Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ministry, Not Maleness, is the Theological Starting Point for the Priest

By James Moudry

Theologian James Moudry reflects on Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski’s October 2008 comments accompanying the promulgation of the Vatican’s “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.”

This reflection deals with the reason why, according to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski (pictured at left), priesthood is not open to women and to the issue of disqualification of homosexual men from priesthood. My concern is with how the Cardinal frames the issue with the starting point of spiritual paternity and the argument flowing from that.

He is quoted as saying “Homosexuals [and women] cannot be admitted to the priesthood because of the nature of priesthood in which a spiritual paternity is carried out.” And again, “when we ask why Christ reserved the priesthood to men, we speak of this spiritual paternity.” *

Regarding this line of reasoning I would say the following. The assumptive starting point of the Cardinal’s descriptive imagery of the priesthood is that the subject in question is male. He speaks of spiritual paternity. With that in mind, there is applied quite appropriately a series of biblical and theological symbols and metaphors to describe this male person. They are powerful and enrich our understanding of the person in question who is male.

However, if the assumptive starting point were a female subject, a different set of biblical and theological symbols and metaphors could be mustered to describe her person.

But in point of fact neither paternity nor maleness or femaleness are the biblical or theological starting points for the priest. Rather it is ministry, the priest as minister of the Gospel for the sake of the community. And the Scriptures list descriptive symbols and metaphors to describe the ministry of that person which are or can be gender neutral. It is not clear why “paternity” should govern a discussion of the question.

In short, I am struck by how much of the language and argument used by the Cardinal to describe the person of the priest starts with the assumption that the priest is male, which is exactly the point under discussion and being contested. As a consequence his arguments do not make his point why the gender of the priest must be only male.

*Quoted in Thavis, J., “Homosexuality and the Priesthood Revisited,” Catholic News Service, October 31, 2008.

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice posts:
“Spiritual Paternity”: Why Homosexual Men Cannot Be Ordained Catholic Priests - Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 13, 2009).
Homosexual Priests and Spiritual Paternity - Ed Kohler (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 26, 2009).
“We Are All the Rock”: An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey - Michael Bayly (Progressive Catholic Voice, August 2008).

Image: Giancarlo Giuliani (Catholic News Service).

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