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Catholics, women, and the priesthood - Part Three: The ideology behind women's ordination


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Last week's column focused on the theological reasons and implications behind the all-male Catholic priesthood.  This week the focus shifts to the ideology that purports to defend women's ordination as an acceptable theological practice in the Catholic Church.

In an e-mail from Erin Saiz Hannah, Executive Director of the Women's Ordination Conference, she writes that "the tradition of not ordaining women was built, however, on theological and cultural beliefs that have been discredited."  This begs the question: discredited by whom?  Feminists?  Theologians?  Professors?  The history of the Church can trace each priestly ordination back through two millenia to the time of Christ.  The Women's Ordination Conference was founded in 1975, at the height of the feminist movement.

As the Catechism states, only men may recieved the Sacrament of Holy Orders throughout the history of CatholicismIt bears repeating that, if women were really in the priesthood in the early Church, removing them from roles in ministry and covering up historical evidence would have required a world-wide, coordinated effort - planned and implimented at a time when communications were severely limited by geography and a lack of technology.  It is a logistical impossibility that such a massive undertaking could have been carried out by the Church that was, even in its earliest days, spread across a significant portion of Asia and Africa.

Further along in the e-mail, Hannah asserts that "The decision not to include women among his twelve apostles says nothing about women as priests except that Jesus, as a Jewish male of his time, knew that the custom and tradition of his day did not allow women to assume leadership roles."  Jesus - not bound by any Earthly constraints - did not care whether what He said or did offended people.  When He talked about eating His Body and drinking His Blood, Christ was not concerned that people left Him and were turned off (or that the early Church would have charges of cannibalism levied against it).  Catholic Answers dispels this notion further:

To bind Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, with cultural constraints is historically and theologically inept. As the 1977 Declaration (nos. 3, 4) points out, Jesus often broke with religious and societal convention: He converses with a Samaritan woman (John 4:27), pardons a woman caught in adultery and indicates that a man is equally guilty in sins of lust (John 8:11), and departs from the "unbreakable" Mosaic law concerning the rights and duties of both sexes in marriage (Mark 10:2-11). Jesus surrounds himself with women in his ministry and even appears first to women after his Resurrection.

Does that sound like someone who is concerned with the "custom and tradition" of an era?

Hannah quotes from Romans 16:1, to assert a Biblical basis for women's ordination:  "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchrea."  The New American Bible describes Phoebe as a "minister" and the Greek basis for both words is diakonos, which actually means "servant."   The only liturgical function deaconesses had was to assist women with baptism; otherwise their purpose was social outreach - not priestly duties. 

Another passage supporters of women's ordination use is Galatians 3:28, where St. Paul states there is no more distinction between "Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus."   This passage, however, does not refer to the priesthood, it means that in salvation all are one in Jesus and has nothing to do with ministry.

"Rome also uses a male priesthood as the norm when it proclaims that women do not image the male Jesus and therefore only ordained men can adequately represent Christ.", writes Hannah.  Once again, this assertion stands in contradiction to orthodox Christianity, wherein we believe Christ was 1) fully human and 2) that "unto us...a son is given" (Isaiah 9:6-7).  Christ was not androgynous; in order for His crucifixion to win our salvation he had to be fully human and fully God but wholly without sin.  Anything else renders Christ's sacrifice and our salvation moot.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic is that 70% of Catholics support women's ordination.  A search of the Women's Ordination conference website for information regarding how this number was calculated came up with no results.  Even if that number were true, Catholicism is not a democracy.

This sort of theological cherry-picking translates to one thing: when certain teachings of Catholicism are considered open to reinterpretation, and those redefinitions are often political and not religious in nature.  When asked what she hoped to accomplish beyond women's ordination, Hannah responded with three points:

- Reform the governance of the Catholic Church, including canon law, to be inclusive, accountable and transparent

- Bring about equality and justice for women in all dimensions of life and ministry in the Catholic Church

-Incorporate feminist, womanist, mujerista, and other liberating spiritualities into every-day Catholicism

The first two are a given whenever the concept of women's ordination is discussed, so let's focus in on the last point: "Incorporate feminist, womanist, mujerista and other liberating spiritualities into every-day Catholicism."  Womanist spirituality is "a liberation theology developed by African American Christian women in the late 1980’s. Seeking to speak of their own experiences of God while grappling with race, class and gender discrimination within US society and the Christian churches, it emerged from a critique of both Black Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology" and mujerista is an ideology that "brings together elements of feminist theology, Latin American liberation theology and cultural theology."

In other words, the goal of Women's ordination is to take Catholicism - which has its own complete and articulated theology, spirituality, prayers, and liturgy, and turn it on its head.  Destroy the central teaching body, remove teachings with regard to sexuality, and incroporate "spiritualities" which do not reflect Catholic teaching in any way, shape, or form.  Don't believe this is possible?  From the Women's Ordination Conference website, a lecture from Ivone Gebara which reads, in part:


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While Christian churches denied the right of choice for women, feminist theologians became allies of movements promoting the decriminalization and legalization of abortion. While Christian churches still continue to proclaim homosexuality as a sin, we declare homosexuality to be a choice, and women from different sexual orientation work together and respect one another.

The more frustrating aspect of the women's ordination movement is the fact that there are denominations out there who will readily embrace not only women's ordination but the alternative spiritualities Hannah hopes to incorporate into "every-day Catholicism."  The Episcopal Church has a female bishop in Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the interpretive theology women ordination supporters desire.  Many have jumped from the barque of Peter in favor of Epsicopal waters, so the remaining question is: why?  Why, if so dissatisfied with Catholicism that it must be stripped down and rebuilt, don't those who disssent from Catholic teaching convert to other faiths?

Do not be fooled into thinking this is merely an issue of social justice; it is - at its very core - a battle for the souls of the world's Catholics, a battle to topple Catholicism, one of the few remaining Christian churches not willing to compromise theology for political correctness.

And, in all the clamor over women's equality and social justice, few proponents of women's ordination have bothered to talk to those Catholic women who agree with the Church, to understand why they don't feel marginalized or oppressed by the all-male priesthood or Catholic teaching.  Next week's column will talk to Catholic women about their feelings toward the Catholic Church.

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