Reasons that made me resign
From a confidential document I wrote for family and friends, September 1998
- The question of women’s ordination matters to me.
- In the matter of obligatory celibacy for priests, I find Rome’s harshness distinctly un-Christian
- The official Church does not seem to discern the signs of the times
Rome’s utter rejection of women’s ordination shocks me.
Though no one has a strict right to ordination, since it is a call and gift from God, excluding a whole class of human beings from ordination is a clear form of discrimination. The Church could not accept, for instance, the exclusion of all Africans or bushmen from the priesthood. The exclusion of women, which has no valid basis in either Scripture or Tradition, amounts to an intolerable act of discrimination.
My mother never had the opportunity to study theology, something she would have loved to do. But from her young years she felt in her a profound dissatisfaction with the way women were treated in the Church. She refused to be “churched” (a revolt unheard of in those days). She would protest at all statements from the pulpit that seemed to put women down, insisting on the priest to come to our home for further discussion. On one occasion she argued strongly with Professor Lucas Brinkhof OFM, who was a member of the International Liturgical Commission after Vatican II, telling him that the new vernacular translation “pray brethren” (Bidt Broeders in Dutch), excluded all women in the congregation. Brinkhoff disagreed, but when my mother went to Mass next morning (at which Brinkhoff happened to be the celebrant), his face turned red when he saw my mother sitting in the first pew. He could not bring himself to say: “Pray Brethren”.
Interestingly enough, a directive from Rome followed after a few months urging pastors to use inclusive expressions, such as “brothers and sisters”. I have always seen in my mother the perfect example of the SENSUS FIDELIUM, the spontaneous knowledge of what is right or wrong in the consciousness of the faithful.
Although I came to my conclusions about the ordination of women independently from what my mother thought, I carry in me traces of her deep exasperation! It also gives me hope. The Holy Spirit will prevail.
You may want to read these articles I wrote:
- ‘My Stand for Women Priests’, in NewWomen NewChurch 23 (2000) no 1, p. 3.
The core of our Christian belief is that God is love. It is through love that we experience God (1 John 4,7-8). Tenderness, mercy and love – the way Jesus himself loved – is our greatest commandment and should be the distinguishing feature of the Christian community (John 14,11-16; 13,34-35). The authorities in Rome have created a climate of legal discipline and fear in the Church.
For that reason I cannot agree with the way Rome treats married couples by imposing obligations which few can observe without carrying an intolerable burden. Homosexuals, who are, after all, born that way, are not allowed to be true to the way they were created by God to use theological parlance. People are made to feel guilty, confused about themselves, lacking in self respect and in the joy of inner Christian freedom.
The area in which I feel this most is with regard to Rome’s treatment of priests. A great part of my ministry has been devoted to teaching and forming seminarians. Throughout my 39 years of service I have observed how the insistence on mandatory celibacy ravages the Church’s priesthood. Rome simply does not want to understand that a better appreciation of married love has undermined the motivation for many priests regarding celibacy. Many committed priests I have known, left to marry and are lost to the ministry.
Rome is also totally insensitive to the inner agony of so many good priests and the women with whom they fall in love. I have witnessed this in many cases from close by. I was greatly disturbed by reading the background story of one desperate priest, Father Sean Seddon who committed suicide in November 1993 and the witness of Jan Currie, the woman he loved. Christian understanding on the part of the Church could have saved his life and their togetherness in love.
Read also Bishop Stecher’s indictment of how Rome treats priests who apply for a release of celibacy.
We live in a new world in which we have become much more sensitive to important human and social values, such as democratic rights, personal freedom and autonomy, individual responsibility in matters of sex and relationships. The Church in Rome seems to have lost contact with how ordinary people think and live, especially in Europe. This is one of the root causes, I feel, of the clash between the Vatican’s rigid traditionalism and the spiritual search of the majority of people in the West.
In March this year I was delegated to represent England at the European Bishops’ Conference Commission meeting on Sects and Fringe Religious Movements at Vienna (5-8 March 1998). I was asked to present a general position paper, sketching the general situation of the Church in Europe. You will find this document relevant in the sense that I outlined the changes that have taken place in people, the temptation for the Church to fall back on a fundamentalist/traditionalist position and the option of real change. Read “God and our New Selves”.
I myself and my Housetop team will continue our work of co-producing and distributing faith formation courses world wide, as long as age and other circumstances permit. I trust that I will be able to further develop my ministry of theological teaching and spiritual writing.
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