Continuing with our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .
In his book Church: Living Communion, Paul Lakeland begins his description of the third challenge for Catholics with the bald and indisputable statement that the Roman Catholic Church is a sexist institution. The magisterium has a two-fold-problem.
First, the reasons it gives for not ordaining women are not persuasive to a significant number of the faithful. They have not peacefully and joyfully received this ruling because, it seems, the reasons given for it do not convince them.
What is the argument the magisterium uses?
The case against ordaining women is made today almost entirely on the argument of unbroken tradition. Priesthood, so it goes, can be traced somehow back to Jesus Christ, and despite his well attested and even notorious openness to women he chose only men to be apostles. Faithful to this pattern the Church throughout history has only ordained men as bishops, priests, and deacons. So unbroken is the tradition, it constitutes a fundamental of the Church that could not be changed, even if the Church thought it was a good idea. It is beyond debate. (p. 77)
The argument “it has never been done” is not persuasive to many reasonable 21st century Catholics. Attributing the exclusion of women to Jesus adds weight to the argument from tradition, but it prompts a question about the reasons Jesus could have had for excluding women, which makes the argument from tradition dependent on some other reasons that then have to pass muster. Other possible objections Paul does not elaborate are that Jesus did not establish the communal function of priest at all and that the early Church did accept women in that role when the function was established.
Arguments that cite Jesus’ intentions to link himself in the Eucharist as bridegroom and the Church as bride require us “to get into the murky Christological waters of what Jesus might or might not have intended.” (Not to mention the murky implications of the metaphor.)
The response to this first problem is obvious: either the official Church has to admit that their arguments are insufficient and proceed to ordain women or find more persuasive ones.
The second problem is that the official Church professes the equality of women, but it finds itself in a moral contradiction. Women are equal but they can’t be appointed to leadership positions because only ordained people are appointed to those positions. The magisterium has made rules that prevent it from supporting the values it professes. “Only a second class citizen is excluded as a matter of course from leadership positions.” (p. 82)
Whether or not women are ordained, Paul recommends their promotion in large numbers to roles of leadership in all areas:
(1) gender-blind hiring practices for staffing diocesan seminaries, (2) opening the ranks of the Vatican‘s diplomatic corps to Catholic women diplomats from around the world, and (3) gender-blind staffing of all levels of the Roman Curia….If this did not happen then it would mean only one of two thing: either not enough suitably qualified women came forward for the selection process, which would be easy to determine, or the commitment to equal treatment of women was not being taken seriously. (p. 81)
NEXT: The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and the Individual Conscience.
To read about and discuss the first challenge, Identity and Commitment, click here. For the second challenge, Ministry - Ordained and Lay, click here.
Theologian and author Paul Lakeland will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For more information about this event and to register, click here.