Catholics Discuss Ordination of Women: Do I Call Her ‘Father’?

In December, the National Catholic Reporter wrote an editorial calling for discussion on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. (The Vatican has forbidden this discussion to be had by anyone in the institutional church or on any church-owned properties. This means no priest can talk about it and no discussion can be had in Catholic schools, universities, or church basements.)

As any teen counselor can tell you, the best way to ensure a conversation spreads like wildfire is to drive it underground.

The National Catholic Reporter (part of the Catholic faithful, not a Vatican-affiliated institution) had such a huge response from readers to their December editorial that NCR followed it with a series of articles on the history of church authority, roles of women, and theology of ordination. (The links to the articles are below.)

I extend an invitation to non-Catholics Christians (pardon the generalization) to read these articles, as well as to Catholics. Much of the content focuses on our common Christian heritage (eg before the Reformation).

Protestants, evangelicals, and Anabaptist tend to cede history before the 1500s to Catholics. Please, don’t do that.

Contemporary Catholics need our Protestant kinfolk to fully claim the early church and the first 1500 years of our common history. (And I dare say, with the rise of “complementarianism,” not a few Protestants need to reclaim their history of women in leadership.)

Here is the NCR series:

“In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favor of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions.”–Editorial: Ordination of women would correct an injustice (12/3/12)

“The account in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6 of the apostles choosing seven men to take care of table service is usually considered the origin of the office of deacon, yet no one in the story is called diakonos and the apostles appoint them for the diakonia of the table so that the apostles can devote themselves to the diakonos of prayer and the word. All perform diakonos of different kinds.”–Early women leaders: from heads of house churches to presbyters (NCR, 1/18/13)

“The Council of Paris in 829 made it extremely clear that it was the bishops who were allowing women to minister at the altar. Women certainly did distribute Communion in the 10th, 11th and perhaps the 12th centuries. Texts for these services exist in two manuscripts of this period. All of this changed over roughly a hundred-year period between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 13th. For many different cultural reasons, women were gradually excluded from ordination. First, many roles in the church ceased to be considered as ordained — most importantly, abbots and abbesses. Powerful women in religious orders went from being ordained to laity. Second, canon lawyers and then theologians began to debate whether women could be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate.”–The meaning of ordination and how women were gradually excluded by Gary Macy (NCR, 1/16/12)

“The exercise of doctrinal authority throughout much of the first millennium presupposed several basic convictions. First, the doctrine that the bishops taught pertained to public revelation. There was no sense that bishops received some secret knowledge available only to them. Indeed such a view, known as Gnosticism, had been roundly condemned. Second, what the bishops taught was not foreign to the faith of the whole church. In apostolic service to their communities, the bishops received, verified and proclaimed the apostolic faith that all the baptized in their churches prayed and enacted. The apostolic faith consciousness of the whole people of God would eventually be referred to as the sensus fidelium.”–Richard Gaillardetz, Putting the church’s shifts in spheres of authority in historical perspective (NCR, 2/4/13)

Colm O’Gorman: ‘Wilful Blindness Creates Monsters’

Colm O’Gorman, founder and former director of One in Four, a non-governmental organisation that supports women and men who have experienced sexual abuse, wrote a strong essay in the UK’s The Tablet this week on the Jimmy Savile pedophilia case.

Savile was a popular media personality in the UK for more than 30 years. He was both knighted by the Queen and given a papal knighthood from the Vatican. Savile run and contributed to a number of charities and is estimated to have raised £40 million for charity. After his death a year ago, police began investigating long-standing allegations of child sexual abuse.

The police now describe him as a “predatory sex offender” and are pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims via fourteen police forces across the UK.

O’Gorman asks why it took so long when everyone knew that Savile was “into little girls.” With powerful people and in powerful institutions it is easy to look the other way when something “unseemly” arises, but people of faith need to keep our fires of righteous anger stoked so we are ready to confront directly those predatory forces that stalk the vulnerable.

Here’s an excerpt from Colm O’Gorman commentary “Silence is Sin”:

“… [P]owerful institutions rarely cast an objectively critical eye inwards. Power rarely subjects itself to honest and open scrutiny, and when it either discovers serious wrongdoing within its own ranks, or indeed is itself guilty of wrongdoing, it often acts to cover up such corruption in an effort to protect its reputation and its authority.

Such wilful blindness creates monsters. The crimes of child abusers … are only possible within a culture of silence and denial. It has often been said that those who sexually abuse children rely upon secrecy, that sexual abuse is possible because it is a secret crime and that its victims are silent and voiceless. Surely, we need to question that view. What the abuse scandals in the Church, and now with Jimmy Savile, reveal is that secrecy is not the enabler of such crimes but rather silence is; the silence of those who shared rumour and gossip but who failed to act to protect desperately vulnerable children and young people.”–Colm O’Gorman, Silence is Sin (The Tablet)

LCWR: ‘Can’t Hold Back The Spring’

Sr. Pat Farrell

The historic meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis, MO, is drawing to a close.

Sr. Pat Farrell gave her concluding address as she ends her time of service as LCWR’s president. As the body that represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States reckons with how to respond to a harsh rebuke by the Vatican, Sr. Pat offered this perspective. This is what religious wisdom looks like:

Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Farrell said that “some larger movement in the church … has landed on LCWR.”

A key question facing LCWR, she said, is “What would a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment look like?”

“I think it would be humble, but not submissive,” she continued. “Rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless.

“It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning and are we open to it? Is this doctrinal process an expression of concern or an attempt to control?

“Concern is based in love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power.

“Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a church that claims to honor the sensus fildeum?”
Farrell also said that it would be a “mistake” to make “too much” of the mandate.

“We cannot allow it to consume us,” she said. “It is not the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the church, nor will it be the last.”

“The doctrinal assessment suggests that we are not currently living in an ideal ecclesial world,” Farrell continued.

Yet, she said, the sisters also “cannot make too little” of the Vatican’s move. It’s “historical impact,” she said, is “apparent to all of us.”

Ending her remarks with a reflection on the Gospel parable of the mustard seed, Farrell showed an image of mustard plants growing in a field, saying the seed is “uncontainable” and “crops up anywhere without permission.”

Comparing the seed to the spirit of God, she continued: “We can indeed live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the newness of God’s spirit.”

Ending with a Spanish phrase she said she learned while ministering in Chile during the military dictatorship there, Farrell said: “They can crush a few flowers, but they cannot hold back the springtime.”

As Farrell left the stage, the audience of about 900 stood slowly, clapping for some three minutes and shouting in affirmation. …

Read the whole National Catholic Reporter article.

Also, in St. Louis Beacon: With prayer and iPads, Women Religious consider response to Vatican

Also, in St. Louis Review: LCWR Sisters discuss complexity of dialogue (really nice photos here)

‘The Struggle Over Women’s Authority Runs Right Through the Body of Christ’

Today, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S. begins a week of contemplative discernment in St. Louis, MO, to “reason together” about how they will respond to the Vatican’s crackdown on their organization and their work.

We have an opportunity to watch two starkly different modes of leadership at work. The Vatican uses a command-control model aimed at maintaining homogeneity and the status quo. The Catholic Sisters communities draw on a more ancient model that develops shared leadership, communal shaping of vision, and is agile enough to address the “signs of the times,” as well as remain resilient amid diversity.

Not only are U.S. Catholic laity watching and praying for the LCWR this week, but so are Catholic orders and laity around the world. Your prayer this week will be greatly appreciated (LCWR prayer)

Below is an excerpt of my latest column in Sojourners magazine, addressing these issues:

The Presumption of Equality by Rose Marie Berger

…These Catholic sisters represent an unbroken, cohesive expression of faith in the history of American Catholicism and in women’s presumption of equality, completeness, and active moral agency both under law and under God—a presumption that is a shining light for women around the world. The sisters might have once shared accolades for faithful servant leadership with their brother priests, bishops, and cardinals, but over the course of nearly 30 years of unfolding pedophilia scandal and blasphemous mob-like cover-up, the laity has learned to look to the sisters alone for examples of Catholic gospel witness and Christian maturity, strength, and just plain grit.

But let’s not sideline this issue as “a Catholic thing.” We don’t get off that easy. The struggle over women’s authority runs right through the denominational diaspora of the body of Christ.

“Christian churches have long been ambivalent about us,” wrote Protestant female theologians in a letter of support to the women of LCWR. “Women’s roles have been embraced in private, not public forums. Women leaders are affirmed as long as they are seen, but not heard (at least too much).” And as long as what the women say doesn’t contradict male authorities.

Even in Christian denominations that ordain women to leadership, too often they are forced to operate as second-class citizens. Women pastors don’t get called to prominent congregations; they’re not allowed to prioritize the most urgent needs in their parishes; and they face constant friction. Time and again, we see the ideas of men described (and funded) as “entrepreneurial,” “innovative,” and “bold,” while women’s initiatives are “unorthodox,” “suspect,” and “back-burner, support-staff kind of thinking.”

“The plight of the powerless is familiar to the women of the church,” continue the Protestant scholars. “We, however, do not believe that authorities in any church should take away women’s power to determine for ourselves a vision for our ministries and vocations.” Many women—and men—have raised questions similar to those asked by Catholic women religious. Did God plan for an exclusively male priesthood or did it form as a result of the sin of misogyny? Do our baptismal vows anoint girls into the fullness of ministry as “priest, prophet, and king” in Christ or do they not? Is providing for the poor, the outcast, the sick, the prisoner, and the foreigner at the core of the gospel message or is it not?

“What we see in this struggle is not a lack of our sisters’ integrity and authentic witness to Christian faith,” the open letter continues, “but a struggle that has been too familiar for all women of faith—a struggle over authority and who should have the power to define true faith.”…

Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. Read the whole article here, the September-October 2012 issue of Sojourners magazine.

An American Nun Responds To Vatican Criticism

“Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.” — Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the vice president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa.

Read the transcript and listen to Sr. Pat Farrell’s interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air (July 17, 2012).

An Interview with Sr. Joan Chittister on Vatican’s Operation Clean Sweep

American Baptist minister Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior religion editor for the Huffington Post and former associate dean of religious life at Princeton, interviewed Sr. Joan Chittister about recent Vatican moves against American Catholic women religious. Here’s a snippet from In Praise Of Courageous Nuns Facing The Vatican Crackdown:

So what is this all about Sister Joan?

“Well it is a hostile take over, there’s no doubt about that. They’re ‘cleaning up the church’ — everything but themselves.”

One of the speculations is that the crackdown has its roots in the nun’s support for President Obama’s health care bill.

I don’t know about that for sure, but it seems like it may have been a turning point. It [the nun’s position] was a model of thinking Catholic, thinking through this thing and coming up with another approach. There are other ways to impact the issue you care about.

Part of it, whether they know it or not, is a strong demonstration of the whole male/female aspect of every question. Sit down and shut up. Daddy knows best. We will tell you what to think, we will tell you what to do — what would a woman know?

How are the Sisters are holding up?

There is prayer and fasting going on for the sake of the LCWA officers. We want to give them all the support we can. The sisters are mightily concerned, but they know there is no substance to these accusations. For instance, to talk about radical feminism when you don’t have a clue as to what it is — it is very embarrassing. Because the people who do know what it is sit back and say What?. It’s bizarre.

There is a serious power play going on. It seems like they could take over.

Yes. Theoretically they can do it. If you were ranking the departments of the Curia, the CDF would be the ultimate department — from which there is no official appeal.

No doubt that it is serious, but it’s also putting people in a corner that nobody should. And not these people [in CDF]. And the lay people know that. If there is integrity left in this church it is in the people who are ministry on the streets.

Which are the nuns.

Yes.

Say this plays out — do you ever think about leaving the church?

I don’t seek to do that, I’m a Catholic, born and bred, I have learned that the tradition and the institution have often been at odds in the history of the Catholic Church.

The church has always converted slowly. The last time their sins were pointed out it took them 400 years to say that Martin Luther was right and that they shouldn’t have been selling relics and that maybe people could read the scriptures in their own language and read the word of Jesus themselves.

It was the same thing. ‘We tell you what to think about scriptures, because you will destroy the sacred word. You won’t understand it. You’ll destroy it.’ We got through that. God willing we will get through this.

My fear is not the people who organize to leave the church, it is the amount of disillusionment and depression that is out there because of the church itself.

Everybody talks about how the Pope wants a smaller, purer church. Well, they talked about that in the 16th century. And they got it — they lost half of Europe. Now they are losing Ireland, Austria, the American church is teetering. You have people who love their faith but cannot support these acts by the institution.

What happened to Vatican II?

Good question, somebody hijacked it when we weren’t looking. Maybe this is the moment that we all decide what happened to Vatican II. Clearly there is an element of the institution that wants Vatican II destroyed, eliminated. That’s because it makes the whole church, the church. For the very first time in history, Vatican II made being laity a vocation, and the laity have taken that seriously. So they are standing up in the streets to say what the church needs to study and make a decision

It’s tricky, I’m a Protestant writing about this because I feel so strongly about supporting my mentors, but many will criticize me because I am not Catholic.

We are all Christians in this together, what happens to this church does affect you as a Christian. It will affect the way others see Christians around the world. We are not in this alone The laity are being very clear about that, not just because they have loved Sisters or see the work they are doing, because they know that this is damaging the church.

The whole notion that you would suppress thought and call that Catholic, call that Christian, call that a witness to adult ministry in an adult world is impossible to compute. Write this as a Christian. Don’t absent yourself here, I need you.

Well, a lot of us are concerned and not sure what to do when someone holds all the trump cards.

Oh, there is no doubt about it; people may be destroyed here. And there may be people who want them destroyed. They either want thinking adults in the church who bring their own experience of the Holy Spirit to every question — with great respect for the institution, ironically, or they don’t.

I assume you saw the critique on Sister Margaret Fawley’s book?

Oh, I can’t tell you what that did to me. But that woman is so bright, and so precise. Her responses are superb; she said: “I never said I was producing Catholic doctrine. I’m a theologian, thinking through these issues. ”

When you want to make all your thinkers parrots, puppets, don’t talk to me about your respect for the Holy Spirit.

From In Praise Of Courageous Nuns Facing The Vatican Crackdown by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush.

Catholic Sisters Say Vatican Report Has ‘Caused Scandal and Pain’ in Catholic Church

Sr. Dolorosa Bundy

The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met in Washington, D.C., this week to review and plan a response to the Vatican report issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last April.

When I was up at LCWR offices a few weeks ago to deliver letters of support from Sojourners and Faithful America ago they were preparing for this meeting and said the wide-ranging support from around the world would be a centerpiece of their conversations. I appreciate the thoughtful and faithful way these dedicated and wise women disciples are modeling a mature Catholicism.

They released their first public response to CDF’s report this morning:

The [LCWR] board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared. Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

The board determined that the conference will take the following steps:
• On June 12 the LCWR president and executive director will return to Rome to meet with CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada and the apostolic delegate Archbishop Peter Sartain to raise and discuss the board’s concerns.
• Following the discussions in Rome, the conference will gather its members both in regional meetings and in its August assembly to determine its response to the CDF report.

The board recognizes this matter has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country. It believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.

Vatican Embassy Opens Doors to Vigilers Praying for LCWR

Here’s a quick roundup by Sr. Maureen Fiedler about the prayer vigil I attended on May 30 at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., in support of Catholic women religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Apparently, I left too early, because Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano not only invited a few representatives inside to talk, but then came outside and spoke with the whole group!

Here’s an excerpt from Maureen’s blog at the National Catholic Reporter:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States, meets with people holding a rally in solidarity with U.S. women religious outside the apostolic nunciature in Washington, DC, May 30.

Who would believe it? When a group of protestors supporting the Leadership Conference of Women Religious showed up at the Vatican Embassy on Tuesday, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, welcomed some of the group into the embassy. Two people were actually invited to sit down and chat with him. He received their petition asking that the mandate against LCWR be withdrawn … without any expectation that would actually happen, of course.

In the course of the conversation, he made it known he had been at the beginning of the LCWR board meeting. Later, he invited about 20 people into the embassy to see the chapel and offer prayers.

I don’t have much hope that his welcome represents any new approach from the Vatican to LCWR (or anyone), but it is refreshing in Washington to see any protestors welcomed by any authority for a chat, at least.

Vigano was removed from a Vatican post after cleaning up the Vatican Bank, a process in which he surely made enemies. The recently leaked documents include a letter of his to the pope, asking not to be moved outside the Vatican because of the message it would send. He may have some sympathy for LCWR, given his own experience.

Click here to see great photos and an account of Tuesday’s Vatican Embassy action.

As a fun little feature, see the photo below:

Catholic Bishops: ‘Just Say No To Nukes’

Among recent examples of Catholic bishops acting very poorly indeed, here’s an example of bishops acting “good.” They joined representatives of various groups advocating nuclear arms reduction to present a petition with over 50,000 signatures to the White House.

On May 7, Stephen Colecchi, USCCB’s director of International Justice and Peace, representing the US bishops delivered the petition in a meeting with Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting. Leaders of arms control groups, including the Arms Control Association, the Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, also participated in the meeting.

In response to the petition, Rhodes said: “The White House appreciates the engagement of citizens across our country who support efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace and security of a world without them. This type of grassroots activism is critical to build awareness around the dangers of nuclear weapons, and to support common sense arms control policies.”

In a March 2 letter to National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, outlined some moral considerations to take into account during the study:

The current review of nuclear weapons policy by the Administration presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make significant strides towards a safer, more secure future for our nation and world. For decades, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Holy See have supported nuclear nonproliferation and verifiable efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.

As you advise the President, I urge you to recommend further reductions in U.S. nuclear forces. The horribly destructive capacity of nuclear arms makes them disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons that profoundly endanger human life.

At a time of fiscal restraints, tens of billions of dollars currently allocated to maintaining Cold War-based nuclear force structures could be redirected to other critical needs, especially to programs that serve poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “[T]he arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.”

Continue reading “Catholic Bishops: ‘Just Say No To Nukes’”

Irish Priest: We Will No Longer Be the ‘Silent People of God’

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland is holding an gathering this week in Dublin entitled “Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church” aimed at restoring the Spirit of Vatican II.

More than a thousand showed up for conference that took place in the weeks following the Vatican censure of several progressive Irish priests, in what appears to be a blatant attempt to deflect the spotlight away from the Vatican’s failure to protect and defend Irish Catholics against predatory priests within the hierarchy. The ACP hopes to move toward a national dialogue on the Irish Catholic Church. Other countries are looking at similar gatherings.

Fr. Desmond Wilson, a priest who has served in West Belfast since the mid-1960s, wrote this thoughtful letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith out of his experience of the Irish context. It sheds light on the American situation of the Vatican’s harassment of Catholic sisters:

Dear Friends in The  Congregation for the Doctrine of theFaith,

You may be aware that we  in Ireland have a special reverence for  our Saint Columbanus. He was one of our saints who disagreed with a Pope and said so. You may be more acquainted with Saint Catherine of Siena who did the same, although she had the disadvantage of having  to disagree with three possible popes at one time.

Some of us view with dismay then, but no great alarm, your decision to censor some of our fellow citizens and fellow members of the Catholic Church who have done nothing at all so serious.

We are puzzled – naturally and supernaturally –  by the fact that you and we preach the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then you tell us, so inspired, to stop talking –   as if we had nothing important to say. This is not a matter of doctrine, it is one of logic and we in Ireland are inclined to judge these things by logic as well as doctrine  and not too often  by emotion. We remember  the Gamaliel principle – you remember it too, when forced to make a decision, he told his colleagues, If this be of God it’s useless to oppose it,  if it be of human planning it will fade away in any case, so we should not take extraordinary measures for ordinary happenings.

Continue reading “Irish Priest: We Will No Longer Be the ‘Silent People of God’”