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Church Documents

U.S. Bishops' Documents on Women, Laity, Family
A Chronology

Following is a chronological list [1992-98] of statements and materials on women, "women's issues" and/or families released, produced, and presented by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth, along with a partial list of other related documents or materials.

(A single secretariat staffs the Bishops' Committees on Marriage and Family [BCMF], Laity [BCOL], and Youth [BCOY], as well as the Bishops' Committee on Women in Society and in the Church [BCOW].)

Conference documents have usually been produced by a three-step process:

1) The Committee secretariat includes plans and budget for a new document in the list of "Priorities and Plans" presented for vote to the full body of the Conference of bishops. These items are approved en bloc, usually without discussion, at the beginning of the November bishops' meeting;

2) The Committee secretariat then prepares a draft document (a preliminary draft may or may not be sent to bishops for their comments before a final draft is prepared);

3) The draft is approved by one of the following procedures: a) it is presented to the bishops conference for debate and vote, where it may be amended before approval, or voted down; b) it is approved by the Administrative Committee acting on behalf of the Conference without being presented to the full body of bishops for discussion, amendment or vote.

Supplementary materials, such as videos or "resource packets" are produced by the Secretariat of the Committees.

Always Our Children, issued October 1, 1997, addressed to family and friends of homosexuals, and two documents, From Words to Deeds, and Ten Frequently Asked Questions, released simultaneously on October 13, 1998, appeared only a few weeks before the November plenary meetings of the bishops, and were approved by the Administrative Committee.

The latter two statements are related to the Vatican's landmark statement, Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest which appeared in November 1997 [excerpts appeared in Voices, Winter-Spring 1998], and indirectly to Pope John Paul II's 1994 Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on priestly ordination.

After objections to Always Our Children by some bishops during the November 1997 meeting, the Holy See required certain amendments, and it was re-issued in July 1998. (WFF had issued statements on Always Our Children and on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, accessible below or on the Statements page.

Neither From Words to Deeds nor its companion Questions alluded to Apostolos Suos, Pope John Paul II's motu proprio released in the summer of 1998, which had spelled out the limits of the authority of statements of national bishops' conferences.

(Most of the items issued by the Conference of bishops are available from the USCC B at 1-800-235-8722, or may be ordered from the USCCB web site.

1992 - One in Christ Jesus. The end result of an unsuccessful effort, begun early in 1984, by the Bishops Committee on Women [BCOW] to write a pastoral letter on "women's concerns", this was sent only as a report of the BCOW to the Conference's Administrative Committee. The bishops had voted against releasing One in Christ Jesus as a pastoral statement of the conference.

1992 - Commissions on Women: Why, What, How. Produced by the BCOW secretariat, the publication offered "practical 'how-to' tips for new and developing diocesan women's commissions".

1992/93 - When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women. Pastoral message produced by the BCOW, approved by the Conference in 1993.

1992 - Windows to Understanding. Video produced by the BCOW secretariat as support material for When I Call for Help, this video contains three segments, "balancing home and work, women's spirituality and women as mentors".

1993 - When You Preach, Remember Me. A short video produced by the BCOW secretariat, "showing how preaching can help break the cycle of domestic violence", also as support material for When I Call for Help.

1993 - Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message to Families. Produced by the Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family [BCMF] in observance of the UN "Year of the Family", and approved by the Conference of bishops in November 1993, the message addresses "the challenges of living faithfully, giving life, growing in mutuality, and balancing work and family obligations". It devotes a section to issues of "equality" of women and refers to domestic violence issues in When I Call for Help.

1994 - Strengthening the Bonds of Peace: A Pastoral Reflection on Women in the Church and in Society. Produced by BCOW in response to Pope John Paul II's May 22, 1994, Apostolic Letter on ordination, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis , and approved by the Conference of bishops in November 1994, to "examine leadership in the Church, equality of women and men, and diversity of gifts ... inclusion of women in Church governance through consultation and cooperation in the exercise of authority, encourage the full use of women's gifts, including their spiritual gifts, and reaffirm their commitment to honest, ongoing dialogue".

Women for Faith & Family had issued a supportive Statement on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on May 30, 1994

1996 Parish Resource Packet. The packet produced by BCOW secretariat to be used with the bishops' "reflection" on women, Strengthening the Bonds of Peace. The resource packet includes "models for retreats and discussion groups, prayer services, homily aids, a bibliography, and other resources".

1995 - Called and Gifted in the Third Millennium. A statement produced by the the Bishops' Committee on Laity [BCOL] and approved by the bishops' Conference in November 1995.

The statement is said to "update the four 'calls' in the 1980 Called and Gifted (to holiness, community, mission and ministry, and adult/Christian maturity) in light of developments over the past 15 years". It encourages development of "small faith communities", leadership roles for laity.

Explicitly promoting the goals of Strengthening the Bonds of Peace, it stresses the necessity of "diversity", "collaborative ministry" of clergy and laity, and calls for laity to become "partners with the hierarchy". (The Vatican's clarification, Inadmissibility of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, a Responsum ad Dubium by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated October 28, 1995, in support of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, insisted that correct theology cannot hold that a contradiction exists between the Church's teaching on ordination and on the equal dignity of women.)

1995 - Walk in the Light: A Pastoral Response to Child Sexual Abuse. Related to When I Call for Help, this is a short statement of the BCOW and the BCMF, approved by the NCCB Administrative Committee on October 26, 1995, "against the tragedy of child sexual abuse.... [It is] intended as a practical introduction to the issue of sexual abuse, especially in a home or family setting".

This statement also "promote[s] the use of language in parish programs and materials that reflects the equal dignity of women" (that is, so-called "inclusive language").

1997 - Always Our Children. Released October 1, 1997, this "pastoral message" directed to the parents of homosexuals was written under the auspices of the BCMF and was approved by the Conference Administrative Committee. It was not submitted for vote to the body of bishops, which would meet in November. [WFF's October 10, 1997 Statement on Always Our Children appeared in Voices, November 1997.]

1997 - Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest. A Vatican document released November 13, clarifying the distinction between ordained ministry and those offices and functions connected with ministry which may be entrusted to the laity. The Instruction observes that "certain practices have often been developed which have had very serious negative consequences and have caused the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion to be damaged." [Excerpts appeared in Voices, Winter 1997-Spring 1998.]

1998 - Always Our Children, amended edition issued July 1998. After some bishops and organizations pointed out serious problems with Always Our Children (including its process of approval), the Holy See required certain amendments to intended to help prevent confusion and misinterpretation. [See Update in Voices, December 1998.]

1998 - From Words to Deeds: Continuing Reflections on the Role of Women in the Church [FWTD] Released on October 13, this BCOW statement was approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Administrative Committee.

Said to be a further implementation of Strengthening the Bonds of Peace, it urges that women be promoted to more professional roles in the Church (it states that "all roles are open to women, unless stated otherwise by canon law"). It urges that "parish, diocesan and organizational programs ensure cultural and gender awareness and sensitivity" and that so-called "inclusive language" be used "as permitted, e.g., in catechetical and religious materials and hymnals, in daily language and in prayer and preaching". FWTD was intended as a "pastoral" response to Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter on priestly ordination, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), and the Vatican's Responsum ad Dubium on the Inadmissibility of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood Ordination (1995). FWTD had been approved by the NCCB in their Priorities and Plans at their November 1996 meeting.

1998 - Ten Frequently Asked Questions About the Reservation of Priestly Ordination to Men. Produced by the Bishops' Committee on Doctrine, approved by the NCCB Administrative Committee and released simultaneously with From Words to Deeds (October 13), the ten questions inquire "whether reserving priestly ordination to men is arbitrary, whether it is unjust, what scriptural authority underlies it and other matters" (printed in Origins, October 29, 1998. p. 350f).

This document was produced in response to the Holy Father's urging that bishops do a better job of explaining the Church's teaching on women's ordination specifically, why it is not an injustice to deny ordination to women. Accordingly, this document states that since the priesthood is a free gift and no one can be said to "deserve" it, the call to priesthood cannot be a matter of justice.

(A version of this chronology appeared in Voices Vol XIII: No 4, December 1998)

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