CNWE Discussion Guide on Catholic Family Life

In November 2013, the Vatican published “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization” as a preparatory document for an Extraordinary General Assembly to be held in October 2014. This Synod will lay the groundwork for a subsequent Ordinary General Assembly in 2015, which will “seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.” The Vatican’s preparatory document included a survey for bishops to distribute “as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”

As many of you know, Dioceses around the world took various approaches to seeking input, raising significant concerns about the validity, global comprehensiveness and transparency of the process. Some reform groups have designed their own surveys and have published the results.

CNWE’s National Work Group discerned that a feminist approach to seeking a greater understanding of family in a Catholic context would necessarily begin with our experiences of family, and not as the survey does with magisterial teaching.

The NWG therefore is inviting CNWE members to participate in a lively national discussion on family life in relation to our focus on justice and equality for women in the Church and in the world. We encourage individual CNWE members and local groups to make use of this discussion guide as they see fit. The questions in each section, by no means exhaustive, are meant to be suggestions for individuals or groups to reflect on different aspects of their experiences of family life.

If you use this resource, please take notes (without including members’ names) so that the substance of your discussion can be shared with others in CNWE. (Due to the personal nature of these questions, the option to refrain from sharing must be fully respected in group contexts). Please send the notes to The NWG will collect all written reports of conversations and summarize them in a report for members.

To download the Guide, click CNWE Discussion Guide on Catholic Family Life

Press Release: CNWE Responds to the First Anniversary of Pope Francis’ Leadership

Media inquiries:
Atlantic Canada: Cathy Holtmann, (506) 476-1080,
Central Canada: Mary Ellen Chown, (905) 330-1437,
Western Canada: Therese Koturbash, (204) 648-5720,

On this International Women’s Day, and approaching the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality, (CNWE) calls Pope Francis and all Catholic clergy around the world to work with the Catholic faithful to reform the church so that it will reflect the equal dignity of women in its structures of ministry and governance.

Like many people around the world, we are inspired by Pope Francis’ personal commitment to justice and his desire for the Catholic church to be a ‘church of the poor’. By every conceivable measure, however, poverty is best alleviated when women are given equal access at all levels of society. It logically follows that if the Catholic church is to be in genuine solidarity with the poor, it must, as an influential global institution, reflect the full participation of women within its own structures. Presently, there is a ‘disconnect’ between Vatican teaching and practice – an inability to ‘walk the talk’.

Despite his seeming openness to positive reform in the church, Pope Francis, has stated that the door to women being ordained as Catholic priests is closed. Furthermore, he has yet to open any positions of power at the Vatican to women. What message does this send to Catholic women except to say that they remain ‘second class citizens’ in both church and society? As long as the Catholic Church hierarchy refuses to recognize the equal dignity of women ‘in its own house’, it legitimates the marginalization of women and remains complicit in contributing to imperiling the lives of women around the globe.

Pope Francis has stated that the Catholic church needs a ‘deeper theology of women’. We respectfully argue that women are not a new exotic subset to be curiously studied by an all male hierarchy. We have been participants in the church since its inception. When Pope Francis and Catholic clergy continually place women on a separate and special pedestal, it simply reinforces a patriarchal attitude that insults the dignity of women and prevents the full flourishing of our church. The only credible way forward for the Vatican is to recognize Catholic women, by virtue of their baptism, as equal partners in creating and leading a church worthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

Historical, biblical and theological claims for excluding women from equal participation at all levels of the Catholic Church simply do not stand up in the light of reason, Scripture and the lived tradition of the faithful. For Catholic teaching to claim a belief in the equal dignity of women and men before God, it must be manifest in the prayer, practice and governance of the Catholic church. If Pope Francis is truly committed to healthy critique and dialogue in the Church, he might begin by listening to the voices of women as equal partners in the conversation.

For over thirty years members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality have shared a faithful commitment to social justice for all women. We celebrate the fact that we are part of a long history of women’s contributions to the Christian faith. Our movement embraces a broad range of Catholic women and men across Canada for whom an inclusive church that is accountable to all of its members is important. Our work for women’s equality in church and world is internationally respected and part of a network of pro-change Catholic movements around the globe. For further information, see or visit us on Facebook at “Catholic Network for Women’s Equality – Canada”.

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014

Save the Date

Mark your calendars now for Saturday June 7th, 2014 because that’s the date for the third CNWE virtual AGM. We have moved to a virtual format for alternating annual general meetings in order to step more lightly on the earth and save on costs. As before, the AGM will be preceded by a time of retreat so individuals and local groups are invited to keep the greater part of the day open for prayer, reflection, and conversation which will culminate in a webinar through which we will check in with one another and conduct the business of our organization. Further details will be sent to all members and in the spring issue of The Seed Keepers.




Media inquiries:
Central Canada:
Mary Ellen Chown,
Ted Schmidt, (416) 690-2220
Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R.; (416) 466-5223
Atlantic Canada: Cathy Holtmann, (506) 476-1080,
Western Canada: Therese Koturbash, (204) 622-7000,

In his interview for a Jesuit magazine, recently widely publicized, Pope Francis has said that “thinking with the church” requires genuine dialogue “among the people and the bishops and the Pope”. It is in this spirit of dialogue that Catholic church organizations, backed by over four million Catholics worldwide, have collaborated in writing an open letter to Pope Francis and his advisors as they prepare to meet to discuss Catholic Church governance October 1-3, 2013. The letter requests that the rights and responsibilities of Catholics to have an effective voice in the decision making of their Church be acknowledged and discussed at the October meeting. The signatories to the letter are also offering to send a delegation to Rome for further dialogue on church reform.

The letter is respectfully supportive of the direction in which Pope Francis appears to be moving. It names the destructive effects of clericalism in the Catholic church as a major contributing factor in the clergy sexual abuse scandal and cover up, Vatican fiscal corruption and the marginalization that many Catholics have experienced in their own Church. Clericalism makes the Church less accountable and therefore, less credible in living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Catholics endorsing this letter worldwide are hopeful that, with the leadership of Pope Francis, five areas of church reform will be undertaken:
i) greater justice within the Church
ii) a commitment to open dialogue
iii) recognition of the equality of all persons
iv) greater participation of the baptized in the governance of the Church
v) binding protocols to remove bishops complicit in the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The foundations of these reforms are the Gospel of Jesus Christ, early church tradition, and the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

Press conferences to endorse this initiative are being held September 25 in Toronto, ON, Canada; Madrid, Spain; London, UK; Fulda, Germany; Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, USA; Dublin, Ireland (Sept.30) and Australia. In Canada, individual Canadians as well as the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) and Roman Catholic WomenPriests (RCWP), among other groups are endorsing this call for reform. American reform groups Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful and American Catholic Council have signed the letter as well as International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC) which has the support of several million Catholics in nearly 50 countries. Australian Catholic bishops Geoffrey Robinson, Bill Morris and Pat Power, who initiated a petition protesting clergy sexual abuse in Australia (117,000 supporters to date), are also lending their support to this call for reform in the Catholic Church.

September 25, 2013