20 November 2014, The Tablet

A debate that should not be silenced

This week, the General Synod of the Church of England has finally made the ordination of women bishops its official policy. The first women bishops can be expected in a matter of months or less. Why is it then that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome is so hypersensitive about any suggestion for the ordination of women put forward by a Catholic writer or speaker? If it hears of a future speaking engagement by such a person, even if the topic is about something else altogether, it writes to the local bishop and demands that the event be cancelled. But treating it as so great a mischief is clearly out of line with, if not rather insulting to, the Catholic Church’s ecumenical partners in the Anglican Communion. 

Pope John Paul II declared in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 that the doctrine that the Church was not authorised to ordain women was “definitively to be held” by all the faithful. The vigour with which this has been enforced since, however, suggests there is something else in play beyond obedience to papal edicts. Some in the Vatican have a particular nervousness about issues surrounding gender identity, specifically the argument promoted by certain American feminists and others that the sexes are in principle interchangeable, and the differences between them are wholly conditioned by culture and social custom. The defenders of orthodoxy apparently see the ordination of women as undermining the idea, central to civilisation, that the sexes are complementary rather than the same. If true, that would make the Church of England a rather dangerous institution. There is an inconsistency here.

In 2008 Pope Benedict declared that the distinction between men and women was “central to human nature”. His primary target appeared to be the writings of Professor Judith Butler, who has influenced academic opinion in America with the idea that gender is a social construct and sexual orientation is therefore flexible – one is only masculine or feminine, gay or straight, because one has been conditioned that way. But to give this such importance is to ignore the fact that 99 per cent of the population would regard her theory as nonsense. As well as the testimony of parents and teachers, all the scientific evidence is stacking up behind the view that boys and girls are born different, while homosexuality and lesbianism are traits laid down before birth.

The CDF has just sponsored a conference on gender complementarity, but the emphasis was on the breakdown of family life and the destructive influence of poverty rather than the importance of maintaining gender distinctiveness. Pope Francis told the conference not to confuse complementarity “with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern”. Such an outbreak of common sense suggests the campaign against Professor Butler and her extreme ideas should now be laid to rest. She was never that important. And witch-hunts against those who want to advocate the ordination of women should henceforth be regarded as beneath the Church’s dignity.

What do you think?


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User Comments (3)

Comment by: Francis
Posted: 21/11/2014 16:18:28

I suspect the vast majority of lay Catholics could not care one iota whether their priest is male or female, single or married, gay or straight.....as long as there is one! Pope John Paul's stifling of debate was utterly outrageous. The pastoral success of women priests in the Anglican Communion is to be celebrated and it is time lay Catholics became less docile and demand action from the hierarchy to follow their example, in spite of Pope John Paul's outrageous stifling of debate.

Comment by: Martin
Posted: 21/11/2014 14:00:29

"The exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma. The church does have the authority (the power of the keys) to ordain women as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides it would be for the glory of God and the good of souls."

Quite the contrary - the position is precisely that the Church does NOT have such authority as Our Lord did not do so.

Further, the position is necessarily dogmatic because anything that impinges upon the Sacrament of Orders or the validity of the Sacraments must be.

If the Church were to "ordain" women - an ontological impossibility - then the Sacraments they would "celebrate" would not be valid. Souls would be lost. It is a terrifying prospect. It is one we cannot and must not countenance.

Comment by: Luis Gutierrez
Posted: 21/11/2014 07:04:06

I certainly agree that the exclusion of women from the ministerial priesthood is the most crucial and urgent issue facing the Catholic church. Granted that ordination to the priesthood is not a "human right" (for either men or women), Christ should be allowed to call those he wants here and now via the mediation of the church.

Isn't it an injustice *against Christ* to force him to call only males in today's world, thereby constraining him to the patriarchal culture he had to deal with during his earthly mission to the people of Israel? Would Jesus, in today's world, appoint 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? Is this what the nuptial union of Christ and the church is all about?

The complementarity of men and women is for mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion. In this regard, it should be noted that St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity, individuality in community, and equality in mutuality.

The exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CIC 1024, CCC 1598). The church does have the authority (the power of the keys) to ordain women as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides it would be for the glory of God and the good of souls.

We should be thankful for the example of discernment given by the C of E, and pray for the Anglican Communion.

Caravaggio’s farewell

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