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What is it all about?

What is it all about -
in a nutshell?

    Further Reading
Too sacred for women  .  .  .  ?The Church - and I’m here talking especially about the Catholic Church - always needs to adapt itself to changing circumstances.
A hundred years ago, women had little standing in the Church, like in society in general. Women were not allowed to receive communion during their monthly periods; and after giving birth to a child they needed to be ‘purified’ (=churched) before re-entering a church building (*). Women were strictly forbidden to touch ‘sacred objects’, such as the chalice, the paten or altar linen (*). They certainly could not distribute holy communion (*). In church, women needed to have their heads veiled at all times (*). Women were also barred from:
--- entering the sanctuary except for cleaning purposes (*);
--- reading Sacred Scripture from the pulpit (*);
--- preaching (*);
--- singing in a church choir;
--- being Mass servers (*);
--- becoming full members of confraternities and organizations of the laity (*).
More important than all this: women were barred from receiving Holy Orders (*).
 

Background music?

The prohibitions marked with an asterisk were still contained in the Code of Church Law that was promulgated in 1917, and that remained in force until 1983!
     
In our time a new awareness has arisen of human rights: of the basic equality of men and women, and of the need to secure equal opportunities to all. On account of this the attitude to women has also begun to change in the Church. Women may now be ‘temporarily deputed’ to be readers, Mass servers, cantors, preachers, leaders of prayer services, ministers of baptism and of holy communion.
But the ban on ordination remains in place.
  Some concessions have been made in the new Code of Church Law (1983).
     
Why is this so?    
     
Conservative theologians, led by the Congregation for Doctrine in Rome, maintain that, while the other restrictions placed on women in the past were due to social prejudice, the ban on ordaining women as priests belongs to unchangeable Catholic doctrine. “Jesus Christ himself excluded women from the priesthood and the Church has always followed his example by never ordaining women”, they say.   Read Rome’s arguments in summary form.
     
This is obviously a very serious question. If the authorities in Rome are wrong -- and with most Catholic theologians I believe they are! -- , great damage is done to the Church by holding back on an essential pastoral development for our time.   It is the duty of theologians to speak out.
     
To many people this may look like an ‘equality’ issue, a ‘feminist’ issue, but it is not. At least not in the first place. For us Catholics it has always been crucial to determine the true mind of Christ and the genuine meaning of Tradition. The answer to whether women should be ordained or not cannot be decided by social pressure. It must be decided by a careful interpretation of the sources. Did Jesus himself really exclude women? Why were women not ordained in the past? Are there valid theological grounds to bar women from ordination? These are the reasons that should determine the outcome of the debate.   Barring women from ordination does, of course, amount to discrimination if it arises not from Christ’s will, but from the Church’s own prejudice . . . !
     
Although I highly respect my feminist colleagues, I myself am not a feminist theologian.   Find out about the origin of my research.
     
So what about Jesus Christ?    
     
May we blame Jesus  .  .   .  ?It is clear from the Gospels that, for Jesus, women and men were equal. Both ‘enter God’s Kingdom’ through baptism, whereas in the Old Testament only men were circumcised. Why then did Jesus only select men among his twelve apostles? Probably for practical reasons -- just as he only selected Jews. It would be entirely wrong to infer that Jesus thereby fixed a norm for all time to come. Like in so many other respects, Jesus left the working out of the sacraments to the later Church.   Sacred Scripture leaves the question of women’s ordination open.
     
Some expressions in the Pauline letters, such as that women should wear veils, be subject to their husbands and should not speak in church, may not be interpreted as implying a ban on their ordination.   We may not read more into Scripture than the inspired author intended.
     
In the first centuries after Christ, women held responsible ministries in the Church, including that of the diaconate. Historical evidence shows that in the eastern part of the Catholic Church women served as ‘deacons’ until the ninth century! Since they became deacons through a full sacramental ordination, identical to that of male deacons, women did, in fact, receive Holy Orders which implies they can also receive the priesthood.   The forgotten story of the ‘women deacons’ suffices in itself to clinch the issue.
     
Then why did the Church not ordain women as priests?    
     
During most of the Church's history, a threefold prejudice has blocked the acceptance of women as priests:    
Did the Fathers know everything  .  .  .  ?1. Women were considered inferior beings. Greek philosophy considered each woman an ‘incomplete human being’. By Roman law, which was adopted in the Church, women could not hold public responsibilities. So how could women be given the leadership role implied in the priesthood?   Women were considered inferior to men.
2. Women were considered to be in a state of punishment for sin. Women were held responsible for bringing original sin into the world, and for being a continuing source of seduction. How could such sinful creatures be channels of God’s grace?   God was thought to have subjected women to men because of their sin.
3. Women were considered ritually unclean because of their monthly periods. How could women be allowed to defile the holiness of the church building, the sanctuary and especially the altar?   Menstruation was held to cause defilement.
     
It should be noted that these prejudices, though cultural in origin, became theological prejudices. They were the real reasons for excluding women from the priesthood, as is clear from the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the canons of local synods, church law and medieval theology.   The sources can be studied in detail!
     
The socalled ‘tradition’ of not ordaining women is thereby proved to have been a spurious tradition. Genuine and valid Church Tradition needs to be based on valid reasons. As St. Cyprian so rightly stated: “A custom without truth is nothing else but an ancient error!” (Letter 74,9).   ‘TRADITION’ needs to be distinguished from ‘human traditions’.
     
If we study the history of the Church carefully, we discover a ‘latent’ and ‘dynamic’ Tradition that implied the possibility of women's ordination. It means that true Catholics have always known, in their heart of hearts, that ordaining women is not against the mind of Christ. Just as true Catholics have always known that slavery is against the mind of Christ, in spite of what the official Church - Popes, theologians and church law - taught to be Catholic doctrine.   True Tradition has often been ‘latent’, that is: carried implicitly and subconsciously.
This latent Tradition showed itself in the practice of ordaining some women as priests; in Mary's perceived ‘priestly’ functions; in women’s administering baptism and matrimony; in the unbroken awareness of the equality of men and women ‘in Christ’, in spite of official practice and doctrine.   We are only slowly discovering the full extent of this Christian awareness.
     
Theological Reasons?    
     
Only men  .  .  .  ?!The Roman theologians argue that, since Christ was male, he can only be represented at the eucharist by a male priest. The argument derives from medieval theologians, who, as we have seen, considered every woman ‘a defective man’. Small wonder that they thought only a perfect man - a male priest - can represent Christ. The modern version of the argument is equally flawed. It contradicts Catholic teaching. Women too bear Christ’s image as adopted children of God. In baptism and marriage women fully represent Christ. What is represented by the priest at the eucharist is not Christ’s male or female gender, but his sacrificial love.   There are no valid reasons to claim that a woman cannot preside as ‘another Christ’ at the eucharist.
     
Infallible Doctrine?    
     
Is this the end of all discussion  .  .  .  ? Rome has added to the existing confusion by claiming that the matter has already been decided ‘infallibly’ -- not by the Pope, but by the socalled ‘ordinary universal magisterium’. This refers to the collective teaching authority of all the bishops in the world. They seem to think that, since bishops generally do not ordain women as priests - there have been exceptions! - and since they generally have kept silent on the issue, they have thereby expressed unanimous consent.   The whole episcopate sometimes exercises the infallible teaching authority.
     
It is clear, however, that the conditions for such an infallible exercise of authority have not been fulfilled. The bishops must listen to the Word of God and the ‘sensus fidelium’ (what committed Catholics know ‘in their heart’ to be right). The bishops must exercise their authority as one body. The bishops must be free to express their own considered opinions. The bishops must want to impose the doctrine as definitely to be held. None of these conditions have been fulfilled.   The Councils have defined the strict limits of infallibility.
     
Where does this leave us?    
     
The present tension in the Church regarding the ordination of women should not worry us excessively. Conflicts and crises preceed growth. The official Church will come to its senses, as it has done on so many other issues. But, until the matter is resolved, we may not shirk our duty as responsible Catholics. We will have to speak out -- till Christ’s full intention is realised in the ordination of women in the Catholic Church!    
     
Start the Argument here!    

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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.

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