within the church.
Recommendations of the synod--which is a consultative, not deliberative, body--are sent to the Pope, who is free to act on them or to ignore them as he sees fit.
The final recommendation approved by a synod vote avoids mention of any liturgical role for women, according to Vatican sources, but it urges their greater participation in church decision-making, including preparation of pastoral documents. The synod also asks the Pope to ensure that the language of church documents avoids discrimination against women.
"The principle is there," said Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, president of the U.S. bishops conference. "The specifics are not there, but the principle is the important thing," His comment was seconded by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago.
May said the U.S. bishops conference is preparing a pastoral letter on the concerns of women. He said a request to the Vatican by the American church to authorize female altar servers in U.S. churches has been pending for some time.
'Open-Ended and Good'
In his presentation to the synod on behalf of American bishops, Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee had called for sweeping reforms that would allow women to participate as altar servers, lectors, acolytes and preachers. Weakland said Thursday that he was "not unhappy" with the synod's recommendation. He called it "open-ended and good."
"When you have to produce a document reflecting the views of the whole body of the church, it has to be couched in general terms," Weakland said.
In a lengthy "Message to the People of God," which church spokesman said parallels the final recommendations, synod participants asserted "the human dignity of women, which is equal in every way to the dignity of man."
"Sin has obscured the full meaning of God's plan," the message continued. "We condemn the discrimination which proceeds from sin and still continues to our own day in many countries. We rejoice in the progress and advances which have been made in recognition of the legitimate rights that enable women to fulfill their mission in the church and in the world. . . . Women, you justly fight for the full recognition of your dignity and your rights."
The bishops also called for Catholics to carry their faith more fully into their daily lives and to strengthen their participatory bond within the church.
A strong statement on social responsibility said that "holiness today cannot be attained without a commitment to justice, without a human solidarity that includes the poor and the oppressed."