The NCR, the Catholic equivalent of the New York Times, ended their teasing yesterday and came right out and said it. “Catholic women who have discerned a call to the priesthood and have had that call affirmed by the community should be ordained in the Roman Catholic church.”
In a fit of fiery indignation, words they once minced became direct and pointed: they threw down their Sak’s Fifth Avenue, fur-lined gauntlet and let Rome have it: “Barring women from ordination to the priesthood is an injustice that cannot be allowed to stand.” Boy! Not allowed to stand!
It’s a very curious thing, but many non-Catholics are intensely interested in the debate over women’s ordination, with a great many watchers desiring earnestly the “patriarchy” which “rules” the Church to cozy up to modernity and change. Change for the sake of change. Change because it galls them to see any organization operate in a manner at variance with their perceived optimal politics.
There is also a significant slice (though still a minority) of self-acknowledged Catholics who would like this change, too. These people’s opinions count more than outsiders’, so it is of some interest to examine the sort of arguments which appear convincing to them.
First a reminder that the Church is a voluntary organization, complete with “hierarchy” (a hateful word to many), its rules on fundamental topics plain, well known, and long digested. Nobody seeks priesthood or religious status in ignorance of dogma. So it is a wonder that many join intending to ignore certain doctrine or to usurp authority. This is like a conservative joining the Democrat party and refusing to vote in favor of arbitrary tax increases and wanton spending.
NCR’s editorial was written in response to the laicization of one Roy Bourgeois a then priest who went through a faux ordination ceremony with a woman (this was not his only offense). The Church’s inevitable action incensed the perpetually offended editors, who launched into a history of the faith’s attitude on female priests. It was here they thought they had discovered an “Aha!” moment, finding the Church was not always as keen as now at “denying” women ordination.
What is true is that the Church was not always vocal on the opposition to female priests, and that nowadays it is. The NCR interprets this to mean that in more Enlightened times, lady ministers were acceptable and accepted. This is a false inference. What is true is that in times past there were scarcely any agitating for female ordination: it wasn’t a problem; few popes took action because there was no need. But when the clamor reached its current fevered pitch, Venerable Pope John Paul II was forced to pen the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he said, “Sorry, ladies.”
The Ordinatio and its sequelae upset many digestions. Opposition opinion settled on variants of “How dare the Church violate the dictates of our consciences,” a variant on the Protestant heresy. Now let’s be upset over this word, which after all has a technical meaning. Nobody is suggesting thumbscrews and hot oil. It is one of the dogma of the Church that individual conscience is not pertinent to central questions. Don’t like that, don’t sign up.
The NCR made other mistakes, which are perhaps more convincing to the disgruntled. These are encapsulated in the paper’s paraphrase of Bourgeois: “He has said that no one can say who God can and cannot call to the priesthood, and to say that anatomy is somehow a barrier to God’s ability to call one of God’s own children forward places absurd limits on God’s power.”
Even if you accept, per impossible, female ordination, it is absurd to claim “no one” can say who can be a priest. This is anarchy, the opposite of the goal of the Church as an institution, which is organization. (The goal of goals of the Church is to introduce its members to St Peter.)
The absurd “anatomy is somehow a barrier” is easily dismissed. Anatomy is often a barrier and no amount of good will or right thinking can change this. No woman can write her name in the snow in cursive at oblique angles, and no men can bear children. To introduce various body parts as euphemisms for sex and to call the Church’s teaching “unjust” is not to create new evidence. It is only unjust if women should be ordained, and that is the question already answered.
The “absurd limits on God’s power” is a non sequitur. The Church has claimed a male-only priesthood is God’s will, that it is acting in accordance with His will. It is impossible for any man to limit Omnipotence.
It is interesting that the paper chose this moment to state its disobedience. Big changes coming?