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The Male-only Priesthood Is Not Revealed Truth

The Male-only Priesthood Is Not Revealed Truth

by Luis Gutierrez

An Open Letter to His Holiness Pope John Paul II

Mailed November 28, 1995

H.H. Pope John Paul II,
H.E. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
brothers and sisters in Christ:

“I came that you might have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).

It is not theology but the plain evidence from the holy scriptures that disqualifies the male-only priesthood as revealed truth. It has been adduced that Jesus challenged many customs of his time yet he did not challenge the male-only priesthood, and therefore it is his will that women be excluded from priestly ministry. But many counter-examples can be cited which show the absurdity of such rationalization of the male-only priesthood. For example, we know that our Lord never challenged circumcision, yet we also know circumcision is no longer required for baptism. His most sovereign decision was to redeem us as the suffering servant, not as the conquering messiah. It is clear that choosing women apostles would have been a sensationalist act, an obstacle (John 4:27) to his mission to seek the lost sheep of the people of Israel. We know that the names “Jesus” and “Peter” do not have an intrinsically masculine meaning. Nowhere is it stated that our Lord wanted his church to have seven sacraments for men and six for women. In the book of the spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius treats each passage of the life of the gospels as “mysteries of the life of Christ”. The election of the twelve apostles is one of those mysteries, a mystery which has everything to do with the hierarchical constitution of the church but nothing to do with the persons to be called to holy orders in order to serve each generation of Christians down the centuries. Also consider the following:

1. Mary is most intimately joined to her divine Son and always shares his lot, including a unique sharing in the paschal mystery, both in suffering and in glory (“Munificentissimus Deus” 38, 39). It follows that she shares the one and only priesthood of her Son in a degree which radically transcends that of ordained priests (Vatican lI, Church, 59, 63). But, from Mary's unique vocation, which transcends all the sacraments, it does not follow that women are excluded from holy orders.

2. The male-only priesthood has now become a counter-witness to the mysteries of the incarnation and the redemption. Two thousand years doing something does not necessarily mean it is God's will that we keep doing it. The signs of the times clearly call for the priestly ordination of women; not for the sake of feminism, but for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, Acts 1-2).

3. The eucharist is “heaven on earth”. The eucharistic species of of bread and wine are gender neutral. If bread and wine can be transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ, it follows that any baptized and ordained human person can confect the eucharist. It is the human body (i.e., the baptized body-person) that is the proper species for the sacrament of holy orders, regardless of gender. The priestly ordination of women is thus nothing really new; rather, it is a matter of purifying and enriching our practice of the old tradition coming to us from the apostles. The required eucharistic ecclesiology is already available in John 6 and 17.

4. The church's mission is to make Jesus present on earth until he comes again. This the church must do under the guidance of the Spirit, faithful to the deposit of faith but always purifying sacred tradition along the way; for tradition is a living process, not the mere repetition of the past (Acts 15).

5. Regarding ecumenism, are we going to demand that the priestly vocations of women ordained in the anglican communion be aborted? Would such abortion be for the glory of God and the good of souls? Else, are we excluding the anglicans from unity with Rome? What about the women ordained for ministry in other Christian churches? It has been said that the ordination of women is an obstacle to ecumenism, but precisely the opposite is the case. Such reformation is not an obstacle to ecumenism; it is, in fact, a prerequisite for Christian unity (Vatican II, Ecumenism, 2).

Given the witness of women already called to the priesthood in the Anglican communion, and given the increasing number of Catholic women requesting that their priestly vocations be mediated by the church, it is reasonable to think that our Lord is calling women to priestly ministry in today's world. That this is a legitimate possibility follows from the fact that the male-only priesthood is not revealed truth but simply a custom, as the scriptures attest (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). Are we going to wait for the year 3000 to face this issue? As long as the church herself continues to abort female priestly vocations, how can she preach sexual morality to the world? Isn't this a case of seeing the speck in the world's eye, and not seeing the log in our own?

Jesus said, “I am the truth”. Jesus never said, “I am the custom”. It is the truth that makes us free. It is the truth that made the church free to opt for priestly celibacy 1000 years ago, even though a married clergy had been the custom for 1000 years. We must be faithful to the deposit of faith, but we cannot be slaves to customs. It is irrational to say that the church is not authorized to open the sacrament of holy orders to women, because the keys of the kingdom were given to Peter in order to open doors to the kingdom, not to close them. Priestly celibacy opens new doors to the kingdom in that it makes the priest a better icon of Christ. The ordination of women, and specially the ordination of celibate women to the priesthood, will open new doors to the kingdom, because it makes the hierarchy of the church a better icon of Christ, Love incarnate, Love made flesh; male flesh indeed, but Mary's flesh, human flesh, human nature fully assumed. The church, like any family, is incomplete without both fathers and mothers in the hierarchy entrusted with the care of God's children; and, with all due respect for the married priesthood in the early church, a celibate woman is a better icon of Christ than a married man.

Are you now saying that the male-only priesthood has been defined “ex-cathedra”? Are you saying that the male-only priesthood, which cannot be rationally explained as revealed truth, can be infallibly dictated as a dogma of the Catholic faith? The voice of the Spirit resounds in the events of history, the signs of the times are clear. . It is time to start the process pursuant to the ordination of women to the diaconate and the ordination of celibate women to the priesthood and the episcopate. Not for the sake of feminism, but for the sake of building the body of Christ. Come Holy Spirit!

The peace of Christ be with you,

Luis T. Gutierrez

Reprinted with permission 10 Dec.1995.

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