The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Priesthood and Women: the Last Word?

This morning, while browsing an online news site from Massachusetts, I came across an article about a woman who claims to have been ordained a Catholic priest. She and her husband now preside at a small chapel located behind the Harwich Port B&B they operate. (Even though I moved to Florida after 25 years in Harwich Port, I do not know the woman personally.) The article dates from 2005, shortly before her invalid ordination by a woman "bishop" in Canada. Her words, as reported on the news website of the Boston Globe):

[Marie] David, who opposes mandatory celibacy for priests and is married to a former priest, shrugs off the possibility of being excommunicated by the church, saying ''there would be a sadness, but I refuse to recognize their authority to tell me that."

Then, later in the same article, she's quoted as saying, ''It's not accepted by Rome today, but that doesn't mean it will not always be accepted. The only way Rome will allow women to be ordained is we do it. It has to start someplace."

It just doesn't go away, this idea that the Catholic Church will eventually permit the ordination of women to the priesthood. This idea persists despite the Church's constant reiteration of its unchanging teaching on the subject. I suppose this persistence stems from today's concept of "progress," the idea that society must move relentlessly toward enlightenment, part of which includes a sort of ambiguous, non-judgmental, universal acceptance. To this way of thinking, then, the Catholic Church is simply another element of society and is, therefore, not exempt from this movement.

That's the big picture view; but there's also a little picture involved: the belief on the part of some women that they have a God-sent vocation to the priesthood. For them it's personal and this desire colors and distorts virtually every aspect of their lives, even their Christian faith itself. Here's another example from a story in the secular press (Lexington Kentucky Herald Leader):

As a young girl growing up in Milwaukee, Janice Sevre-Duszynska often fantasized about becoming a priest while helping clean the sanctuary of the church her family attended.

“I’d sit in the priest’s chair, go to the pulpit, make believe I was preaching and giving communion,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why couldn't I be up here?’”

Now, 50 years later, she will get her wish, but it could come with a price — excommunication from the Roman Catholic church. On Aug. 9, in defiance of the church’s 2,000-year ban on women in the priesthood, she will be ordained by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an activist group that has protested the ban since 2002.

And so, sadly, her attempt to realize a childhood fantasy will lead only to her excommunication. Was this self-proclaimed childhood fantasy one in which she sought to serve God's Church and His people, or was it one in which she hoped to satisfy her own personal wants, to serve herself? I'll let you re-read her words and decide.

Of course, the article, like most coverage of the Catholic Church in the secular press, is in error. It states that the realization of her wish "could" result in her excommunication. The fact is, as a result of her "ordination" she incurs automatic excommunication. Neither the pope nor her bishop need do anything. She, in effect, excommunicates herself.

Both the big and little picture motivations behind this call for the ordination of women ignore one important fact: the Catholic Church will never permit the ordination of women. This is not my personal opinion, but reflects the consistent teaching of the Church for 2,000 years. It is a teaching stated perhaps most clearly by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994). In his letter the Pope, after outlining the Church's teaching on ordination, states unequivocally, "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." In other words, this teaching is not something the Church can ever change because it is based on God's law not man's law.

This certainly won't deter those who are uncomfortable with the very idea of absolute truth and divine law, particularly when the truth conflicts with either their ideology or their personal desires. I am reminded of Pontius Pilate's sneering question of Jesus: "What is truth?" And so, even though Pope John Paul II has, from the Church's perspective, put the matter to rest, I expect we will continue to hear these strident cries for a change the Church can never and will never make. Another, more detailed document on the subject is the Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (Inter Insigniores), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 15, 1976.

When I visited the websites of some of the organizations to which these women belong, I was struck by the gnostic, new-age themes that seem to run through most of them. It's also apparent that in rejecting the Church's teaching authority on ordination they also reject its authority on many moral issues, including abortion and homosexuality. This isn't surprising. Once a person rejects the authority of the Church on one issue, it's no great leap to reject its authority on any issue. This, of course, leads one to question why, if they reject the Church, are they so intent on calling themselves Catholic? Pray for them.

As Catholics we are bound to accept the definitive teachings of the Church; and so if you find yourself at odds with the Church on this subject, I suggest that you not only read the relevant documents, but also pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you to accept this teaching that comes to us from Jesus Himself.

Rome Update. Watching hurricane Ike move slowly toward Florida has not been particularly pleasant. Not only is it a major hurricane (now category 3) and likely to cause much damage as it makes its way to the Northwest, but the latest reports predict its arrival sometime next Wednesday. Unfortunately, we are scheduled to fly out of Orlando on our way to Rome Wednesday evening. Our prayer is that Ike veers out to sea, far away from Florida, and causes no damage or loss of life.

God's peace...

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