October 4, 2012

On the Odds of Roman Catholic “Womenpriests”

(Photo Credit: Bridget Mary’s Blog)

The Sunday opinion pages of The New York Times certainly didn’t disappoint last weekend. Former IRD intern Julia Polese brought to my attention Judith Levitt’s trumpeting for Roman Catholic women’s ordination. The author paints a foreboding picture of a power-mad Vatican. After all, the RCC leadership threatened immediate excommunication to dissident bishops who ordain female clergy. Nevertheless, bishops have tried to pass on the sacerdotal office to women, albeit in anonymity and secrecy. Thus springs the “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.” Levitt reports that a determined minority have pursued this ecclesiastical cause since the post-Vatican II 1970s. She is no longer a practicing Catholic herself but seemed to relish how “deeply it affected me emotionally…[t]he first time I saw a female Roman Catholic priest on the church altar, dressed in traditional robes, performing the Eucharist and all of the rituals that I grew up with.” Likewise, she rejoiced at the since-exploded “discovery of a scrap of papyrus making reference to Jesus’ wife, and to a female disciple.”

Unfortunately for Levitt and her feminist friends, several theological factors stand in the way of women’s ordination in liturgical, sacramental Christian traditions. By this latter phrase, I mean those communions that practice ancient worship forms and affirm such sacramental ideas as the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion (think Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, high church Anglican, old school Lutheran).

The first hurdle is by far the most universal and can be found in even low-church Protestant circles: Scriptural hermeneutics. Passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12 present clear prohibitions against women exercising authority over men in a congregational setting. A great many Protestant bodies have concluded that this command results from cultural sensibilities rather than permanent principles. More traditional bodies find this interpretational method to be unsustainable and quite the problematic exegesis. They contend that by nature priests can only be men just as by nature marriage is between only a man and a woman. These latter exegetes believe that the context bolsters the prohibition and that this (incredibly unpopular) notion points to a particularly Scriptural metaphysic and theology of sex and gender.

The second obstacle is tradition, which has been the darling for the Vatican’s PR department. That no woman had ever been ordained by a legitimate Christian body for nearly 1800 years is no minor precedent. Similarly, the Christian priesthood is seen as a fulfillment and continuance of the Old Testament priesthood, which was also all-male. Even today, the term “priestess” carries with it the overtones of heathenry and idolatry. Protestant bodies began allowing for women pastors when pressured by the various feminist movements and Enlightenment principles; the Methodists, for example, became early proponents of lady ministers in the mid 1700s. However, all the apostles were male, and the Roman Catholics (and others) see the bishopric as an apostolic office. If Christ set this example while overturning so many other human expectations, the Church should be wary of pursuing such ecclesiastical novelties.

The third point is the most sacramental. In the Eucharist, the priest fulfills a sacerdotal duty, standing in a visible intermediary position of Christ to His Church as well as representing the Church to Christ. Just as Christ is a man, so the presbyter must be a man. The priest is the avenue through which God works. The priest is the waiter while Christ is, quite literally, the host. More Zwinglian Protestants don’t have this holdup, since the pastoral office is mainly concerned with teaching, leading vision, and counsel—all of which women can do just as well as men.

In sacramental traditions, a metaphysical impossibility stands in the way. Only a man can bear the host, but not all men are called to such a vocation. Coupled with such a high view of the Lord’s Supper is a great regard (in various degrees) for Mary. She bore the host as well, but in a completely different way. Suddenly, 1 Timothy 2:15 (taken in context with the rest of the chapter) loses its apparent chauvinism when one considers that Christian mothers seem to participate in this mystery. Again, it can only be performed by a woman, but not all women are called to it. Pretty cool, eh?

Not according to the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, who struggle against this mass of incredible theological inertia. Their willingness to ignore their own Church’s teaching belies a paltry understanding of Roman Catholic dogma, a negligible commitment to a theology of the body, and a loose grasp of historical awareness. If one truly adheres to a Real Presence view, he cannot ignore the emphasis on the supernatural breaking into the physical realm. Emotional satisfaction, good intentions, a mature levelheadedness, and vocational desire cannot deconstruct the brute physical reality. Such efforts would be, in a word, Gnostic. The fans of female ordination in the RCC are already radically revisionist as it is. Moreover, the secrecy of their ordaining bishops truly harms their credibility. If these womenpriests desire a religious home that will allow them to carry out their liturgy in peace, dozens of other Christian bodies stand at the ready to welcome them. If you’re really into women’s ordination, maybe the Magisterium isn’t for you.

18 Responses to On the Odds of Roman Catholic “Womenpriests”

  1. That’s how we’ve always do it is a poor reason to continue a particular practice. One could say that about Jim Crow. Junia in Romans 16 is an example of a female apostle.
    Though I conpletely disagree with Episcopal church’s view on gay marriage. I’m glad they ordain women. The hfermeutic you have out lined in this article is simply “kneejerk”

    • Reverend Rhodes, you’re mistaken. His hermeneutic is not “knee jerk.” I think that if one were simply to argue from the position of tradition alone their argument could be knee jerk. However, that is not the case in this piece because the author does not only approach the issue from the position of tradition. That’s only one of the several well articulated points by Mr. Gingerich.

      That to say, tradition has often been a better reason for justifying church practice than the new, faddish hermeneutical gymnastics we’ve seen in the last hundred years.

    • Rev. Rhodes: Your ignorance of Catholic sacramental theology is showing. To contend that it amounts to “we’ve always done it this way” and is “kneejerk” is simple Know-Nothingism. Disagree with their arguments, disagree with their conclusion, but acting as though there is no substance behind them says more about your lack of familiarity with the theology than it does about the theology itself. Oh, and comparing it to Jim Crow is just bigoted.

  2. Matthias says:

    Just more evidence that Protestantism is a disorder of ecclesiology and a historical tragedy. Anyone interested in why the Roman Catholic church should stop reading NYT articles and start reading the Popes who wrote about the topic.

    The problem with Protestantism isn’t this or that piece of theology – it is the rejection of any authority in interpreting scripture. Hence why we have protestant pastors encouraging wives to give more oral sex to their husbands, why other denominations are ordinating gay priests, etc.

    • Matthias, so if Protestants had an “authority” would you be placated? Or are you more accurately arguing that the “problem” with Protestantism is that they don’t have a Pope? Or the Pope?

      • Matthias says:

        Protestants do have an authority – their own mind. Every Protestant decides to the detail what he/she believes when it comes to important theological matters, sexual ethics, etc. So, Protestants have an authority just as much as Catholics do. The only difference is that the sacred tradition of the Church has stood throughout history, and is a) more informed and b) has more integrity than one lone individual mind.

        This explains why something like contraception, which for hundreds of years would have been categorically rejected by Catholics as well as Protestants, was suddenly accepted at large by Protestant denominations. It is because when left to the reasoning powers of our own individual minds, what informs us most is perhaps not the Holy Spirit, but the common cultural assumptions that surround us.

        Protestant theology has largely been hijacked by Enlightenment philosophy. That isn’t the case with Catholic theology – not because of “Popes” but because of the Sacred Tradition.

  3. Ben Welliver says:

    John Rhodes refers to “Junia,” mentioned in Romans as a female apostle. That is not a sure thing. I own 9 different translations and several commentaries, and there is definitely no agreement whether the text should say Junia (woman) or Junias (man), nor is it certain if the verse says Junias is “esteemed as an apostle” or “esteemed BY the apostles.” Given no other evidence to support female apostles, I think that one verse is a pretty thin thread to hang the ordination of women on.

    • Fr. John W. Morris says:

      In the Eastern Orthodox Church, we have many women saints like St. Mary Magdalena, who have the title “equal to the Apostles.” That is what the text in Romans could mean.
      The problem with Rome is not that they do not have women priests. The problem is that the laity do not exercise leadership roles in the Church. In the Orthodox Church, we do not ordain women, but women serve on Parish Councils that control the non spiritual affairs of the parish and participate in the Archdiocesan Convention and Board of Trustees of the Archdiocese that manage the non -spiritual affairs of the Archdiocese. Women also participate in the election of our Bishops.
      The example of the Protestant churches which ordain women, is one major reason not to ordain women. Every one of the has fallen victim to heretical feminist theology which leads to a rejection of Biblical language for God and so called inclusive language such as “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” Even worse the acceptance of feminist theology has led to a rejection of Biblical principles of morality and the acceptance of abortion and homosexuality.

  4. J P Logan says:

    I’m not an RC, but for what it’s worth: when all the Bible passages and traditional arguments against women’s ordination have been hashed out, I find that one key problem remains – so many women in the ministry seem to be agenda-driven, not God-driven. I know we can’t read minds or hearts, but I’ve met women ministers who clearly do have a “call” from God, but I’ve met more who seem motivated by “I’m a woman doing a man’s job! Ain’t I special?” One person comes to mind, Carter Heyward, the Episcopal woman (and lesbian) illegally ordained before the Episc started doing it legally, the prototype for the Angry Woman who makes no attempt to conceal the anger. I’m sensing a lot of the RC “womenpriests” fit that pattern.

    Christian woman have been finding ways to serve God’s church for 2000 years, and certainly they outnumber men in all churches, and I know of no congregation that could get by without its faithful, selfless women. They will continue to do so, while the Ax-Grinders and Squeaky Wheels get all the attention. I’m praying the RC will hold the line on ordination, if only to prove to the Angry Feminists that not all men will cave in to institutionalized nagging.

  5. dover1952 says:

    I like Jacques Ellul’s view on women. If any of you have ever studied evolution, you know that net change through time is from simple to more complex—and arguably higher in nature. Ellul argues that Eve—not Adam— is the pinnacle of creation because she was created last. Thus women are better humans and more superior than men. He further argues that this is why Satan decided to go after Eve in the Garden of Eden rather than Adam. If one is going to attack God’s creation and destroy it, the work has to begin at the head rather than the tail. In turn, this also explains why the great serpent gets his head bashed instead of his “heel” at the end of the grand game.

    Just some thoughts. However, in reading the posts above, I have to wonder when the two sides are going to marshal armies and start marching against each other like they did 500 years ago. Everyone has their own different set of ideas and everyone is certain that they are right and the others are wrong. However, one may ask the question that Paul asked:

    “Are these things you are arguing about essential or are they instead “doubtful disputations.”

  6. Fr. John W. Morris says:

    One of the great mistakes of feminism is the idea that equality equals sameness. Women are equal to men, but they are not the same. In a family, the father and mother play different roles. A father cannot be a mother, and a mother cannot be a father. .The parish is like a family. The Priest is the Father of the community whose ministry makes Christ present, especially during the Eucharist. That is why we call him Father. The Church is our Mother.

  7. The author is mixing up foreboding with forbidding.

  8. J P Logan says:

    He’s probably thinking of the classic sci-fi movie from the 1950s, Foreboding Planet.

  9. Tom Mcewen says:

    For the Catholic Church the answer is clear from the first council in Jerusalem.
    With the words of Acts 15:28-29: ”For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:..”

    That is the Authority of the Church, that is the Authority of the Holy Spirit, that is the Authority to set aside the laws as given to Moses by I AM, that is Authority that is given to the church until the end of the age.

    The church has no mandate to change the teaching of the Apostles on the transmission of the Holy Spirit by the Bishops. The Church has been given no teaching on women priests, therefore there is no women priests.

    I am offended by the reports that these are Roman Catholic Priests, they are not, they are not Catholic, they have left the church by their own free will, they are not Catholic, They are NYT semi-anglicans is what they are. Enough.
    Women priests are like going into an Italian bank, just elbows in the ribs, and a voice saying let me in, let me in. Kindly go away.

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