While on vacation, a friend sent me this note:

Hey Todd,

This situation here gives me some very mixed feelings. I’m very interested in your thoughts. (I’m sorry if you’ve already addressed this in the past on CS…)



The first link is the story on an upcoming riverboat ordination. The second is the official Pittsburgh diocesan response. I’ve likely commented here and on other blogs on this in the past, but let’s delve into it a bit tonight. For those who want the Church’s official position, check link 2 and your Catechism. Assuming that you are able to do so, I’ll offer my comments, not in any particular order:

First, I’ve known several women who believed they were called to the ordained priesthood. I had no reason to believe they were crazy, narcissistic, deluded, unfaithful to God, or in any way imbalanced. They had many of the qualities we all associate with good priests: they were good preachers, skilled listeners, deeply spiritual and pastoral leaders, acknowledged spiritual directors, Scripture scholars and teachers, and so on. What their sense of call is I’m not qualified to determine. I know neither their hearts, heads, nor inner standing with God. They say they have a call. I can’t agree or disagree. There are times when I barely know my own life’s call, and I’m not stupid enough to even attempt a decision on someone else’s.

Second, I think the relationship between a priest (or bishop) and the faith community–parish, religious community, or diocese is paramount. Shepherds are ordained for a specific diocese. These riverboat ordinations strike me as containing a strain of what I would see as the worst of pre-conciliar Catholicism: that priests are ordained to join a club of peers. They are not. Indeed, the peers of a priest (or bishop) are invaluable; they serve as a necessary support and check, especially for the needs of the individual. But after the relationship with God, the primary bond of any shepherd is with the people. For that reason alone, these ordinations strike me as wholly invalid, even before the Church weighs in with a canonical opinion.

Third, while I may have doubts about the intellectual or theological quality of the argument against the ordination of women, it is, at minimum, the Church’s current discipline. That’s enough for me to accept it. At maximum, a male-only priesthood is a part of the sacramental Tradition as handed down by Jesus, and that should be enough to give any Catholic grave concern before stepping over the line.

Fourth, I do think the Magisterium is in a difficult place in convincing the Body of the veracity of this teaching to a level approaching moral unanimity in the faithful. Their track record with women as a universal institution, in dioceses, with religious orders, and in parishes is frightfully sexist. It remains so today. This fact damages their ability to communicate the teaching with a full integrity and credibility.

And lastly, I believe the principle of unity in the Church supercedes the injustice these ordination candidates express and, no doubt, honestly feel. Christ may or may not have historically intended an all-male priesthood. But he did pray for unity. It may be a great mystery, but unity trumps fairness. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, a person must make painful sacrifices. As a father and husband I must do it. As a pastoral minister in the Church I must do it. In my feeble attempts to imitate Christ by loving others I must do it. Sometimes it is fair and just that I do so. Sometimes it is painfully unfair or unjust. Sometimes I complain. Sometimes, it is not a time to protest, but to accept.

I do think that clergy, especially bishops, must make some sacrifices of their own and enter into honest discernment with women who experience sexism and alienation and conflict in their calling. I think that women in the Church and society continue to be gravely oppressed and sinned against, and perhaps that is the outlet for this riverboat ordination energy, to make some service not for themselves or their community of women priests, but for others who lack basic freedoms to live, learn, seek happiness or find emotional, vocational, or spiritual fulfillment.

John the Forerunner acknowledged that he must decrease so that Christ may increase. It may be that these women–as well as male seminarians and bishops–must gain more of a sense of John, so that Christ may more truly increase for others. That is the greater need for the Church, in my opinion.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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