Dialog with Women on their Call to Ministry and Priesthood
by Dennis J. Geaney, O.S.A.
from Women and Priesthood: Future Directions, pp. 143-155.
edited by Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions
DENNIS J. GEANEY, O.S.A., Director of Field Education at the Catholic Theological Union, summer school faculty of Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington, New Jersey, and St. Mary’s Seminary, Orchard Lake, Michigan. He currently contributes to U.S. Catholic and National Catholic Reporter and is author of many books. He has recently completed an Association of Theological Schools project on non-ordained ministry
When Sleeping Women Awake
Mountains Will Move
Ancient Chinese Proverb
It has become conventional wisdom with many groups that the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church is as certain as death and taxes. The questions that remain are: Will it be this century or the next? Will it be a quiet and orderly evolution as in the Lutheran Church of America, an Episcopal scenario like the Philadelphia “eleven” and its aftermath, or Bishop James S. Rausch’s prediction that for Roman Catholics to ordain women would cause “the biggest schism in the history of the Church”?(1) Will the women to be ordained emerge from homespun koinonia type churches, which would be a grassroots seminary, or from our professional schools of theology? Will they be “street” people or professionals?
In Victor Hugo’s phrase the question of the ordination of women is “an idea whose time has come,” which translated into Vatican II language is called “the signs of the time.” The raising of consciousness through the interplay of the forces of history has its own rhythm and timetable. It is the kairos, the unpredicatable Spirit-movement which bursts upon the scene precisely at the fulness of time, rather than the chronos, the computerized prediction which can be programmed for any moment. It is God who makes history in his dialogue with the individual and collective human will. For the Roman Catholic Church, however, simply to accommodate itself to the flotsam and jetsam of movements and fads would be to be swept along with every political and social current out of a survival instinct. At best it could be equated with a pragmatic posture and at worst with a Machiavelian quest to maintain privilege and power.
The sociological and psychological arguments are not enough—any more than the child’s argument against parental discipline that “all the other kids’ parents let them do it,” is enough. The public opinion poll pointing to a trajectory of gradual acceptance of Catholics for whom “it would be a good thing if women were allowed to be priests” is a valuable indicator for assessing God’s continuing revelation in history, but it is not adequate.(2) The Vatican Declaration quite rightly argues that change must be in keeping with our divinely guarded church tradition.(3) Our failure to stay within the tradition is to lose it. It is for this reason that we must be clear about the theological assumptions which underpin our understanding of priesthood and the ordination of women.
The proclamation of the gospel and the celebration of the Jesus event in our lives have a priority over questions about style of ministry, the qualifications and the sex of those who hold office. The structures of the church must flow from and be consistent with the gospel imperatives or the heralding of the message and the gathering of the Jesus people. Ministry and priesthood are expressions of the life of the Christian community, not vice versa. The form of ministry and the shape of priesthood are determined by the exigencies of the gospel. Since priesthood is a leadership role and exists for the community, in a particular culture or subculture a male or a female priest would be the appropriate leader for ordering church life, depending on the symbolic system of the culture.
In a homily by Sister Francis Borgia Rothluebber she recounted how a sister returning from Peru told of being greeted in village after village without a priest with: “Will you offer Mass for us?” The homilist’s telling argument was the rhetorical question, “For whom is the Eucharist?” In these circumstances of a patriarchal culture, this woman was seen as the fitting person to be the leader of the Eucharistic community. The Eucharist as well as the total ministry of the priest exists for the community. Priesthood is ideally defined by the local gospel community in union with the total church rather than the currently operative institution of priesthood which may have suited the priestly leadership needs of Christians of other cultures.
Baptism is not simply the sacrament of initiation which brings one into the vestibule of the church. It brings a person into full membership of a priestly people. Mystici Corporis, Mediator Dei and Vatican II describe in biblical and theological nuanced language how all the people are the people of God, but the monarchical model which began in the Constantinian era still has possession. Our present model of priesthood flows from the medieval notion of a royalty which has access to wealth, education and power, without a system of accountability to the people. Bishops and priests are the church who determine the conditions of membership for the laity. The ordination of women, therefore, can appear as a threat to the clerical estate which maintains and defends the present model of priesthood.
The koinonia model of the early centuries, which respects the institution of hierarchy, offers an alternative. It is groups of believers who gather in communities which are small enough for the members to know each other and share their faith experiences with one another and be to each other a priestly people. The decision making process resides with the group, as we see in Acts 13:1-3. It ratifies the gifts of members so that they may minister in the name of this particular community which embodies the life and Spirit of Jesus Christ. This writer has been associated, however briefly, with such communities in the United States: St. Mark’s in Cincinnati, St. Andrew’s in Oakland, St. Mary’s in Fort Wayne, and Paulist Center in Boston. Bishop Ottenweller of Toledo is the Episcopal apostle of this model of church. The pastor of each of these parishes comes from the traditional mold but has discovered the role of pastor as enabler, and through his charism helps people discover their ministerial gifts and their call. In this model the ministry is done not primarily by the professional enablers but by the people.
As priests leave the active ministry, and creative young men by not entering seminaries do not choose to perpetuate present structures, members of koinonia communities are being prepared to assume many priestly functions. We have in the United States several of this new type of “seminary” opening and expanding while traditional ones are closing.
No longer are our churches filled with emigrants. The present level of education of parishoners in the United States does not signficantly separate them intellectually from their priests. Still it is necessary for the koinonia communities to help supplement general education of its members with Bible and historic studies according to the time frame of people who work, attend to their families and minister to the community. St. Mark’s parish is sending six women to a three-year part-time Lay Pastoral Ministry Program at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary at Cincinnati. This is an accredited Master of Arts in Religion program. These are women who are already part of the life and ministry of the parish. While the goal of these women is not ordination, the parishoners already have women in prominent leadership roles, thus making a transition to women priests easier if the male clerical priests were withdrawn.
I am not naive about the implications of a priesthood emerging from the community rather than the professional school. Failure to know the history of our tradition and a critical understanding of the Bible can lead to a fundamentalism that is more rigid than present Catholicism. “Symbols without content,” writes Dr. David O’Brien, “interpretation without knowledge, emotional highs on religion without sensitivity to the history or sociology of religion, all are going to end up destructive of faith and church.”(4) Women presently ministering in the community are capable of this kind of sophistication without leaving the community on a permanent basis and thus lose their roots as community people. At this point we are arguing for the development of koinonia women ministers and/or priests through theological extension-school programs.
Regardless of the model of ministry or the educational style, the rigor of theological education must be maintained. Ministers or priests as caring people meditate religious meaning within a tradition. The style or educational methodology can and will be argued, but not the need for a disciplined approach to preparing people who will pass on the heritage When we argue for the extension-school model for community-based education for women ministers who might be our future priests, we are not arguing for less education than the present educational requirements for priesthood. It would be a disaster to cut back on theological education simply because we are in a crisis situation resulting from cultural developments we have not yet integrated into our understandings of ordained ministry.
The koinonia model of church and ministry seems to fit an extension-school model of education, over against the full-time educational models which take people out of the ministry context and could make them ultimately less effective as ministers or priests. The argument is not for less professional training but rather addresses itself to the context of the learning and the acquiring of the ministerial or priestly identity through immersion in pastoral life.
It should not be assumed that when women have the same professional training as the ordained male, the hierarchy and the local community will make room for them. This route seems to demand a bloody entrance. If women have been ministering in koinonia communities and have over the years acquired a theological education, the local community and the universal church would be inclined to call them as it did Ambrose and Augustine. People would have become accustomed to women ministers and would be asking that they become their ordained priests. People need to experience ministry that is not rooted in one sex.
In our mainline Protestant Church and now in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, the A.T.S. Master of Divinity program which requires a college education and at least three years of graduate or professional training has become the norm for ordination for ministers and priests. However, Catholic women who are entering the field of professional pastoral ministry in the Roman Catholic Church are seeking credentialing in a number of ways. Sisters and lay teachers in our Catholic school system from kindergarten to university may indeed see themselves as called to the teaching ministry, but they do not talk about it as a path to ordination. Many sisters have left the Catholic school for precisely this reason. They desire to be out of the highly structured classroom and relate to people in a total context of life in which they can offer meaning, comfort and challenge stemming from the gospel in a more explicit context.
The largest category of the new non-clerical pastoral professionals is the Director of Religious Education. In a small diocese like Grand Rapids, Michigan, there are twenty-two full-time D.R.E.’s, mostly lay. In the present decade what began as a vague and undefined role is now becoming an American Catholic Institution. As D.R.E.’s stay in a particular parish for a number of years, they become more and more seen by the community not simply as professional educational administrators but as parish ministers. They seem to want to keep their role restricted and not assume responsibility for the entire parish, nor are they on the whole interested in ordination for the priesthood for themselves.
While the job offers a low salary, it is attracting a core of lay people who have degrees in theology from our Catholic universities and colleges and from Catholic and non-denominational schools of theology. Within this increasing cadre of professionals are a pool of competent women who have a strong ministerial and priestly identity whom the local community or the larger church could call upon to assume the ordained priestly office. Presently they stand with their sisters who seek ordination. Most seem to prefer the anonymity of their private lives while they use their work-life to break open the Word of God to parishioners through volunteer lay teachers whom they instruct in training programs and workshops.
There is another segment of women, mostly sisters in an age bracket that is skewed to the shady side of life who are pastoral visitors in hospitals and nursing homes. Older sisters work out of their life experience and their religious commitment. These sisters are not interested in ordination for themselves or their work. Sister Thomasine McMahon of the Cathedral parish in Oakland is an unusual parish minister. She has trained a core of lay volunteer parish visitors. She expressed to me with great anguish a situation in the hospital in which she could give communion and hold the hand of the person but could not give the sacrament of the sick to the dying person nor find a priest who could come to the hospital. She is not asking to be ordained a priest or deacon but wondered why our sacramental theology and canon law limits her ministry and frustrates her as a minister. Could not such a person be commissioned in the name of the Church to offer general absolution and the sacrament of the sick in such cases? We ask our theologians if more limited or more specific types of priestly ministry would be consistent with our Catholic sacramental tradition.
Some younger sisters and a smaller number of lay women have taken academic quarters and full years of Clinical Pastoral Training to prepare themselves for professional chaplaincies. Whether such people should be admitted to holy orders depends on one’s understanding of ordination. Ordination to this writer implies a leadership role in the total community besides a public and permanent commitment to ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. It implies that the person has a vision of who Jesus Christ is and how his Spirit is alive in the world, a person who can articulate this vision for others in symbols that speak to our culture, a person who has the charismatic gift of bringing unity to a community which is symbolized in the sacramental celebration, particularly the Eucharist. Every hospital chaplain need not be ordained, but it would be fitting for the head of the pastoral care department, the woman or man, who exercises these functions and has these gifts to be the public symbolic representative of Jesus Christ for the hospital’s Catholic community.
Under our present model of local church and the A.T.S. Master of Divinity (M.Div.) educational model for ordination to the priesthood, and assuming we follow the patterns of the Lutheran and Episcopal church, the first women to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church will be graduates of our Catholic and non-denominational schools of theology. Therefore, we need to look at these schools and their women students.
A decade ago only Protestant and non-denominational schools were open to Catholic women who wished to prepare for ministry or priesthood in the traditional way churches affirm as educational preparation for ordination. Catholics are the largest denomination at a number of non-denominational schools such as Chicago and Harvard. The fifty-six students enrolled at Harvard Divinity School are in an assortment of degree programs at the doctoral and master levels with a variety of goals, only one of which might be ordination. From the doctoral programs at these schools are coming our present and future supply of women professors of theology; at the master’s level some are preparing to be teachers of theology, D.R.E.’s, and others to qualify for priesthood. One of the male students has been accepted for ordination by a Catholic bishop. Women M.Div. graduates must wait for the waters to be stirred.
Our Catholic schools of theology have made remarkable strides in the past five years in opening degree programs in their schools to women. The majority of the schools run by religious orders are also open to women. In 1977 Weston College had thirty M.Div. non-clerical candidates. The number of diocesan schools that are open to women is likewise rapidly expanding. Newark, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Orchard Lake offer a variety of degree programs for women. Increasingly schools promote the extension-school model for married women with families and single people who cannot afford a full-time program.
Who are these women who have graduated from or are attending these professional schools of theology? The author of this chapter interviewed women at the four major centers of theological education in the United States: Chicago, Berkeley, Washington, D.C., and Boston. Ten interviewers will be capsulized.(5) Some were very brief; others involved two sessions.
Susan Sherwood is a 1976 graduate of the Pacific School of Religion (P.S.R.). She had a traditional twelve-year Catholic education in a lower middle-income family in New York. Her desire to be a priest came while in high school but was put aside as a whim. While studying psychology at Berkeley she realized that ministry spoke to ultimate meaning in a way that psychology could not. She was offered a scholarship at P.S.R. While a student she preached, led prayer groups and did hospital chaplaincy. She has a strong priestly identity and feels called to priesthood. Presently she is head of a pastoral care department in a Catholic hospital. She has a strong identification with her Catholic tradition, and has no desire to change denominations to be ordained.
Karen Wells is a 1976 graduate of Harvard Divinity School. She grew up in a family in which one parent was Catholic. Her religious training was Sunday Mass and C.C.D. She attended a Protestant college where she met a chaplain who introduced her to Harvard Divinity School where she enrolled. She found that her Catholic tradition and faith were supported while a student at Harvard. Upon graduation she became employed by a diocese as a Catholic chaplain on a secular campus. She is unmarried and desires much to be a priest to support her pastoral work. She preaches every other Sunday in the local parish church, is a counsellor and spiritual guide. She speaks about ministry and sacraments in a more spiritual context than the structured categories of the priest who is inclined to see his ministry in terms of status and power, even though it be sacramental power. She is not looking for the priesthood for personal affirmation but to complete or bring to another level the priestly ministry she is presently performing. While she is presently a celibate, she will not wait forever for the church to ordain celibate women.
Sister Marie Wilkins is in her late thirties. After a stint as a high school teacher, she went to St. Louis Divinity School to study scripture. After one year she became intrigued with the possibility of being a professional minister. She is presently employed by a diocese as the Catholic chaplain at a commuter campus which has no tradition or need for a liturgical expression of Catholic faith. She has enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program which accepts her experience as a minister and her previous theological studies as the equivalent of a Master of Divinity. “I do not need to be ordained to be a minister. I am a minister of the word of Jesus Christ. No church can prevent me from the expression of that vocation.”
Shirley Waters, age 26, grew up in a traditional ethnic family that had a strong identification with the local ethnic parish. After twelve years of Catholic education she went to a state college to become an English major and ultimately to study for a doctorate. In her senior year, she had a vocation crisis which she shared with the Catholic chaplain and ultimately with her family. She was being called from a vocation of teaching English literature to one that involved inter-personal relationships. In time she began to see it as a call to ministry. She applied and was accepted at a Catholic theology school. She insisted on an M.Div. program after they had already enrolled her in an M.A. tract. At the end of the first year, she took a year off to work and marry. I met her while in her last year at another Catholic theology school. She is presently a part time campus minister. “The ordination of women has not been a real big issue for me. I have so many other things to deal with. I feel there are many styles of ministry, but I don’t feel a need to be validated until I run into this situation where the ministry I am doing is not validating me. Right now I think I would have difficulty in a parish because of the priestly role and authority. I feel I would have more freedom in a campus situation.”
Sally Cassidy, age 25, is a second year student at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. I met her at a koinonia-type parish where I assisted with the daily and weekend liturgies. There was something about the way she carried the book in procession and read the scriptures that gave her a priestly identity. When I explained to the Sunday congregation at the end of a liturgy that she was studying at Episcopal school for ministry in the Roman Catholic church, the congregation roundly applauded. She was not posturing for an audience but ministering out of some mysterious depths.
She comes from an Irish Catholic family. Her parents separated when she was young. She had sixteen years of Catholic education. During the last six she was not a practicing Catholic. She left for Europe after graduation to “get it all together.” While she was in Germany she was sitting on the bank of a river and began to weep profusely. This was the religious experience that turned her life around. She became a Vista volunteer and gradually began to read and reflect on God and life issues. She enrolled in Drew University School of Theology and found herself to her surprise in a Methodist seminary. She transferred to the Berkeley Episcopal school where she receives a sizable scholarship. She feels called to the priesthood, finds the study of theology exciting, volunteers one day a week at the koinonia parish as the “on-call priest” for the day. She feels called to the priesthood but understands the reality of church polity.
Sister Mary Theresa Feltus, age 35, comes from a large, middle income family. She entered at age 18 and taught for twelve years. While engaged in formation work for her community she found she had ministerial skills as a spiritual director and the facility for giving group retreats. The community accepted her petition to go to a Catholic school for professional ministry. While at school she assisted a koinonia community and further developed a ministerial and priestly identity. After graduation she accepted a position as campus chaplain at a Catholic university. She takes her turn preaching, conducts penitential services, gives spiritual direction, and directs prayer retreats. As we spoke about priesthood her voice began to quiver. “I am hearing confessions now. I am offering forgiveness. People say, ‘I feel the Lord has forgiven me in your listening to me.’ I cannot sacramentalize or celebrate it.” She was close to tears. She sees herself as a priest in her heart, but she says she will not join the Episcopal church to externalize it.
Caroline Sullivan, age 45, is married and the mother of a family that is well on its way to adulthood. She has taught homiletics in a Catholic seminary, has done extraordinary creative liturgical work in a koinonia community. At last she has an opportunity to study theology as a full-time student at a Catholic school which is in driving distance from her home. Theology intrigues her in a way that does not capture the imagination of the average male seminarian. She is highly supportive of the system which makes intellectual demands on students for ordination.
She made it clear that she is not interested in ordination. I took it as the statement of a realist who does not want to get locked into using her energies in fighting a cause, when she could be giving her undivided time to ministry and her family. She strongly affirms the M.Div. for the student who is interested in ministry but not ordination. She is taking all the courses a priest candidate takes, including celebration of the sacraments. She feels that as a full-time minister she will be at times a leader of prayer and paraliturgical celebrations. She is open to employment as a parish associate.
Mary Louise Kirby, age 28, is a part-time M.Div. candidate in a diocesan seminary. She thought of being a sister while in high school. She was turned on in college by a joy-filled theology professor. She is presently a teacher in a Catholic high school. She has no intention of seeking ordination. “It frightens me to think that all our ordained men will go away. I have been drawn to ordination, but pastorally it still frightens me. I am afraid of what it will do the the church.”(6)
Susan White is from the South, a graduate of a Catholic college in 1975. She was unemployed and wanted to do something meaningful so she started teaching Sunday school. She became ever more enthused. She took a teaching position in a Catholic high school but now wants to be in pastoral ministry. I met her as an applicant for full-time M.Div. study at a Catholic theology school. She is applying for the financial support of her diocese which is supporting two other lay women who are pursuing ministry degrees. One of these is Susan Sendelback, 23, a student at the Catholic University’s theological school. “She was a student at the University of Georgia four years ago when—as a result of her ministerial work within her prayer group and in campus ministry—her friends began to urge her to realize her gifts for ministerial leadership.” (7) “I knew I needed my bishop’s support.” With his endorsement access to Catholic University became a reality. She says, “Women entering the ministerial role leads to a more compassionate, sensitive role—your mere presence softens the clerical approach.”
Ella Harris, fiftyish, is a successful black business woman who is tired of making money and wants to work full-time as a parish associate. She is a born Catholic, divorced, but not remarried. She is a leader of the charismatic prayer movement of her diocese, working closely with the priest diocesan director. She is presently taking a year of pastoral studies at a Catholic theology school and works part-time as an associate pastor for her field project. She is emphatic about not wanting to be a priest but identifies herself very clearly in clergy meetings as an associate pastor. “Priests are shocked when they hear me say it. I want to be an associate pastor to help develop the spiritual life of the parish. My biggest obstacle is not being black, but being a woman.”
From these interviews and others several impressions have been etched on my consciousness.
1. This movement among women toward ministry is Spirit born. In many cases the religious experience leading to the decision was described or alluded to. There are no cultural supports to enter this profession. Parents, schools, and church are not encouraging it. Society offers no rewards to such people.
2. This consciousness-raising in which religious experience took the shape of a ministerial vocation began to surface in the early seventies. Prior to this time dedicated women in the church either sought their identity as sisters or saw themselves as auxiliaries of the clerical priesthood. Today women in ministry have an autonomy that has its origins in the uniqueness of their own charisma, which they put at the service of the entire Christian community.
3. Ministry rather than ordination is the primary thrust and motivation. Ordination is an important symbol for women seeking ordination as well as those who are not. Until some women are ordained, all women will be in the category of second-class citizens and second-class ministers. Ordination, not degrees, is still the union card.
4. For some women ordination is a deeply felt need. It was mostly felt by campus ministers and hospital chaplains who are doing all the traditional priestly functions except leading the Eucharistic prayer and performing other sacramental rituals.
5. The women I interviewed seem to be more mature than their male counterparts in theology schools. Because they are breaking into a twentieth-century male preserve, they have developed strengths and insights that males have not been forced to wrestle with.
6. Below the surface there are deep layers of anger. This varies with the length of experience women have had in working under males. Sisters and older D.R.E.’s feel it more deeply than young lay women beginning in ministry. Hurts of past decades that were repressed are surfacing. This anger can be creative, as it is in any new movement that seeks to wipe out the injustices of the past and present. Men need to interpret the hurt and anger, not as personal attacks but the platform from which the cause for justice and renewal of ministry can be launched.
7. There is frustration among women because of the inability of the male clergy and bishops who have their hands on the levers of power to deal with women as equals both as humans and as copastors. They see clerical training and life style as inhibiting this development.
8. Women in ministry have a different mind set from priests. The priest has been trained in a sacramental theology and pastoral care that centers on the power of Jesus being exercised in ritual words and actions rather than in the totality of the human experience in which ritual words and deeds are only a part. The difference is pointed up in pastoral visitations and communion calls. The priest can make the call with his car running, while he enters the home, compared with the non-ordained minister who would allow a half hour for the call. Since a woman, as a broad generalization, is more apt to minister out of her feelings because she is more in touch with them, the style and content of the pastoral relationship can be significantly enriched.
9. Probably the deepest impression of my interviews is what women have to offer the faith community. The very hurts they experience and the pain of being frustrated are their tools of ministry. A woman ministry student said: “I don’t think of ministry as helping or caring. I think of it as living with people. Being present, being conscious means accepting another’s pain, sharing my pain, that my pain is not just okay but good, helping each of us to turn away from our own situation to others is to forget mine.” Pain as I hear it expressed, is not simply a passive endurance of fate but a strength and power to enable her to affirm herself and stay in there with the staying power of the women at the foot of the cross.
Two further points need to be made: one a clarification, the other a projection.
A clarification. In this paper the minister coming out of the koinonia community and preparing theologically through part-time study, which indeed may cover five or six years is contrasted with the three to four full year traditional M.Div. route. It need not be either/or, but rather both educational models and a variety of combinations. The local church model which stresses the ministering community as the seminary or seed bed for ministerial identity and development, if pushed to its ultimate, would give us a congregational model which can be tyrannical in its leadership and narrow in its total perspective. The Roman Catholic church has never fallen into this trap. It has always affirmed the ordained person as a person who may always be serving a local congregation but is ordained likewise for the entire church and indeed may be called to serve a church other than the one which has given her/him nuture in responding to God’s call.
The ordained person should possess the ability to move to another community and offer leadership to help a new church be formed or an old church renewed. The church is always in mission and every priest is potentially a missionary. The linking of the local church to the universal church, perjoratively called the “institutional church,” is particularly important to a generation which is still reacting to the heavy hand of authoritanism rather than responding to the creative power of the authority forms of the Roman Catholic church which makes local pastoral power possible and not simply dependent on the charismatic power of the local priest.
A Projection. What will be the future of these women who are presently studying in our schools? Will they be able to survive the long haul, the winters of not using their ministerial training in an ecclesial setting?
All professionals need a place to practice their art and a community of professionals with whom they can share their insights, encourage each other to learn from one another. If these are lacking, our M.Div. graduates will slip into caring positions which are not overtly ministerial in an ecclesial context. Their burgeoning ministerial identity will fade into one of the many secular helping professions, which is only tragic in view of what they might be to renewing the church of tomorrow.
When the first wave of M.Div. hit the beachheads and find that they are not wanted in Roman Catholic ministry structures, some may survive and become purified and strengthened through guerilla warfare, but it is not likely to encourage the second and third wave of women who experience a call in seminal form. It is urgent that these women form their own networks to survive as emigrants on an alien soil. Without this peer support, it is easy for people whose ideals and expectations are so high not only to give up ministry as a vocation and priesthood as a goal but to actually leave the Church. A large number of lay people who were deeply involved in the lay apostolate movements of the fifties have left the church in frustration and disillusionment or retain a marginal stance in bitterness. This can happen to our recent graduates and our present students.
It is crucial that other ordinaries like Archbishop Borders of Baltimore affirm women in ministry with positions at every level of church structure from the diocesan office to parish associate. Financial grants must be given to women who are enrolled in ministry courses. A placement service needs to be inaugurated or become a part of the present clergy personnel office. Since the ordination of women is not presently a top priority in the Church, women need more than a promise, a prayer, and a pat on the cheek. They need to be commissioned now as lay ministers in public services that tell the people in the pews that we are seriously working toward the ultimate commissioning in the church—ordination.
1. Address to the Religious Newswriters Association in Chicago, May 17, 1977.
2. The American Institute of Public Opinion in an August 7, 1977, release shows that the proportion who agree that it would be a good thing if women were allowed to be ordained as priests has grown from 29 percent in 1974 to 36 percent.
3. While I am in agreement with the Declaration that the ordination of women should be consistent with our tradition, the argumentation and conclusion of the Declaration need to be refined and corrected. The theological aspects of tradition have been handled in ch 6 of this volume by Gilbert Ostdiek.
4. Private correspondence.
5. Names and minor details have been changed to protect the identity of these women.
6. From another perspective I have heard highly educated sisters with a theological background talk about ordination for themselves. They seemed to be responding to an injustice rather than to a call to ministry from a local community. This would be supporting the present model for male seminaries who are presently being “called” by the seminary faulty or religious order rather than by the local community.
The politics of the ordination of women needs to be addressed. It seems to this writer that some of the enthusiasm for the ordination of women is a way of focusing the larger issue of women’s rights. Therefore, in particular cases, the woman asking for ordination may be asking for openness to ordination for all women rather than expressing her unique call to ministry flowing from both religious experience and affirmation in ministry. Likewise much of the opposition to the ordination of women stems from both men and women who are opposed to the general thrust to equality of sexes and therefore is emotional rather than theological.
7. The Catholic Connection, Vol 2, No 1, 1.
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