Gender, Priesthood, and the Church

I’m sure we all remember last October, when the Church welcomed traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic fold. Perhaps you had a reaction similar to mine:  “Yay!  Anglican-use parishes!  Wait…we’re acting as a refuge for ‘Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops?'” [1] Do we need more people like that?  We want people to convert, not because they’ve come to terms with say, the authority of the Pope, or, more importantly—for some Anglicans—transubstantiation, but because of problems with the sexual orientation and gender of those performing the sacraments?

There are those who would argue that the disagreement over the gender/orientation of those performing the sacraments is deeply theological, and not to be taken lightly.  I am not convinced, however, that some are changing their faith due to deep theological convictions.  The conservatively minded sometimes employ theology to justify the disgust they feel at GLBTQ folks or their desire to keep the status quo (as do we all, from time to time).

On the other hand, perhaps I am convinced that these Anglicans have no good reason to leave because I, myself am not particularly moved by arguments as to why women can’t be priests.  Both sides toss well-worn premises around with unfortunate predictability:[2]

Anti:  We can’t have female priests, Christ chose 12 men, and only men even though He had female disciples.

Pro:  This doesn’t tell us anything about his feelings about a female priesthood, He was merely adhering to the social norms of the times.

Anti:  Christ was the Son of God, he can do anything.  If He wanted to make women priests, He would have.  He didn’t.  Clearly, He didn’t want women to be priests.

Pro:  He also didn’t choose Asian, Innuit, or African priests, does that mean that he clearly only wanted people from his portion of the world to be priests?   Furthermore, as an observant Jew, Christ kept kosher, surely that means He wanted us to keep kosher?

And so forth, with variations and discussions about social norms, Christ’s desire to ignore/embrace them in the service of His church, the innate fitness of women for the priesthood, etc.  Arguments frequently descend to people finding parts of the New Testament where Christ is doing something not in current Church teaching and asking why if this has been dispensed with, why not the prohibition on women priests?

On the other hand, we have the more allegorical argument that Church is Mother, and the priest, as Alter Christus, marries the Church, serving as Father to his spiritual children.  As someone deeply interested in allegory, I would probably find this image more convincing, were it not for my gender and orientation convictions.  Not only do I have no problem with the image of a woman marrying a woman, but I also have no difficulty with the idea that a woman can act as a father/fatherly/fathering figure.  Aside from the biological fact that only women can bear children, I don’t see gender as a defining characteristic for the roles of mother- and fatherhood.

On the other hand, being a true believer in my Church, I’m not ready to just start ordaining women without official sanction, as these people have.

Women ordaining women

If anything, I worry that they make the case for woman priests look bad, as, while they claim to be working within the Church, they are actually making a new Church hierarchy for themselves.   While sympathetic with their cause, I am not so sympathetic with their means.

This week, as I’m sure many of you know, the Vatican issued its revised internal laws for the discipline of pedophilic priests.  (The text of the document itself is to be found here).  Article five of that document reads as follows:

Art. 5

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is  also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition.

The Times suggests that,

“The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.”

On one hand, I’m not entirely sure the analysis is correct.  The document does contain, not merely the rules for dealing with abuse of minors, but also other kinds of abuses associated with sacraments (see, for example, Article 3, which deals with sacrilegious acts against the Eucharist.)  The inclusion of a discussion about female priests takes place in the context of sacramental abuses, not specifically  in a discussion about pedophilic priests.  On the other hand, there is no mention (that I can find, perhaps your eyes are sharper, dear readers) of what action may be taken against priests who attempt to marry, or those who attempt to ordain an already married man, which would also be an abuse of Holy Orders.[3] Thus, only the ordination of women is put on par (in terms of sinfulness) with desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, and abuse of children.  This feels pointed and unwarranted, and I am deeply disturbed that the Vatican seems bent on providing more fodder for those who would portray it as a hidebound misogynistic club of old men.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] Of course, the NYT may overstate what the Vatican  actually said, but the point is still worth observing.

[2] Clearly, I am simplifying the arguments on both sides.

[3] I refer, of course, to cases in which the men in question are Roman Catholic, not converts from other traditions.

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Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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