View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Women priests? (Revised slightly)

One site I like to visit is Cafeteria Catholic. In response to the ordination of some women on the St. Lawrence River she wrote:

“For change to occur, sometimes you need a few brave souls who are willing to rock the boat. Such was the case yesterday as a small group of women literally rocked a boat in Ontario when they were ordained as priests and deacons in the Catholic Church as they sailed the St. Lawrence River. … Here’s hoping a big step”

My comment there began, “I doubt it. Stepping on Ecclesial toes usually gets you nowhere. St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day knew how to stretch the envelope, without stomping.”

Talmida, of another site I like (Lesser of Two Weevils), responded:

“Lee, I'm curious, how could these women have moved the church closer to accepting women's ordination without stepping on Ecclesial toes? We're barred from the diaconate, the priesthood, and even from studying & discussing the matter. We're not allowed membership to the governing body that makes all the decisions regarding our spiritual lives.
What options are left?”

Fair question.

Before I start, let me be clear about one thing: I believe in the ordination of women. I pray that I might see it in my lifetime (I doubt that I will, but then again, I do believe in miracles!)

I also don’t object in principal to stepping on toes in the form of breaking unjust laws. The Civil Rights movement in the U.S. would not have gotten as far as it did if not for a willingness to do so when it became necessary.

And the church does sometimes respond when confronted – though it is slow. The Protestants challenged the Church 500 years ago, and it did eventually change some things. It took until Vatican II though to make some of those changes, however!

So in that sense, Talmida might be right in another one of her comments that in 100 years things might be different.

But just as we do not look back at Calvin or Luther as “saints,” I suspect these women will not be embraced by the church down the road as she suggests.

The changes in the church come not from the folks who break away. It comes from the people who stay within and gently but firmly nudge it forward.

For while the dramatic gesture gets the press - and may provide a certain level of satisfaction - it is the quiet moves that are making changes.

Here's how I see change coming.

We are running out of priests (Perhaps God’s way of letting us know it’s time to do something different?). In order to meet the ministerial needs of people, the church has been forced to turn to other people.

The permanent deacons are one partial solution. (I hope to do my part here!)

But increasingly, parish staffs are being filled by women with theological degrees. In this diocese, we even have women who are officially administering parishes. These women have advanced theological degrees. Our local theological institute – where deacons and lay ministers are educated and trained - is run by a woman. We have many women serving as lectors and Eucharistic ministers. We have female altar servers.

The net effect is that the people in the pews – some of whom would have jumped up and down 20 year ago at the sight of a woman even just approaching the altar – are getting used to women in positions of leadership and service in the church. They see women running parishes, preaching, making decisions, ministering.

As the numbers of priests continue to decrease, the numbers of women in such position will continue to increase.

Now, many of these women have the same education and training as deacons, and are essentially functioning as deacons. We have a current prohibition against women in the diaconate, but part of the rationale behind that is that the diaconate was traditionally one of the steps en route to ordination as a priest. But with the permanent diaconate now being an end in itself, I think we will see that it will be regarded in a separate light.

I believe we will see women permanent deacons in the future.

It will take time. My diocese is pretty advanced in terms of the diaconate and women in ministry – heck, Bishop Sheen (yes, that icon of the conservatives) when he was Bishop of Rochester back in the 1960s hired a woman to teach at the diocesan seminary! – so we are closer than some places. There are dioceses where they haven’t even begun the diaconate, and where positions like lector and Eucharistic minister are still not open to women. But that is changing. Fewer and fewer dioceses are like that.

I don’t know the timing, but it wouldn’t shock me if we see women deacons in the next 20 years.

Once we get that, once even conservative dioceses start to enjoy the ministerial service of women, we will move closer to women priests.

I look to Dorothy Day as an example,

I regard her as a saint and a hero.

She certainly could be contentious and cantankerous, especially when it came to fighting for the rights of the people she served. She was not afraid to break unjust laws.

But she declared that if church officials told her to stop, she would.

She could have jumped ship, gone public, gone her own way, stomped on a few toes. The media would have glorified her. But she was a “loyal daughter of the church.”

And church officials knew that (after all, she declared it in print!). She made them feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed. She challenged them. But she never openly defied them, and they never asked her to stop.

I believe that some of the peace and social justice declarations by U.S. bishops in the 1980s and 90s grew in part out of her influence and that of her movement.

I believe that her houses of hospitality helped to inspire parishes to respond to the homeless crisis in the 1980s by opening shelters, soup kitchen and food pantries.

I believe that her willingness to face arrest to challenge unjust laws helped to inspire generations of Catholics who were willing to confront civil authorities.

If she had stepped on toes in the 1930s, this might not have happened.

Much as they’d like to step on a few toes, to rock the boat now, I think it is the women who are working for change in the church while still being ”loyal daughters of the church” who will move the church to change its rules.

Of course, even if I am right, I know that this is not an easy thing for many women – especially those who feel called to serve as priests. The frustration, the pain, the sense of incompleteness must be incredible. It could so easily turn to anger and bitterness.

Sadly, in some cases, it has. It has led some good women and men to leave.

And that hurts us all.

43 Comments:

Blogger Talmida said...

Lee, do you think we'd be reading the Bible in English (or French, or Japanese, or German) today if it weren't for the Protestants?

Do you really think the church institution that we have now would want people (even --- GASP!--- women!!) being able to read and interpret scripture for themselves? THat's letting go of a huge amount of power. Not something that the church is famous for doing.

The catholic church is only as good as it is thanks to the Protestants.

Groups that hold absolute power don't give it away gratuitously. They give it when they are forced to , for one reason or another.

The women who have been ordained have followed God's call. The church tried to keep them from doing that -- the church even tries to deny that God calls women to the priesthood because women cannot answer (talk about a circular argument!!).

I concede that these women may never end up being officially canonized, but if I had a little statue of William Tyndale, I might say a quick prayer of thanks to him every time I read the scriptures in English.

:)

2:23 PM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

I can see the value of working within the system, as well as the need to sometimes shock the system from the outside.

Sometimes the pain of not changing has to become greater than the pain of making the change. I think this is the model followed by Catholicism in regard to female priests (and married priests, too). As people feel the pain of having fewer priests & fewer masses, they will warm up to the idea of female priests. That's my hope, anyway, because the rational approach certainly isn't making any progress.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

By the way, Cafeteria Catholic and Lesser Weavils are two of my favorites. Back Pew is right up there with them too. You guys are all great and I'm fortunate to have come across your blogs.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I note the influence of the Protestants - I just point out that it took until Vatican II.

I agree - groups that hold absolute power don't give it away gratuitously. But it does happen. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe did not take place because of revolution. It was gradual, an erosion from within, change from within, change forced by people who finally began to believe that there had to be something better. In fact, if the Communist governments had been able to supply their people with the consumer goods they wanted, I believe they'd still be Communist.

In the same way, powers, forces within the Church cause change.

The Protestant Reformation arose in part because of humanism. There were plenty of Catholic humanists (such as Thomas More) who were promoting a new look at Scriptures/theology/philosophy and who might have moved the Church anyway - had not Europe erupted in religious wars because of the Reformation. Those humanists who were not killed had to turn their attention to defending the Church instead of promoting new ways to think.

Moreover, we are dealing with a human institution, true, but one with a certain "outside" influence, who keeps sending us people like Francis, Erasmus, Day, Merton, de Chardin, even JP II to move us along. As a Catholic, I have to believe that, or stop being a Catholic.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I can cite my own diocese of Rochester NY as an example of how change can be moved forward.

We have a bishop who has not openly declared that women should be ordained - he'd have run into some major trouble if he had - but he has made it plain that he would welcome this.

Working within the diocese, he has:

Written a pastoral letter about women in the church.

Appointed a woman to head our theological institute (the former seminary) to train deacons and lay people for minister (and, by the way, created a deacon program that is cited as a model across the nation.)

Created the position of pastoral administrator to run parishes, and appointed a number of women to do this.

Allowed women to preach on Sundays by creatively appling Vatican guidelines.

Hired a number of women to run diocesan offices and postion - the liturgy office, the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic schools office, etc.

If he had taken a more confrontational approach, none of these things would have happened. He didn't, and so we are moving ahead.

It hasn't always been easy. We've been subject to Vatican investigation, attacks by the arch conservative CUF types, and the schism of one parish that felt we weren't moving fast enough.

But he is still here, and we are still pushing the envelope.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

I think we can look throughout the history of the Church for people who made BIG reforms but inside the bounds of obedience. People like Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Catherine of Siena all made huge, much needed changes but acted with obedience to the rulings of whoever in the Church was over them. God worked with it all. They didn't give up but they also accepted that they were to work within the system that they were within. And God did the miracles.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Lee, are you kidding about Thomas More? You know what he did to Tyndale, right?

And my diocese used to have a bishop like yours. But he retired. JP2 snapped up his resignation the second he reached 75. And the new guy holds to the old views, he's a company man. I don't expect bishops to take a confrontational approach, how can they?

The thing is, if women do not keep at it, keep bringing the matter to the church's attention, why would the Vatican ever change the status quo? Women need to continue to express our desire for equality and reform in the church. And what method of expression is available to us? I guess we could pray, but that goes directly to God, and the church never hears it. So how do women speak to the church? What mechanism exists? We are at the mercy of sympathetic bishops to convey our message to Rome.

I don't argue that what those women did made them bad catholics, Lee, but it might very well have been the most christian thing for them do to. Following Jesus is not always following Rome.

I appreciate that the catholic world is not ready for women's equality. But you know what? The world wasn't ready for the emancipation of the slaves either. Some things you do simply because they are just.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

I guess we could pray, but that goes directly to God, and the church never hears it.

That really speaks more to your belief in the actual power of prayer than anything ... what a bummer to feel that way.

St. Catherine of Siena wrote a zillion letters directly to the pope. They were respectful but said exactly what she thought was wrong ... and there was a lot wrong at the time. If I felt the way you do, Talmida, I'd go on a letter writing campaign. Maybe one a week? Or one a day depending on your need to get through.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

For anyone favoring the ordination of women, are you familiar with Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he wrote, "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

A formal statement from the Roman Pontiff made ex cathedra, that is in exercise of his Apostolic office, and specifically binding on all the faithful, is protected by the Holy Spirit from being erroneous. Or do you also reject papal infallibility?

This is not something that will be reversed by any future pope.

While we're at it, do you believe that the priest at mass acts in persona Christi and is an alter Christus? Is it a matter of indifference that Jesus came as a man, and taught us to address God as "Father"?

People who readily embrace the Jesus whose teaching was so shocking to those who heard it in person often can't accept that what He taught might still be shocking to people today; including that there might be a difference between men and women.

To demand priestly ordination for women as a matter of equal rights, you seem to be presuming that men and women are interchangeable, and/or that the ordained are superior to the laity, which I don't believe is a teaching of the Church.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

talmida said:
Lee, do you think we'd be reading the Bible in English (or French, or Japanese, or German) today if it weren't for the Protestants?

Do you really think the church institution that we have now would want people (even --- GASP!--- women!!) being able to read and interpret scripture for themselves? THat's letting go of a huge amount of power. Not something that the church is famous for doing.

The catholic church is only as good as it is thanks to the Protestants.


I couldn't agree less. The Catholic Church published translations of the bible in many vernacular languages long before the reformation, starting with the 5th Century Latin Vulgate (at a time when most educated people could read Latin, but Greek and Hebrew had fallen out of common use), shortly after the final settlement of the Canon of the New Testament at the end of the 4th Century. The translator of that version, St. Jerome, famously said that "ignorace of scripture is ignorance of Christ".

The mass has always included readings of scripture, an important service to people who, prior to the 15th century, often couldn't read, or afford a published book.

So yes, I think the Catholic Church has always both read and facilitated the learning of scripture by the laity.

It's clear from talmida's post that the point of Protestantism is getting "power" from the Catholic Church.

This is in defiance of Christ's own stated wish (John 17:20-1) that his followers should all be "one", in order to provide a unified witness to an unbelieving world. I wrote more about this point on my own blog here.

Besides which, contrary to most people's impressions, the Catholic Church has no power of its own. All it can do is hand down, unchanged, the teachings it received from the Apostles, and it couldn't even do that without the active help of the Holy Spirit.

2:05 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Have you read Phyllis Zagano's book, Holy Saturday : an argument for the restoration of the female diaconate in the Catholic Church. She makes a very reasoned argument about ordaining women as deacons, based on both Scripture and Tradition. The Canon Law Society of America also thinks it's doable. In both cases the attitude seems to be "the Pope said not to talk about women as priests, so we won't talk about women as priests. But he never said anything about deacons."

2:11 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Julie,

You've taken that line out of context. It was not a reflection of my personal prayer life but a comment on the inability of lay people, particularly women, to communicate with the governing body of the church. I'm sorry I didn't make that more clear. :)

I actually know someone who wrote a very serious letter to the Pope on this issue-- sent it double registered mail -- that's the kind where the recipient has to sign, and the signature is returned to the sender. The Pope did not sign the receipt, some minor flunky did. That's probably who read the letter too, since it was never answered. Letter writing to the Vatican strikes me as a futile excercise in communication (although it might certainly have some other value).

So my point stands - there is no mechanism for lay people, especially women, to communicate with the governing church. Sad as it is, I understand women making the big and possibly futile dramatic gestures. They just want to be heard and to have their needs acknowledged. And at least in the "heard" department, they've had some success.


Paul, that strikes me as being rather naive.

Any subsequent Pope can easily say that through further prayer and study, without declaring JP2 wrong, the Church now understands that it DOES in fact have the authority...yada yada yada.

Do you live in a world where the Earth is the center of the Universe? Where the Bible can only be read in Latin? Where good catholics keep slaves?

Times change and the church does too. To believe otherwise is to ignore history.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

talmida wrote:
Any subsequent Pope can easily say that through further prayer and study, without declaring JP2 wrong, the Church now understands that it DOES in fact have the authority...yada yada yada.

Do you live in a world where the Earth is the center of the Universe? Where the Bible can only be read in Latin? Where good catholics keep slaves?


No, it's not that easy. You can't find anywhere where a Pope decisively taught the geocentric model, or that the Bible should only be read in Latin, or that slavery is OK.

Here, we have the Holy Father, the successor of Peter, defining a teaching to be accepted by all the faithful. That doesn't change.

It's not naivete on my part; it's disobediance on the part of those who refuse to accept this teaching in faith.

And no Pope has ever reversed such a teaching by one of his predecessors. I am not ignorant of history, it has been my hobby for thirty years. For a pope to do what you suggest wouldn't be a development of doctrine, which happens, but rather a reversal of that teaching, which does not and cannot happen.

As for not having a method of communicating with the hierarchy, doesn't your bishop have an email address? Mine does. Have you tried to make an appointment to see him? I'm sure you can.

Does he have to listen to you? No, but neither does your congressman.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

Talmida, I almost didn't write that note to you because I could have written the responses you gave myself (maybe because we've had so many similar discussions). Why try to write because it didn't work for a friend once, the church will never listen, etc. Good thing that the saints (such as the afore mentioned St. Catherine) didn't take that attitude and kept on keepin' on, while still being obedient. They gave God full range and didn't set up limits that way.

As for taking it out of context, sorry if that is what happened but I didn't get that whole connection ... what you wrote seemed clear when I read it. Peace atcha.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Paul, I'm happy to concede that my knowledge of church history is faulty, however to assert that one individual man's statement binds the church forever is simply not true.

The Borgia popes achieved the throne through murder. Pope Honorius was condemned as a heretic by some of his successors. Sitting in Peter's throne is no guarantee of sanctity or intelligence. We are guaranteed that the Holy Spirit remains with the Church, not with individual popes.

We could split hairs about how it will happen, but it is probably pointless. I believe that women will be legally ordained (although I don't expect to live to see it). I am morally certain that God will find a Pope who is smart enough to figure out a way to do this.

My reading indicates that there are several instances of popes reversing predecessor's "infallible" teachings, but I also note that the requirements for infallibility differ in almost every article I read.

I don't think I can offer anything more about this.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Very strange. I posted a comment - and a new posting - yesterday, but neither showed up. Hmm.

In regards to this discussion, not being a theologian, and am not an expert on infallible teachings, so I called our local Catholic radio station (EWTN, Relevant radio affiliated, somewhat traditional in viewpoint) during a call-in show with a theologian (a priest).

I asked if the prohibition against women priests had been definitively, infallibly pronounced, even by JP II.

He said no. He said JP II had not spoken ex cathedra, so in that sense he did not pronounce it infallibly.

BUT, he emphasized that the prohibition was a long-standing tradition in the church, and the church is very reluctant to change a tradition.

So, basically he said while it is theoretically possible that the church could change its position on this issue, it was highly unlikely.

I guess that answer satisfies neither side. It can change, but it's going to take some intervention from the Holy Spirit.

I also raised the issue of women as permnent deacons. He said that was a different matter - the tradition was not as long-standing and clear on that one - so it could happen. But he said he was not aware of any push for it at this time.

I'm officially pushing.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

talmida wrote:
...to assert that one individual man's statement binds the church forever is simply not true.

So, you don't accept the doctrine of papal infallibility promulgated by the First Vatican Council in the 19th Century?

If you feel free to reject the church teachings you don't like, what makes you any better than a Protestant?

The Borgia popes achieved the throne through murder. Pope Honorius was condemned as a heretic by some of his successors. Sitting in Peter's throne is no guarantee of sanctity or intelligence. We are guaranteed that the Holy Spirit remains with the Church, not with individual popes.

Certainly, you argue like a Protestant. Papal infallibilty doesn't address sin, but teaching. You'll notice that none of those Borgias tried to use the papacy to teach that what they did was OK.

As to Pope Honorious, there's more to that than a cursory study of Protestant historical sources will show. I suggest you take it to Jimmy Akin.

And Lee, did you ask the guy on EWTN about that Apostolic Letter I cited specifically? Did you read him that relevant quote?

I haven't said anything about female deacons. I'm dubious, but I have faith that what the church authentically teaches will be legitimate.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I didn't ask about the document by name, I simply asked what JP II had said and whether it was infallibly pronounced.

I do know that they has been debate among theological circles about the difinitiveness of what he said, with good and intelligent theologians coming done on both sides.

Until some Pope clearly states it in the manner the two Marian doctrines were pronouced, room remains for discussion and interpretation.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Lee wrote: Until some Pope clearly states it in the manner the two Marian doctrines were pronouced, room remains for discussion and interpretation.

So, what is it you're looking for that's "more definitive"? The quote I posted didn't seem so ambiguous to me.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Certainly, you argue like a Protestant.

LOL! I argue like a Protestant? Thank you! Isn't anyone who argues with the institutional church a protestant, by definition?

As to Pope Honorious, there's more to that than a cursory study of Protestant historical sources will show. I suggest you take it to Jimmy Akin.


I wouldn't know about protestant sources, my source was the Catholic Encyclopedia! Is this Jimmy Akin more catholic than that?

8:58 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

LOL! I argue like a Protestant? Thank you! Isn't anyone who argues with the institutional church a protestant, by definition?

Not necessarily. I have my complaints about the institutional church, both locally and on a larger scale.

But what I meant when I said you argue like a Protestant is that you change the subject in the midst of arguments such as confusing the doctrine of papal infallibility (that the Pope is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error when he teaches the entire church by virtue of his office as Pope) with the idea of papal impeccability (the idea that popes are not sinners), which no one believes. So you cited the Borgias as a disproof of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

I wouldn't know about protestant sources, my source was the Catholic Encyclopedia! Is this Jimmy Akin more catholic than that?

Jimmy Akin is a full-time apologist. He probably has on-hand the arguments on Honorious that I would have to go look up. I suppose "more Catholic" would depend your definition of "Catholic", which I suspect might differ from mine.

However, there's a lot more in the Catholic Encyclopedia on Pope Honorius than what's implied by your off-hand remark.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Paul,
But what I meant when I said you argue like a Protestant is that you change the subject in the midst of arguments

Goodness, that's not in my dictionary under the word "Protestant". I don't think I could have guessed that meaning. Is this a common use of the word?


Y'know, Paul, I stopped in here to talk about the women ordained in the St. Lawrence because I really felt passionately for them.

I cannot argue doctrine with you.

I do not have your background in church history, and I do not want it. I am ashamed of the history of the catholic church. Much of it is not very christian. Everytime I hear an apologist or read about some convoluted doctrine designed to put down another group of believers I want to chuck it all and worship in the synagogue, as my Saviour and His apostles did.

Seriously, if you just want to put me down as another sinning, dissenting, disobedient, egalitarian, so-called catholic, feel free. You can even call me a Protestant if you like.

Shalom

3:29 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

1 John 2:3-4

5:22 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Right on, Paul!

Mark 12: 28-31 (or Matt 22:36-40, if you prefer).

6:11 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

The first step the Roman Catholic hierarchy can take is find a place & role for married male priests, many of whom would welcome an opportunity to serve parishes now without full time clergy.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

Paul and Talmida: y'all both are arguing like Protestants now ... throwing Scripture references at each other. I am dyin' laughin' here.

(and, no, that's not in the dictionary under Protestant either ... but I bet everyone knows what I mean anyway ...)

8:27 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I've always been partial to:

Proverbs 31:6 and Proverbs 16:31.

Sometimes, though, I feel that Proverbs 26:18 applies to my postings!

9:45 AM  
Blogger Talmida said...

LMAO Lee!

I had to check more than one version to make that make sense! Let us know which Bible you use next time.

:-D

11:44 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Why, Catholic, of course!
Actually, NAB

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