Can You Risk Not Knowing the Truth?

A Response to Arguments for Women Priests #1

Dear Miss Wannabe,

Since the Holy Father has rightfully judged that speculation regarding women priests (actually priestesses) places one outside Catholic orthodoxy, it was with much chagrin that I read your argumentative dissent. While I knew many respectable arguments for women priests before the Vicar of Christ "solemnly" defined it as an impossibility; many of your convoluted statements would not have been among them. If you are going to become a Protestant, then at least become a credible one. Although I do not have the time for a full-scale dissertation, and logical proofs rarely convert fanatics anyway, I will offer a few correctives to your pre-suppositions:

Sexism or Truth?

"The Eucharist is the 'source and summit' of our life in the Church and is crucial to our approach to God; does not a male-only priesthood distort our view of God and the Church?"

I wish I had five cents for every time those words "source" and "summit" are borrowed from Vatican II. Yes, you are right in that the Eucharist incorporates us into the very life of God. The pattern is clear in the prayers of the Mass. We address the Father in our orations, the epiclesis and doxologies invoke the Holy Spirit, and the Christ who mediates our prayer and renders our worship is made present. However, as for God I fail to fathom what distortion you mean. God as God is spirit and neither male nor female. And yet, the Second Person of the Trinity is also a male human being. There is nothing we can do to change that. Attempts to feminize the Spirit suffers in light of the Annunciation and the subsequent overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit. In the current battle over the ICEL translation of the Mass with inclusive language, we must not forget that our tradition of imaging God as Father is revealed truth. Might it suggest that there is something peculiar to fatherhood that most accurately reveals the face of God? I think so. As for the Holy Spirit, biblical imagery paints a mothering picture of the Third Person in the Trinity, but not one of actual gender signification.

"But does not sexism in the Church disrupt the unity in Mystical Body of Christ?"

My answer to this would be to ask what you mean by "sexism"? If you infer that the exclusion of the priesthood to men is pejoratively sexist, then I would have to disagree. It is just the way it is, like women having babies. Some might even argue that it is God's way of creating balance. Just as a woman can bear new life, as Mary did in Bethlehem; the priest can consecrate the food of everlasting life, making Christ again present-- this time on the manger of the altar. Continuing on this theme, several years ago I talked with a few Latin American women who suffered under brutal machismo in their home society. Not one of them wanted to be a priest, nor did they think that women should be. However, they still saw the Church as the one sanctuary where there was liberation from pervasive oppression by males. Home, babies, and women's work was all that they were allowed. One of their husbands told me, "The Church is for women and small children!" This is the kind of sexism that threatens the Church in its most populous regions. Radical feminism, which infects much of the well-to-do West, had not yet touched these women who saw the Church on the side of true human dignity. They cared for the Church, made banners and decorations, lead rosaries and novenas, had meetings on various topics, etc. No where else could they do this. They viewed the Church as a source of empowerment. For them, as it should be for us, the proposal of women priests is a non-issue. Even in our own country, most women to whom I speak in the parish are against the ordination of females. The television and newspaper polls which seem to show a majority leaning the other way are not only faulty because of the ways in which the question is asked, but also because of who they question. If only 28% of our people are regular Sunday churchgoers, then this is the group who should be interviewed. Those who are already in violation of a precept of the Church that binds them under the penalty of mortal sin will obviously further dissent in high numbers on other issues.

"While the Church has acquiesced regarding altar girls, is not the exclusion of women (exhibiting all the signs of a call) from seminaries a black mark against the Gospel and to our shame as a Church? With the shortage of priests, would it not be for the good of souls to ordain women?"

You ask loaded questions that already presuppose an answer. I do not believe it is God's will. True shame would come if we ordain women in violation of God's will. God's glory is not furthered in surrendering to our own selfishness and dissent. If it is impossible to ordain women, and I contend attempts to do so are null-and-void, then what good of souls would be promoted-- especially with the loss of the Eucharist? None. I believe it would come to our condemnation.

"Priesthood is a gift and it is an exaggeration to say that women wanting to be priests are seeking access to ecclesiastical power."

Yes, you are right that ordination to priesthood is not a right that can be established in some social justice agenda. And yes, Christ is the one who calls and the Church mediates it; however, such are not two operations but inextricably linked. You have seemed to divide them. Nor would I say that all who advocate women's ordination are radical feminists; although they may have subliminally attached themselves to their ideas. In any case, they have made themselves their bedfellows. As for the matter of stereo-types, sometimes categorization helps and sometimes it does not. Depending upon the issue people are rarely consistent.

While it might be an over-generalization to say that those women desiring ordination are "seeking access to ecclesiastical power," it is certain that those most vocal on this subject perceive it as precisely that. What God gives as only a gratuity to a few men, and not to women, has been engineered into a political goal. You say that we should "recognize that the ordination of women is a legitimate ecclesial issue," but for Catholics it is not. You are obliged to render religious assent to the Holy Father even if you have ideas of your own on the issue. This is an ingredient of holy obedience. The recent solemn definition of the Pope was one word shy from a full-blown dogmatic announcement. It was leaked that the Holy Father intended to do this but was advised that since the doctrine was already a well-established tenet of the deposit of faith, it might be better received if less stringent in tone.

"Christ did not limit women to six sacraments while prescribing seven for men."

You mean to say that unless a person is a priest, that sacrament has no value for him or her? No, as a sacrament of service, all benefit from the priesthood. I know of no requirement for us to receive all the sacraments. Most people do not become clergy. Many die before receiving the final anointing. Some people never marry. Are they any less Christian? No. Nor is the priesthood any guarantee of holiness. Do not fall prey to this "Gimme" ethic which would selfishly reduce the sacraments to a grocery list which we must receive; what is most important is that we should be saved from our sins and go to heaven.

Maleness Matters

"The masculinity of Jesus is insignificant to his priesthood, only his humanity matters."

Oh, how many gender-neutral people do you know? How can you claim not to be a radical feminist when you have accepted their central premise that gender is irrelevant? By the way, I understand how you are using the term, "masculinity"; but properly, it is a characteristic quality often associated with the male gender. It is not a current synonym for that gender. If "masculinity" was the essential trait to be discerned for priesthood, I know several women who could readily line up for the job. Looking past your faulty terminology, you have simply transposed the separatist teaching of Charles Curran and Richard McCormick from the moral to the doctrinal arena. In both cases it is a fallacy. The maleness of Christ is not an accidental like hair or ethnic origin. Sexuality goes to the very core identity of the person. This was understood by the Council of Nicea in the fourth century which prohibited the laying on of hands to women since only those sharing Christ's manhood were configured to make him present in holy orders.

"It can be said that the woman is in the man and the man is in the woman."

No, no, no-- we are not androgynous! This statement contradicts your reference to differentiation. The sexes are complementary but you would reduce sexuality to an equal sign [=]; rather, it is like two distinct pieces of a puzzle, an analogy even actualized in our human flesh. Maleness, like femaleness, is neither a "limitation" for ourselves nor for Christ. It is a fulfillment open to possibilities. You still persist in your ridiculous minimalization of gender as an incidental to our humanity; it is not. No rewording of this hypothesis will disguise your separatist leanings! Despite numerous critique's of this approach, your stance remains unchanged. I cannot help but think that it is less correction that you want than it is new material by which you can further convolute and sustain an argument that is inherently fallacious. You would do well to research the nature of man by reading books such as von Balthasar's, Christian Anthropology or von Hildebrand's Man and Woman before continuing further.

"Ministerial priesthood is a gratuity of the Sacred Heart of Christ and not from his maleness; after all, would you contend that we instigate a pious devotion to the sacred (intrinsic) maleness of Jesus to shore up arguments for a male-only priesthood?"

(Hum, what an idea!) But, actually, there is something crass about the way you talk about such prayerforms. The Sacred Heart is a devotional symbol of the infinite love that brought Christ to his cross. At the core of this appreciation is the teaching from Trent that it was the accumulative sins of all humanity throughout all time that murdered Christ. His forgiving love which the world does not give, and fails to understand, is given sacramental expression in the Mass. If this is what you mean, I can follow you so far. However, the business about a devotion to his maleness escapes me. I guess you mean it in a cynical fashion. Perhaps I should answer it in the same vein and clamor about the embarrassingly passionate piety and devotion that certain women mystics exhibited in their words and swooning over the male Jesus? No, I will skip that. I will simply reiterate that the ordained priest at Mass celebrates a repeatable sacramental act that, unlike one-time baptism, requires a closer affinity in all essentials with the historical act of Christ which it re-presents. Maleness is fundamental in this regard. Just as the Immaculate Heart of Mary is feminine; the Sacred Heart is masculine by virtue of the particular incarnation of Christ. A new devotion to his maleness is unnecessary, and if taken to the extreme, may come full circle to your position that it is something that can be dissected from the rest of his identity.

"The maleness of Jesus is merely a historical accident and implies nothing regarding the priesthood."

Of course, in the end, you must know that such reasoning would lead you out of the Church. Our whole salvation history is made up of various incidents, major and minor. Who is to say what historical facts are not essential? Without the various historical happenings, there is no such thing as a mystery as a whole. Even in the liturgical seasons, we celebrate individually the various particular events which make up the saga of salvation. By this statement are we to presume that gender is simply an accident with no significant meaning? Even modern psychology, (not the parlor tricks kind that looks for an unsubstantiated and unverifiable "collective subconscious" in the sensus fidelium when personal religious notions unravel), affirms that gender and sexuality touches every fiber of the person. Christ and the eleven were male; and even if unforeseen developments could lead to a female priesthood, this historical fact could never be eradicated. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Christ is male. He is not a woman-- he is not neuter-- he is not a composite of both sexes. The question becomes, does this maleness which reached into the deepest core of who he was and is have a bearing upon his priesthood. The answer of the Church is yes.

I will leave you with Fr. Stravinskas' reflection: ". . . it's important to recognize that in the Christian Faith sexuality is not a matter of indifference, for Christianity is an incarnational religion which takes the flesh seriously. In the early Church the Gnostic sects tried to say that sexual differences did not matter; the reader will recall that the Gnostics had problems accepting the humanity of Christ. The Church responded by asserting the symbolic value of the flesh, as well as its real meaning as part of God's Creation. In the Christian scheme of things, neither sex is better than the other, just different" (p. 36).

Confusing Initiation with Vocation

"Just as our redemption makes no distinction between male and female, neither does the priesthood of Christ."

Yes, the sacraments invite us into the Paschal Mystery of Christ and we become new Christs on the level of grace. Unlike the "imputation" theorized by Martin Luther, we are actually made into a new creation-- changed-- so that the Father who vindicates his Son in the resurrection will see his Son in us and grant us a share in his new life. Our humanity is assumed by Christ so that we might share in something of his divinity (as the Missal prayer at the mixing of a drop of water into the wine reminds us). So far, so good. Gender is not made an issue in terms of soteriology. Right, but there is no logical connection between this truth and the male-only priesthood.

"Every Christian is an icon of Christ by virtue of baptism."

You continue to confused soteriology with sacramental theology! Luke 13:34b, which you cite, compares the Lord to a mother hen who broods over her children. Would you be so sexist as to stereotype the male without nurturing qualities? Nothing is said about Jesus the woman and he is certainly not androgynous. Indeed, if you really want to be "fundamentalist" about it, I suppose that you might argue for the ordination of chickens. Our humanity is assumed by Christ so that we might all be redeemed. This we probably agree upon. The acquisition of priesthood is not necessary for salvation. Rather, it is the cooperation and union of the laity with their priests that has salvific merit, especially in the Mass. Baptism makes us into new Christs so that sharing in his life and death we might also partake of his reward, the resurrection. This does not mean that this identification is sufficient for any of the baptized to offer the eucharistic liturgy, as the Australian Anglicans are now claiming. This requires the further sacramental character given by the bishop through the imposition of hands in ordination to a man properly disposed. Simultaneously, the bishop must intend to ordain priests who will offer sacrifice, not only of praise, but also of propitiation.

Eucharist and Priesthood: Different Modes of Presence

"The eucharistic elements after consecration into Christ do not convey a masculine appearance; similarly, there should be no requirement that the ordained priest signify such a masculine appearance."

Bishop Untener made this mistake a few years ago, but at least he had a working knowledge of Greek. He interpreted the word, "prosopon" referring to the mask used in Greek tragedy as merely the "appearance" of the priest's maleness at Mass. However, the Greeks actually gave the word, "prosopon," an ontological depth. The actor became the character he played. To avoid confusion, the West opted in its theology of holy orders to replace this word with "persona". The priest's manhood cannot be reduced to the external. Like the Eastern icons, something you mention later without explanation, the image is not simply a painting, it is a sacramental which conveys presence. By the sacrament of holy orders, the undivided male humanity of the presbyter conveys the living and acting presence of Christ. This all sounds pretty complicated. My grandmother would simply say you are mixing apples and oranges. While the Eucharist and priesthood are crucially linked, they are, nonetheless, separate sacraments of the new dispensation. Your logic here alludes me. What would you have had Jesus use at the Last Supper, Ginger Bread Men? In any case, the teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist mandates that we believe the Lord is wholly made manifest under the consecrated elements. Body, Soul, Divinity, he is present-- and while he is vivified or alive-- he also remains by virtue of the incarnation-- eternally male. That which is usually bread for physical life is transubstantiated into the bread of eternal life. While both the Eucharist and the priesthood signify Christ's presence, one is in the manner of food and the other is in the mode of an acting person. Did you think that Jesus somehow lost his "masculinity" or maleness after the resurrection? The Gnostics proposed a similar heresy by denying his humanity altogether. Oh, yes, and these heretics had women priests.

"If our Lord really wanted to stress a masculine appearance, he could have instituted the Eucharist with meat and blood from a male lamb."

You really see meat as signifying gender? No such notion ever entered into it. As a good Jew, I do not see Christ violating one of their most serious taboos, the drinking of animal blood. He conformed himself to the rubrics of the paschal meal which already had two elements perfect for his purposes. He knew that sacramental references to the cup and consecrated bread would be hard enough for some of them to endure; he would not press upon them the vulgarity of what you suggest. The whole notion of a sacrament which we hold dear would become crude if such had been the case. Christ made a major move away from the old covenant's sacrificing of animals to the new covenant's unbloody sacrifice. Otherwise, Christ's unique sacrifice would be blurred in the repeated killing of lambs for Mass and the consumption of the flesh and warm blood. No, I think this "could have" argument leads nowhere except into more idle speculation. Christ is made present-- his full risen identity-- no male external signs are given because it is taken for granted. After all, as both priest and victim, he is already signified by the priest before the altar. Thus, your question, "since both bread and wine transcend gender, was he not making a clear statement that what nurtures our spiritual life are his body and blood, and not his maleness?" is deceptive. The Christ who spiritually feeds us is complete. As mentioned before, your theology of Christ's real presence is separatist.

"Despite arguments to the contrary, the lack of masculine accidents in the Eucharist should be pertinent in the argument for women priests."

Again, I might as well be talking to a wall! This business of gender-neutral food pointing toward a similarly disposed priesthood will earn you nothing but laughs, even from sympathetic Protestants! Your literalism in this regard makes the fundamentalism you accuse me of pale in comparison. If I were to play your game, I would remind you that we are Latin rite Christians and that the word "panis" (bread) is a masculine noun. But again, you are drawing at straws. The Eucharist conveys the real and undivided presence of Christ. Christ is priest and victim. The maleness of Christ signified by the priest at the altar overshadows and is one with that of Christ in the Eucharist. Not unlike Nestorius, you would create two Sons-- the incarnate male Jesus and the neutered version upon our altars. Like the Gnostics, you would spiritualize the Lord so that "in persona Christi" would be robbed of any real relation to the physical God-man Jesus who offers his life on Calvary. Your interpretation of "in persona Christi" as relegated ONLY to the "one Divine Person who transcends gender," resonates with the first heretics who claimed that our Lord only pretended to die on the cross." I cannot believe you persist in your heresy. The divine Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is forever and always one with Jesus of Nazareth! And, as you tag it on with no explanation, the mediation of the Church is RESTRAINED by the revealed will of Christ, and such has been always and everywhere against the ordination of women. The Church, and not you, is the arbiter of this truth. If the Church says that it is not Christ's will, and here I mean the shepherds appointed for this task, then it is not God's will. This perpetual and intrinsically consistent doctrine of the UNIVERSAL ORDINARY MAGISTERIUM is a teaching to which every Catholic must render RELIGIOUS ASSENT, even if unconvinced by argumentation. The Holy Spirit can be trusted to be with these authorities in such a serious matter. Christ would not have allowed the Church to fall into error about such an important aspect of it constitution.

No Opposition in the Will of Christ and That of the Church

"The prohibition against women priests in not the will of Christ, only of the Church."

Ah, here it comes out. Any attentive student taking a reputable ecclesiology course would know this statement is wrong. In addition, your appreciation of the incarnation is shallow. Christ is present in his sacraments and in us to different degrees and in various ways. Christ is alive and guiding us through his Church, especially through the shepherds appointed for this purpose and protected by the Holy Spirit. You would deny Christ his presence in the sacrament of the Church. Tradition, a mainstay of Catholic teaching and practice, along with Sacred Scripture, shows us the will of God. In this matter, and the Holy Father's statement bears this out, the will of the Church is that of Christ. I doubt the Lord would leave us in the dark upon such a serious matter for two thousand years. Those who disconnect the groom, Christ, from his bride, the Church, readily fall into error and disobedience. I am afraid that if there is any "pathetic rationalization," on this issue, it is yours.

How dare you make yourself the arbiter of truth? Your supposition is a lie that profanes the priesthood and the nature of Christ. Yours is the sacrilege. Once you reconsider doctrine, like many of our Protestant brethren regularly do, everything is open for grabs. What is true is always true. You contend that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is not infallible and only definitive as long as it is not superceded. But, doctrinal truth builds on truth, not retraction. Christian epistemology is not ultimately subjective but objective. Truth is not what I want it to be, but what is. The Holy Father could no more change this teaching about priesthood than he could say that Jesus did not rise from the dead. The fathers of the Church taught that a Pope who fell into heresy would cease being Pope. Thankfully, the providence of God has given special care to the successors of Peter. You seem to reduce the Pope's veracity to dogmatic statements. And yet most Catholic teaching is taken for granted. For two thousand years, East and West, it has been popularly held that only men could be ordained. The Orthodox hold this to be true. The Catholic bishops in union with the Holy See have similarly concurred. It has been and still is in most places, well received. When a teaching is universally held and taught as necessary, it becomes a full expression of the Universal Ordinary (as differentiated from Extraordinary) Teaching Authority (Magisterium). Such teachings are held infallible without the need for further dogmatic decree. Thus, as my mind recalls classes on the sources of Christian doctrine presented by Fr. Avery Dulles, the traditional basic premise must be taken for granted.

There are many levels of lesser tradition and structures for which the process of rumination upon the will of Christ in the Church is legitimate. Regarding faith and morals, including the institutions established by our Lord himself, there exists a special intimacy between Christ and his Church. As I said before, you can make distinctions, but not divisions. The Church is sinful because it is composed of weak men and women; the Church is holy because it is the primordial sacrament of Christ. Christ "submits" to the Church? Well, yes in that Christ named Peter the "rock" upon which he would build his Church, a Church to whom he gave the KEYS TO THE KINGDOM. This kingdom breaks into our world through the world's encounter with the Church. This process will not be complete until the Parousia. It is for this reason that something like slavery, which you cite here, was hesitantly tolerated. The seeds for its eradication were already sowed in the Scriptures and in our tradition. Ancient slavery was often limited to definite time-tables and some even gave themselves into this institution to improve their lives or to raise income. Conquered peoples were often made slaves like the indentured servants in colonial America. Much of the race hatred and inhumanity to man that epitomized American slavery was only to evolve later. It was in the face of this that the Church did raise her voice. The Pope fought nations on the issue of enslaving the indigenous populations of the New World and was eventually victorious. Most in Medieval society were forbidden to make slaves of Christians. The followers of Islam were allowed to be taken into such servitude with the understanding that it be used as a temporary means to bring them to Christ. Having said this, such policies were not understood as being directed from the Church's institution by Christ. They represented practical decisions of churchmen in the ever-changing world. The Catholic religion did not create slavery. It entered a world wherein it was already a facet of civilization. The teachings about equality in grace (for salvation), the brother- and sisterhood of all Christians, the rights and dignity of all peoples-- these were notions that sought to modify slavery and which finally lashed out against it entirely. But, the seed was already planted. Fr. Charles Curran in his debate with Rome, which he always insisted was less a confrontation over morals as it was over ecclesiology, also cited slavery and in addition, the revised teachings on religious liberty, in his attempt to do for contraception, homosexuality, and abortion, what you persist in trying for women's ordination-- legitimizing dissent. He even went so far as to argue that theologians represent a parallel Magisterium alongside the Pope and bishops. Do you? One of the things you both fail to consider is that the Church is not prescient. She is a prophet for hailing the kingdom, but not a fortune-teller.

While not really topical to this letter, I will ramble for a moment on a few of the side issues. The doctrinal development that would lead to a renunciation of slavery, to a toleration and exultation of democratic states, to religious liberty over (but not against) the idea of a state faith; all this took time, and reflected new situations and settings. For the Church to expound upon these issues at its very foundation would be like a Roman Centurion riding in a modern tank. Much of the strategies of old could be called into play, but the technology, just as the cultural development, took time. In contradistinction, the Mass is still the Mass and the priesthood is still the priesthood; just as human nature and the natural law continue to be in force. The world might change, but any scholar of humanity would tell you that men do not. The kingdom of Christ comes not by our hands but by the mysterious providence of God expressed in the Church. Nothing any of us may do, good or evil, will change this. Protestants in turn-of-the century America endorsing the merits of the Social Gospel movement realized too late and to their dismay that the reign of God cannot be manipulated. We may cooperate with God, but we cannot hope to master him. Some thought education would give us a more intensely moral people; instead, we ended up with some of the most intelligent crooks the world had ever seen. Learning perfects our minds, but we are principally made better by grace.

Likewise, women priests would not solve all the ills and ministry shortages in the Church. Such an institution would make us no better or holier, either. Indeed, if it is not the will of God, which unbroken authority and living tradition attests, then it would endanger the many individuals and the faith of those who might otherwise belong to the Lord. Yes, I think we can take it for granted, short of any supernatural event to the contrary, that the priesthood as we now have it does express the immutable will of Christ. As for your introduction of the inquisition into this discussion, it would require another letter entirely to soundly refute. The collaboration of the Church with political states has always been more or less unsatisfactory. The inquisition, as in places like Spain, took on a life of its own, even against the correctives of Popes. There is no excuse for torture and there is nothing in the Church's deposit to give it approbation. As for the penalty of death for heretics, and again the Church did not speak with a uniform voice upon this, and the older punishment was simply excommunication and exile, it is all too easy for us to judge the past from the comfort of our nice easy chairs of today. A few recent studies show that the atrocities of the inquisition were much exaggerated. But remember too, there was much fear regarding the expansion of Islam and nations wanted a united front, and this included religion. It is unfortunate that people's zeal would entice them to unsavory measures in preserving Catholic religion; however, as in Spain, the enduring Catholic faith is a reminder that God still writes straight with crooked lines-- to borrow a cliche for myself. Sir Thomas More-- the saint in the play, A Man for All Seasons-- espoused that a man who causes spiritual death should be liable to the same punishment as a man who causes physical death-- execution. He may have been wrong, but he was a man of his own times. He spoke upon an issue open for debate. Would we not say that such a discussion would not go far today? Sure. Similarly, the debate about women priests, and it was only a short-lived one, is for all intensive purposes over in the Catholic Church. Those who publicly dissent on this issue should not be surprised if they find themselves treading the path of the Protestant Reformers.

"Appropriate prayer and reflection will bring us to the truth of women's ordination."

Yes, those who want to reconsider women's ordination should make recourse first to prayer. However, no so-called private revelation can be claimed against the movement of the Holy Spirit in the teaching Church. And while time will further illumine this question, I suspect God's will as now evoked in the Church's status-quo will be further substantiated. It is a matter of turning the clock against centuries of so-called sexism from the hierarchy; rather of the second step after prayer, obedient religious assent. This is what the Church understands by "listening." However, like the spoiled child, who refuses to take no for an answer from his mother, you would have individuals and groups continue in posing dissent only thinly veiled as "honest questions". For the Church to "turn around" on this issue would be to turn her back on Christ himself. You are confident that God will do this "impossible" thing for you and yet I suspect that it is indeed, impossible. The very request suffers from an inner contradiction, that God would will to do what he does not will to do. It is like the nonsensical puzzle that says, if God is all powerful, can he make a rock too heavy for him to lift? If you answer yes, then he cannot lift the rock and is not all powerful. If you answer no, then he cannot make such a rock and is not all powerful. As with the question of women priests, it is non-sensical and best never asked.

Church Authority Under the Hand of God

"The Church has the lawful authority to call both men and women to holy orders."

No, the Church herself is restrained by the practice of the Lord and his apostles. As with the few Anglican Bishops who might have authentic orders, any women they attempt to ordain would not be priests, and any Masses they celebrate would not convey the sacrifice of Calvary, no matter what their intentions. Not even all men are deemed worthy of holy orders, not to mention women. Short of a miraculous revelation from heaven, the Catholic Church would never so jeopardize the sacraments for her people.

"Indeed, the Church has already used this authority at the Council of Jerusalem; Circumcision was replaced with the more inclusive rite of baptism as the means of initiation into the People of God, thus opening the door to women's ordination."

The issue of the Gentile inclusion in the Church and the equality of men and women in grace is furthered by the replacement of circumcision by baptism. It has nothing at all to do with ordination and/or the charisms in the Christian community. Baptismal priesthood, the general call to share in Christ's self-offering, is different from the ordained priesthood, a sacerdotal ministry of leadership in which the Mass is offered and sins are forgiven.

"Just as the apostles knew nothing of the Marian dogmas, the Church can also use its jurisdiction to legislate in favor of women priests."

Huh? Are you denying these, too? How many more fruit are you going to throw into the mix? I hate to burst your bubble, but the long-standing tradition of the Church would hold otherwise; or are you a Protestant "sola scriptura" critic? The Church made dogmatic merely what East and West had long believed. Did not the apostles witness this miracle of her dormition and assumption? Why else are there no relics of Mary? The Church did not make it up-- she inherited this truth of faith. Similarly, the male is the icon of Christ in the priesthood. His very flesh, including his sexuality, resonates with Christ's in perfect harmony, making the Lord and his saving activity present. When at the altar, the same sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented by the priest "in persona Christi."

"I must still insist that if Pope Pius XII can infallibly define the Assumption, then it is silly to maintain that he does not have the power to ordain females."

Infallibility cannot be used in an arbitrary fashion. If Christ did not want women to be ordained priests, the Pope cannot make it so. In this instance, your letter would seem to posit the Bishop of Rome with more authority and power than he actually has-- at least as long as it would rule in your favor. The Pope's recent statement demands religious assent of all Catholics. Nevertheless, you protest. Would you recant your error if he made it fully dogmatic? Or, have you already become your own Magisterium?

"A living tradition has room to grow and change; women's ordination is part of this growth."

Yes, tradition is a living process. But, as Cardinal Newman tells us, it is also organic, coming from a seed planted by the Lord in the Apostolic community. As such there are restraints, just as an apple seed grows into an apple tree, and not into a rabbit. You would grow rabbits. Some tradition, and the revelation it communicates, goes back to the earliest days of the Church. The Marian dogmas are among these. Marian dogmas may not be explicitly taught from the Scriptures, but a nucleus might be detected there, and in any case, they are in harmony with the Word of God.

"Speaking of Mary, we call upon her as 'full of grace,' does this not show something of the dignity and worthiness of women for holy orders?"

It does not apply. Mary was not an ordained priest. If God had wanted women to be priests, he would certainly have given this gift to the Mother of God. He did not. What it does mean is that all men and women, through baptism, use of the other sacraments, and faithful discipleship, can become like Mary, full of grace. In other words, she is our model for holiness, not priestliness. It is possible for us all to be saints; indeed, this is our most essential vocation, and it may be, if I might speculate, such an enthralling calling (huh, I rhyme) that some confuse it, male and female, with a summons to holy orders.

"The power of the keys of the kingdom given to Peter and the Church would be sufficient to allow women priests."

This is the same business. Again, when all else fails, lie, lie, lie. The keys belong to Peter, but you would wrestle them away for your own purposes. In any case, Christ is the door. The Church can no more make women priests then it can disown the Eucharist or the resurrection. And as for continuity with the apostolic tradition-- it is entirely on the side of a male-only priesthood. You prove nothing to the contrary from the Apostolic and Patristic witness. You cannot. The doctrine of the Church is intact. If anything here is defective, it is your pernicious battle against the Holy Spirit and your repugnant argumentation that attacks the shepherds established by Christ. Give it up. Say your prayers. Be faithful. Adhere wholeheartedly to the commandments and precepts of the Church. Respect the Holy Father and confess to a priest your maligning him and the Church as murderers. The Church will not abandon the male-only priesthood, because the Church will not abandon the truth.

False Relationship Between Gospel of Life Issues and Vocations

"The Church's barriers to the 'conception' and 'gestation" of women's priestly vocations is a more serious evil than contraception between couples."

You are very presumptuous of the will of God. I put all pet ideas aside in favor of the Church which is guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Personal interpretation, when wielded against the Magisterium, can only lead to further fracturing in the Mystical Body. I would not want such a sin upon my soul. I will pray for you. For most of the Catholic world, the matter of women's ordination is a non-issue. Such talk in North America can only lead to schism.

"Since the hierarchal Church contracepts and aborts female vocations to holy orders, how can the pro-life message be effectively advanced?"

First of all, moving to an aside, I am glad to see that you are a brother-in-arms regarding the right to life of the unborn. God will bless you many times over for this. And yes, spiritual life, not as frequently discussed, is also crucial. The minister Pat Robertson said as much before the Right to Life March in January. We need to pray for the murdered unborn; but, we also need to pray for those who take human life so casually. The prospect that even one human being might be damned to the eternal fires of hell should fill us all with an urgent concern. I take it from the title of this section that you also view contraception as a moral evil. Again, I must congratulate you. It strikes me odd though, that you can see to the quick upon these issues and then so muddle up this matter of women priests. As in my last correspondence, I do not believe you have gotten the analogy right between the wrongness of these moral issues and the refusal of the Church to ordain women. Indeed, I do perceive a thread to the contrary from the thinking of one of my old professors, Fr. Charles Curran. In many of his arguments, he seemed to make a distinction between the physical and the spiritual. Thus, in contraception, the YOU could not be tied down to the manipulation of the BODY. I disagreed. This does not make me a "physicalist," but rather, an "integralist". He is clearly a "separatist". We can make distinctions between body and soul, but there are no human persons without one or the other . There are no people without gender. There is never any Jesus without his manhood. There is no hierarchal church" as such, only a Church with interdependent roles and responsibilities that includes the hierarchy. The expression, "We are the Church," so often used by dissidents against the Magisterium, must, if it is to be genuine, also include the shepherds of our faith. You borrow divisive language about the ecclesial nature of the Church from those who would subvert her teachings and mission. Be careful.

Second, moving to your concern proper, your question does not follow and your basic hypothesis is still unproven. The burden of proof is upon those suggesting a change, not upon the adherents of the status-quo. As in abortion, if there is any DOUBT, you would be compelled to err on the side of no or less harm. Thus, taking for granted that the unborn are human beings, you allow them to come to term. Similarly, while we know for certain that Christ called men to priesthood, there is, even for honest proponents, some UNCERTAINTY about women priests. Thus, in the face of massive traditional data and revelation to the contrary, women could not ethically be ordained since it would jeopardize Apostolic succession and the Eucharist.

"Denial of a person's legitimate vocation is a kind of death worse that physical death; it implies a sacrilege against the divine Person of Jesus, himself. It is a violation of his will to call whomever he chooses."

Actually, are we not really talking about a dissenter's will masquerading as that of Christ's? Why is it we are more willing to posit the will of Christ with ourselves than with his shepherds appointed for that purpose regarding matters of the universal Church? What was the sin of Satan? Ah, yes, "I will not serve." What was Adam's temptation? "You will be as gods." Even the name of Satan, Lucifer means light-bearer, not overly different from the title of Christ as the Light of the World. Sometimes the devil pretends even to himself to be a god. We should not be led astray by his false luminosity. If the bishop calls a man to priesthood, he then knows for sure, objectively, with this confirmation of the Church, that it is the will of God. Before that all is seen through a haze and is subjective. I will not grant women an assurance in their calling to priesthood (which I contend is an illusion) that I will not grant to men until there has been a public call from the leaders of the Church. For women, this call will never come. Many men are called to study and to seminary who are actually not called to be priests, but perhaps just good laymen. They thought for awhile God was calling them to priesthood, but around the bend there were surprises. I suspect that some women mistake the call to holiness or consecrated life with holy orders. Others might be under the influence of a demonic spirit that lies to them. Still others might be drunk with a desire for power. As one woman desiring priesthood said on CBS's Sixty Minutes, "I'm too good now to be a priest, I want to be a bishop!" These are the kind of people who even turn those sympathetic to women priests against them.

Why is it that the Mother Teresa's of the world do not want to be priests and even fight against the notion? They do so because it is a deceit, neither the will of Christ nor of his Church-- and there is no credible objective evidence to the contrary. By the way, a sacrilege is a violation of a person, place, or thing publicly dedicated to the worship or service of God. If a woman was formally consecrated to the religious life and ill treated, that would be sacrilege. The same would go for an ordained priest. If even the dismissal of a male seminarian is not considered such then this categorization would definitely not apply to female "wannabe" priests.

The exclusion of women from holy orders does not handicap them from being "fully alive". Was Mary alive? Was the Little Flower alive? Was Theresa of Ovalle alive? Claire? Catherine of Siena? Sure they were! Women need not be priests to know that God loves them and has given them the opportunity to live out this love in the single life, marriage, or in the consecrated life. The real point should not be the exclusion of women in priesthood. What we really ought to be delving into is the wonder of God calling men to serve in this capacity for the sake of us all. You may consider me 'an intolerant traditionalist' with attachments 'to fossilized mental attitudes,' but I see myself safe in the ancient and yet ever-new witness of our saving heritage. For one such as myself to surrender it, believing these ageless truths to be true, would force me to act against my conscience. I would have no doubt that I would be cutting myself off from Christ's true Church and damning myself to eternal perdition. There is no danger in my stance; all the uncertainty is on your side, and the consequences for error are too horrible to imagine.

"Nevertheless, I hold that the Church is rendering vocational contraception and abortion; a worldwide holocaust is going on and the hierarchy is responsible."

Where is your syllogism? There is no logical middle-term between your connection of biological contraception and abortion with what you consider such for female vocations! And, I and others are convinced that these women have mistaken a call to holiness with that for orders. There is no spiritual fetus or embryo for priesthood. Ordination immediately makes one a sharer in holy orders. A calling is not a vocation in miniature. It does not develop or evolve.

Now you go too far and make me angry. Despite your hollow words to the contrary, you show no respect whatsoever to the Holy Father. You defame one of the saintliest men who walk the earth, and along with him, the good bishops who are steadfast with the Lord against the fads and fashion of a faithless world. Indeed, your statement condeming the hierarchy for a vocational holocaust is a violation of the decalogue. YOU BEAR FALSE WITNESS. If you do so in your right mind then your are convicted of a most serious transgression against the moral order. Some might even suggest that you have defacto ruptured your ties to the Catholic Church, planting yourself firmly in the camp of heretics. Yes, it may be a nasty word, but in this tragic case it seems to be descriptive. I will pray for you soul, that you may yet be rescued from your folly. Returning to your text, the sensus fidelium is an externalized and constant fidelity to the truth. Becoming a poor shrink for the Church, I suspect that you project your own insecurity upon others by inventing a "collective" but really, narcissistic, "subconscious" of Catholic believers that, in actuality, extends no further then your own soul. You have moved from something empirically provable to that which is purely subjective. Sorry for the roughness, but your attempts at originality have transgressed from trite to offensive.

Theological Authorities

"Most theological authorities favor an examination of women's ordination."

Is this true? And if it is, so what? How about these authorities?:

O. Semmelroth speaks about this issue in terms of a pictorial representation of the redemptive encounter between Christ and humanity in the Church. Thus, in the Eucharist, there is a sacramental reflection of the "rite of heavenly sacrifice" in which the oblation of Christ and the "participating" sacrifice of Mary on Calvary has eternal validity before the heavenly Father. The exercise of ecclesiastical office is characterized as a male role and the function of the congregation is female. Semmelroth observes: "What Paul writes in the fifth chapter of Ephesians about the relation of husband to wife is to a high degree valid for the relation between the priest and congregation, for the latter is a relationship which like that of marriage -- yet even more realistically -- reflects the relationship between Christ and Mary." Another insight is that Christ, the bridegroom and head of the Church-- the life-giving principle for the Church-- could not, in fact, be represented by a woman who is subject to man and could not be called like him, the head. Just as the man is ideally the head of the home, and the woman, its heart, (and I see few people walking around with only one or the other), most of our people constitute the heart of the Church while the priests represent its head. Women's ordination would destroy this Scriptural analogy.

E. Krebs writes: "As father, spouse and bridegroom, Christ stands vis-a-vis his Church. . . . But being father and bridegroom is the role of the male. So there is in the priesthood a mystical relationship to maleness, by which we can clearly see that Christ has entrusted this masculine office to the male."

M. Schmaus writes, and you really should get his series of books now reprinted: "Thus [as in the case of Christ] the fact that the priest is a man is in itself a natural indication of his commission to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, to give the sacraments and so confer divine life in a creativity effected by the power of Christ. The place of women is rather to receive life and to take care of it." Refutations to these arguments, which I have also read were, like yours, not overly convincing.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most holy and faithful of Christ's disciples, but not a priest, intercede for you to her Son.

May the incarnate boy-baby of Bethlehem bless you!

Sincerely, a sharer in the male-priesthood of Christ,
Father Joseph A. Jenkins, Jr.
Associate Pastor


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Revised on April 30, 1998.