Women and Orders
edited by Robert J. Heyer, Paulist Press 1974
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions.
|Male Clericalism and the Dread of Women||Rosemary Radford Ruether||p. 1|
|An Examination of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in Terms of the Symbolism of the Eucharist||Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse||p. 15|
|Anatomy and Ministry: Shall Women Be Priests?||Emily C. Hewitt||p. 39|
|Ministry in the Church||Gregory Baum||p. 57|
|Ordination: A Questionable Goal for Women||Ann Kelley and Anne Walsh||p. 67|
|A New Look at Orders: Ministry for the Many||Thomas F. O'Meara||p. 75|
|Celibacy as a Feminist Issue||Clara Maria Henning||p. 87|
The question of the ordination of women to the priesthood has moved to the forefront of theological controversy in recent years, prompting a rash of books and magazine essays. The issue stems not only from the renewed interest of the Catholic Church in the nature of its priesthood, but also, and perhaps primarily, from the efforts of women to achieve and a new and deeper understanding of their nature and its potential and of the various myths that have relegated them to a subsidiary position in the human race.
One of the most critical theaters for this development of feminine consciousness lies within the realm of religion. Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique sparked the women's liberation movement, recently explained that this struggle necessitates a confrontation with the organized churches because these are so largely responsible for the poor self-image of their female members. Women are burdened not only by overt discrimination by men but also by a profound attitudinal discrimination in themselves. And the denial of the priesthood to women exemplifies the whole gamut of theological and cultural myths taught to women by their pastors to justify a second-class, auxiliary status in the Church.
What are the theological and sociological consequences of the dictum of the Catholic Church which limits the ordained priesthood to males, and celibate males at that? Seven authors confront the most vital component of the question in these pages.
Rosemary Radford Ruether leads off by stating flatly that the notion that only a male can represent Christ is theologically suspect. It was Jesus' human nature, not his male sexuality that the early Fathers were at pains to defend. To make maleness essential to the incarnation would in traditional orthodoxy have excluded women not only from ordination but also from salvation- As the theologians maintained "that which is not assumed (by the human nature of Christ) is not saved." Mrs. Ruether
argues that the psychological root of the cleric's antipathy to women in the ministry stems from the dualism which places male/spirit/transcendence over against female body/creature. What is good is male; what is evil is female!
Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, a psychiatrist and an Episcopalian, looks at the ordination of women in terms òf the symbolism of the Eucharist. The greatest opposition to women priests, she notes, exists in those churches which place the greatest stress on the ritual mystery of the Eucharist. Yet the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice represent humanity which includes both men and women. Every man and woman has some of the traits considered characteristic of the other sex, Dr. Barnhouse observes. Admitting women to full partnership in the priesthood would permit a union of the masculine and feminine principles.
Emily C. Hewitt, an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, believes the all-male priesthood is undergirded by the notion that equates maleness with creativity, with the priest offering the Mass exercising creative powers similar to those of God. She points out that Israel repudiated the idea of sexuality in God: Yahweh is neither he nor she; as creator and Lord, he embraces and transcends both sexes. She also argues that the sex, race and ancestry of Jesus and his twelve apostles were intended to fulfill the messianic prophecy under the old covenant, not to determine the nature of ministry in the Church of the new covenant.
Gregory Baum points out that our present hierarchical priesthood was not original. Theologians now believe that the gradual historical development that led to the monarchial episcopate was tested by the evangelical norms of Christian leadership and accepted by the Christian community as due to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But, the Canadian theologian says, the theologians are bound to hold, on the selfsame principle, that this development could continue. There is need to test whether the present hierarchical ministry is too closely with an oppressive and worldly structure of authority and whether the priesthood has, in fact, become a caste. Since people are becoming aware of the extent of the oppression of women down through the ages, Father Baum suggests that the Church ought to reveal through its ordained leadership that men and women are destined to be equal.
Ann Kelley and Anne Walsh, Catholic university chaplains, oppose the ordination of women precisely because the priesthood is a power caste and an entry into a power structure that opens the way to privilege. They say that ordination is a questionable goal for women because it will interfere with their traditional ministry of service and also that this office is not necessary for ministry.
Thomas F. O'Meara, O.P., takes the opposite route by suggesting that the Church should diversify its criteria for ordination and should ordain members of the Christian community for many forms of service, including those which women have been performing for centuries but without any public commissioning or status. Ministry, the Dominican theologian observes, is not identical with lifestyle, and ordination should not be limited to celibate males.
Clara Marie Henning, a canonist, argues for both a married priesthood and women priests because, she explains, the sections of canon law which wall off priests from almost all contacts with women in the effort to preserve mandatory celibacy create a mentality which makes it impossible for clerics to see any positive value in such ordination.
The question is: Should women be ordained as ministers in the Church? This immediately implies many questions. What have been the results of many centuries of male priesthood? What is authentic ministry in the Church? What is the Spirit revealing in our day for the needs of the Church? Reflective reading of these pages will certainly stimulate your thinking and praying concerning women's ordination.
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