Women priests reject clericalism

Rosemary Radford Ruether, April 7.
There are times I think I should just give up on the Catholic Church—I’m sure Benedict XVI wouldn’t mind. He and bishops appointed by him and John Paul II are doing their best to get rid of dissidents like me.

But since the 1970s or ‘80s—I forget which—Rosemary Radford Ruether has motivated me on my path of working within the Church because she remains a Catholic and she articulates what I think and feel. My term "God talk" comes from her book Sexism and God Talk."
A premier feminist theologian, Ruether sees Catholicism as incorporating the whole Western philosophical tradition, but she grew up learning to critique it with respect while remaining a Catholic. Her mother already criticized "superstitious, dogmatic Catholicism," notes Ruether. She believes we need “autonomous bases for women’s theologizing and worship” to counter the unspoken official position that feminist Catholics are “just deviant, immoral people.” I join her in being a Catholic who refuses to be confined by institutional Catholicism.

And so I have called myself a "Buddhist Catholic"; someone, to my delight, called me an "honorary Unitarian"; and someone else wrote, "You definitely sound like an agnostic or an atheist, so why not join our group, Minnesota Atheists?"

Apparently, conservative Catholic officials don’t mind that their actions drive Catholicism toward becoming a right-wing fringe group in the Western world. Well, there's nothing to do about that. In the meantime, there are millions still nurtured by the Church but chaffing under the present leadership.
Typical liturgical language doesn’t nurture me—in fact, the sexist language repels me—but thoughtful, open-minded Catholics keep me coming to liturgies. And I revel in the improved liturgical language we use in our Womanpriest Masses, while I shudder at the thought of the Vatican’s imposed language coming out at the end of this year. As my generation dies out, I expect the Church to be less open, less inviting for persons with an inclusive bent.

Ruether, however, also criticizes the women’s ordination movement, as does Mary Hunt, another premier Catholic activist.

Women priests reject clericalism, April 30
Roman Catholic clerical culture favors doctrinal rigidity, conformity, obedience, submission and psychosexual immaturity (mistaken for innocence) in its candidates. These are the personality elements that lead to advancement and power in the clerical system.
Single men are more easily controlled if their sexuality is secret.
Richard Sipe.
Do priests abstain from sex? Sipe, a psychotherapist and researcher into the sexual practices of Roman Catholic clergy, answers,
No researcher so far has assessed that more than fifty percent of Roman Catholic clergy at any one time are in fact practicing celibacy.
So much for mandatory celibacy.
Why do they get by with it? Sipe answers,
Secrecy about all clerical sex is sacrosanct within the system.
Tom Roberts also examined clericalism, quoting a Capuchin provincial minister who described it as
a form of elitism . . . reinforced by the distinctive education and formation, dress and titles that priests and religious receive. . . . [Elitism] can lead to a distorted sense of entitlement, the assumption that one is not bound by the rules that govern everyone else, and that other people (even the vulnerable) exist to serve one’s own needs.
Women priests model a form of priesthood that sharply contrasts with the clerical culture so devastatingly described in the statements above. Women priests are non-elitist. As such, they are non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian, and, of course, non-patriarchal; they don’t insist on their way. No parish council has the familiar headache of coping with a headstrong woman priest.

They bear no titles like “Mother” or “Reverend,” wear street clothing in public and simple vestments during liturgies, and they receive little or no stipend for their service to the Church, that is, service to the people, not the hierarchical structure. They have to work for their living, and their work often serves persons neglected by the official Church—the GLBT community and victims of clergy abuse.
They are not hung up about sex, being married or not, as they wish, and they are deliberately ecumenical.

Oh, and in answer to the question, "Why would you want to participate in the hierarchical system? Isn’t this a sell-out?" women priests say women's ordination is necessary in this transitional time. As I interpret this, it means they don't regard any ordination above lay status to be necessary but only necessary now for the sake of justice, to show that women can stand in persona Christi.
As indeed they do.

Women priests & apostolic succession, April 13.

According to the gospels, Jesus chose 12 disciples in his life time. After his death, one of them, Judas Iscariot, the traitor of Jesus, was replaced . . . But these 12 disciples have left little record of evangelizing Gentiles and founding churches around the world. In fact, the original idea of the 12 disciples probably was intended to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, not a group of worldwide founders of churches from which a succession of bishops descended.
Rosemary Radford Ruether

In fact, most scriptural historians don’t believe that Jesus chose exactly 12 men, only men, to be his disciples. The importance of women in his ministry, especially Mary Magdalene, strikes anyone who reads the gospels with open eyes.

The Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) movement, begun in 2002 with the ordination of 7 women on the River Danube, claims apostolic succession because its women priests and bishops were ordained by bishops claiming valid succession in the Catholic Church. But a Women-Church movement begun in the 1970s rejects the idea of ordination in apostolic succession because, in their view, it cooperates with institutional clericalism.

This concept of women priests imbues the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community begun in 2005. It ordained a woman in a collective action of their faith community and based this on their reading of early church history. Some Christians in the early centuries had called priests and ordained them by such collective action of their local communities. Hippolytus was elected bishop of Rome in this way, and he described the apostolic tradition as “all the people” together with presbyters (priests) and bishops giving their consent and laying hands on the elected.

Monarchical or hierarchical episcopacy—a bishop with power over others—also existed in the early Church; many different Christianities existed in a fluid mix of diverse beliefs and diverse practices. Competing groups claimed apostolic succession, including Gnostics. Orthodox bishops tried to eliminate differences—from this period come the terms “heresy” and “orthodoxy”—but their kind of order didn’t succeed until Roman emperors, beginning with Constantine, imposed it on the whole empire.

The earliest and best model of a bishop claiming special powers was Ignatius of Antioch, who on his way to voluntary martyrdom early in the second century wrote, “I am God’s wheat . . . to make a pure loaf for Christ.” In other words, the bishop represented God and had teaching authority. But apostolic succession claims in the early centuries had nothing to do with priestly power to make bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and Ignatius never mentioned Peter as a founding apostle.

To summarize, the idea of apostolic succession has no historical validity. The supposedly unbroken line of succession from certain men chosen by Jesus to be priests and bishops is “historical fiction” (Ruether’s term) used to keep unbroken the lines of power in the institutional Church. For this reason and because they despise hierarchical abuse of power, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Mary Hunt, both of whom I admire as Catholic feminist leaders, reject RCWP.

So why do I support RCWP which claims “unbroken apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church”? Because nothing, besides the issue of clerical sex abuse, so effectively challenges the Vatican’s grip on power. Automatic excommunication of participants in RCWP evinces the hierarchy’s fear of RCWP.

Yes, the claim of apostolic succession is baseless, but that women can make it adds to their power in the eyes of the Vatican and in the eyes of Catholics ignorant of history. I have no doubt that many womenpriests know the facts regarding the myth of the twelve apostles, and their own model of priesthood sharply contrasts with male clerical culture.

To learn more about women’s ordination, view scenes of the film Pink Smoke over the Vatican and listen to a fascinating interview of the journalist who made the film. Articulately and cogently, she informs us of the Church’s efforts, sometimes extreme, to enforce sexism. And you may want to read a review of the film.


iris @aol.com said…
Yes, there are many of us who stay in the church while chaffing under the direction it has taken. For me the early church experiences were where I encountered God. I loved the ritual and aura of holiness I met there, so even the echo of all that keeps me in the fold. I suspect this will not be true of future generations.

Popular posts from this blog

Goddess in the Bible

Eckhart's Trinity