Advent Appeal to Cardinals from John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Dear Cardinal Nichols,

Blessed Advent! — “Come and set us free, Lord God of power and might.”

I hope you are well and that your staff lets you read the enclosed letters. I write to share a perspective on the explanation we have on the ontological-theological status of women in the church—the status that blocks their ordination to the priesthood.

The bishops remain silent on the status of women in the church— perhaps out of loyalty, or acceptance, or fear, or ignorance, or the need to get along. The priests remain silent on this status—perhaps out of loyalty, or acceptance, or fear, or ignorance, or the need to get along. The mandatum theologians, even if they have the necessary expertise in theology and human development, remain silent on this status—perhaps out of loyalty, or acceptance, or fear, or the need to get along.

It seems rather clear that this complicit silence is helping no one— not women, not the faithful, not the pope and the other bishops, not the priests, not the theologians. Every day this silence keeps the church from honestly addressing the huge global challenges of pastoral ministry. Every day this silence writes off huge numbers of the faithful who leave an archaic, obtuse, deaf and dumb, dehumanizing, self-referential institution which they no longer trust and in which they no longer hope.

If you as a bishop—and as a teacher in the church—can address the body-and-soul status of women in the church—if you know in your heart that this is a wall that needs a door—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

Sincerely,
John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Dear Cardinals: Speak Freely, Boldly, and Without Fear

Dear Cardinal Parolin,

I am writing to you and to each of the members of the Council of Cardinals yet again to ask you to directly address in your Advent meeting the church’s continuing decision to see women as lacking the body-and-soul integrity to be ordained to the priesthood. This decision so needing reform—ecclesia semper reformanda—radically disfigures the church’s identity and seriously compromises its mission in the world.

Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done, the way he opened the Synod on the Family in 2014 was perhaps the most extraordinary. He asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” This exhortation is quite shocking: he had to ask his fellow bishops—grown men and the church’s teachers—to speak honestly to each other. Given a church so incredibly challenged by dialogue, however, his exhortation was not only necessary but was also, at least at the time, some small sign of hope for the future.

If you believe that the ordination of women to the priesthood is vital for the integrity, the mutuality, the maturity, and the viability of our church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that that precludes the ordination of women to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If seeing women and men through a complementarity lens or in light of precious patriarchal symbolism is not ad rem to women’s worthiness of ordination, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you know from your own experience that any given woman is as religiously mature and able to provide pastoral care as any given man, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find the 1994 letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: 1) was the fruit not of dialogue but of doctrinal fiat; 2) was written directly in the face of—and arguably to cut off—serious scriptural-theological dialogue actually taking place; and 3) then mandated that no dialogue—let alone anything fearless or gender-inclusive—is allowed going forward, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you see that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is an historical interpretation of ordination rather than one that is theological, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If the theological explanation actually put forth by the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s—that women cannot be ordained because they are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”—would be silly if it were it not so heretical, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If seeing women fully created in the image and likeness of God does not mean that they are fully created in the image and likeness of Jesus— if such Trinitarian theology is puzzling, incongruous, or totally bizarre—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If the church’s current stance effectively undermines the Three-in-Oneness of our God—if a huge patriarchal beam is stuck in the church’s eye, worshipping the Father as genetically male, the Son as genetically male, and, of course, the Holy Spirit as genetically male—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you are concerned about the adult faithful leaving the church in droves because women are not worthy of priesthood—if you understand that “a patriarchal Jesus” severs the roots of inclusion, respect, and trust in the church—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If it is clear that the church’s opposition to the ordination of women is taken—inside and outside the church—as affirming women’s inferiority and justifying domestic violence, infanticide, trafficking, and many other atrocities, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you want bishops to work now in a synodal way with theologians and the faithful—under the aegis of a genderless Spirit—to affirm the body-and-soul integrity of women and to heal our stubborn, stolid, and sexist church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

Cardinal Parolin, how long will the temporizing go on? Is injustice to women to cripple the Christian message forever? Like the reformation of inclusion in the infant church, can you and the other bishops see, hear, and name what Pope Francis cannot see, hear, and name? Will you speak freely? Will you dialogue boldly and without fear?

Sincerely,

John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Copy: Pope Francis

Feast of St. Augustine Appeal to Council of Cardinals by John J. Shea, O.S.A

Dear Cardinal Parolin,

I am writing again to you and to each of the members of the Coun- cil of Cardinals to ask you to directly address in your September meeting the church’s ongoing decision to see women as lacking the body-and- soul integrity to be ordained to the priesthood. This is a critical issue of structural reform—ecclesia semper reformanda. It radically warps our church’s identity and painfully cripples its mission in the world.

Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done, the way he opened the Synod on the Family in 2014 was perhaps the most extraor- dinary. He asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” This exhortation is quite shocking: he had to ask his fellow bish- ops—grown men and the church’s teachers—to speak honestly to each other. Given a church so incredibly challenged by dialogue, however, his exhortation was not only necessary but was, at lease at the time, some small sign of hope.

If you believe that the ordination of women to the priesthood is vital for the integrity, the mutuality, the maturity, and the viability of our church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you know from your own experience that any given woman is as religiously mature and able to provide pastoral care as any given man, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that that pre- cludes the ordination of women to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If seeing women and men through a complementarity lens or in light of precious patriarchal symbolism is not ad rem to women’s worthi- ness of ordination, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find the 1994 letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: 1) was the fruit not of dialogue but of doctrinal fiat; 2) was written directly in the face of—and arguably to cut off—serious scriptural-theological dialogue actu- ally taking place; and 3) then mandated that no dialogue—let alone any- thing fearless or gender-inclusive—is allowed going forward, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you see that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is an historical in- terpretation of ordination rather than one that is theological, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If the theological explanation actually put forth by the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s—that women cannot be ordained because they are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”—would be silly if it were it not so he- retical, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If seeing women fully created in the image and likeness of God does not mean that they are fully created in the image and likeness of Jesus— if such Trinitarian theology is puzzling, incongruous, or totally bizarre—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If the church’s current stance effectively undermines the Three-in- Oneness of our God—if a huge patriarchal beam is stuck in the church’s eye, worshipping the Father as genetically male, the Son as genetically male, and, of course, the Holy Spirit as genetically male—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you are concerned about the adult faithful leaving the church in droves because women are not worthy of priesthood—if you understand that “a patriarchal Jesus” severs the roots of inclusion, respect, and trust in the church—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If it is clear that the church’s opposition to the ordination of women is taken—inside and outside the church—as affirming women’s inferiority and justifying domestic violence, infanticide, trafficking, and many other atrocities, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you want bishops to work now in a synodal way with theologians and the faithful—under the aegis of a genderless Spirit—to affirm the body-and-soul integrity of women and to heal our stammering, stolid, and sexist church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

Cardinal Parolin, how long will this temporizing go on? Is injustice to women to cripple the Christian message forever? Like the reformation of inclusion in the infant church, can you and the other bishops see, hear, and name what Pope Francis cannot see, hear, and name? Will you speak freely? Will you dialogue boldly and without fear?

Feast of St. Augustine Appeal to Pope Francis by John J. Shea, O.S.A

I hope you that are well and that your officials let you receive this letter. I pray for you. Your obvious concern for the poor, for the environ- ment, and for reform in our church is more than wonderful.

Enclosed again are two letters about the ordination of women: the first is sent to each member of the Council of Cardinals with whom you are soon meeting; the second is a letter for background that I mailed to all the ordinaries of the United States at the beginning of Lent in 2014.

When you talked about the need for honest dialogue on the issues that we face as a church, it was initially heartening. You kept insisting: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” In fact, you said: “dialogue fearlessly.”

Unfortunately, however, there is not now, nor has there ever been, fearless dialogue—let alone anything gender inclusive—on the ordination of women, even though this issue is arguably the one most crucial.

In your care for God’s people, can the collaboration between bishops and theologians at Vatican II be a model? As our Supreme Bridge Builder can you empower an up-to-date synodal dialogue now so tragically absent and so desperately needed?

How can our church be whole if women are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Not to affirm the body-and-soul wholeness of women—leaving their integrity ignored, disparaged, and denied—is a crushing injustice that stifles the Spirit and gives a lie to the Good News.

Is it wrong to hope that our ecclesial structures—crumbling in stone yet so powerfully ensconced in patriarchal privilege—can come to embrace an intelligent view of gender? Is it possible to see that integrity and mutuality are embodied by grown women as well as grown men?

Pope Francis, can the Vatican’s understanding of women finally take a centuries-leap forward? Can justice and mercy actually wed?

Sincerely,

John J. Shea, O.S.A. Copy: Each Member of the Council of Cardinals

APPEAL BY 12 IRISH PRIESTS (1 November 2015)

Priests call for open discussion on the need for equality of Women in all aspects of Church life, including Ministry.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3, 28)

In the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their Baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision making, and from ordained ministry. In 1994 Pope John Paul II declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the Church.

Pope Benedict reaffirmed, and even strengthened this teaching by insisting that it was definitive and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view.

Pope Francis has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible. In reality, Pope John Paul II did not encourage or facilitate debate on the ordination of women to priesthood or diaconate before he made his decision.

Furthermore, there was virtually no discussion on the complex cultural factors which excluded women from leadership roles in many societies until recently.

We, the undersigned, believe that this situation is very damaging, that it alienates both women and men from the church because they are scandalised by the unwillingness of Church leaders to open the debate on the role of women in our church. This alienation will continue and accelerate.

We are aware that there are many women who are deeply hurt and saddened by this teaching.

We also believe that the example given by the Church in discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies. It is also necessary to remember that women form the bulk of the congregation at Sunday Mass and have been more active in the life of the local churches than many men, mirroring the fidelity of the women who followed Jesus to the end, to his death on Calvary. The command of Jesus "Go, teach all nations" was addressed to all his followers, and by failing to accept the full equality of women, the church is not fulfilling this commission.

The strict prohibition on discussing the question has failed to silence the majority of the Catholic faithful. Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favour of full equality for women in the Church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe.

We believe that we can no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church. So, in the spirit of Pope Francis constant encouragement of dialogue, we are calling for free and open discussion concerning the full equality of women in all facets of Church life, including all forms of ministry. If this were to happen, the credibility of the Catholic Church would gain strength, especially when it addresses women's issues.

Signed: Frs:

Eamonn McCarthy

Sean McDonagh

Kevin Hegarty

Tony Conry

Roy Donovan

John D. Kirwin

Padraig Standun

Donagh O'Meara

Adrian Egan

Ned Quinn

Benny Bohan

Tony Flannery

Lenten appeal to Cardinals on Women's Ordination from John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Dear Cardinal Maradiaga,

February, 2017

I am writing again to you and to each of the other members of the Council of Cardinals to ask you in anticipation of Lent to discuss at your next meeting a core issue of structural reform—ecclesia semper refor- manda—an issue that disrespects every aspect of our church’s identity and mission: the decision to see women as unworthy—body and soul—of ordination to the priesthood.

Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done, his opening of the Synod on the Family in 2014 was perhaps the most extraordinary. He asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” This exhortation is incredibly shocking, that he would have to ask his fellow bishops—grown men and the teachers of the church—to speak honestly to each other. Given the atmosphere of the Vatican, however, his exhor- tation was not only necessary but even some small sign of hope in our church so seriously challenged dialogically.

If you know from your own experience that any given woman is as religiously mature and able to provide pastoral care as any given man, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If seeing women and men through a complementarity lens or in light of precious patriarchal symbolism is not pertinent to women being worthy of ordination, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find that the ordination of women to the priesthood is neces- sary for the integrity, mutuality, vitality, and viability of our church going forward, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find nothing in Scripture or tradition prejudicial against women or precluding their ordination to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you know that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: 1) was the fruit of doctrinal fiat not of dialogue; 2) was written in the face of—and argua- bly to cut off—serious scriptural-theological dialogue actually taking place; and 3) then concluded by ordering that no dialogue at all on wom- en’s ordination—let alone anything fearless or gender-inclusive—will be allowed, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you understand that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is an his- torical explanation of ordination rather than a theological explanation, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you think the theological explanation put forth by the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s—that women cannot be ordained because they are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”—would be silly if it were it not so he- retical, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you wonder why seeing women created fully in the image and likeness of God fails to mean seeing them created fully in the image and likeness of Jesus—if this puzzles you or strikes you as bizarre Trinitarian theology—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If the church’s present practice directly undermines our God’s rela- tional Three-in-Oneness—if a huge patriarchal log is stuck in the eye of the church, worshipping the Father as male, the Son as male, and the Holy Spirit as male—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you know that the church’s opposition to the ordination of wom- en is seen—within the church and throughout the world—as affirming the inferiority of women and justifying domestic violence, infanticide, and many other atrocities, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you understand why so many of the adult faithful are leaving the church in droves over the injustice of women unworthy of priesthood—if a “patriarchal Jesus” is a colossal contradiction—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you believe that bishops and theologians need to work together in openness and dialogue on this pressing identity issue we are facing— much like their working together was indispensable at the time of Vati- can II—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you believe that all the other structural reforms you are under- taking will be wanting as long as women are not fully in the likeness of Jesus, I ask you in respect for care and justice within our church to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

Cardinal Maradiaga, is rank injustice in the church to cripple the Christian message forever? Like the reformation of inclusion in the infant church, can you and your fellow bishops see and hear and name what Pope Francis is not able to see and hear and name?

Copy: Pope Francis

Sincerely,
John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Lenten appeal to Pope Francis on Women's Ordination from John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Dear Pope Francis,

February, 2017

I hope you are well and that you are allowed to receive this letter. I pray for you and I am inspired by your obvious concern for the poor and the environment.

Enclosed again are two letters about the ordination of women: the first is sent to each member of the Council of Cardinals with whom you are meeting; the second is a letter for background that I mailed to all the ordinaries of the United States at the beginning of Lent in 2014.

When you talk about the need for honest dialogue on the issues that we face as a church, I am somewhat heartened. You keep insisting: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” In fact, you say: “dialogue fearlessly.”

Unfortunately, however, there is not now, nor has there ever been, any fearless—let alone gender inclusive—dialogue on the ordination of women, although this is arguably the most crucial issue in the church.

Can the sea-changing collaboration of bishops and theologians at the time of Vatican II serve as a model for what needs to happen today? Can you empower that kind of thoroughgoing synod-like collaboration as part of your concern for honest dialogue in the church?

How can our church become whole if women are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Not to address the body-and-soul wholeness of women—to leave this wholeness ignored, denigrated, and denied—is a missing-the-mark scandal that continues to disgrace our church.

Is it wrong to hope in anticipation of Lent that the archaic structures of the church—clung to so fiercely as unchangeable yet skewed so inordinately in patriarchal privilege—can be seriously addressed?

Pope Francis, will the day come when the church’s recognition of women rivals the mercy that is the cornerstone of your papacy?

Sincerely,

John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Copy: Members of the Council of Cardinals

Advent appeal to Pope Francis on Women's Ordination, from John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Dear Pope Francis,

Advent, 2016

I hope you are well and that you receive this letter. I pray for you in this Advent season, and I am inspired by your obvious concern for the poor and the marginalized in our world and in our church.

Enclosed again are two letters about the ordination of women: the first is sent to each member of the Council of Cardinals; the second is a letter for background that I mailed to all the ordinaries of the United States at the beginning of Lent in 2014.

When you talk about the need for honest dialogue on the issues that we face as a church, I am somewhat heartened. You keep insisting: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.In fact, you say: “dialogue fearlessly.”

Unfortunately, however, there is not now, nor has there been, any fearlesslet alone gender inclusivedialogue on the ordination of women, although this is arguably the most crucial issue in the church.

Can the sea-changing collaboration of bishops and theologians at the time of Vatican II serve as a model for what needs to happen today? Can you empower that kind of thoroughgoing collaboration as part of your concern for honest dialogue in the church?

How can our church become whole if women are not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Whatever the Vatican reformsecclesia semper reformandathey are only window dressing until the wholeness of womenbody and soulis theologically and competently addressed.

Is it wrong in this Advent season to hope that the structures of the churchdefended so often as indubitable yet mired so inordinately in patriarchal privilegecan be seriously addressed?

Pope Francis, will the day come when the church’s care and justice for women reflect the mercy that is the cornerstone of your papacy?

Sincerely,

John J. Shea, O.S.A. Copy: Members of the Council of Cardinals

Advent appeal to Cardinals on Women's Ordination, from John J. Shea, O.S.A.

Dear Cardinal,

Advent, 2016

I am writing again to you and to each of the other members of the Council of Cardinals to ask you in the spirit of this Advent season to discuss at your next meeting a core issue of structural reformecclesia semper reformandaan issue that disrespects every aspect of the church’s identity and mission: the decision to see women as unworthybody and soulof ordination to the priesthood.

Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done, his opening of the Synod on the Family in 2014 was perhaps the most extraordinary: he asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” On the one hand, this exhortation is incredibly shocking, that he would have to ask his fellow bishopsgrown men and the teachers of the churchto speak honestly to each other. On the other hand, given the atmosphere of the Vatican, his exhortation was not only necessary but also a modest sign of hope in our church so seriously dialogically challenged.

If you find nothing in Scripture or tradition prejudicial against women or precluding their ordination to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you believe that the ordination of women to the priesthood is necessary for the integrity, mutuality, vitality, and viability of our church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you find that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: 1) is a defensive document, not the fruit of dialogue; 2) is written directly in the face ofand perhaps because ofserious scriptural-theological dialogue taking place at the time; and 3) ends by mandating that no dialogue on women’s ordination at alllet alone anything fearless or gender-inclusiveis al- lowed, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you understand that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is an historical explanation of ordination rather than a theological explanation, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you think the actual theological explanation put forth by the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980sthat women cannot be ordained because they are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”—would be silly if it were it not so heretical, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you wonder why seeing women created fully in the image and likeness of God does not mean seeing them created fully in the image and likeness of Jesusif you find this is an anomaly or benighted ecclesiastical sophistry--I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you know from your own experience that any given woman is as religiously mature and able to provide pastoral care as any given man, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If the church’s present practice directly undermines our God’s relational Three-in-Onenessif a huge patriarchal log is stuck in the eye of the church, worshipping the Father as male, the Son as male, and the Holy Spirit as maleI ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you know that the church’s opposition to the ordination of women is seenwithin the church and throughout the worldas affirming the inferiority of women and justifying unspeakable and merciless violence against them, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you understand why so many of the adult faithful are leaving the church in droves over the injustice of women barred from priesthoodif a “patriarchal Jesus” is a colossal contradictionI ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you believe that the bishops and the theologians need to work together in openness and dialogue on this most pressing identity issue we are facingjust as their working together was indispensable at the time of Vatican III ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

If you believe that all the other structural reforms you are under- taking will be wanting as long as women are not fully in the likeness of Jesus in our church, I ask you in respect for the sacred Incarnation to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.

Cardinal, is rank injustice to women to cripple the Christian message forever? Like the reformation of inclusion in the infant church, can you and your fellow bishops see and hear and name what Pope Francis is not able to see and hear and name?

Copy: Pope Francis

Sincerely,
John J. Shea, O.S.A. 

Daniel Berrigan on WOMEN PRIESTS from 1977

Of Priests, Women, Women Priests, and Other Unlikely Recombinants: A Diary

Daniel Berrigan S.j.

Published in Movement Magazine: Journal of the Student Christian Movement of Britain and Ireland, in a special supplement Why Men Priestsedited by Mary Condren, (Dublin: SCM Publications, 1977): pp 8- 10).

You have to taste life, a real taste, bitter and sweet together before you can celebrate life. This seems plain fact, truth of the soul, on the face of it. But what to make of all those liturgical experts who year after year, gather to tell one and all what motions to go through, and when and why, around the cold altars?

The dominant mood, in public and private, in church and state, is something deeper than depression; a stupefaction. People go in circles, sleep walk, blank faced. There are no maps. Most plod along in the old track, interminably. Or they go where forbidden. The old taboos fall in the name of freedom, sexual or psychological, a kind of mauve scented slavery. And Big Bro grins his wolfish grin.

Women who want to enter the priesthood, or who are already ordained, have at least some inkling of the stalemate within the ranks. The truth of being woman is a good boot camp for being a nobody; in culture, in church. And ‘nobody’, ‘non person’ is a good definition of a priest today, female or male, given both church and culture. Properly, soberly understood. Some say the scripture says that’s where we belong.

A non person. You don’t signify. They look you over, but you don’t meet acceptable standards. Or the big boys meet, make big decisions, plans, projections. You aren’t invited. Or rather, you’re disinvited. World without end.

Priesthood? One could huff and puff about mystery, sacrament, sign, moments of grace. These I take to be realities. I am also consoled that they are out of our grasp, control, consuming.

And this is the Day of the Consumer. The Day of Seizure; Don’t Forget It. Above all, don’t forget it, women. The caste implications, the control units, are humming. If you come in and join up, the machos will know how to deal with that too. Which is to say, the penal implications of the penis ought not he misread. To be deprived is to be a ‘case’, a patient, a freak, an example. It is To Be Dealt With.

When something is working badly for those it was designed to work for, what solution? Commonly culturally speaking, do more of the same. Multiplied mistakes cancel out the initial mistake; the sublime logic. What then to say to women who want to join the Early Mistake? mistaken identity? One has to think of starting over. But whether women can correct the massive and multiplied misservices of the Hippos On Highthis seems to be matter for valid questioning.

We do well in a bad time not to multiply the bads. Men I respect in the priesthood aren’t particularly happy in thinking male. They feel miserable under the weight of life today, just as women do. That ‘just as’ needs of course to be treated carefully; women are outside, men in, the difference is not slight.

At the same time, it’s worth saying that spite gets us no where. And on the question of priesthood, the ‘in’ male and the ‘out’ female meet on a ground that’s fairly familiar to each; one barely making it meets another not making it. To say that life isn’t offering a great deal to any of us, doesn’t heal the long untended wounds.

A better beginning might be the common admission of a common plight, male and female, in the effort to be faithful to a human vocation; violation, insults, jail, the beetling brow of the law. Each has the right to kick and scream until we have 1) a common share of our common patrimony (matrimony)which certainly includes equal access to ministry, pulpit, sacraments, right up to bishoprics and papal tiaras (for those who feel called lo such bric-a-brac), and 2) a vote on where and how our lives get lived, used, spent, given.

Access to the mysteries, the good news made both good and new. Need I tell anyone we are being drowned in bad news; certainly bad, hardly new? I think on the contrary, good news waits on women; I think it waifs on men. It waits on each of us, reborn.

Please don’t wash us in hog wash. A big case is made in anti-priest-women polemics, of the huge shift in symbols required if women are to stand at the altars. This is to say the least, reading history through the rear view mirror. Such ‘scholarship’ is always late, always after the fact, invariably in service to special interests. It loves to act as though those in command just arbitrarily appear there, wide eyed innocents, open to every prevailing or contrary wind, nothing on their minds except disinterested service of the truth. Thus the scholars become apologists, indifferent to injustice; and the apologists become ideologues. They prefer historical jousting to a simple look at manifest injustice. A fascist stalling tactic.

In such matters, it helps to stay with a few simple ideas, and see where they lead. But some critics make history (in this case male history, a bad start) into the enemy, adversary, obstacle to a better human arrangement. They also mistrust people, including their fellow Christians; the majority of whom do not sit in endowed university chairs announcing the facts of life to those ‘below.’ (A little like life guards scanning the sea beaches from chairs the height of The Empire State building)

Would Christians accept the ministry of women alongside men? My experience is that immense good will is available; people adjust quickly, even with excitement, to new arrangements, especially when these are presented as forms of requital, righting of wrongs. ‘How sensible; I never thought of that before’ is a common reaction in such matters, from the pew or the church door. But from pulpit or podium, the process is infinitely more tortuous, the minds inverted, lost. Out of touch.

Ours was a church of outsiders, from the start. This is often said. The implications are just as often ignored or sidestepped; because the ‘outside’ character of our beginnings is of course, taught by insiders.

Still, a cold comfort is better than none, considering common shortages. We might ponder Jesus; who, it could be argued, is still shivering on the lintel of this or that sublime chance! He cannot be washed hands of, he will not go away. A perpetual embarrassment to grand and petty inquisitors alike.

In all this, it won’t do to comfort ourselves with ‘Well in any case, it’s psychiatrically verified that sons (daughters) always kick out the old man in order to come into their own...’

Their own? The old man? But Jesus didn’t come on, in the first place, as big daddy at all; but defenceless, otherworldly, an artisan, a worker, a friend, a ne’er do well, ambitionless really, empty of hand and pocket, a non belonger and no joiner.

It seems to follow; all who wish to meet him must do so on his ground. He won’t come in. Won’t be assimilated. A Jew is a Jew, take it or leave it. You want to meet him? Step outside, into the dark. But who wants to hear such talk?

The healing of woman bent double, in Luke 13. Nuanced and delightful. I cannot for the life of me, find anyone who treats it adequately; so here goes a try.

She was bent over, Luke says (and he ought to know) by a diabolic spirit. Could it be that she was fated to dramatize in her frame, the fate of women, in that culture, in every culture? No one says so. Males write history generally; then to place things beyond doubt, they write male commentary. But Luke steps aside from all that; or better, Jesus does. In freedom, he walks over those puerile taboos and drawn lines. He takes the initiative with the woman; ‘He called her over when lie saw her condition..’ Then he ‘laid his hands on her. And simply announced her cure. She straightened up. And ‘she gave glory to God.’ How sublime! A woman bent double (bent doubly) under the burden of hideous culture and worse religion, is healed of this evil spirit.’ For a spirit is at work in her, not a disease; or better, a diseased spirit. The culture, the religion, are rightly regarded by Jesus as demonic. The woman must be exorcised, of culture, or religion. Then she stands upright, then with all her wit and will, she responds to God. Can you see her face at that moment?

The keepers of the status quo are of course outraged. If we know anything, we know why. The miraculous is of no account to them Religion is business. The rule is business as usual. Business is good.

But something deeper than tins is in question; the healing of——a woman. Her face alight with hope and joy, is an affront to their consecrated gloom, the atmosphere of a sanctuary which is a counting house.

Would they, have struck back with such irrational fury, had a man been healed under the same circumstances? One is allowed to doubt it. In any case, Jesus is at pains to note that he has liberated not a man, but a ‘daughter of Abraham’ This is her dignity. He refers to it, against all custom. A daughter of Abraham stands, upright; stands up, as we say, for her rights.

In the gospel, the title is unique, where macho ‘sons of Abraham’ abound. In the Jewish bible, the title is unthinkable.

But no commentator notes these things, as far as I can find.

There’s little doubt that when the gospels got written, people leaned quirkily, stormily, on charisms, resonances, right speech, a passion to serve, the ictus that went further than plod, wisdom and wisdom’s outreach. And not to forget in a spineless time, courage, raw as a wound. Jail experience and savvy, street smarts. The range of eye was wider then, the understanding more worldly, they had more

news to call good. Passion was in the air, firm claims, symbols pushed hard. It was faith erupting into history, not airlifted; the underground was surfacing, not lava.

That passion shaped us, But then we cooled. People once died for beliefs; killed others too. But we come swaddled in something called security; from cradle clothes to shroud. And who today dies for anything at all, anyone at all? we don’t die ‘for’; we die ‘of’; decline and fall. The martyr is now the patient.

I believe we were created for ecstasy. And redeemed for it, at considerable cost. Certain vagrant unrepeatable moments of life tell us this, if we will but listen. Such moments moreover, are clues to the whole native structure and texture of things; not merely are such glorious fits and starts meant to ‘keep us going’, a fairly unattractive idea; but ecstasy fuels and infuses us from the start, our proper distillation and energy of soul. One could dream the world, the poet says, and one could even dream the eye; but who can imagine the act of seeing? We will never have enough of this, we will never have done with it.

If tomorrow or the day after, women stood toe to heel, with men at the altars of the church, and in the pulpitswhat then? Would we have the same old church? We would probably have the same old world. And that, in the old phrase, ought to give pause.

If all those destructive cuts and thrusts had disappeared in Christ, as Paul says they were meant to; if all those divisions and hatreds and put downs (a few of which Paul helped along, on the side)if these disappeared tomorrow, and if this vanishing of the old disorder of things were made clear heyong doubt, were reflected in service, worship, office, dignitywhy, what then? We would probably have the same old world.

Probably. But at least one element of that world, which thinks of itself a~ drawn forth from that world, differing from that world, opposed to that world’s rule and conduct—at least that element, that yeast, that little flock, that tight knit unfearing witnessing knot of trouble makersat least this would once have spoken and been heard, would be something to turn to. (Would, (take it or leave it), be something else than the fitful, selfish, death ridden world. And in this sense the world would no longer be the same. It would have lost all claim over us,

There is nothing more crushing in fact, and most revolting to the moral nostril, than a church which ignores the outcry of the disenfranchised. We’ve all suffered under it, our flesh torn asunder with the sense of nightmarish unreality, the wound in the very nature of things. Let the world act in such a way, let the megacorporations or the armed forces or the state departments act this way. It is the way of the world; dog eat dog, devil take the hindmost. But what shall we do, what is to become of us, when this mechanized macho spirit infests the church and turns on us, claw and tooth? We go hoarse, talking to statuary with chipped ears; we lose spirit, we give up. And we bring home bad news, too often for our own good; we begin to look as though it were true.

Those who are lucky (my own luck is good) find a few friends who help cut the knots, free up the soul. And try as best we may, to do good work ourselves; that news gets around.

I wish someone could draw us out of trivia, where many are trapped. I wish someone could draw us out of trauma. Sanity? We have a monstrous public scene, inhuman authority, the dance of death, people reduced to a quivering jelly. And then the trivial, much of it in the name of religion; the children’s hour at church, extended to 24 hours per day. Adults treated like children.

I wish someone could help us get sane, or stay sane.

I wish someone could cleanse and heal our eyesight, help us turn our wooden heads away from non questions, false questions, destructive questions. I mean the questions that a straight faced straight jacketed culture keeps pushing like crazy. Like, how many millions can we kill and still get away with it. Or, why not a bit more experimentation on prisoners. Or, let’s go back to capital punishment, that’ll show those muggers, crooks, killers once and for all. Or, let’s cut the welfare system, there are too many chiselers among the poor. Or, let’s sell the latest lethal toys to both sides of a dispute; that way, we get the buck and they get the bang. Or, let’s get massive abortion going, there’s not enough food and housing and jobs around for people (which is to say, for us, our bottomless bellies)let alone for the unborn.

The question of alternatives today. People ask, with varying degrees of despair, where they might go. The question is all the more grievous, as voiced by people of stature, merit, intelligence; who love the church, long to give of their lives. And they witness the imbecility, connivance, wheeling, base politics, neglect of the poor, defamation of Christ’s spirit. Where to go, when in good conscience, one can hardly stay? Up till recently, it was publicly titillating, a story’, news, when one ‘left the church.’ Now the meaning of the phrase is clouded, the act brings yawns of ennui.

Part of the trouble is that so few who walked out, landed anywhere. Frying pan to fire, they left the church and the culture swallowed them whole. It seems better as a rule, to hang around where one was born, trying as best one may, to make it with a few friends, family, to do what one can in the common life; instead of launching out in the wilds, by and large more savage and unresponsive than the church.

Unless of course, there is manifest injustice, against one’s person, one’s convictions. In which case, one is advised to take chances, yell, loud and clear, and walk out yelling. (But have a landing pad as well as a launching pad!)

But the weight is in favor of hanging on, I think.

I’m struck that the women are battering at the church doors, just when everything in church and culture, is announcing an ‘end of things’. Not the end of the world maybe (though that could he argued too, soberly discussed as it is by the nuclear bandits.) But certainly the end of the culture as we know it, as we were born into it, and came to self understanding by resisting it...

Women have always washed corpses and prepared them for burial. Women are in charge of delivery roomsin more ways than one. A metaphor for today? Women will make the death decent and birth possible.

Sunday at St. Stephen’s in Washington. This is one of very few parishes that took in street people during the cruel winter months, housed and fed them. They also welcomed the peace community from Jonah House, when they sought a place to pray and plan for Holy Week. So it was quite natural and moving and befitting that I be invited to preach; a homecoming.

The eucharist was conducted by women. And they invited me to serve communion, along with several others. Black, white, young, old; and women orchestrating, setting the tone, announcing with authority, reverence, verve, the Lord’s body and blood.

It was overwhelming. (Most worship today is crashingly underwhelming.) It was like a quiet expedition of a few friends, to the other side of the moon, from this clamorous and polluted side. Solvitur ambulando. The absurd sexist knot of the centuries, tightened by macho muscle and muddle, was cut.

And all so naturally. The children wandered quietly about, the folk prayed, talked up, sang, took communion. No one seemed to think of anything that moment, beyond the sublime faith and bread and death and hope that were on the air, was taking place. I wondered if a bigger stir would have gone through us, if Jesus had walked through the chancel door. I doubt it

How did all this come about, how did great changes get proposed, accepted, even rejoiced at! One could note the absence of hyperpsychologizing, expertise, sensitivity session, expensive gurus imported for hot and heavy breathing, shrinkings, touchy feely follies, inflations of spiritall that plague of self indul- gence. No, the people met with their pastor, they prayed together, struggled, things were worked through. One notes something else. Liturgy here is no fetish or idol; the god is not fed on the hour, Enshrined, to deplete and suck off life energies. The same parish that welcomes women ministers, feeds and houses the homeless and hungry. The parish also blesses and helps those who prepare for non violence at the pentagon, in defense of life. The main business of the parish is not maintaining a nest, womb, space station, esthetic cave for the middle class. It is stewardship and service, up close, day after day, blow hot, blow cold. Such conduct I think, accords with, and confers sanity.

Thus what might be considered audacious, innovative elsewhere, is taken for granted here. I saw no boasters in the assembly; people had the look of those who work at their faith. And the media were absent. Two good signs.

On despair; it is utterly rational, it can offer 50 perfectly plausible reasons why it should be in everyone’s better home and garden. Beginning with this one; Made In America. Hope on the other hand, offers no reason for its existence, no come on, no commercial. It has no goals, no five years plans, no assurance it will be around tomorrow. IF is (like God) essentially useless. Hope will not ease life nor make money while you sleep; it is neither an energy pill nor a (non addictive) sleep inducer.

Despair is a cultural conclusion, deductive. Anyone can own one; time payments, easily arranged. Read the clock on the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the stock market report, the rising index of food costs, the........

Hope is something else; a gift Paul calls it, a grace. Its highest expression is an irony; ‘hoping against hope.’ You take all the reasons for giving up, you admit their weight, you grant their crushing power, you wince and cry outthen you toss them off your back. And you go on.

I think of these things; Philip in jail once more, a six month sentence for the Holy Week blood pouring at the pentagon. This month is the tenth anniversary of Catonsville. He’s now served over four years in jail, speaking truth to power. Has the country changed, has anything changed! Have people struck out on a new path, are they giving a new example? The questions seem to me an invitation to despair. The proper answer is, things are worse than ever.

But that’s beside the point. The point of hope; which is, Philip has been faithful, so have our friends. So would I be. Hope on!

(Philip Berrigan was Dan Berrigans brother who predeceased him). 

AN ALL-MALE PRIESTHOOD REINFORCES PATRIARCHY AND ELEVATES IT TO AN ABSURD DIMENSION by KAITLIN CAMPBELL January 27, 2016

AN ALL-MALE PRIESTHOOD REINFORCES PATRIARCHY AND ELEVATES IT TO AN ABSURD DIMENSION by KAITLIN CAMPBELL  January 27, 2016

An all-male priesthood not only reinforces patriarchy, but also elevates it to an absurd dimension: men are Christlike, made somehow more in the image of God as Jesus was, being God’s son, than women are. This is extremely problematic for many women, not only ideologically, but physically. The way that women internalize such subordination aids abusers in continuing to abuse, creating a cycle of violence that becomes normal as it is passed down from generation to generation.

Read More

IN HIS THOUGHTS AND IN HIS WORDS: FRANCIS ON WOMEN by MIRIAM DUIGNAN

IN HIS THOUGHTS AND IN HIS WORDS: FRANCIS ON WOMEN by MIRIAM DUIGNAN

Pope Francis has introduced a new style to the Catholic church. He has been lauded as more open, loving and nonjudgmental than his predecessors. As internationally loved as Pope Francis is, the status of women within the Catholic church is his blind spot, where the open debate and relaxation of strict rules have not extended. When Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” in relation to gay priests, he seemed to step away from the disapproving tone and explicit moralizing normally associated with the Catholic hierarchy. Yet absolute judgment still applies when it comes to women.

Read More

DR. IDA RAMING'S LETTER TO CARDINAL MULLER AT THE CDF

 Open Letter to Card. G. L. Müller                                              

 

Dr. theol. Ida Raming (Germany)

 

To the Prefect of the CDF                            

December, 2015

Card. Gerhard Ludwig Mueller

Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio

00120 Città del Vaticano

 

Rev. Cardinal,

Out of concern for negative developments in our RC Church which are deeply contrary to the Spirit of Jesus, I want to appeal to you as chief of the CDF.

First, please, allow me to introduce myself to you: I am a Roman Catholic theologian with a doctorate in theology, and was promoted as a member of the faculty of the University of Muenster (Westphalia) in 1970. I'malso an active witness of the Vatican Council II (having submitted a petition to the Council in 1963, together with Dr. Iris Mueller, who died in2011).

In my dissertation, (published in 1973, second edition 2002; English translation: 1976,  2004), I carefully researched the position of women in the tradition of theRC Church, especially the reasons for the exclusion of women from diaconate and priesthood.    

My teacher (+ 1988) was a well-known specialist in the history of Canon Law and of CanonLaw itself.

Since entering the field of theology, I have attentively observed the development concerning this issue and have published numerous articles and several books on it.

Through my research, I've gotten a deep insight into the long history of discrimination against women in the Catholic tradition. I found not only biblical texts discriminating against women, but also texts of Church Fathers and Church teachers (e.g. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas). They emphasize that women are both genetically and morally inferior to men. Therefore, they claim that women are restricted to a state of subjection (status subiection is). Consequently, women are denied not only the dignity of being created in the image of God (at the very least, this is deeply questioned)  but also the possibility of being validly ordained(cf the argumentation of Thomas Aquinas and other canonists, concerning the state of subjection of women and the ordination of women).

These texts were collected as sources into the Corpus Iuris Canonici and laid the foundation of the so-called impossibility of women's ordination, as CIC/1917 c. 968 § 1 declares: „Sacram ordinationem valide recipit solus vir baptizatus“- „Only a baptised man can validly receive sacred ordination“). This law was taken over into the CIC/1983 c. 1024 without any change, despite the protest of women's movements and critical scientific research.

The result is:

The exclusion of women from ordination to priesthood is based on a severe, long lasting discrimination against women which can be proven by many sources from church history and church tradition. This history remains closed to honest reappraisal by church-leaders even in our own times, and therefore the discrimination remains in place to the present day.

Of course, today the responsible church-leaders avoid referring to the so-called inferiority of women as reason for their non-ordination, – the present social situation and ideals in democratic states are such that this argument would be dismissed out of hand.

But behind the argumentation of the Church leadership concerning the “non-ordination“ of women, you can still find the ongoing discrimination against women, – it is simply disguised.

 

·      Referring to the exclusion of women from ordination, Church Leaders (including the CDF) declare that Jesus was totallyfree in choosing only twelve males as apostles.

This argumentation does not take into account that the position of women during Jesus' lifetime was totally inferior (excluded from teaching in public and from witnessing in the court). Thus women were not able to act as apostles, who were sent by Jesus to teach and give publicly witness.  By the same token, Jesus could not choose a slave (legally incapacitated) into the group of the Twelve – by way of striving for the liberation of slaves!   

It is evident: Church doctrine without taking into account social-cultural and historic developments inevitably leads to false conclusions and false doctrine!

 

·      In order to support the exclusion of women from priestly ministry, Church leaders also refer to the “otherhood“, the “other, or gender-specific, role of women“.

But who defines the so-called “otherhood“, or “other role” of women?  It is only the Church leadership – in relation to whom women are in a state of subordination!

In my opinion, the doctrine of the Church in "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis"  (John Paul II., 1994) is mistaken when it claims “that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women“.  Indeed, I wish to emphasize that the church (church leadership) does have “the authority to confer priestly ordination on women”!

They can surely rely on the following texts of the Bible:

1 Cor 12:11:  „All these gifts are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he/she gives them to each one, just as he/she determines.“

That means: God is freely calling women to priestly ministry, no-one can limit God to calling only men to priesthood!

Gal 3:26-28: „So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus...“ 

These words of scripture are awaiting acknowledgement and realization in the RC Church.

Because of church leaders’  persistence in their patriarchal behavior and spirit, the realization of these words of the Bible is prevented – to the detriment of our church.

But in spite of this, it is my hope and belief that God's living spirit will introduce the church “into all truth“ (cf. John: 16,13), even concerning the position of women– in the face of the resistance of church leaders!

In this hope for the Spirit of Truth I send you greetings,   

Ida Raming 

IMWAC Statement on the Twentieth Anniversary of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis May 20, 2014

Media Statement
International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC)
On the Twentieth Anniversary of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis
May 20, 2014

The International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC), on the 20th Anniversary of the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, entitled 'Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone' calls on Pope Francis to recognise that this Magisterial teaching is not supported by the vast proportion of the Catholic Faithful and ought to be changed.

We believe that the call to Priesthood is a Charism of God, based on Baptism and confining it to 'men only' limits the power of God.  This continued ban on women from priestly ordination is an an injustice in the Church which must be confronted by the Catholic Faithful as a matter of conscience.  Accordingly Canon Law 1024 which states that only a male can be validly ordained is an unjust law and should be withdrawn as a matter of urgency.

What Pope Francis wrote in his recent letter 'Evangelii Gaudium' regarding the ordination of women - 'The reservation of the Priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, 'is not a question open to discussion' - does not represent the Sensus Fidelium of the convictions of not only the Catholic faithful but of very many clergy and some hierarchy as well.

In his letter, Pope Francis is reiterating what Pope John Paul wrote in his Apostolic Letter 20 years ago condemning women's priestly ordination - 'we declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitely held by all the Church's faithful - '. Even at that time this magisterial teaching banning women from Priestly Ordination was disputed by Bishops and Faithful alike within Catholic Community. 

In 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded that 'it does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in any clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible access of women to the Priesthood' and by a significant majority it concluded that 'The church could ordain women to the Priesthood without going against Christ's wishes.'

This magisterim of these Biblical theologians has been rejected by successive Popes including Pope Francis.  Equally the magisterium of the 'Sensus Fidelium' has been rejected by successive Popes.

It is now the right time that the Papal magisterium should allow free and open discussion of Women's Ordination within the Catholic Church without fear of excommunication. It is also right that those within our Catholic community who have been unjustly excommunicated because they publicly articulated that reserving priestly ordination to men only has no basis in scripture or human reason should be fully accepted back within our Communion.

Banning women from Priestly Ordination is a continuing injustice which has no basis in  the new Testament, is a continued stain on the fabric of the Catholic Communion and most importantly the younger generation find this ban a stumbling block to their Faith in the Risen Lord.


The international movement We are Church (IMWAC), founded in Rome in 1996, is committed to the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the theological spirit developed from it.

We are Church evolved from the Church Referendum in Austria in 1995 that was started after the paedophilia scandal around Vienna's Cardinal Groer. We are Church is represented in more than twenty countries on all continents and is networking world-wide with similar-minded reform groups.

As international studies of renowned religion sociologists confirm, We are Church as a reform movement within the Church represents the "voice of the people in the pews" and has demonstrated this in several Shadow Synods in Rome.

The women's ordination movement is about much more than women priests

The women's ordination movement is about much more than women priests

Grace on the Margins | Jamie Manson
The National Catholic Reporter
May 22, 2014

'Many will continue to characterize the question of women's ordination as little more than another culture war issue. But the truth is that this struggle runs much deeper than a battle between traditional and progressive values. Women's ordination is about so much more than simply making women Catholic priests. At its heart, it is a movement to convince one of the largest and most influential religious organizations in the world to lift up women globally as truly equal to men.'  ~ Jamie Manson

Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the release of John Paul II's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, known in English as "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone." Back in 1994, May 22 was the Solemnity of Pentecost. The former pope -- and now saint -- used the occasion to set the record straight on who the Holy Spirit could and could not call to the priesthood.

Jamie Manson  is NCR   books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her NCR columns have won numerous awards, most recently second prize for Commentary of the Year from Religion Newswriters (RNA). 

Jamie Manson  is NCR   books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her NCR columns have won numerous awards, most recently second prize for Commentary of the Year from Religion Newswriters (RNA). 

In just over 1,000 words, John Paul II attempted to definitively dash the hopes of Catholics who dared to believe that when it comes to celebrating the church's sacraments, God was fully capable of working through female bodies just as well as male bodies.

He used the now well-worn reasons: Jesus chose only men as his Apostles; the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan; the role and presence of women in the church, "although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable."

It was Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that Pope Francis invoked during his epic, impromptu airplane interview in July 2013, when he said, "With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed."

Yet, two decades later, there is still debate over whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis qualifies as an infallible teaching. The controversy centers on the way John Paul II signed the letter: "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

As Bryan Cones pointed out several years ago in a blog post for U.S. Catholic, the formulation of his pronouncement did not meet the criteria to signal an infallible teaching.  

It was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who gave the teaching an aura of infallibility in 1995. In a response to a question about Ordinatio Sacerdotalishe insistedthat the teaching belonged to the deposit of faith.

Of course, Ratzinger wasn't pope then and, therefore, did not have the power to declare any doctrine infallible. Many have argued that his action was a case of "creeping infallibility," a phenomenon in which the level of authority of a papal statement increases over time.

Much has been written about this ongoing argument, and given Pope Francis' clear position against the ordination of women, the debate will only plod on.

Many will continue to characterize the question of women's ordination as little more than another culture war issue. But the truth is that this struggle runs much deeper than a battle between traditional and progressive values. Women's ordination is about so much more than simply making women Catholic priests. At its heart, it is a movement to convince one of the largest and most influential religious organizations in the world to lift up women globally as truly equal to men.

In his new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, former President Jimmy Carter explores the religious and cultural structures that have led discrimination, war, poverty and disease to fall disproportionately on women. He writes: "The most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare."

The statistics about the disproportionate suffering endured by women globally are grim. In a recent essay in NCR's Global Sisters Report, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson explained:

Women, who form half of the world's population, work three-fourths of the world's working hours; receive one-tenth of the world's salary; own one percent of the world's land; form two-thirds of illiterate adults; and together with their dependent children form three-fourths of the world's starving people.

To make a bleak picture worse, women are subject to domestic violence at home and are raped, prostituted, trafficked into sexual slavery and murdered by men to a degree that is not reciprocal. Regarding education, employment and other social goods, men have advantages simply by being born male. ...

To point this out is not to make women into a class of victims but to underscore statistics that make clear the struggles women face in society because of their gender. In no country on earth are women and men yet treated in an equal manner befitting their human dignity.

While in most cases the Roman Catholic church did not create these afflictions, its doctrine on women serves to reinforce women's suffering.

The hierarchy teaches that though women and men are equal in worth and dignity, their physical and anatomical differences are evidence that God intends different roles and purposes for them. God designed men and women to complement each other, and their genders dictate their distinct roles in both church and society.

Not surprisingly, in this system, men are always awarded power, authority and dominance, while women are relegated to the roles of service, nurturing and adoration. Church leaders may insist that women and men are equal in dignity and worth, but ultimately, women are always put in the position of obedience to men.

How can women ever achieve true empowerment when their religious leaders declare that it is God's plan that women are not entitled to equal religious or spiritual authority? How will women ever see true equality when the hierarchy teaches that even God believes that a woman's body is inadequate and invalid when it comes to possessing certain forms of power?

If the Roman Catholic hierarchy declared that women were entitled to equal authority and power in the church, imagine the influence it could have in societies where religious and cultural beliefs have sanctioned the secondary status of women.

The Roman Catholic church, with its presence in just about every country in the world, its billion members, and its especially charismatic pope could have an extraordinary impact on improving the dignity, worth and equality of women, especially in nations where women are dominated and devalued by the oppressive forces patriarchal culture.

But first, the hierarchy would need the humility to admit that it cannot control whom God calls to the priesthood. They would have to stop blaming Jesus for their own refusal to lift up women to truly equal status in the church. They would have to acknowledge the radical injustice inherent in the idea that anatomy dictates who can and cannot have power in the church.

The struggle over women's ordination isn't a culture war issue. It is a movement that shines light on the truth that the Roman Catholic church's denial of the full equality of women has global consequences. It seeks to dismantle the poverty, abuse and violence that are intricately tied to the systematic belief that women and men are not equal.

Women's ordination isn't simply about making women priests. It's about helping church leaders recognize that if they were to include women in their leadership as their equals, they could truly be a powerful force for economic and social justice for women and children throughout our world.

[Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her NCR columns have won numerous awards, most recently second prize for Commentary of the Year from Religion Newswriters (RNA). Her email address is jmanson@ncronline.org.]

http://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/womens-ordination-movement-about-much-more-women-priests

Statement of Indian Women Theologians April 2014

Statement of the Meeting of the

Indian Women Theologians Forum

At Goa from 22nd to 24th April 2014

 

Gathered for our annual meeting of the Indian Women Theologians Forum, at the Pilar Animation Centre, Goa, from 22nd to 24th April, 2014, we reflected on the theme “Violence against Women – A Feminist Theological Response.” Our reflections were enriched by the presence of two feminist theologians from the UK and a woman activist from Goa.

We shared experiences of violence from our personal and other women’s lives in its varied manifestations. We reflected upon the physical, emotional, intellectual, and psychological dimensions of violence. We identified internal violence which women experience as they struggle to break through their conditioned subjugation to authority and power within the family, society and Church.  We realized that patriarchal structures whether social, political, economic or religious, cause, perpetuate and shield violence against women and vulnerable groups in society.

Today a new phenomenon of violence to women is observed in the trauma of the victims/survivors of HIV/AIDS.  Most women are innocently infected because husbands do not disclose their status to them. As victims they carry the blame, stigma and responsibility for caring for the husband as well as other household responsibilities.  They suffer terrible social ostracisation and neglect. Gender inequality is most responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The fragility of victims of violence is compounded by poverty, casteism, corruption, the market economy, unjust legal & political structures, biased interpretation of religious texts, and the misogynist attitudes of a patriarchal society. The ownership and control of resources, especially money in the hands of males tilts power relationships in their favour, making women feel powerless in the face of violence.

We are convinced that domestic violence should rightly be termed “domestic torture” to expose its brutality and prompt national, international and religious institutions to address it in a systematic and sustained way.  The complimentary and authority models promoted by the official Church teachings defining specific roles for men and women, contribute largely to the perpetuation of violence against women within the family. There is an urgent need for Christian theology to challenge this unhealthy model and advocate for a model that promotes equality and mutuality between men and women. We are aware that the ‘supreme’ example of the suffering of Christ has often been used to make women submit to abusive situations. We understand the suffering of Jesus as the consequence of his prophetic stance and not a passive acceptance of victimization.

We are painfully aware that women are considered inferior to men because they are defined more by their bodies than their intellectual capacities. Consequently they are barred from decision making processes at all levels. Reflecting on Jesus’ response to violence against women we came to realize that he strikes at the root cause of violence by treating women not as inferior or as objects but as persons with equal dignity and worth. Jesus recognizes and affirms their intellectual capacity as he engages them as equal dialogue partners. His mission was to liberate human persons from all oppression.  The condition of the bent woman (Lk 13: 10-17) is a paradigm of women’s status in that society. Jesus included women as his disciples, taught women, and discussed theology with them. Women were witnesses of his teachings, his death & resurrection although in the Hebrew context women’s witness had no value.  Jesus challenges this mentality and values women’s presence and their witness (Jn 20:16).

We also realized that people taking a prophetic stance experience violence but their spirit endures and continues to stay faithful to Jesus of Nazareth who did not let himself be overpowered by violence  but conquered it.   Like Jesus, we have to find resources to overcome violence by following the spirituality of Jesus which was a spirituality of resistance.  Struggling like him we need to challenge and transcend the unjust structures so as to transform those very structures of which we are a part.

We felt a great need for spiritual sisterhood and companionship for sharing our pain and affirming our personhood in the context of violence and victimization to resist situations of violence.

Countering violence today calls women to interpret scripture from a feminist perspective and to understand their role in salvation history and to take up their legitimate space within the church and society. It calls us not to be content with benevolent patriarchy but to commit ourselves to:

·        Creating awareness through writings, one to one interactions, and the use social media

·        Promoting the recognition of woman’s self-worth, enabling self-assertion and inner freedom

·        Working with men and women to change attitudes, and to recognize women’s equal status and selfhood

·        Promoting the feminist interpretation of scripture, and making known strong biblical women and other women saints as role models

·        Promoting a spirituality that is empowering for women

At the end of our reflections and deliberations we resolved to work for a violence free society where women are respected and treated as human beings with equal dignity and rights and for a church that recognizes the equal discipleship of women and men.

    # # #

 ____________________________________________

The theme for the 2015 meeting of the Indian Women Theologians Forum  is 'Common Priesthood of Women - A Theological Reflection.'

Looking Back and Forward on the Pope's First Anniversary | UCANews

On March 13 we celebrate the first anniversary of the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. But it is next month that we will witness an event that will tell us more about what to make of him and what to expect in his papacy.

And perhaps the biggest issue [facing Pope Francis and the Church today]: the exclusion of women from positions of decision-making significance.
— Fr. Michael Kelly, SJ (Bangkok)

In April, Pope Francis will beatify on the same day both Popes John Paul II and John XXII. Each represents contrasting styles and records as Bishop of Rome: John XIII who convoked the Vatican Council and opened up the Church; John Paul II who stiffened and straightened the Church when some thought it was out of control.

From his opening words as pope, Papa Francisco has cut a very different path to that of John Paul II and his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI – an engaging and direct, simple and accessible approach whereas Pope John Paul drew millions to events of uncertain significance and Pope Benedict, as either Bishop of Rome or Joseph Ratzinger the theologian, preferred solitude as he produced books and encyclicals.

Pope Francis - The biggest issues facing the Church is the exclusion of women from positions of decision making significance. - Father Michael Kelly, SJ

Pope Francis - The biggest issues facing the Church is the exclusion of women from positions of decision making significance. - Father Michael Kelly, SJ

Pope Francis has been quick to commence a style of more inclusive leadership through consultation and discussion, as demonstrated in his calling an extraordinary Synod in October. And along the way, he has quietly but emphatically faced the Church in a fresh if not new direction.

But what a backlog of issues the Church has to face. With two simple observations – one to journalists in the plane on the way from Brazil and the other in his long interview with some Jesuit magazines last year – he has personally managed to defuse sex and homosexuality as obsessive topics of Catholic focus.

However, the Church has virtually 50 years of unaddressed issues and reforms that need to be addressed:

  • Clericalism, the restructuring of ministry and that ticket into the clerical culture at the heart of so much trouble for the Church – celibacy – which Pope Paul VI prevented the Vatican Council from considering;
  • The weak grasp of human biology reflected in the Church’s sexual ethics, particularly as shown in the controversial issue of contraception;
  • Centralism and careerism in Church administration;
  • The horrifying blight of sex abuse that undermined the credibility of the Church on moral issues;
  • The outdated nature of the Church’s legal processes;
  • And perhaps the biggest issue: the exclusion of women from positions of decision-making significance.

That’s where the inclusion of Pope John XXIII in the beatification ceremonies next month becomes a clear indication of the style and direction of his term as Bishop of Rome.

John XXIII’s cause for canonization had been languishing. Pope Francis dispensed with the usual process and simply declared, as he can, John XXIII to be worthy of beatification.

Fans and devotees of John Paul II had started the chant for his canonization at his funeral – Santo Subito. But the beatification wheels continued to turn for John Paul II by his enthusiasts who had declared him at his death to be John Paul the Great.

The association of the two is no casual coincidence. As all leaders know, managing change requires that the leader take the majority of the community, organization or nation along with him or her as the changes unfold. Faction-ridden as the Vatican in particular and Church in general really are, Francis has to take as many as he can from all factions with him as he helps the Church face the reality of its challenges and respond constructively.

Pope Francis has already indicated how he wants to address the tense issues in the life of the Church with open discussion, inclusive participation in the conversation and a process that will reach conclusions. Along with the other hot topics, the subject of the Extraordinary Synod – family life, its challenges and how to include the divorced and remarried in the Church community – is a topic whose handling can be handled only with consultation and inclusion.

As Jesuit Provincial in the 1970s, he was widely seen as, and has admitted himself to have been, a self willed and authoritarian figure. Divided as the Jesuits in Argentina were, he did little more than antagonize many with his style. But he has learnt from that failure. At the heart of Jesuit governance is the good working relationship and openness needed between the leader and his subjects.

After failing as Provincial, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had another opportunity to learn how to govern when he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires. There, his approach was to be decisive only after extensive and inclusive engagement and consultation with those involved in or affected by the decision he conceded.

Such a process means change will only come slowly. But to govern effectively in often conflictive circumstances, Pope Francis needs to govern inclusively, as reflected symbolically in this joint beatification next month.

They defuse tensions while at the same firmly lead in a positive direction – defuse the cultists by beatifying John Paul II yet underlining what Pope Francis really wants: a return to the spirit of Vatican II as the animating spirit of the Church. That’s why John XXIII got fast–tracked.

The documented turning point of his life after failure as Jesuit Provincial occurred before a picture in a German church of Our Lady, The One Who Unties Knots. To do what he plainly wants to do, Our Lady will have to be working overtime.

Fr Michael Kelly is the executive director of ucanews.com

Is Religion the Biggest Problem Facing Feminism Today? NCR | March 6, 2014

Is Religion the Biggest Problem Facing Feminism Today?
Sister Christine Schenk, csj
The National Catholic Reporter | March 6, 2014

Sister Christine Schenk, csj

Sister Christine Schenk, csj

An email arrived in my inbox about two weeks ago with this provocative subject line:  “Is religion the biggest problem facing feminism today?”  Turns out, a columnist from Sojourners, JamieCalloway-Hanauer, had blogged about Gloria Steinem’s response to Jennifer Aniston at the first ever MAKERS conference held Feb. 10-11 in Los Angeles.  Sponsored by PBS and AOL, the conference heard from a veritable who’s who of respected women leaders from Gwen Ifill to EllenDeDeneres to Carol Burnett to, well, Gloria Steinem.

Along with many Catholic women of my generation, I am a big fan of Steinem.  She is modest, calm, reasoned, and strong.  She leads a movement that is changing the lives of women worldwide for the better. After Aniston asked her “What do you think the biggest problem with feminism today is? Steinem named religion as one of three “biggest problems” after anti-feminism and income disparity: “What we don’t talk about enough is religion. I think that spirituality is one thing. But religion is just politics in the sky. I think we really have to talk about it. Because it gains power from silence.”

While I’m not sure I agree that religion is “just politics in the sky” one can easily see why Steinem might believe it.  Look at the political flak American sisters experienced from church leaders for supporting expanded access to healthcare for low income people. U.S. bishops opposed the Affordable Care Act because of the quintessentially “women’s issue” of access to family planning.  Would anyone deny that the “politics of religion” influenced this struggle?  Not me.  And then the sisters were criticized for being “radical feminists” (whatever that is) to boot.

I’ve always liked Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s definition of feminism quoting British suffragist Rebecca West:  “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”  People in the same way men are people. And that means women have the same basic human rights and responsibilities, to themselves and to the human family that men do.

But our world doesn’t believe that.  Up to 70 percent of women worldwide encounter violence andone in three will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her life. Six out of ten migrant women from Central America are raped on their journey to the United States.  Too often civil and religious authorities look the other way or blame the victims.

If standing up for basic human rights for women makes me a “radical feminist” then I am proud to plead “guilty as charged.”

Amnesty International has launched a new “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” campaign to address escalating violence and oppression against women throughout the world.  They are pushing the United States to join 185 other countries and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW or the Treaty for the Rights of Women).   Already the CEDAW has had far reaching influence in fostering the development of domestic violence laws in Turkey, Nepal, South Africa, and the Republic of Korea as well as anti-trafficking laws in the Ukraine and Moldova.

If standing up for basic human rights for women makes me a ‘radical feminist’ then I am proud to plead “guilty as charged.

It is shocking that the United States is the only industrialized democracy and the only country in the Western Hemisphere that has not yet ratified this treaty.  Amnesty International is encouraging calls to U.S. Senators and President Obama to ratify and implement the CEDAW.  You can find out more at this link.

But I digress. To me Steinem’s question could also be framed the other way:  “Is feminism the biggest problem facing religion today?”  I say this after 20 years at FutureChurch working to bring to visibility women’s leadership in the early church.  This fire in my belly came after watching too many women friends leave the Catholic church because they found it hopelessly chauvinist, not to say misogynist. These are not lightweight women.  One had tirelessly organized diocesan-wide women’s listening sessions in the 1980’s to provide input for the ill-fated U.S. bishops’ pastoral on women. She left after watching her work explode against a brick wall in Rome.

In the early ‘80’s, U.S. bishops had truly listened to nationwide feedback from Catholic women and approved the first draft of what came to be called the “women’s pastoral.”   Among many other things, the bishops included the women’s suggestion that "continuing reflection, dialogue and even controversy" on the topic of women’s priestly ordination would be valuable. It also asked to open the diaconate to women.

Today, many good women just won’t give Catholicism the time of day. And is it any wonder?

But American bishops would encounter vigorous opposition in Rome.  Nine years later, the Vatican’s heavily edited fourth and final draft had not only deleted the voices of women, but also those of their own bishops.  It now required for U.S. bishops to teach that Jesus deliberately chose to exclude women.   To their everlasting credit, on Nov. 17, 1992, by a substantial majority and for the first time in its history, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference voted against issuing the doomed pastoral. 

Today, many good women just won’t give Catholicism the time of day.  And is it any wonder? 

By far the worst outcome of this wounding “politics of religion” by Catholic leaders is that it is done in the name of Jesus who never excluded anyone.   Someone once asked me if I ever experienced any conflict between my feminism and my Christianity. To the contrary, I replied, my belief in Jesus gives me strength to be a good feminist.

I am among those cheering Pope Francis on as he works to put more responsive and accountable structures in place in church governance.  I am dismayed, however, by the apparent back-burner prioritization of women’s concerns.  While Cardinal Walter Kasper’s recent call for women to be incorporated more fully into church hierarchy is hopeful, we have heard it all before

The real elephant in the room is that jurisdictional authority in the church rests only with men.
— Sister Christine Schenk, csj

The real elephant in the room is that jurisdictional authority in the church rests only with men. This is what no one wants to talk about, even though one obvious first step is to ordain women to the diaconate.  Delaying the discussion of women’s full equality in church ministry and decision-making comes at no small cost.  We risk losing even more women, especially the next generation of wives and mothers who anchor religious belief and practice in Catholic families.

Waiting to address the “women’s issue” continues to paint Jesus with the chauvinist brush of those who think they fully represent him.   This at a time when feminist biblical scholarship and theology could be breaking open radiant new understandings of Jesus and the God-mystery throughout the whole church, and not only in academia.  Surely it can’t be that hard to convene a papal commission of feminist theologians, biblical scholars and activists, both male and female, from all over the world.

Rather than wait, couldn’t we do what Steinem suggests?  Couldn’t we begin to talk about it?  

[A Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years.]

Feminism in Faith: Sister Elizabeth Johnson's Challenge to the Vatican | Buzzfeed March 7, 2014

Feminism In Faith: Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s Challenge To The Vatican

Widely considered one of the architects of Catholic feminist theology, the 72-year-old nun and professor has often clashed with institutional leaders — including the future pope — in her fight for equality in the clergy.

by Jamie Manson | BuzzFeed Contributor
Buzzfeed, March 7, 2014

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, csj, Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, csj, Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

You say Mary is too passive. Isn’t obedience the greatest virtue?

This was one of 40 questions sent to Elizabeth Johnson by a cardinal when she was up for a tenure-track position at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. A respected scholar for decades, Johnson found her application rubber-stamped by every committee within the school, yet still needed approval from the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given that she had written an article questioning the traditional view of Mary as humble and obedient, further rubber-stamping was not guaranteed.

The cardinal interrogating her was Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.

Though Johnson dutifully answered each query, Ratzinger was still not satisfied. He proceeded to take the extraordinary measure of calling every cardinal in the United States to come to Washington to interrogate her on the content of the article. Johnson was the first female faculty member to come up for tenure at CUA, and the first to be subjected to an examination by the cardinals.

There were these men and they had all the power. I was vulnerable and at their mercy. I kept thinking that in another century, they would be lighting the fires outside.

At the initial meeting, the hall was filled with men in black garb, gold chains across their chests, and priests at each of their sides. Johnson was the only woman in the room. “There were these men and they had all the power. I was vulnerable and at their mercy,” Johnson remembers. “There was patriarchy using its power against me, to deprive me of what, in fairness, I should have been given.” Twenty-five years later, the recollection still brings waves of sadness and anger across her face.

“I kept thinking that in another century, they would be lighting the fires outside.”

For most eminent scholars in their early seventies, teaching freshmen is an obligation they long ago relinquished to junior faculty and adjunct lecturers. But watching Elizabeth Johnson, distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University, eagerly enter a classroom of two dozen students, most of whom still qualify as teenagers, one immediately gets the sense that there are few places she’d rather be.

Johnson, 72, is teaching an introductory class in religious studies, which she leads not from the provided podium, but from the same chair-bolted-to-desk contraption used by the students. Like other sisters of her order, St. Joseph, she doesn’t wear a habit. Sitting among them in a circle at the Bronx campus, she opens the mid-morning session with a lesson on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

A nun of Irish descent with a discernible Brooklyn accent, Johnson explains that many African-Americans have historically understood God through the story of the Exodus. God is the breaker of chains, the one who liberates people from captivity, Johnson tells her students, but God is also united with their suffering. “King loves the church, but he believes that when it hides behind a stained glass window, avoiding what is hurting human lives, it is morally wrong.”

In a world where women suffer disproportionately from poverty, violence, and discrimination, having a global institution like the Catholic Church affirm women’s total equality would allow the church to be, in King’s words, a headlight to the world’s cultures where rigid patriarchal structures continue to oppress and devalue the dignity of women. Johnson, widely considered one of the architects of Catholic feminist theology, has devoted three decades of her scholarship to raising the voices of women in the church and integrating women’s experience into Christian theology, often in conflict with institutional leaders who, she worries, are functioning more as taillights.

“The church shouldn’t be a taillight behind progress,” she adds, paraphrasing King, “but a headlight leading civilization to higher levels of understanding.”

It is a metaphor that could aptly apply to the struggle for feminist reform in the Roman Catholic Church. More than half of the world’s billion Catholics are women, and, according to church doctrine, every one of them is barred from the opportunity to be ordained as a deacon or priest. Many feminist Catholics maintain that the fight for women’s ordination in the church is about much more than getting women into the priesthood.

Her most recent clash with the church hierarchy played itself out quite publicly in March 2011, after the publication of her book The Quest for the Living God, in which she argues for a broader and deeper language for God, particularly language that reflects the reality that “God loves women and passionately desires their flourishing.”

“All-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men,” she writes. “Once women no longer relate to men as patriarchal fathers, lords, and kings in society, these images become religiously inadequate. Instead of evoking the reality of God, they block it.”

Though it met with high accolades from both the academy and laypeople, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a condemnation of the book. They declared that the publication “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in God.” Its feminist themes were a particular sticking point for the nine-man committee, who criticized Johnson’s “characterization of the Church’s names for God as humanly-constructed metaphors,” arguing that the titles that the Church uses for God cannot be supplanted “by novel human constructions” aimed at “promoting the socio-political status of women.”

The committee’s action shocked Johnson, who has been a sister of St. Joseph for over 50 years, because she was completely unaware that the panel was discussing her book, let alone submitting it to an orthodoxy test. Her requests for a dialogue with the whole committee went unacknowledged. “It could have been so interesting and beneficial to the church,” she tells me. But the committee held its ground and reconfirmed its condemnation. To this day they have not responded to her requests for a meeting.

Johnson’s many colleagues at the 1,300-member Catholic Theological Society of America issued a statement of unequivocal support for her, and Fordham’s president, Jesuit Father Joseph McShane, supported her right to academic freedom. Though Johnson says the experience left her “vastly depleted and discouraged,” she remains grateful for that academic freedom, and that the bishops never attempted to bar her from teaching in a Catholic setting.

“I love this!” Johnson beams. “I feel so privileged to do this every day, to present this material to undergraduates and help them think and form their own beliefs.” She takes her seat to lead another seminar, without notes, on the topic for which she is known best, women and theology.

The vast majority of Fordham’s students were raised Catholic, and while Johnson believes that almost all of her students believe in women’s equality, they struggle to reconcile those convictions with a religious tradition that excludes them.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, csj Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, csj
Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

The question of whether to ordain women didn’t emerge until the late 1960s or early 1970s. Second-wave feminism and the optimism surrounding the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, held from 1962 to 1965, led Catholic women, especially in the U.S., to ask whether they too could be priests. The movement was further catalyzed by the decision of the Episcopal Church to ordain women in 1976.

The hierarchy’s central argument against ordination is based on the “Theology of the Body,” a teaching first developed by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The late pontiff held that while women and men are equal in worth and dignity, their physical and anatomical differences are evidence that God intends different roles and purposes for them. God designed men and women to complement each other, the pope argued, and their genders dictate their distinct roles in both church and society. John Paul II believed that women are endowed with a “feminine genius” — a special capacity to offer tenderness and nurture to the community. But special is not equal, which is why only men can be priests.

The teaching was serious enough that in 1994, John Paul II declared, as close to the point of infallibility as doctrinally possible, that not only would women forever be banned from the Roman Catholic priesthood, but “that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” To this day, clergy who choose to vocalize support for the idea of the ordination of women risk excommunication, something that has, at least in one case, occurred.

That Catholicism was male-dominated didn’t perturb Johnson, at first. Early in her scholarly career, Johnson distinguished herself as a “woman of firsts” within the academy of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1981, she became one of the first women to receive her doctorate in theology at CUA. Her studies centered on the ways in which we talk about God through analogy, or “God talk” as she prefers to describe it.

Unofficially known as “the bishop’s university,” CUA bears the unique distinction of being the only university in the country founded and sponsored by the bishops of the United States. Not surprisingly, Johnson’s experience there, though rich, respectful, and collegial, was significantly lacking in female presence. She began her studies in the mid-1970s, but Johnson says, “I never had a woman professor, I never read one woman author. There were none to be had. It was a totally male education.” It was a situation that CUA attempted to remedy when the school asked Johnson to be the first woman to join its theology faculty. She was hired in a tenure-track position to teach Christology, a branch of theology that studies the idea of Jesus as Messiah.

Feminism may not have penetrated the walls of CUA, but it had permeated U.S. culture, and it was influencing the conversations of female Catholic theologians who were a few years ahead of Johnson. Some of them, like pioneering feminist theologians Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Sandra Schneiders, would meet in Washington, D.C., giving informal talks on topics like using feminine images for God.

John Paul II believed that women are endowed with a “feminine genius” — a special capacity to offer tenderness and nurture to the community. But special is not equal, which is why only men can be priests. To this day, clergy who support women’s ordinationo women risk excommunication.

“It blew my mind,” Johnson says. Eventually she and several graduate students formed a “Women in Theology” group, which they called WITS. They even printed T-shirts with their acronym. “I got the sense that I should make a contribution to what was brewing between feminist and theological thinking,” Johnson says. She eventually wrote that fateful article critiquing the church’s traditional understanding of Mary, arguing that the gospels depict Mary as courageous, risk-taking, and even prophetic. Of Johnson’s many other writings at that point, it was her only article in feminist theology, but it was enough to put her tenure application in serious jeopardy.

Johnson’s ability to balance patience and respect for the institution with rigorous scholarship and academic integrity eventually won her tenure. But there was one moment in the inquest that seems to have emblazoned itself forever on her memory: Toward the end of the questioning, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law slammed shut his binder of Johnson’s writings and scoffed, “You mostly teach Christology. You’re not going to do anymore of this feminist stuff.” He pushed the files away.

(Years later, in 2002, Law would be forced to resign his position after his massive cover-ups of sex abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Boston were revealed in court.)

“It was a breakthrough moment for me, painful as it was,” she says, “because it planted the seeds for She Who Is,” referring to her groundbreaking book of feminist theology. As Johnson drafted that text, Law’s words swirled in her head, fueling her passionate exploration of feminine images of God. The book was published in 1992, one year after Johnson left CUA for Fordham. (“I needed to be in a place where I could do my work without always looking over my shoulder worrying about being silenced or criticized by the hierarchy.”)

She Who Is won several awards in religious publishing, but more importantly it became one of the most used texts for teaching Catholic feminist theology. Remarkably, the book received no flak from the Vatican or the U.S. bishops. For the next 20 years, Johnson was able to focus on her research, devote herself fully to her students, travel the world teaching feminist theology, and write several more books on the subject. That was, until three years ago.

If you feel deeply enough, you stay. Not because you’re a masochist, but because it’s worth it. You’re struggling for the soul of something.

The Quest incident, of course, took place during the reign of Benedict XVI. With Pope Francis’ seeming interest in embracing more of the church’s flock, rather than subjecting them to orthodoxy tests like the previous papacy, some have hoped that, eventually, the Vatican might be open to engaging with work like Johnson’s. Last July when Francis suggested during a press conference that the church needs a deeper theology of women, several progressive Catholic publications made lists of books in feminist theology from which the pope might benefit. While at least one of Johnson’s books appeared on each of those lists, she doubts that Francis is even aware that a book like She Who Is exists.

“There’s been no structure for women’s voices to reach him,” she says. “It’s been translated into several languages, so he can even read it in Spanish or Italian!”

Though the pope continues to insist on a special role for women in the church, he has appealed to the notion of the feminine genius to argue against the ordination of women. “The church has spoken and said no,” Francis said about female priests during the July press conference. “John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.” Like his papal predecessors, Francis also sees no room for dialogue on the topic. “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” he wrote in his first apostolic exhortation in November.

Francis’ position echoes the attitudes of many Catholics, especially ones outside the U.S. and Europe. In a poll sponsored by Univision in early February, 12,000 Catholics from 12 different countries were asked their opinion of church teachings on issues of sexuality and gender. While in the U.S. 59% of Catholics supported the ordination of women, in the Philippines the number plummeted to 21%. And in Uganda and the Congo, the number dipped to 18%. In Latin America, home to nearly 40% of the world’s Catholics, support for the ordination edged out a small but victorious 49% over the 47% who disagree with women priests.

And yet one of the more notable ways Johnson has seen feminist theology bear fruit was in the response of some traditional Catholic women to Pope Francis’ call for a deeper theology of women: Rather than agreeing with the pontiff, many insisted that a theology of men must also be developed, or better yet, an all-inclusive theology of the laity.

“The conversation has gotten far enough that the issue, as the pope named it, is now seen as anachronistic,” Johnson says. “If some of the most conservative, church-oriented women don’t want this any more, it’s exciting. When we talk about the future of feminist theology, I can’t ever see it going backwards.”

Johnson says that she never set out to be a reformer, only a teacher and a scholar. “But it turns out,” she chuckles, “that my work became a lightning rod for the reform movement.”

Though her years of scholarship have yet to influence the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, it continues to impact new generations of her students and she remains as devoted to them as to the church. “If you feel deeply enough, you stay,” she says. “Not because you’re a masochist, but because it’s worth it. You’re struggling for the soul of something.” She admits, though, that she is concerned about the conflicts that the new generation of feminist theologians may face with members of the hierarchy. And she is aware that many theologians will choose to refrain from publishing feminist articles until after they receive tenure.

After 30 years of advocating for reforms in the church’s teachings on women, how does Johnson remain patient with the hierarchy? “Partly by blocking it out! You’ll go crazy if you don’t.”

She picks up a small picture frame from her desk, and shows me a photo she took while teaching in South Africa in the late 1980s. Apartheid was still the law of the land, Nelson Mandela sat in prison, and army tanks were positioned on every street corner.

Walking by a pastel-colored building in Cape Town, Johnson noticed that it had been defaced with very thick, black paint. “Hang Mandela,” the wall read. Johnson invites me to look closer at the photo. Someone had used a pencil to add a small, but mighty preposition, transforming the graffiti to read “Hang On Mandela.”

“Someone took and turned that message in the darkest of days,” Johnson says, tearing up at the memory. She saw this sign just before returning to the United States to be interrogated by the cardinals. “That picture has become my answer to why I stay in the church.”


***

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, csj Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, csj
Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed