Stop shaming women for seeking equal power in the church


On 17 August 2016 Jamie Manson wrote an article in the National Catholic Reporter on the subject “Stop shaming women for seeking equal power in the church”  There were many comments.  Here Clyde, one of the CCRI Strategy Team, responds:



Why place so much stock in Jesus’ choice of the twelve? Jesus himself placed more stock in the primary commandments to love God and neighbor. If you and I place such stock in Jesus’ choice of the twelve that we ignore love, are we not turning a blind eye to God?

Jesus made a similar point to the Jews when he told the Good Samaritan story. He prefaced the story by pointing out that “love of God and neighbor” was “all the law and the prophets”. In those times “good Samaritan” was an oxymoron. Any Samaritan would have been run out of town, because Samaritans were apostate Jews who did not believe in all 613 laws of the Torah.

In telling the story Jesus was not simply saying that we should do good to those in need. If that’s all he was saying he could have used an upright Galilean peasant instead of a Samaritan. By using the Samaritan he was saying that it was more important to be loving — to follow the primary commandments of “love of God and neighbor” — than to follow all 613 laws of the Torah.

It is not that unequal treatment of women in the church is “a bitter pill to swallow”. We sometimes are called to do things that are hard. The Galilean peasant who listened to the Good Samaritan story found the presence of the Samaritan in the story “a bitter pill to swallow.” It was disorienting to them, and was difficult to understand.

The problem with unequal treatment of women in the church is not that it is difficult, but that it is not loving. If we go along with it we are like the priest and the Levite in the story, who passed by the beaten traveler and failed to do what was loving. The members of the magisterium who pass by women called to the priesthood and do nothing are like the priest and the Levite.

Placing much stock in Jesus’ choice of the twelve is like placing stock in all 613 laws of the Torah. The priest and the Levite did that. What they didn’t do was follow the law of love. The church today is in that same place. The church as an institution is being tested. Will they continue to pass by women called to the priesthood? Or will they be like the Samaritan, and give priority to love of God and neighbor?

For the institutional church is this “a bitter pill to swallow”? This puts the shoe on the other foot, but this is what Jesus was doing when he told the Good Samaritan story. If Galilean peasants who had been treating Samaritans as outcasts were disoriented by the story, perhaps the magisterium should also be disoriented regarding women as outcasts from ordination.

Such disorientation would be healthy for the church, and lead to a period of discernment. If that discernment focuses on love it will lead to the reign of God which Jesus preached, which is salvation.

A recent article included the following statement: “We are dealing with a hierarchy that has an enshrined belief that God has ordered the cosmos and human relations in a way that de facto denies women power in the church that is equal to men.”

This belief — that God is responsible for the discrimination against women in the church — is pure idolatry. The honest statement is that the opinions of men are responsible for this discrimination, and “God’s will” has nothing whatever to do with it. Too many clerics have not acquired the maturity to fully appreciate the purity of this idolatry.

It is only a matter of time before the embarrassment of this idolatry is formally recognized and corrective measures are taken by our flawed institutional Church. In the mean time it is up to the rest of us to encourage any of our sisters who have a calling contrary to this idolatry.

If the deaconate is a step on the way, very well. But the end of the journey is the complete removal — root and branch — of every vestige of gender based discrimination. Gender is about our humanity and cannot be a valid basis for any distinction whatsoever in how the ministries of the church are organized.

Christ’s choice of the twelve is a test of how long it will take men to extract themselves from the virtual concupiscence of a very human but un-Godlike discrimination based on gender. So far, after two thousand years, male concupiscence — there is probably a better term — in this regard has proved extremely durable.

So, up to this point, we have failed the test. Christ still has hope for the benighted male clerics that continue to test his patience.

Two points are missing from the discussion about women deacons.

The first is that God is love. The arguments against women deacons say nothing about love. In this day and age, how is it a sign of love of the ‘other’ to discriminate on the basis of gender with respect to roles within the church? I can understand gender based distinctions with regard to our humanity, because gender is a human (indeed, a biological) attribute. But if the church is of God, how can something that is about a merely human attribute have any relevance? God, after all, has no gender.

Nor does the Second Person of the Trinity, which existed before creation and before gender. Gender did not appear until about a billion and a half years ago, long after life began on planet Earth. Within the church there is “neither male nor female, neither slave nor free” as Paul says.

The second is the reign of God, which Jesus preached. The reign of God is about listening to the Spirit within the human heart. When the Spirit calls, those in the reign of God listen. I know very holy and devout women who have listened to the call of the Spirit and have left the Catholic Church to become priests in other traditions. God is trying to tell us something here, and eventually it’s going to dawn on those who make such decisions that a humble apology and change are in order.

Love requires that deep injustice — and gender discrimination within the church is a deep and objective injustice — be made right. It is no argument that injustice should continue simply because it’s what the church has been doing for so many centuries. And doing this injustice in the name of Christ!

The Spirit has been rising against this injustice, through a welling up among the people of a “sense of the faithful”, but the institutional arm of the church has suppressed this sign of the Spirit. This happened in the

11th and 12 centuries when local communities were choosing their own ministers without regard to gender. With the onset of a central bureaucracy in Rome, not only was this work of the Spirit suppressed but initial accounts of the practice were suppressed.

This kind of suppression is the product of those who follow the law, not those who follow the reign of God which Jesus preached.

Both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have emphasized simply that the church “has no authority” to ordain women. They have been very careful NOT to invoke the Vatican I doctrine of speaking “ex cathedra” about this question.

Paul VI said much the same thing in 1975 when he declined the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to join in the dialogue about ordination of women which was just then beginning in the Anglican Church.

So “infallibility” has only been invoked twice in the history of the church, both with respect to Marian doctrine, once in 1854 and again in

1950. The teaching against ordination of women is not infallible. JPII and Benedict have argued that their teachings on the subject are “definitive” but the Spirit — who can speak through the “sensus fidelium” — may yet set the church right.

The equality in God’s eyes is very clear and simple. More and more of us — men as well as women — see this.

What stands in the way of the official church seeing this? Ironically, perhaps the official church is following the law rather than the reign of God which Jesus preached. They adopted a policy based on Jesus’ choice of the twelve, and haven’t yet figured out a way of changing that policy choice. It would look like they are going against Jesus.

But making that policy choice sacrosanct is committing an idolatry — substituting human rules for God’s love. This is just the opposite of what Jesus preached. Jesus preached the reign of God, and the primacy of love of God and neighbor. There is nothing loving about the injustice of treating women unequally with respect to ministries in the church. The reign of God which Jesus preached is about listening to the Spirit in the human heart, which is one with Christ.

One day soon, perhaps with the help of men and women alike who are coming to the same realization and who are willing to speak up, the magisterium will join a “sense of the faithful” and remove this embarrassing idolatry of inequality from church practice. That will probably require a more adequate theology of change, but that will come as well.



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