Advocates for Reform See Continuity in Comments of Pope Francis on Women’s Ordination

People in reform organizations from North America, India, Africa, Europe and Oceana have responded with care to what Pope Francis is saying about women’s ordination. Along with Pope Francis, reformers recognize that in the current teaching of the Church, the Magisterium is without authority to ordain women.  This teaching, as expressed by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter of 1994, is an impediment to full removal of gender discrimination from priestly ministry.  For many faithful conservatives, current teaching is part of the deposit of faith.  As reformers see it, Francis has a fiduciary responsibility for a worldwide Church, and this responsibility includes consideration of these members of the faithful as well as consideration of those who see gender discrimination in priestly ministry as contrary to the whole of Christ’s teaching. 

When asked if he saw the ordination of women as something that would “never, ever” happen, Francis said that John Paul’s apostolic letter “goes in that direction.” This is consistent with the obligation upon a fiduciary to preserve continuity over the course of a history which continues to respond to the Spirit of Christ.  Reformers see his words as still another in a long series of invitations for the “grassroots” to follow through on their heritage as full members of the People of God, serving as a channel for the Church to listen more closely to the voice of the Spirit.  Reformers note that the Biblical Commission appointed in 1976 by Pope Paul VI found nothing in the New Testament which prohibits the ordination of women, a conclusion which leaves the question of women’s ordination open for further reflection.

Francis does not see himself as an oracle, say the reformers, and his words and those of John Paul II can be viewed in continuity with further work of the Spirit in history to support the removal of gender discrimination from the Body of Christ.  Reformers advocate for evolution of the organization and function of ministries within the Church and for access to these ministries without regard to gender.  The Spirit of Christ is the source of continuity for the Church, and no teaching more particular than love of God and neighbor can foreclose the freedom of the Spirit to build and renew the Church.  Francis is opening up a path for the Spirit by being first and foremost a pastor, repeatedly inviting the people to speak up, to share their sense of the Spirit with their pastors, and have their bishops bring those heartfelt desires to him. Through this process of encounter and accompaniment, dialogue and discernment, the Church will address the needs of our times and become more fully aligned with the Spirit of Christ.

Virginia Saldanha, an advisor to CCRI and a member of the Indian Women’s Theological Forum said: “Pope Francis has decided not to rock the conservative boat on the issue of women’s ordination. Yet he is taking steps covertly in that direction.  Inclusion of women in the Maundy Thursday washing of the feet liturgy; calling for a study of women deacons; and in several ways encouraging women to take their place among the people of God and exercise their baptismal call to a common priesthood.” Further, Francis openly greeted Antje Jackelen, the female Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, during an ecumenical Service in Lund at the occasion commemorating 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. And earlier this year, Francis elevated the Memorial of St Mary Magdalene to the Feast of Mary Magdalene to be at the same level with her male Colleague-Apostles.

Peter Mbuchi of Kenya sees the response of Pope Francis as contextualized within Ecclesia in Africa. The core agenda of the church is evangelization: “I see the need to call for the thorough formation of the lay faithful. Since evangelizing means ‘bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new,’ Christians must be formed to live the social implications of the Gospel in such a way that their witness will become a prophetic challenge to whatever hinders the true good of the men and women of Africa and of every other continent.”

“The ordination of women may be coming sooner than we expect” said Clyde Christofferson, a CCRI advisor and member of the NOVA Community, a U.S. based Intentional Eucharistic Community. “It’s what resonates with the Spirit within us.  Francis recognizes the problem, and has done what he can in Amoris Laetitia and Evangelii Gaudium to help with the conceptual tools needed for the Church to become comfortable with renewal from a Spirit that blows where it will and can certainly bubble up from the grassroots.”

 Reformers continue to pray for guidance as they seek grassroots local gatherings of the people of God, to be followed in the next several years by larger gatherings to share and celebrate new ways of being church, ever more responsive to the Spirit of Christ. A website has been established for this purpose: The People Speak Out.  The People of God from around the world are invited to gather together, explore the kind of Church needed for our times, and share the outcome of their discussions on this site. These reports will help set agendas for forthcoming Peoples Synods currently being organized or contemplated.


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