The overwhelming case to restore women to ordained ministry alongside men as their equals

A fresco believed to show a woman priest in the early church, in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, Italy.

by Miriam Duignan

“We are still hopeful, but not particularly optimistic.” This was the response of the campaign group, Catholic Women’s Ordination, to the first synodal meeting in Rome.

During the synodal process, Church leadership heard Catholics everywhere express a strong desire to see women recognised for their vocations to ministry and for the priestly work they do in parishes everywhere. In so many of our churches, it is women preparing families for baptisms, marriages and funerals and, in the absence of a male priest, they conduct Communion services on a Sunday. Women are chaplains in hospitals where they care for the sick and the dying, but must call for a male priest to administer the last rites or hear confession. This glaring and illogical injustice can no longer be ignored.

And yet, the topic of women priests was banned at the Synod. Instead, after one month of discussions and constant edits, the summary document’s paragraph on the female diaconate (a question that was allowed) was a watered down, vague statement about the need for further study. If yet another study were to be taken up, this would be the third go-around in seven years to examine the case to restore the women’s diaconate. We have to ask, how much longer can this possibly take?

The vocation to be a deacon is undoubtedly a valid calling for those who do not want the responsibility of running a parish or holding other roles of responsibility in the leadership of the Church. CWO is hopeful that this ministry will soon be opened up for women who feel called to serve as a deacon, the way Catholic men can now. But a Deacon cannot celebrate mass or consecrate the Eucharist, the central sacrament of Catholicism, the heart of church life and of which parishes are in desperate need. The lack of priests has reached a critical stage and most clergy are now exhausted and overworked. The Church hierarchy is excluding a group of willing and able women workers who have the skills and experience to officiate today.

Our ambivalence about the possibility of women deacons also stems from the fear it would entail “bolting us on” to  current hierarchical structures in a way that limits the vocations of women and continues to render them as inferior to men. The post-synodal signs point to the desire of the Church hierarchy to create a lay ministry of women deacons that strictly rules out ordination. This would mean women won’t be sacramentally recognised as having a commitment to a life of ministry. CWO is concerned women would therefore not qualify to receive the same training as male deacons and would lack formal confirmation of a permanent role within parishes. We suspect that female lay deacons’ ability to preside at baptisms, weddings and funerals would always be subject to the goodwill and whims of local priests and bishops.

This continued restriction of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to men only (“permanent” deacons included) is a blatant discrimination that has no basis in tradition or theology. There is overwhelming evidence that women were sacramentally ordained as deacons in the early church. To allow this tradition to be denied would be to pander to the prejudicial desire to ensure that no woman will ever be recognised as the peer of a man.

We often hear that the body of evidence proving women were deacons means this is the only ministry women can claim to hold. But this is mistaken. Christ instituted an equal baptism for women and men, indicating openness to all sacraments including ordination. And at the Last Supper, women were present when Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me.” When Jesus sent out his apostles and disciples, he blessed them – men and women – with his authority for their mission. Whatever men did in the early Church, women did too, as equals and not subordinates. It was only in the fourth century that we first see a separate hierarchical rank of ordained male priests when the Roman culture of excluding women from leadership roles took hold. And so, for as long as priesthood exists as a role and a requirement to run parishes, administer all sacraments and participate in decision-making about how the Catholic Church is run and what it teaches, women can and must be among their number.

We welcome Synod discussions about tackling what Pope Francis calls “the scourge of clericalism”. But those opposed to any ministry for women are increasingly using this term to position women’s vocations in a negative light. To associate women’s genuine call to ministry with abuse of power and suggest that their ministry would be corrupt before it even starts, is a judgment never levelled at men who claim a vocation to priesthood. Those who claim concern about clericalism should note that this affliction often arises when priests believe they are a superior caste of men, because no woman can ever be their peer. And so, the most effective way to diminish clericalism and start to reform the priesthood would be to restore women to ministry alongside men as their equals.

CWO envisages flourishing,  inclusive, active Eucharistic communities, where women will be ordained to sacramental and pastoral care. We are confident that the Synod’s lack of meaningful commitments to act on equality will galvanise Catholics to demand their local dioceses have further listening sessions. This would increase the pressure on the Vatican to not only give the illusion of inclusion with vague references to study women but actively to include women in the leadership structure of the church. Our hierarchy needs to act now because the very future of our church is at stake. Any further delay only exacerbates the pastoral crises that leave the dying neglected, the vulnerable with no support, and parishes adrift. These communities are desperate for priestly service and leadership – the very care that women are already offering and are ready to give more fully.

Pope, cardinals continue discussion of role of women in the Church

Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continue their discussion of women’s role in the church at the Vatican Feb. 5, 2024.

By Cindy Wooden

With the help of a woman Anglican bishop, a Salesian sister and a consecrated virgin, Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals devoted the first morning of their February meeting “to deepening their reflection, begun last December, on the role of women in the church,” the Vatican press office said.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said Feb. 5 the pope and cardinals heard from Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion; Salesian Sister Linda Pocher, a professor of Christology and Mariology at Rome’s Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium,” and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin and liturgist from the Diocese of Verona, Italy.

The pope and council were to continue meeting the afternoon of Feb. 5 and all day Feb. 6, focusing on other themes, Bruni said.

The Vatican has not shared details about the discussions on the role of women in the church nor the texts of presentations made at the meeting.

Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec was present at the meeting; in Jan. 30 video message said he would “temporarily withdraw from activities in my diocese” after he was accused in a civil lawsuit of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old girl on two occasions in the 1980s. He has denied the allegations.

The Vatican press office did not comment on the cardinal’s participation in the council meeting.

In addition to Cardinal Lacroix, those at the February meeting included Cardinals Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona; Seán P. O’Malley of Boston; Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, Congo; Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Sérgio da Rocha of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; and Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg.

Complete Article HERE!

Women Need Not Apply

Catholic women with parasols expressing the call for women’s ordination in the church at the Vatican, Aug. 29, 2022.

By Greg Holmes

When I was a young boy, a priest explained to our catechism class how people became priests. He told us that we would know if we were supposed to become a priest because we would be “called” by God. I was afraid God would call me; there was no way I wanted to be a priest. Fortunately, God never rang me up.

Contrast this with the experience of women like Soline Humbert, who felt a deep calling to be a priest in the Catholic Church when she was 17. There was only one problem, however, one that she knew would be insurmountable: She was a woman, and the church did not allow women to become priests.

Ms. Humbert is just one of many women who have felt called to become priests and are prohibited from doing so. Why? Basically, the church doctrine states that a priest must have a physical resemblance to Jesus, because when a priest administers sacraments it is actually God and Christ who are acting through the priest. It is difficult to believe that this transmission is restricted to men only and cannot happen through a woman.

A second reason that the Catholic Church forbids women from becoming priests is that Jesus selected only men to be his apostles. The reason Jesus selected men is a matter of debate among theological historians. Was Jesus’ decision to select his apostles a reflection of the time and the culture during which he made his choices, or did he actually view women as incapable?

The bottom line is that the church views the restriction on the ordination of women as “divine law,” something that was enacted by God and revealed to mankind. Therefore it can never be changed by humans—period. This position was summarized by Pope John Paul II, who proclaimed that because it was divine law, the church had “no authority whatsoever” to ordain women.

In 2021, Pope Francis changed some of the rules of the game when he formally allowed women to give readings from the bible, act as altar servers, and distribute communion. He stated at that time that even though he believed women made a “precious contribution” to the church, he refused to change the doctrine forbidding them to become deacons or priests.

Francis made further clarifications of the role of women in the church in 2023 in his address to the members of the International Theological Commission. He claimed that women have a “different capacity for theological reflection” than men and called for a greater appreciation of the theology of women. If this did not happen, Pope Francis warned that we would never fully understand “what the church is.”

He went on to make the interesting claim that “one of the great sins we have had is ‘masculinizing’ the church.” At that time, he called for more female theologians and a greater role for women in the church.

One of the ways that Francis believed that women were particularly suited to serve the church was in an administrative way. He felt that women do a better job at organizing and managing things than men and that they were particularly good at evaluating male candidates for the priesthood. Even though Francis felt that women were superior in some ways to men, this did not mean that women should be considered for priesthood. The stained-glass ceiling in the church would remain intact.

Here’s the paradox: Why would God call upon women to become priests if God had already made a “divine law” that they can’t become priests? It just doesn’t add up.

Two possible explanations: Either God didn’t create a divine law in the first place, or the powerful calling that many women experience doesn’t really come from God. But then what about the calling that men receive? It seems to be legit and work out for them.

Many women have remained determined to pursue their calling to become priests. In 2002, a group of seven women from Europe and the United States were ordained as priests on the Danube River by three bishops. Although the women considered themselves to be priests after the ordination, the Vatican did not. In fact the Vatican warned the women that they would be excommunicated if they did not confess that their ordination was invalid and repent. The women refused to do so, and were summarily excommunicated, along with the rebel bishops who ordained them. They could no longer receive sacraments in the church or be buried in a Catholic cemetery.

Since that time, several hundred women have courageously pursued their calling and have been ordained as priests outside of the auspices of the church. The organization Roman Catholic Women Priests lists women priests in 34 states, including Michigan, as well as other countries.

The Catholic Church is currently holding a Synod, an ongoing conference to discuss possible changes in the church. Topics up for discussion include celibacy in the priesthood, married men as priests, and the ordination of female deacons. I would suggest that the participants ask themselves this question for guidance: What would Jesus do?

Complete Article HERE!

‘Holy havoc’ as churches are dragged into the 20th Century

— Advances in accepting same-sex unions within religious communities are causing both delight and despair.

Current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis

By Alan Austin

ANGLICANS WERE shocked and excited in mid-November – either that or shocked and appalled – when the Church of England’s governing body narrowly voted to approve church services to bless same-sex civil unions. The church will continue, however, to reserve the term “marriage” for unions between one man and one woman.

The global Anglican community comprises about 85 million adherents in 165 countries. So this is a significant breakthrough within Christendom.

This immediately followed the conservative Orthodox Jewish community in the USA appointing an openly gay man as a rabbi for the first time ever.

And in a development which might make even hardened atheists ponder whether some guiding hand was at work, the head of the vast Roman Catholic church, Pope Francis, announced in mid-December that Catholic priests can now bless same-sex couples also.

Pope Francis kicks open the church door to gay couples — at last

The wording of the Vatican decision – in a Declaration titled ‘Fiducia Supplicans On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings’ – was careful. The church is not consecrating, or even approving, the union itself. It is just a blessing to the two people involved.

The declaration does not oblige bishops to provide such blessings, but shows how to proceed if people request them.

This apparently satisfies the rigid text of the Catholic catechism, which still describes gay and bi orientations as “intrinsically disordered”, but offers LGBTQ couples a celebration in church, which straight couples have always received.

These developments bring the three conservative religious communities more into line with the majority of Protestant churches and progressive Jewish communities which have welcomed same-sex couples for some time.

The backlash

Inevitably, reactions have ranged from joy and jubilation to approving nods signalling “about time!” to outright condemnation as heresy and apostasy, which are very bad words inside churches and synagogues.

Conservative Anglican Andrea Williams said:

“This is capitulation by the church… It is making way for the celebration of ‘same-sex marriage’ in all but name… the Church of England is planning to completely disregard the bible’s teaching on marriage.”

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby attempted reassurance:

“I am under no illusions that what we are proposing will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others, but it is my hope that what we have agreed will be received in a spirit of generosity, seeking the common good.”

The Catholic backlash has been ferocious, with bishops in Africa and beyond declaring they will simply ignore the new Vatican policy. Bishop Athanasius Schneider in Kazakhstan called the decision a “great deception” and warned of “the evil that resides in the very permission to bless couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples”. A bit harsh.

A long and complex journey

Opponents of the reform claim this defies all Judeo-Christian history. That is not true.

Kittredge Cherry is an author who writes about LGBTQ spirituality at Qspirit.net. She told IA that Pope Francis approving official blessings last month was the first time in centuries, but not the first time ever.

“The Roman Catholic church is coming full circle because before the 14th Century they used to bless same-sex unions,” Cherry said. “This is monumental progress, but the Roman Catholic church still has a long way to go before they honour same-sex marriages as a sacrament equal to heterosexual marriages. With violence rising against LGBTQ people, churches need to support loving same-sex relationships now!”

Why this matters

The violence Cherry references is one reason this development is important to the secular world as well as to church members. Religious beliefs are highly influential in most of the 66 countries where laws still punish LGBTQ activity, sometimes with death. This is down from 74 in 2018 and 71 in 2020, so progress is being made.

Victoria Police are failing to 'protect' the LGBTQ+ community

Impetus from scholarship and real-life

Recent background includes priests and bishops in Germany, Austria and France openly defying previous bans by celebrating LGBTQ unions in their churches. That led conservative bishops to demand the Pope shut this down. Instead, he has offered approval.

At the core of this reform is the understanding from the sciences that same-sex and bisexual orientations are not sinful choices. They are found in virtually all human, animal and bird societies, at around four per cent of the population, and are just as natural, normal, healthy and God-given as straight orientation.

Cherry believes multiple factors are in play:

The forces for change include participation of same-sex couples in church life and ministry, LGBTQ activism that led many countries to legalize same-sex marriage, and advances in understanding the positive role of queer people in the Bible and church history. 

Social attitudes have evolved toward greater acceptance of same-sex relationships, especially among younger generations, so attitudes are becoming more pro-LGBTQ over time.

Progressives like Cherry are pursuing further reform. They hope the “intrinsically disordered” terminology will soon disappear from the catechism. The next chance to advance this will be at the Synod – the global Catholic conference – at the Vatican in October.

“Holy havoc may erupt at the next Synod because progress is often followed by backlash,” Cherry said. “Conservative bishops have strongly rejected the Pope’s approval of same-sex blessings, and LGBTQ Catholics are already planning to push for more progress. The clash of opposing viewpoints will bring a powerful opportunity for change.”

This tussle will continue for some time yet. But there will be no going back.

Complete Article HERE!

Decoder Replay

— Can Catholicism embrace all sexualities?

One parishioner argues that the Church should welcome gay members. The Pope is just now cracking open the door by offering a small blessing.

By

Editor’s note: On 18 December 2023, Pope Francis issued a ruling that priests could bless same sex couples, as long as the blessing was not part of a marriage service. It was a small but important step considering that the Catholic Church has long condemned homosexuality. In October 2023, the Pope announced that the Church will now allow transgender people to be baptized. The rulings sparked a backlash in some countries, and in response the Vatican issued an 8-page clarification.

In this Decoder Replay, we republish a personal reflection essay by Joseph Katusabe originally published April 2022, that argued that the Catholic Church should welcome people of all sexualities. Katsube is a citizen of Uganda, where homosexuality is now a criminal offense punishable by death. At the time of publication, Katusabe was a student at the African Leadership Academy, a News Decoder partner institution.

We launched Decoder Replay to help readers better understand current world events by seeing how our correspondents and students decoded similar events in the past.

“Let’s go to church, people!” my mother shouts to us every Sunday morning.

My sleep is not essential because the enthusiasm I wake up with is astounding. I love my religion. I love Catholicism.

The older I get, the longer my prayers and the more I realize the importance of the foundation that my family and church have given me: a belief system with answers to all questions man hasn’t answered. This same belief system has shaped the calm person I am. Without it, I would be lost, without meaning.

I’m far from alone. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest faiths on the planet — and growing. The faith claims more than 1.3 billion followers worldwide. For most of these Catholics, religion is the foundation of their identity; however, for a significant minority, religion prevents them from embracing their identity. The more they discover who they are, the farther their authentic selves are from the doctrines of their founding religion.

I am talking about gay Catholics.

You are either gay or Catholic.

While I’m not gay, for others, like Matthew LaBanca, being gay means having to choose between Catholicism and one’s identity, but never both. LaBanca’s story, one of many, about him as an LGBTQI+ member losing his job as music director in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn parish the moment he married his boyfriend, attests to the inexistence of a middle ground.

You are either gay or Catholic.

Logically, because of Catholic rules, he could not wed his boyfriend in the Catholic Church, which had witnessed his best and worst moments for 46 years. Why? If the Bible says that we, as humans, have to stick to the core principle and commandments of the Catholic faith — “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” — then why do individuals not accept everyone as they are? If you would love to be fired from your job because of your identity, then fire people for who they are.

I am Joseph — a name with a religious legacy that my great-grandfather trusted me to inherit. I have attended staunch Catholic schools in the formative and adolescent years of my life. I have assumed leadership roles that require me to go to the Basilica every morning to teach my peers how to perform Mass correctly. These positions often meant that I addressed questions about religion and why things are done differently in the Catholic Church. Although I rarely had solid answers — if anything, I had even more questions — one thing I knew for sure was that in Genesis 19, God destroyed Sodom and Gomora for their grave sins, specifically their acts of homosexuality, which implied that God opposed homosexuality.

But I believe that only God can make a final judgment on who lives or dies; therefore, I reject the prejudices and the othering of the LGBTQI+ community by the Catholic Church, and I will continue to hope, pray and speak out about my belief that the Church should do so as well.

It takes a staunch, straight Catholic to dismantle prejudices against gays.

I know that some might ask, “Why not just leave the Church and find one that is more open and liberal?” My response is that just as it takes a Ugandan to effect change in Uganda, it takes a staunch, straight Catholic to dismantle the prejudices against the LGBTQI+ community in the Catholic Church. Besides, no human is perfect; the Church leaders are also human. Thinking of them as flawless humans is a misleading mindset. This is a fact that Jesus recognized.

In Matthew 16:23, Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” From this Bible verse, Jesus rebukes the rock of the Church, Peter, indicating that the Church heads don’t have the right to judge what’s good or bad because they are not perfect beings themselves. The role of the Church leaders is to provide a safe space for everyone to grow and a belief system with answers to questions man hasn’t answered.

I believe that denying the existence of gay people is questioning God’s choice of creating a very diverse world. Everyone should be celebrated regardless of their sexuality.

It is my prayer that gay Catholics should keep their jobs, that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and that only God should judge what is right and wrong. Amen.

Complete Article HERE!