25Mar Fr. John Shea repeats call for explanation of Church’s opposition to women’s ordination

Back in 2012, Fr. John Shea, O.S.A., an Augustinian priest and theologian, wrote an open letter to Boston Archbishop Sean Cardinal O’Malley, detailing his crusade for women’s ordination and asking the archbishop simply to provide an explanation of the Church’s position on the issue. In his letter, which was published in the Boston College student newspaper, The Heights, Fr. Shea explained how he began calling regularly for a discussion of the topic at provincial chapter meetings of his order in 1986.

In 2010, Shea, who was ordained in 1967, says he “wrote to Father Robert Prevost, O.S.A. in Rome, the Prior General of the Augustinian Order, asking ‘that I be officially recognized as stepping aside from the public exercise of priesthood until women are ordained as priests in our church.’” Receiving no satisfactory response, Shea wrote to Archbishop O’Malley, his Provincial, the Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College where he was teaching and his department chairman, informing them that he “was stepping aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained.”

The 2012 open letter earned Shea a response, although probably not the one he wished. Boston College decided not to renew the contract of the theologian and pastoral care expert, who had been teaching there for nearly a decade. Shea says he has also received two canonical warnings from his Provincial for expressing his concerns about this issue. However, the author of Finding God Again: Spirituality for Adults (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) remains undeterred in his quest for a credible theological explanation for the Church’s exclusion of women from Holy Orders. Below is Fr. Shea’s latest open letter to Cardinal O’Malley:

The Beginning of Lent, 2014

Dear Cardinal O’Malley,

I am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I write not to challenge the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on women’s ordination. Rather, my concern is the theological explanation of this teaching– theology being, as Anselm said, “faith seeking understanding.”

Two years ago, I wrote to all of you with the same request. At that time, I was teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. The teaching on women’s ordination was extremely important for many of the students–women, of course, but men as well–and a number of them were simply leaving the church because the theological explanationthat was offered made no sense to them. Before my letter, I had already stepped aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained. After my letter, Jesuit-run Boston College terminated me as a professor. My provincial, with the urging of several archbishops, has given me two “canonical warnings” threatening me with being “punished with a just penalty” for voicing my concerns.

In case you are wondering who is writing to you, I am an Augustinian priest, solemnly professed for over 50 years. Before serving at Boston College (2003-2012), as Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Care and Counseling and Dual Degree Director (MA/MA and MA/MSW), I taught in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University (1981-2002). My areas of expertise are in pastoral care and counseling (Fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors) and the psychology of religious development (Ph.D., Psychology of Religion), areas that today would be considered practical theology. I also have graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, pastoral counseling, and social work.

I mention this background because as a practical theologian I too have questions about the theological explanation of why women are not ordained. In all of my study, in all of my training, in all of my counseling experience, and in all of my years of teaching I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are not fully able to provide pastoral care. Likewise, I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are deficient in religious development or maturity.From the perspective of practical theology– a theology of the living church, a theology that takes experience seriously–I find absolutely nothing that does not support the ordination of women to priesthood.

It seems that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document on the ordination of women that the Vatican and the bishops keep pointing to, is actually an historical explanation of the issue. It looks back at what it we think Jesus was doing in appointing the 12 Apostles. An historical explanation, however, raises a number of questions. Was commissioning the 12 a unique event? Did Jesus mean to ordain the way we understand ordination today? Was it the intent of Jesus to inaugurate ministry only males could carry out? Did he ever say this? Was Jesus only doing what he thought would work best in the patriarchal culture of his day? What was it about the religious role of the scribes and the Pharisees–all of whom were male–that so incensed Jesus? Was Jesus patriarchal? Did he see women as inferior to men? Did Jesus envision women in ministry? Finally, what about the history of ordination in the last two thousand years, an amazingly checkered history that clearly includes women?

The problem with historical explanations is that they suffer from an incomplete logic. They cannot complete the circle. On their own, they cannot say that “what was” also “had to be.” On their own, they cannot say that this particular event must have this particular meaning. History necessarily involves interpretation. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, for example, gives a paradigmatic meaning to the commissioning of the 12 Apostles. Could not another perfectly logical interpretation of the meaning of that event be that a number of patriarchal men–then and now–were and are dead set against women having any authority over them?

If history is not a good proof, it does have many valid uses. A very brief look at the history of slavery, the history of racism/religious intolerance, and the history of women’s inferiority in the church is helpful in challenging our tendencies to absolutize as well as in chastening some our hallowed self-evaluations. Each of these three issues is about what makes us equal and fully human. Each is the cause of incredible violence– often in the name of God–violence that is beyond all telling.

Slavery–That men, women, and children would become slaves either by conquest, retribution, or inferiority was seen as something almost “natural.” Strangely, Jesus and St. Paul did not seem to have had a lot of problems with it. For centuries the permissibility of slavery was seen as part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Over time, however, and in conjunction with racism and religious intolerance, the thinking in the church changed dramatically. Now, the inherent evil of slavery is part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.

Racism/Religious Intolerance–Jews came to be seen as “perfidious” and were severely persecuted. Muslims were “infidels” and had crusades led against them by the popes. It is fair to say that for centuries the inferiority of Jews and Muslims was part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Later, with the colonization of the Americas and then of Africa, the question was whether or not these native peoples were really human beings with souls like those of European males. It took a long time with immense suffering, but eventually the utter abhorrence of racism and religious intolerance became part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.

The Inferiority of Women–Women’s inferiority was seen as “natural” by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians– arguably the two most influential in the West–not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways. No thinking in the church is more virulent and intractable than the patriarchal strain that so disrespects women. When the Vatican reasoned in the 1970s and 1980s that women could not be ordained because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” it was affirming an “ordinary infallible teaching” with roots incredibly deep in the substrate of our church.

A theological explanation weighs any issue against the core of the Christian message. It obviously takes historical events and their interpretations into account, but the focus is on those understandings of the Christian faith so central that our Christian identity and the very meaning of the faith are at stake. In their ordinary infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained in the church because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” the Vatican and the bishops were offering a muchneeded theological explanation of the issue. It was an explanation meant to complete the circle, an explanation meant to settle the question of women’s ordination in terms of Christian identity.

Unfortunately, this teaching that “women are not fully in the likeness of Jesus”–qualifying, as it does, as a theological explanation –is utterly and demonstrably heretical. This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus. This teaching says that women are not made whole by the saving favor of our God. This teaching says that the “catholic” church is only truly “catholic” for males. In time, many Vatican officials and bishops rejected the ordinary infallible teaching they had just affirmed. Now they say: “Of course, women are fully in the likeness of Jesus in the church.” Respectful words to be sure, but are they real?

We revere Jesus as priest, as prophet, and as ruler. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they fully share in the priesthood of Jesus–but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they speak for God as Jesus did–but women are completely without voice in the church; as if they were children they cannot read the Gospel at the liturgy and are forbidden to preach the Word. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, then they fully share in the formal authority of our church–but women, solely because they are women, are completely barred from church authority.

As a bishop, how long will you champion the inferiority of women in the church? How long will your teaching on women be an obvious and eye-popping contradiction? How long will your demeaning patriarchal stance violate women’s human and religious equality in God’s name?

Two more years have come and gone. The priests are voiceless. The academic theologians are nice and safe. The bishops make statements but do nothing that would be recognized as engaged teaching. The adults–desperate for something that respects their intelligence–leave the church in droves. How many serious people, young and old, have given up on ever finding a theological explanation of women barred from priesthood–an explanation not hopelessly patriarchal and sexist, not serving inequality and subservience, not aiding and abetting violence?

Again, it is the beginning of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, a time of for all of us in the church to be mindful of how we are in our caring and in our justice. Cardinal O’Malley, is providing a credible, non-heretical theological explanation of why women are not ordained in the church something you can do as part of your teaching responsibility as a bishop, as part of your caring and your justice?

Sincerely,

John J. Shea, O.S.A.”

34 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    A fantabulous entry and very fitting for this Feast Day… of the Annunication of the Lord.

  2. Shaun

    This is all very well, but the writer misses one *really* important point: I, and the serious Catholics I am friends with and in contact with, will NEVER accept ‘women priests’. Never. Not ever. So, where does this leave the supporters of women’s ordination? Where does it leave orthodox Catholics? I’d really like to know. And also, the about-face required from Holy Mother Church would be so astronomical would leave the Church looking like a foolish, pathetic wretch. Would JESUS have such a thing? I think not.

    One more thing:
    ”If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they fully share in the priesthood of Jesus–but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus.”

    I’m a single lay-man. Am I completely excluded from the priesthood of JESUS? Hardly. So neither are women. This is just bad theology. It’s very clericalist, something I thought we were trying to move away from.

  3. Joe O'Leary

    The about-face required would be astronomical? Not really, just anatomical.
    .
    The prohibition of discussion is also a prohibition of study, a profoundly obscurantist step, and the prompt obedience of theologians who say, “OK, we won’t study this question any more” is shockingly cynical.
    .
    http://cranfordville.com/BiblioOrdinationWomen.htm
    .
    http://lydiasgathering.com/wp-content/uploads/womens-ordination-bibliography.pdf

  4. Mary Wood

    The Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ were first formed in the body of His Mother, Mary. A woman, in case you hadn’t noticed.
    .
    The male organ which qualifies a human being as a candidate for priestly ordination is not permitted to be used for the very purpose for which it was created. Created by God, Who also created womankind.

  5. Diffal

    It’s sad to read an article which views the Catholic priesthood solely in terms of human power,authority and practical ability. If Jesus wanted perfect high achievers, he certainly wouldn’t have chosen the twelve! As vatican II taught there are two priesthoods in the church which differ from one another in essence and not only in degree. The common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. No one can truly be excluded in the church solely because they cannot become ministerial priests.

    There is a conflagration of dogma, discipline and actions in general in this article. For instance slavery has never been considered part of the ordinary infallible teaching of the church, anymore than Celibacy has. While the closest “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church has come to saying that jews and muslims are inferior is to say that jesus Christ is the sole way of salvation. While they have unfortunately been mistreated by Catholics in the past, it has never been a theological teaching of the church that it was ok to do so.

    One thing I wanted to particularly highlight was “Later, with the colonisation of the Americas and then of Africa, the question was whether or not these native peoples were really human beings with souls like those of European males.” That was not a question asked by the church but by the crown of Spain. The church on no uncertain terms, especially in Sublimis Deus, affirmed that (if there were any doubt) the native peoples did indeed have rational souls.

    Finally i would suggest that Fr. John read more Aquinas, who is a far more complex and subtle theologian-philosopher than he is given credit for here. For St. Thomas, men and women then have the same substantial form(that is to say a rational soul) making them be what they are. Hence they are the same type of being; they are equal in essence. Any hierarchical subordination in St Thomas (Itself derived from St. Paul) retains this fundamental understanding of equality in essence, difference in function. If the author wishes to challenge the “ordinary infallible teaching” of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis then better and stronger arguments will be required.

  6. Frank Graham

    Women are fully in the likeness of Jesus– yet it seems that one reason for excluding women from ordination is that they are not male, as Jesus was. They are not ‘qualified’ to pronounce the words of Consecration ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’. But surely one woman, over and above any man, is ‘qualified’ to utter those words– Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus literaly was born from the body and blood of Mary. But, as a woman, she would presumably be excluded from ordination by the Church!

  7. Joe O'Leary

    The irony in the prohibition of discussion is that the Vatican have also discouraged finding better arguments for their prohibition. If it was indeed intrinsic to the presbyterate that it must be all-male, this would be an important theological truth, suggesting many developments and consequences, since truth is fertile and communicative.

  8. Leo Marcotte

    Even if a bishop agreed with Fr. Shea he’d play it safe and keep quiet.
    I just saw a “black cloud” of birds on the local golf course.
    Hundreds of them packed together in a large circle about forty or fifty feet in diameter.
    Couldn’t tell what kind. They’re packed together as a defensive mechanism against hawks.
    Unless the bishops come to think together honestly on the topic of ordination, those individuals (and I think there are many) who agree with Shea will simply keep their heads under their wings. It’s safer that way.

  9. Shaun

    You all forget the point I made earlier: regardless of theological arguments or dogma, a large number of Catholics don’t want women priests and we will never accept them. Thus, you have insurmountable barriers to your goal: doctrine and resistance from faithful Catholics who accept the doctrine and will always and forever reject any woman who claims to be a priest. We won’t stand for it. And lastly, none of you are as well educated as me, because if you were, you’d realise that women priests are as impossible as an acceptance of homosexuality as good in the doctrine of the Church! It would require a 360 turnaround which would leave the Church looking completely ridiculous and totally discredited.

  10. Con Devree

    Fr Shea in the letter says is he not challenging the teaching. At the same time he deems it bereft of “credible theological explanation” and lays aside his priesthood until the teaching is reversed. Since the bishop will refer to Church teaching, one wonders about the purpose of the letter.

    Paragraph 5 of the letter poses as series of questions whose combined answers can be indeterminate at best, providing little by way of “credible theological explanation.”

    Women in the Church are divided on the issue of female ordination. This dents the claim of victimhood, and is not a good basis for argument. The ordained priesthood pursued as a source of power has damaged Catholicism through history. Fr Shea relies a lot on both themes. Tragically laying aside one’s priesthood on these grounds is confrontational to say the least, however deeply one may feel.

    Many cannot become priests. Their non-ordination does not result in their being “not fully able to provide pastoral care,” “deficient in religious development or maturity,” “ not fully redeemed by Jesus,” “not made whole by the saving favour of our God.”

    It does not follow from being “fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church that one “speak[s] for God as Jesus did” or that “one fully share[s] in the formal authority of our church.”

    The Church is best served when theologians operating within the faith, starting from scripture and tradition, seek to inform the issue, and let the Holy Spirit oversee the development of the nature and extent of female function in the Church.

  11. Darlene Starrs

    One must have the kind of union with Christ that the Great Saints had, to know the answer to the ‘ordination of women’ question!

  12. Joe O'Leary

    The Anglican Communion has been brought under great strain by the showdown between the liberals or progressives who see women priests and bishops as normal and good and who are ready to bless gay relationships or accept gay marriage, on the one hand, and those who cry “Over My Dead Body!”, on the other. Many have in fact left the Communion over these issues. But, miraculously, the Communion still stands, undivided, and spiritually vibrant. Roman Catholics have no cause for gloating here, and the more thoughtful are studying closely the proceedings in our sister church in order to learn from them for similar debates in our own.

  13. Kevin Walters

    When Jesus was taken to the Temple we see Mary and Joseph in unity of purpose (equality) on the earthly plane presenting (Proclaiming) the love of God the Christ child to our Father in heaven and we see Simeon and Anna representing unity of purpose (equality) on the spiritual plane proclaiming the redemption of mankind to mankind with the Christ child (the bread of life) as their centre.
    Since the beginning (Fall) woman kind have been driven into “Forms of feminism” to defend themselves against male chauvinism. The church can and must heal this injustice and in so doing, act as a true liberator before all of mankind. The essence of love is truth, God’s Word (Will) is singular and cannot be divided by gender.
    On my mantelpiece I have a picture of Mother Teresa, when I look at her in my mind’s eye, I see an image Christ walking amongst the poor and broken, to say that she is not a Shepherd(ess) is surely an affront to our Father in heaven.
    The Church must lead mankind in equality, into a new dawn that encompasses harmony between the sexes as on the spiritual plane there is no divide between them.
    kevin
    In Christ

  14. Con Devree

    #3 Fr Joe O’Leary
    Your bibliography is very comprehensive. But may I suggest that another book be added:

    “The Catholic Priesthood and Women. A Guide to the Teaching of the Church”, by Sara Butler (Sister) MBST. Hillenbrand Books Chicago,2007

    The following from the introduction:
    “For several years I supported the movement for women’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood…I regarded it as a litmus test that would show whether or not here could be real equality between men and women in the Church. I failed to take into account the implications of Catholic teaching on the nature of Holy Orders as a sacrament. I concurred with the conclusion of a Task Force of the Catholic Theological Society of America (1978), which I chaired, that the available evidence favoured the admission of women to priestly ordination, unless further examination of theological anthropology and the nature of “pastoral office” were to identify some obstacle that had been overlooked.

    Later however, through my participation in the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission in the United States and, as a consultant, on the Bishop’s Committee for a Pastoral Letter for Women’s Concerns, I became convinced that the feminist analysis of sexual complementarity and the theology of the ministerial priesthood adopted by the CTSA Task Force were both seriously deficient.” (Page ix)

    Her reasoning, (indeed a summary of her book) can be found at
    http://www.archny.org/media/files-seminary/Mar7dunwoodie.doc‎

    (“Second Thoughts on Ordaining Women,” Worship 63:2 (March 1989): 157-65)

    Sister Sara Butler’s approach is reasoned; she is not a zealot.

  15. Fr. Kieren

    Con,

    I’ve just reordered her book, after lending it out … It is a well written book, and her argument is clearly set out. I would recommend it to all!

  16. Tony Burke

    Those arguing against the ordination of women often have recourse to Church Tradition. Anyone reading the writings of the ‘Fathers of the Church’ (what! no Mothers?)must surely be horrified at their frequent virulent misogyny – and it is on the writings of these MEN that much of the Church’s tradition is based.

  17. Teresa Mee

    John, you say,’This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus’.
    Fully redeemed? We’re not redeemed at all, if you go by what those men who say the Creed repeat daily.

    Jesus was a Jew to the end of his life. When were the Apostles ordained to priesthood? Maybe after they were excluded from the synagogue, or maybe after the destruction of the Temple in which the Jewish priests offered sacrifice.Who ordained the Apostles?

    Finally, what is priesthood as understood today? Something to do with acting as intermediary, as channel between ‘lay’ people and God? That raises further questions, including, who is the channel between you priests and God? Furthermore who are the lay people? I’m not a priest nor am I a ‘lay’ person, but a professional Christian by virtue of my baptism.

    Finally, with all due respect I tend to avoid reading anonymous contributions in which people, secure behind their shields, are armed with catapults and go for the jugular.

  18. Dr Margaret Kennedy

    Interesting discussion. Today is MOTHER’s day. Many hold dear the values our mothers brought to our upbringing. No-one more than the Vatican says how valuable the WOMAN is in child rearing, yet in SPIRITUAL rearing she is totally excluded. This is a double standard. and it is a double standard to ‘worship’ Mary the MOTHER of Jesus yet not value women in priesthood. Mary who ‘birthed’ Jesus was the first to ‘offer’ him to the world, to see him sacrificed and stood at the bottom of the cross. Clerical priesthood is , in my view, obsolete, because ‘clericalists’ have lost the true message of Christ. Have perverted the meaning of Christianity and hold dear a completely distorted belief in male priesthood. As a woman I would not favour women priests, not because I think there shouldn’t be any, no, because I don’t any longer believe in ‘priesthood’, I believe in Jesus Christianity and he NEVER ordained ‘priests’. Hey Ho…but MEN like to be superior and powerful….so hey ho….they fight like hell to keep their clerical status.

  19. Joe O'Leary

    “Frequent virulent misogyny” in the Fathers? Well the Fathers wrote a huge amount. I can’t recall much that would be misogynistic — maybe something in Tertullian’s flamboyant piece on women’s adornments or in Jerome’s rant against Jovinian. Jerome had several deep friendships with women, despite writing to them in these terms: “The way you dress is an index of your secret desires. Your bodice is purposely ripped apart to show what is beneath, and, while hiding what is repulsive, to reveal what is beautiful. You wear stays to keep your breasts in place, and confine your body in a girdle. Sometimes you let your shawl drop so as to lay bare your white shoulders”. He is really at war with his own sexuality (and he tells us that though he admires virginity he does not consider himself a virgin).
    .
    Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzen, Hilary, Augustine were not misogynists. Beware of florilegia of Google quotes. I think it would be valid to say that the Christian Church promoted the dignity of women and that throughout the first millennium women had more authority in the Church than in any other institution.
    .
    It is false to say that the Church at any time excluded women from spiritual motherhood — there have always been admired women treated as spiritual authorities and guides — including three Doctors of the Church and a countless host of Saints.
    .
    It is only recently that anyone thought of opening the presbyterate to women — its Tridentine format, with the seminary system, took sexual segregation for granted. It is precipitous to say that the Church’s current refusal to alter this is due simply and solely to misogyny or implies that women are inferior or are not redeemed. This sort of rhetoric does not advance the discussion, nor does the practice of illegitimate ordinations.
    .
    It is wrong to think of presbyters as mediators between humanity and God — that is the role of priests — i.e. of Christ and of the Church as a whole, the “priestly people of God”.

  20. John

    I never gave the matter a thought until those who oppose women priests started setting out their reasons for being opposed. I found their arguments deficient.

  21. Eddie Finnegan

    Joe O’Leary@19 – thanks for the brea(d)th of sanity and the depth of your commentary. Indeed it is those “florilegia of Google quotes” – that’s a phrase I’ll make use of anon but not anonymously – that make us all such ersatz and flawed geniuses these days.

  22. Tony Burke

    There would be little to be gained by swapping texts with Joe O’Leary
    – although the two Church Fathers he mentions would seem, to put it mildly, to have problems with women and sexuality. I would, however, take issue with his claim that “the Christian Church promoted the dignity of women …..throughout the first millennium”. My view on that is perhaps best summed up in Mary T Malone’s excellent three volume work ‘Women & Christianity’ as follows : “The Gospel message …during most of Christian history, was presented to women as a negative message of exclusion, trivialisation and often quite astonishing hostility on the part of the clergy”.

  23. Kevin Walters

    The real question is how you can include half the world’s population, womankind in the evangelization of mankind.
    Pope Francis describes how far-reaching the task is:
    “I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”.
    ————————
    “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into the harvest”
    WE must ask the Father for labourers, we cannot exclude womankind and she must be given true equality in proclaiming the Gospel and be seen by all of mankind working for the good of the church in Unity of Purpose.

    In the early sixties I worked for several months in Brussels, assisting a relation who worked as a plumber/decorator. On one occasion, while working on a large country house, on the outskirts of the city I encountered other workers (Staff), working as gardeners/ odd job men, amongst them were a few Asians. To my surprise at lunch time three Asians rolled out small coloured mats in the same direction, knelt on them and began chanting and bowing I didn’t know what to make of it. Later that week an outside contractor arrived with around a dozen extra workers mainly Asians, you could not help but notice that there was a genuine fraternity of brotherly love between them, as some of the new group acknowledged each other; others introduced themselves to each other with such happiness and generosity. To my surprise at lunch time, the whole group in harmony (Unity of Purpose) all appeared together with small mats and rolled them out, knelt upon them and began bowing and chanting and the same at our mid-afternoon break, their actions left a deep imprint on my mind. Of course I now know that they were Muslims, their pray ritual (Belief) held them together in Unity of Purpose. I worked there for just over a week and I was unable to ascertain who was in charge, as they all showed such genuine respect for one and other.
    When I was about to leave school just before my fifteenth birthday I was called with other pupils who were also leaving into a classroom where a picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was on the wall, the parish priest was there with several teachers and we all we stood around the picture and prayed together. Then unexpectedly in unison the teachers and priest proclaimed loudly “We send you forth as lambs among wolves”(I cannot remember the rest) and gave us this warning “always remember that no evil can harm you, if you remain honest and true to Christ.” Some of the boys in my class were long term residents of a children’s home and would have to leave that home and start fending for themselves at fifteen years of age. It appears that we were now ready, to go out into the world, shepherd less and proclaim the gospel.
    I then commenced my first job, working in the centre of Leeds for a large company (six hundred employees) 90% female 10% male. When I look back to those days I realized that I only knew three Catholics within the workforce, obviously they were many more. On Holy Days of obligation at the city centre Cathedral you would catch a glimpse of other employees but if we should happen to see each other in the canteen back at work, we hardly acknowledge each other, never mind speak to each other. Why was this? I believe the reason for this is that the custom in our church is to focus on the Holy Eucharist and the priest. He is ordain and carries the authority of the Church, we relied totally on the priest, out in the real world, shepherd less and we did not turn to one and other for help with our own spiritual needs as we had never been taught to, because everything in the church revolved around him, the priest. He the priest, who worked and lived separately in an enclosed world, away from our world, as we the laity like lambs, were left unattended in the real world, without moral/ Spiritual support, in comparison to our Muslims brothers, whose ritual held (Supported) them in Unity of Purpose.
    Many years ago when I was in extreme difficulty, in my distress, I was told jovially “You will get no help from the Church as they (the priesthood) are all institutionalized, they cannot even help themselves”, this proved to be correct, stonewalling, self-protection was the name of the game, their sacred world must not be infringed on, even great evil must be protected within the Priesthood even if it means sacrificing any lamb that has the audacity to cry out in anguish. Given that many priests went straight from school/college into the priesthood I had to concede within my heart that this was true. Is it any wonder that an abandoned flock of lambs has been decimated? I cannot describe the distress
    I feel in regards to this wanton dereliction of duty by our so called leaders, so many lambs (Innocents) left to be devoured by ravenous wolves, as you the leadership were fully AWARE of what was happening in the real world, you protected yourselves by stonewalling and projecting a worldly image of holiness, this hypocrisy cries out to Our Father in heaven for justice.
    We cannot copy the Muslim structure, that supports their brethren in the outside world but we can learn from it.
    “Give us our daily bread”
    We need practical honest ordained working male/female Christians committed to Christ who are courageous enough, to go out into the real world, leading from the front, in the paddy field, on the tea plantation in the factory, office, hospital, etc , with integrity, been seen by all, as an EXAMPLE were ordinary men and women work and live, acting as a lynchpin in a chain, holding the flock together and carrying our unity of purpose, the breaking and been the living bread of life amongst us.
    Then like our Muslim brothers, we too, can also show the same commitment and support to each other and pronounce our faith by Example to all of mankind. Male and female in equality of purpose showing true reverence for each other and once again we will hear these words
    “Look how those Christians love one and other”.
    Then the Church will have a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything rather than for her self-preservation (her enclosed self-serving all male institutionalized priesthood).
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  24. Sean O'Conaill

    #22 Does it necessarily follow that if Christian women often suffered ‘exclusion, trivialisation and hostility’ from Christian male clergy they could not have had greater dignity as Christians than if they had not been Christian?
    .
    The historian sociologist Rodney Stark insists that in the early centuries, for example, female infanticide was so widely practised that there was a serious male/female population imbalance – and that it was partly the Christian intolerance of this practice that led to the rapid expansion of Christianity in those centuries.
    .
    New Age belief in the higher status of women in pre-Christian western culture is seriously challenged by such serious scholarship, and suggests that one of the reasons that women have clung so fiercely to the faith is that it did give them a greater dignity than they observed among women in the surrounding unconverted society – even if it did not give them the same status as Christian men.

  25. Des Gilroy

    I find it remarkable that the Virgin Mary, born incarnate, revered by the Church as Mother of the Church, the greatest of all the saints, would be refused ordination to the priesthood by todays fathers of the Church.

    Jesus, they claim, never called women to be among his apostles. Therefore, today we cannot call women to the priesthood. Let us just consider – neither did Jesus call non-Jews, he never called Italians and he certainly did not call Argentinians. Yet today we have no problem elevating them to the highest office in the Church.

    Let’s forget that argument that Jesus never called women. It holds no water.

    Let’s see if they can come up with some more realistic case.

  26. Joe O'Leary

    Looking at the extract from Mary Malone in the Field Day Anthology, I see she quotes St Peter Damian as typical of what churchmen said about women. St Peter Damian was a foul-mouthed misogynist and homophobe, and it would be a great disservice to such figures as Augustine and Aquinas to put them in the same basket as him. Of course the church did not do justice to women, as we now see (not to mention gays), but one should recall that there is no great writer in western literature who cannot be classed as a misogynist or sexist according to a feminist hermeneutics of suspicion, and there is no western institution than cannot be described as exclusionary in its attitude to women. As so often, it turns out that the promotion of more enlightened attitudes is the fruit of the Enlightenment (Wollstonecraft) and that the church has been slow to catch up; but in the age of the abbesses the church may have been ahead of society at large.
    .
    The idea of the Virgin Mary as priest would give spiritual indigestion to many Christians, since it runs athwart the entire symbolic web built up over centuries. The symbolic economy may be a false imagination, but to show this and to overcome it is quite a heavy project. In fact it would entail a radical rethinking of the presbyterate and its associations. Just applying the blanket criterion of employment equality may not be the most sensitive approach.

  27. Tony Burke

    Perhaps it is unfair to Augustine and Aquinas to “put them in the same basket” as Peter Damian who was indeed a misogynist and homophobe (26 Joe O’Leary ) – and yet Peter Damian was a Cardinal and Doctor of the Church, so in that sense they were all in the same boat – the ‘Barque of Peter’.

  28. Joe O'Leary

    True, Leo XII made Damian a Doctor of the Church (I guess they had to have someone from the dark ages), but his papal buddy Gregory VII — an extremist himself — thought Damian with his flagellations was over the top!

  29. Tony Burke

    The contributions to this correspondence have been stimulating, enlightening and at times even amusing (though perhaps not intentionally so). I would agree with Joe O’Leary on the need for a ‘radical rethinking’ – but not just on the presbyterate but rather on all aspects of women’s role within the Church. It was dispiriting to watch some women on Vincent Browne’s TV program recently expressing their satisfaction with the role of women in what has become a monolithic, hierarchical, patriarchal institution – but then perhaps the Holy Spirit will have the last say in these matters!!

  30. John

    Are priests the mediators between man and God? I thought that role belonged to Jesus and that everyone without exception could address God directly.

  31. Joe O'Leary

    John, the priestly, messianic people of God also have a kind of mediatory role, in that they share in Christ’s function of priest, prophet, and king (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 10-11). They communicate to the world the fruits of salvation (LG, 8). It is true that the Council also talks of a difference in essence not degree between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful, but their intimate interconnection is stressed: “licet essentia et non gradu tantum differant, ad invicem tamen ordinantur”, and the minister offers the priestly sacrifice in the name of the whole priestly people (10).

  32. John

    Priests : I think plain speaking is best. Well, it seems plain that when people come together in prayer there does not have to be a priest present. The faithful can address God directly, “through Jesus Christ our Lord”. The statement was made above without challenge : “.. it is wrong to think of presbyters as mediators between humanity and God, that is the role of priests”. The mediator between man and God is Jesus. I think the Gospel is very plain on that.

  33. Joe O'Leary

    I wanted to say that we should think of Catholic ministers as presbyters, not priests; the only priesthood is that of the whole people of God (who share in the priesthood of Christ according to Vatican II). I admit that this puts me in tension with the letter of Vatican II, but I note that many excellent theologians, such as Fr Tom O’Loughlin, seem to agree. The difference in essence between the way a presbyter and the way the laity exercise priestly functions is just that the presbyter has a specific role in the sacramental economy, a role performed in the name of the community. If Vatican II is correct in calling the people of God a priestly people, as I Peter does, then they can be seeing as sharing in the mediation of Christ on behalf of the world.

  34. Joe O'Leary

    The theology of ministry has been an area of nervous stress in recent decades. A Jesuit in the Biblicum told me once that is was one of the “hot topics” the scholars there avoided discussing. Fr Joseph Moingt, a great Jesuit theologian still going strong at 97, was multiply delated to Rome for an article on the pluralism of New Testament understandings of ministry; Joseph Ratzinger told his underlings, “Leave Fr Moingt in peace” (a pity he did not do the same in the case of Jacques Dupuis SJ). Two things remain clear in any case: no Christian minister is called “priest” in the NT; Vatican II tries to end the splendid isolation of the Tridentine priest as the holy man mediating between God and sinners by stressing that the priest offers the Sacrifice in the name of the priestly people of God. To be sure priestly ordination comes from a hierarchical source — from the bishop (who according to Vatican II enjoys the fullness of the sacrament of orders) conferring it on the authority of Christ — not from the laity.