Thursday, 6 January 2011

Women in the Catholic Church

While many Catholic women were disappointed in the second Vatican council’s failure to include women’s concerns in its agenda that did not deter Catholic women from imagining they might eventually achieve leadership positions in what has been a rigidly patriarchal institution. And in the convening years this hope escalated especially when in 1976 international biblical experts of the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded, with a majority of 12 to 5, that there were no scriptural objections to the priestly ordination of women. However, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith rejected this opinion and wrote its own statement (Inter Insigniores, 15 October 1976).

Pope John Paul’s apostolic 1994 letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (which translates - ‘On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone’) immediately reveals his rigid stance on the future role of women clergy in the Church. While stressing the unqualified dignity and value of women, John Paul repeated the argument that because Christ called only men as his apostles and because the church had maintained the all-male priesthood for so long, the church had no authority to ordain women as priests. John Paul concluded his letter “this judgment is to be definitely held by all the Church’s faithful.” The latter phrase was declared to be by some, especially Joseph Ratzinger, as prefect of the CDF, as an infallible statement.

In the summer of 2010 Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI issued a new decree. Any attempts at ordaining women were now to be considered “most serious crimes” alongside paedophilia to be handled by investigators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Women attempting to be priests, or those who try to ordain them, already facing automatic excommunication, enshrined the action as “a crime against sacraments”.

More recently Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the church has "no authority" to ordain women as priests and rejected the idea that the rule was formed only because the church originated in a patriarchal society.

The pope said that man did not produce the form of the church, and does not have the power to change it. Christ gave the form of the priesthood when he chose his male Apostles, he said in the book-interview, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times."

"The church has 'no authority' to ordain women. The point is not that we are saying we don't want to, but that we can't," he said. This requires obedience by Catholics today, he added.

"This obedience may be arduous in today's situation, but it is important precisely for the church to show that we are not a regime based on arbitrary rule. We cannot do what we want," the pope said.

In the book, the pope responded to the argument that ordination was restricted to men only because priestesses would have been unthinkable 2,000 years ago.

"That is nonsense, since the world was full of priestesses at the time," the pope answered. "All religions had their priestesses, and the astonishing thing was actually that they were absent from the community of Jesus Christ."

The pope said there can be no question of discrimination in the church because women perform so many meaningful functions.

"Women have so eminent a significance that in many respects they shape the image of the church more than men do," he said, noting famous religious figures such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Throughout his life Jesus celebrated his faith in the Jewish tradition attending both the Synagogue and the Temple. Historically the Judaic tradition was outspokenly patriarchal. Women had a limited role in public ritual life. They were required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem once a year and offer the Passover sacrifice. And, on special occasions gave a “thanksgiving" offering after childbirth. For the most part women were economically dependent on fathers or husbands. The male head of the family had absolute rights of disposition over his children. Similarly, women had little control over marriage or divorce, the latter being reasonably easy for men to obtain.

In the New Testament, Jesus often referred to women in his parables and included them among his disciples. In the early church, women spread the gospel and prophesied, and at least one woman was an apostle. "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Rom 16:7). Paul declared, “There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

It is difficult to understand the Vatican’s present position regarding the ordination of women in the church particularly in light of the biblical references mentioned above. Furthermore, how are we to understand the story of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well resulting in her spiritual transformation and converting almost an entire city to become his followers? Isn’t this that what shepherd’s, teachers, Pope’s, priests, and laity called to do? In the world of religion should the person not be chosen according to their spiritual gifts rather than their sex or social standing? Perhaps in the future religious will learn to exercise their God given gift of discernment in this new  authoritative way.


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