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is this the right path for women's ordination in the Catholic Church?

Is this the right path?

by John Wijngaards

The "Mary Magdalene the Apostle Catholic Website" (whose URL seems to have changed we don't know to what) is actively recruiting Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood. They offer places in a variety of Churches, mainly splinter Churches, such as "Independent Catholic Churches" and "Old Catholic Churches".

This document contains excerpts of my letter to the Secretary of the website, whom I happen to know. He is a Roman Catholic who agreed to assist the website out of sheer frustration with Rome’s adamant stand against women priests.

Dear [Jo], you ask me for comments and suggestions. I have given the matter thought, and have decided to be open and frank with you. I know, and you know, that we are both united in supporting women's ordination wholeheartedly -- and among friends diplomacy is often a disservice.

1. Is it not our aim to ensure that the RC Church be reformed and will admit women, as much as men, to the ordained ministries?

What you should ask yourself is: does the strategy of siphoning off women to other churches, in fact any other church, help this process? I am supportive of women who join other Churches for their own personal reasons (more about that in a minute), but could your strategy of actively recruiting women away from the Church not backfire against church reform?

I know that Rome is intransigent. The situation may LOOK bad and irredeemable, but is it really? From all the signs I am convinced that the tension about so many things is so unbearable now that matters will change soon. In other words: the opposition we now experience from Rome, should not make us lose our heads!

Secondly, women’s ordination is important, but so is Church unity. I have many friends in other Churches and denominations, and I am not questioning their goodwill and honest intentions. But the proliferation of splinter Churches (whether they call themselves Catholic or not) is very detrimental to the overall Roman Catholic community and ultimately also to the members of those splinter Churches. Your new website may contribute to the breaking up of our Church communion by encouraging the parallel structures of other Churches (which, as experience shows, often become as dictatorial as Rome is at present).

I will tell you a parable. Imagine that a nation’s Air Force does not allow women to become pilots. Suppose that many women campaign for a change in this matter. But someone else has another scheme. He offers women who want to become pilots a place in other nations: Zambia, North Vietnam, Cuba, Malaysia etc. etc. Of course, the women will need to change nationality and live in those countries from now on . . .
- Does this further the cause of women pilots in the Air Force of your own country? Not in the least. The Air Force will be happy to get rid of women they consider are "troublemakers".
- Does it really help the individual women? Perhaps, one or two. If they join a large, respectable country with legal protection, e.g. Canada. But North Vietnam?!
This brings me to my second point.

2. Are you really helping Catholic women who feel called to the ministry by advertising just any other Church?

I know that a great injustice is done to them and to the body of the faithful by Rome's intransigence. So I can understand some of them judging that in their own case they should follow their vocation in another Church rather than dedicate their life to RC Church renewal.

I respect such a decision.

But then, I would advise them to go to one of the mainstream, well established Churches (e.g. Anglican/Episcopalian), not to a splinter Church.

On your website you list a lot of bigger and smaller Churches. What do you know about them? Can you guarantee that they really preserve the ancient Catholic/Christian tradition? In my judgement (and I have contact with some of them), many are a mixture of Catholic tradition and elements of New Age religion. OK. They may be doing what they feel is right. But can you safely recommend them to Catholic women with a vocation? I believe you cannot.

History teaches us that usually the original core that forms a new splinter Church is happy under a first charismatic and gifted leader - then institutionalisation kicks in, and anything is possible. Don't forget: a splinter church does not have the protection afforded by the larger Churches (in spite of their own slow pace of reform at times!).

As ever your friend . . .

John Wijngaards - November 2003


Overview Signs of a Vocation A woman's journey Steps to take Answering critics Writing your story
Six options for Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood?

Please, credit this document
as published by www.womenpriests.org!


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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