Don't talk about female ordination, archbishop tells priests
Upcoming conference 'clearly in opposition to Catholic teachings'
by Hayley Mick
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, July 14, 2005
The archbishop of Ottawa has ordered the city's Catholic pastors and priests not to discuss the issue of female ordination in anticipation of an Ottawa conference promoting the controversial practice later this month.
Archbishop Marcel Gervais issued a letter to all Ottawa pastors, administrators and priests last week reminding them that the event's "objectives are clearly in opposition to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church."
"Furthermore," he wrote, "I would count on all of you to refrain from offering any public statements, or public prayers -- for or against -- in connection with it -- as the gathering is taking place completely outside the realm of our faith."
Archbishop Gervais, who is on vacation, was not available yesterday to comment further on his order.
The focus of the Women's Ordination Worldwide Conference, taking place July 22-24 at Carleton University, is to advocate that women be allowed to become priests.
The issue has been a persistent thorn in the Vatican's side. In recent decades, the church has repeatedly rejected a small, but growing, movement pushing for the reversal of its stance that only men can serve as priests.
Organizers of the conference said they were not surprised by the archbishop's letter.
"It would be surprising if he said anything different," conference spokeswoman Marie Marie Bouclin said from her Sudbury home.
"He pretty much has to toe the party line and that's what the Vatican's line is -- that we're not supposed to talk about it," she said. "We've said all along that our first hope, aim, objective is to convince the papacy to reopen the discussion."
But despite the archbishop's request, several Ottawa priests were willing do discuss the issue yesterday -- if only to support the stance that women cannot be ordained as priests under the Catholic church.
"Once in a while you get something like that just to remind you that this is where the church stands," said Rev. Bob Bedard of St. Mary's parish.
"We don't feel women would be ordained priests just like men don't have babies. It's just not the way God made things. It's not part of a women's capacity to be a Father.
"We have no objections to churches that ordain women. good for them, no problem, go for it. But the Catholic church doesn't ordain women."
Father Bedard, who founded an organization of Roman Catholic priests called Companions of the Cross, says he was contradicting the archbishop's orders to remain silent on the issue, because he's "right on side with him."
Rev. Andre Samson of St. Margaret Mary's church said the archbishop's move was to avoid splinters within the faith, referring to the rifts within the Anglican church over same-sex marriage.
"I really think that the main value that we should preserve in the church is unity," he said yesterday. "The day we become divided, we are doomed."
He says he agrees with the archbishop's stance, and while he was open to talking to a reporter, he would not be discussing the issue of women's ordination within his parish.
Following the conference next weekend, nine women, including a Canadian, are scheduled to be ordained as Catholic deacons and priests on a boat in the St. Lawrence River near Gananoque on July 25.
While a handful of women have been ordained in similar river ceremonies in Europe in recent years, the planned ordination set for the St. Lawrence River is the first of its kind in North America.
The ceremony is being held in a river so as to be in "international waters," thus avoiding the jurisdiction of the dioceses of either Kingston or Ogdensburg, New York.
For decades, the church has refused to consider the idea of ordaining women as priests. The council of Vatican II refused to consider the issue. In 1976, Pope Paul VI argued that a priest must bear a natural resemblance to Christ, who is interpreted as being male.
Pope John Paul II used a different rationale, but was just as adamant that women could not become priests. In May 1994, he issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which said the church had no authority to ordain women.
It was followed in November 1995 by a letter signed by the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005