Written by: Sarah Gould
It’s just exasperating to read what the non-Catholic media comes up with when writing about Catholics – especially at a time like this when Catholics are vulnerable. They report on the actual facts of the conclave for 5 seconds and then spend 20 minutes airing personal diatribes and launching full-scale attacks on the laundry list of beefs they have with the Church. Women’s ordination tends to be one of the top “problems” within the Catholic Church these days, so journalists get away with saying things like “Women don’t have the ability to be priests and are thus barred from the Church’s high ranks, from holding any power whatsoever simply because they are female”.
First off, what is this obsession with “high ranks” within the Church? I suppose for the majority of un-churched reporters and journalists life has to be about power, money and high rank – what else is there? (Ok, that being said, I’m certain that there are flawed individuals within the Church, who highly value power, prestige and rank.) But that was certainly not Jesus’ way, and that’s not the life He calls His followers to. In fact anyone who knows even a little of how Jesus ‘rolled’ knows that He cared very little for those things. So I find it utterly bizarre to hear media talk of who’s got the “power and sway” or who’s who in the “upper echelon” of the “ancient and stolid patriarchy”. Maybe they need a little bit of schooling on who and what this Church actually values. Exactly how many CEO’s or billionaires are canonized saints? Exactly none – that I know of. I could tell them about a Church that has been built up on the backs of uneducated doormen, leper-workers, the ugly, the stupid, the mistreated and the poverty-stricken. THESE are the celebrated ones – the underdogs – not the rich and powerful. Riches and prestige were often seen as great hindrances to true relationship with Christ. Furthermore, “Priests are not power brokers or managers,” says Peter Kreeft in the book Women in the Priesthood, “they are sewers. Like Christ, they drain off the world’s sins. They are spiritual garbage men…they clean up our spiritual garbage. They wash feet – dirty, smelly souls – ours. The Pope, priest of priests is…servant of the servants of God.” So to drone on and on about the power and prestige of high-ranking Church offices is silly. I’d be willing to bet that ninety-nine percent of those bishops and cardinals within those offices would prefer not to be there.
Second to that, the women leading the fight for women’s ordination don’t seem to be doing so out of humility. They use the language of ‘power’ and ‘prestige’ – brushing off theological and biblical justifications with the “explanation” that the Church hates women and discriminates against them. I have just to quote the words of Alice von Hildebrand in the book Women and the Priesthood – she said it best when she wrote, “God’s work is accomplished not by efficiency and talents, but by holiness, and there is no holiness without humility and awareness that ‘without Christ we can do nothing.’ Indeed we are useless labourers.” Dr. von Hildebrand also continued on to say that we should realize that the “problem is not an intellectual one; it is a moral one. No one will ever accept the validity of an argument he chooses not to accept; purity of heart is indispensable in order to be convinced by a solution which is unpalatable to one’s pride and rebelliousness.”
And just why is it the assumption that the Church thinks less of women because, if they cannot be priests, cardinals and/or pope, their value is diminished? Not only is this falling into the error of functionalism (reducing personal worth to what a person does not who they are), but this has simply not been my experience. Women are, and have been, regarded with much respect and great love with the Catholic Church. It was a woman, the Virgin Mary, who was chosen to be the Theotokos, or God-Bearer – the most blessed of all women and second only to the Trinity. The resurrected Christ appeared first to a woman, and Jesus Himself treated the women with whom he came into contact with great kindness and respect, despite the sometimes-obvious personal sin. (It was the men like the Pharisees who elicited strong abhorrent reactions from Him.) Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem said the Church “…desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the ‘mystery of woman’ and for every woman – for all that constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the ‘great works of God’, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. …Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” That sounds like high regard – and an affirmation of the intrinsic value of femininity – to me.
Sure Jesus did have many female followers and held women in high esteem (more so than the society around Him did) yet He did not call women to be priests. He called men. The Church, in her Wisdom and Tradition, has maintained this position from the very beginning, not because stodgy old men in high ranks feel like keeping it that way (it would be much easier in some respects to relent and allow the ordination of women) but because they are deeply convinced that God wishes it to be this way. The rich and ancient symbolism of the liturgy depends on the priest being male. So much of the symbolic core of the Catholic liturgy would be rendered ridiculous and defunct if women were to assume the role of priest…which is a fact that’s annoying for Catholics who do not fully understand the faith and boringly unimportant to by-standers who care nothing for Catholicism, but it is frankly of great doctrinal import to those of us who do care.
Women and men are fundamentally different in their very persons – unequivocally equal in dignity and worth – but offer different gifts and talents and have hearts for different things. Yet at the same time we “…desperately need both the masculine and the feminine principles”, says Alice von Hildebrand. “They complement each other. They belong together.” And it’s this fact – the fact that the sexes require each other and belong together for wholeness that makes it abundantly clear that women’s gifts are needed within the Catholic Church. If there is to be any flourishing of the Faith in the future, the Church absolutely requires the women of faith to humbly lay their gifts and talents down in service. Even the Vatican Offices may be opening up to more women in the future as Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri said in a recent interview that it’s “only right that women should have more key positions in the Vatican administration where they can make a very important contribution because of their qualifications. But they also must be co-participants in the dialogue and the analysis of the life of the Church and in (other) areas, even in the formation of priests, where they can play a very, very important role.”
And in the end, women are no better or worse off because they can’t be priests. There’s no ‘big party’ they’re missing out on behind Vatican walls, nor are they looked down upon as second-class ‘citizens’ because they cannot be ordained. Things are what they are because of two thousand years of Wisdom and Tradition passed down to us from Jesus Christ Himself. Sure there are some things within the Church that can change, but as Peter Kreeft says, “God is the one who invented the priesthood and who calls to the priesthood. The Church did not invent the priesthood, she received it.” In this case, the Church does not have the power to allow the ordination of women. To do so would seriously compromise much of the Deposit of Faith, not to mention shake the faith of believers everywhere.
Let’s all keep those fighting for, and those confused about, the ordination of women in our prayers.
Recommended from Catholic Chapter House:
The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini
Priest: The Man of God His Dignity and His Duties by Fr. Joseph CafassoChurch Teaching, For Women, Jesus, Priesthood, by Catholic Chapter House.