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 reform—ecclesia semper reformanda—an issue that disrespects every aspect of the 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.” On the one hand, 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. 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 of— and perhaps because of—serious scriptural-theological dialogue taking place at the time; and 3) ends by mandating that no dialogue on women’s ordination at all—let alone anything fearless or gender-inclusive—is 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 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 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 Jesus—if 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-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 women is seen—within the church and throughout the world—as 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 priesthood—if a “patriarchal Jesus” is a colossal contradiction—I 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 facing—just as their working together was indispensable at the time of Vatican 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 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
John J. Shea, O.S.A.