Sunday, June 8, 2008

Women are ordained

On May 4, 2008, a woman was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, and two women were ordained deacons in Winona, Minnesota. They are part of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that passes the fully valid line of “apostolic succession” to women. Some of its priests and bishops have been excommunicated for it. More information is at http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/

The Church claims that its hierarchical authority comes in an unbroken line of succession from the twelve apostles, who received their authority directly from Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. The scripture scholars I respect say flatly that Jesus did not give this “great commission,” but it was a tool that rival Christian factions used to claim exclusive authority.

While I consider the claim of “apostolic succession” a bit silly, I rejoice that women have this neat way of challenging the patriarchal Church, and I have enormous respect for their courage. Only my continued health problems kept me from attending the event.

The Womenpriests intentionally changed parts of the traditional ordination ceremony. Everyone present was invited to receive communion and celebrants were the last to receive. “There are no exclusions. All are welcome,” said Bishop Patricia Fresen. “The celebrants will receive last. We will use a different model.” It’s a more inclusive model.

Besides “apostolic succession,” the exclusion of women from decision-making power in the Church is justified by an all-male God. In A View from Rome, David Schultenover, S.J., describes the rationale underlying the injustice.

“The masculine God/Allah/Yahweh is the principle of all created beings and order in the universe. Honor is then necessarily associated with maleness, shame with femaleness, and thus we have the birth of patriarchy. . . . Women have value only subordinately, insofar as they support the system.”

That system is starting to crumble. More on this to come.
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I’m happy to report that the women participating in women’s ordination are not cowed, as their declaration shows:
“Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . . . [We] are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.

“We hold up heroic women in the church's tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death. In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law.”

Since women’s ordination is growing in favor around the world—70% of U.S. Catholics favor it—I don’t doubt that it’s coming. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy adds fuel to the growing determination of women to achieve equality. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church can’t stand against this tide for long.

What fascinates me is the thought process used to justify the exclusion of women. An Associated Press story quoted a Vatican official as saying, “The Church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ.” The article said this was “in reference to Christ’s having chosen only men as his Apostles.”

Remarkable. A secular news organization states a detail of religious myth as fact. Jesus of Nazareth did not commission 12 men as officials of a new religion. Neither did he found the Church, as the Vatican official claimed. How thoroughly the Christian myth has saturated our Western frame of reality!

Richard Sipe, a married, non-active Roman Catholic priest, writes about sexual abuse by the clergy, linking it to “the denigration of women” and “the arrogance of religious superiority.” He served as chair of the board for the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in Collegeville. I picked up his book Sex, Priests and Power in Michigan on the bookshelf of my deceased priest brother.

Sipe faults the hierarchy’s “logic that holds that because Jesus was male, men are superior to women.” He writes, “The ultimate justification for this power structure is that God is sexed.” After God Is Not Three Guys came out, someone actually tried to argue to me that God is more male than female. No respected theologian would claim this but, as Sipe indicates, our power structure rests on the assumption.

And I add that Church ritual and language reinforce it constantly. So do our secular media—always “He, Him, His” in reference to God, as if this elusive power were a humanlike male. It is one reason I began my post “Am I an atheist?” as I did.
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In Minneapolis on August 16, 2009, I attended the ordination of three women to the Roman Catholic priesthood and one woman to the diaconate, all presided over by Bishop Regina Nicolosi, a female Roman Catholic bishop. To its shame, the institution’s hierarchy excommunicates these courageous women for ritually claiming and proclaiming a role they have been performing without recognition—representing Christ in the world. The future Roman Catholic Church will either recant its cruel and foolish position or become marginalized and then insignificant. I don’t expect to live long enough for either result.

It is mostly women who act as the hands and feet, eyes, mouth and ears of Christ, the inner divinity that Christians call Jesus. It is mostly women who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick as nurses, wrappers of care packages, organizers of food banks and peace demonstrations. It is mostly women who change diapers of the elderly, who wash up after others, who listen patiently to victims of domestic abuse and family discord, who oil the wheels of social intercourse.

All of it without recognition. Doing the essential dirty work while men held the positions of honor and decision making. While men exclusively performed ritual ceremonies as clerics.

Now women have the gumption to say, “Enough! We could do more good in the world if we had more visibility. If we had more say. If we acted as priests and bishops, cardinals, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and secretaries of state.”

Wait a minute. We DO have women in secular leadership. Prejudice against women plays more prominently in religious institutions than in secular ones. Interesting, what this says about religion and justice. In the same way, religion lags behind the secular world in accepting the findings of science. Interesting, what this says about religion and truth.

No wonder a person who attended St. John’s University writes this:
To me, religion is a sham, a con-game that nobody really needs. Religion sells a mind-controlling drug to the masses.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is a word to describe people acting as responsible members of society, concerned with the rights and well-being of others. I know "christians" who are hardly "spiritual", only going the motions. And, I know atheists who are concerned about the rights and needs of others, and would never think to do most of those things on the "thou shalt not" list. Except, of course, those that command them to honor an imaginary God.

God did not create man, man created God.
Well said. I find nothing here to disagree with (See my other writings to learn about man creating God).
But it’s not the whole story. Yesterday’s ordination ceremony filled me with emotion. I love to sing, but at one point my voice faltered and I choked back tears as I watched these deserving and courageous women calmly claim their sacred roles.

Religion fills a mysterious human need. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t figure so prominently in the world’s affairs. But it needs cleaning up, and that’s just what women are good at. Yesterday’s ceremony was one step in that never-ending task.

The following eloquent statement speaks for itself.
I'm Marvin Smith and I'm here to recommend that Mary Frances Smith be ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. After 33 years as Mary's husband, I consider myself an expert witness on Mary-matters and the bearer of inside information. Sorry, there's nothing of great intrigue to disclose. I, like all who know her, realize there's something about Mary that just fits with becoming a priest.

So what are those qualities that recommend her so well? Clearly among them, are her compassion and reverence for life and her deep appreciation of people as unique individuals deserving care and consideration. Those qualities make her the outstanding and professional psychiatric nurse she is.

Yet there is another essential characteristic she possesses and shares with the other courageous women whose ordinations we've come to celebrate. It is a special quality, deservedly revered, and perhaps needed during these times more than ever. It's an attribute best fulfilled when motivated by a deep sense of justice and guided by honesty, selflessness, and steadfast commitment. Simply put, it's a willingness to do hard things. To quietly stand and advance a just cause when told to sit. To conscientiously speak and thoughtfully act in harmony with what one knows is right in the face of disapproval. It's an underlying measure of strong character that can forge profound change by exposing and eradicating discrimination and injustice to enhance our common humanity.

Mary's pursuit of ordination has been demanding. From completing a Master's Degree in Theology to proceeding through the diaconate and priestly discernment process all while working full time to help finance her children's college education—all hard things. Activities like serving on the Women's Ordination Conference board to accepting facilitative roles on RCWP Committees (this is where the inside information comes in) are among the hardest things for her to do. Speaking before groups and traveling to distant cities may be easy for some, but not for Mary. She's never fancied herself a frequent flyer. Just sitting next to her through turbulence makes one convinced sedatives are a miracle drug. As difficult as these personal challenges have been for Mary, there's a profound paradox at work here.

Yes, over these past years, her priestly journey has been hard, but from my expert viewpoint, it has been the most natural, genuine, and personally correct path she has ever walked. Isn't it interesting, that doing hard things when justly inspired, may be the most innately effortless! Perhaps for us all? If the inverse is true, then rigidly restraining the inner yearning for spiritual equality and liberty expressed by Mary and her sacred sisters will with time only become harder and more impossible to suppress.

I'm here to bear witness that Mary Frances Smith is truly ready to be ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and I feel privileged to witness history being progressively fashioned by the doing of hard things.

**** On December 12, 2009, central MN had an event that would surprise many—a Catholic Mass presided over by a woman priest. Actually two women ordained in Minneapolis in August—Mary Frances Smith and Linda Wilcox—presided in this liturgy of heightened significance. It's been years since I said the creed or made the sign of the cross, but on Saturday I could because the language was cleaned up—God was no longer 3 guys in the sky. Opting out of creed and cross is my way of saving my integrity when I participate in liturgies with male-exclusive language.

When planning for this began, 5 people around a table would have been enough to bring the priest. There must have been at least 50—both women and men—who participated. It was a wonderfully thrilling and warming experience, soaked in love, with people eager to step out of the cramped box of thought circumscribed by hierarchs. Liturgies like this pack more meaning. As someone said of the electric energy in the room, “Who needs drugs when we can have experiences like this!”

Wonderful liturgy, wonderful people. Several times I felt like crying with joy that such gatherings occur.

3 comments:

Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and came to read.

>"Since women’s ordination is growing in favor around the world—70% of U.S. Catholics favor it—I don’t doubt that it’s coming"

Um, no. 70% of U.S. Catholics do NOT favor ordination of women. 70% of surveyed Catholics in the Diocese of Boston favor it. Somehow a small survey in one U.S. diocese has magically turned into a larger survey of U.S. Catholics.

But, even if 100% of U.S. Catholics supported it, U.S. Catholics make up only 4-5% of the Catholic Church and are declining as a percentage, although not numerically. The Catholic Church has made itself clear that it lacks the authority to ordain women and the issue is closed. None of the 22 Catholic Churches ordain women nor do any of the Orthodox Churches. The Church is not likely to change any century soon.

Florian said...

Exactly, Timothy!

Notice, Jeanette, that one has to be careful when interpreting statistics.

Jeanette said...

I agree that the Church hierarchy is not likely to change this position soon, but the Church is already changing. In North America and Europe people are simply moving on. Whatever the current percentages of Catholic opinion on this and other issues, I expect Catholicism to be less monolithic in the future.
In fact, we don't need polls to tell us what is self-evident--Catholics are moving toward more independence of thought.