Women Priests in the Catholic Church?
van der Meer, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pp.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions
The ordination of women is a lively issue within many churches and a potentially explosive one in ecumenical circles. Most major Protestant churches have accepted the ordination of women or have the subject under serious consideration. These same churches are in ecumenical relationship with churches of the more Catholic tradition who do not as yet ordain women.
No church has taken this break with ancient tradition lightly. It has been arrived at through serious biblical and theological study and represents the conviction that it is the will of God for our time. A decision so made cannot easily be put aside, even for urgent ecumenical reasons. A way must be found to open discussion between the Protestant and Catholic traditions in which each will be willing to take the other's position seriously and to open its own to honest and searching study.
Anglican churches are in an especially difficult situation. The traditional ministry of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon has been an essential tenet of Anglican theology from the beginning, held firmly in spite of refusal by the Roman Catholic Church to acknowledge the validity of Anglican orders. Since Vatican II there seems real hope at last of mutual recognition of orders. But pressure for the ordination of women is building up within many branches of the Anglican Communion. While Anglican studies have stated that there are no biblical or theological reasons for denying ordination to women, most have counselled caution lest it hurt relationships with Roman Catholics.
There are groups within the Roman Catholic Church interested in the question, but there is little indication that it is being considered officially. The impression of most people outside the Roman Church is that any move toward ordaining womenor even really thinking about itis a very long way off.
This situation makes Father van der Meer's book extremely important, not only to Roman Catholics, but to everyone in the Ecumenical Movement. The basic thrust of the book is simple. He admits that the practice and teaching of the Church from the beginning have been clearly opposed to the ordination of women. However, he points outwith incredibly detailed documentation that most of the opposition has been based on Jewish rabbinical tradition, misreading of St. Paul, totally discredited biological and psychological concepts, and simple ignoring of many contrary opinions by Popes and other Church leaders. Even in early times and among the Church Fathers, there was far less unanimity than is assumed. Many of the most quoted statements against women were made in debates attacking heretical groups and not at all in the context of discussions on the place of women.
Father van der Meer also discusses the arguments of certain theologians on the concept of the Church as the "Bride of Christ": arguments which could be used to prove that women are better qualified than men to be priests in the Church. Above all, he makes it clear that God created whole persons. Men and women are more than simply biological entities they comprise body, mind, and spirit. As van der Meer says, "The inequality of the sexes manifests itself where persons do not yet deal with one another completely as persons."
The force of the book is to help any serious student, Catholic or Protestant, to realize that a totally closed or inflexible position cannot be justified and that there is ground for an open reexamination of this two-thousand-year-old tradition.
Cynthia C. Wedel
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