Letter to Pope John Paul II
Josefa Theresia Münch
Principal Head Teacher
Konrad Adenauer- Str. 21
The Head of the Catholic Church
Pope John Paul II
I- 00120 Città del Vaticano.
Laupheim, the 29th May 1994
Venerable Head of the Catholic Church,
I should like to express my admiration regarding your amazingly speedy recovery from your accident, including the operation and its consquences.
On the 13th April 1994, thus before your severe accident, you said during the general audience in the Basilica of St. Peter (no longer in the Aula: not covered by the Osservatore Romano of the 14th April 1994), that there must be no discrimination.
I listened with interest to your condemnation of discrimination in whatever form.
For discrimination on account of gender is the principal reason for the exclusion of women from priesthood.
(1) Statements such as the following:
- “ Woman is the devil’s gate” (Tertullian),
- “Woman is not created in the image of God” (Gratian),
- Woman is something defective and accidental, a “mas occasionatus”, simply a failed man (Thomas of Aquinas)
have, among others in theology and canon law, had serious and damaging effects on women.
Such instances of misjudgment and debasement at the same time constitute a grievous slander against women. Their effect has been all the more devastating, because they originated from the mouths or pens of famous, respected and highly influential clergymen, ( abuse of the ‘magisterium’ of the Church).
(2) Misogynists of a lesser mental stature have liked to refer to such detraction by famous Doctors of the Church, thus passing on and multiplying the calumnies aimed at women. What an unholy, misogynist kind of tradition!
(3) Such discrimination was usually aggravated by the lack, at that time, of knowledge about biological facts; in part they were even a result of that lack. Thus, for example, what I term the “soil theory” attributed the growth of a child only to the man’s sperm. It totally ignored the fact that half of the set of chromosomes is contributed by the female ovum - and treated as of almost no account the contribution of the woman to the development of human life: bearing a child in the womb for nine months, the painful delivery, nursing it, rearing it.
(4) It is true that INTER INSIGNIORES admits that in the writings of the Fathers of the Church the “undeniable influence of prejudice”(INT. INS.i,1) against women is to be discerned. INTER INSIGNIORES moreover concedes that “the scholastic theologians often put forward arguments concerning this point, “which modern thinking accepts with difficully or even rightly rejects” (INT. INS. i,2).
This means (although INTER INSIGNIORES apparently fails to recognize the full consequences of these faulty decisions). An important premise. i.e. the alleged inferioritv of the woman, which for centuries served as an excuse for excluding women from priesthood, is not valid.
(5) In MULIERIS DlGNITATEM misogynist exegeses are dismissed with amazing assurance (MD, footnote nr.49). Such exegeses had for centuries been used by Fathers of the Church, by scholastic theologians and their successors, among other things, as a pretext for excluding women from priesthood. What unholy transmission of misogyny and errors!
Whoever points to the long tradition of women’s exclusion from the priesthood, even in 1994, and uses it as a fundamental argument, e.g. against the ordination of Anglican women priests,
- has not taken into consideration (or possibly even hopes that the faithful masses will not notice), how firmly this tradition is linked with the misogynist ‘soil theory’ ( whose creation and continuation is only to be explained with a good deal of male hybris!),
- has still not understood that this tradition was more convincing when no one knew of the female ovum and its set of chromosomes;
- does not seem to realize to what extent this tradition was based on erroneous, misogynist exegesis;
- is not aware (or has repressed it from his/her consciousness?) how much this tradition has lived off the unholy, inveterate custom of misogyny ( the woman = “the devil’s gate", “ not in the image of God”, “mas occasionatus”).
(1) Since so many traditional objections against the ordination of women cannot be upheld or have been proved wrong, theologians are not arguing correctly, if, in spite of the faulty premise(s), they seek to perpetuate or, in fact, do perpetuate the faitful deduction: “ The priesthood of women is impossible and forbidden”!
(2) Whoever wishes to put forward new arguments, ought to make sure that they are not based on sophistry, for otherwise he/she will expose even the old, untenable deduction as being all the more implausible.
In a number of writings, I have dealt with further arguments brought to bear against the priesthood of women, refuting them:
- already in my petition to the Council of the 3rd/ 5th October 1962;
- also in my article “Catholic Women Priests?” ( published in Der christliche Sonntag, CS 41 / 1965, of the 10 /10/1965)
- further in my “Comment on the Second Draft of the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral on Women”, released April 3rd, 1990, of the 28/ 8 / 1990,
- moreover in my note of the 24 / 4 / 1994, in which I wished to inform you of what I had no opportunity to say to you at the general audience.
I have sent all these texts at least once to each of the Popes in office at the time. At least one copy of my article “Catholic Women Priests?” ought to have had the chance not to be thrown in the waste- paper basket before even reaching your anteroom, but to be read by you, Venerable Head of the Catholic Church; for at the general audience of Wednesday, the 8/3/1989, you had it collected from me by one of your staff.
In this letter I wish to reply again, and more at length, to only one of the objections put forward against the priestly ordination of women and to which I have already replied. What objection am I talking about? The authors of the new World Catechism of the Catholic Church do not from shrink from dishing it out to the faithful once again: “ Women cannot become priests because Jesus called only men to be his twelve Apostles”.
However, I want to point out the following:
- Jesus did not say a single word against women’s ordination.
- Those who assert that they cannot admit women to the Church’s priestly ministry because they wish to strictly follow Christ’s example, who called only men to be His twelve Apostles,
- must also follow strictly Christ’s example regarding the priestly and episcopal ordination of male persons.
- Jesus called only Jews into the fellowship of His Apostles, He did not choose a single Gentile to become an Apostle. He often travelled through pagan country. He also healed the foreigner of leprosy. Male Gentiles - just like women - were allowed to listen to his sermons. But none of them was called into the circle of His Apostles, not even the centurion of Capernaum.
- Those who want to strictly follow Christ’s example when women are to be discriminated against,
- must consequently not ordain male Gentiles as priests and bishops either.
- must also ask themselves whether Gentile priests’ and bishops’ ordinations are at all valid. And the majority of present-day priests and bishops - including the Pope - do not qualify for ordination because they are not Jewish.
- The fact that the Apostles were Jewish cannot be dismissed as an irrelevance to be accounted for by their time.
As a matter of fact, Peter did not even dare to enter the house of the Gentile Cornelius! It was only after three heavenly visions that Peter dared baptize or have baptized a Gentile and his family (cf. Acts, ch. 10 and 11)! That, however, did not prevent a fierce dispute arising at the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem about whether Gentiles should be allowed to be Christians at all (Acts, ch. 15).
How the Judaists would have railed against the calling of Gentiles to the Apostolic office, if indeed one could speak of the Apostolic office at that time!
Those who consider gender, for reasons of a defect in the “materia sacramenti”, as a reason for declaring woman to be incapable of receiving Holy Orders, must therefore, to be fair, also declare all Gentile males, including the Pope, to be incapable of taking Holy Orders.
As for the assertion that a woman cannot represent Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist, may I reply to it only this much again:
The priest is not meant to represent the masculinity of Christ at the Eucharistic Mass, but Christ’s loving devotion to His Heavenly Father, and he is to embody God’s love of humankind (God is a Spirit, not a man!). And a woman is at least as capable of doing so as a man. So this is no reason for the exclusion of women from the priesthood.
I am quite prepared to deal with the argument “personam Christi gerere” in more detail than I have done in item G above,) and reply to further objections, such as: “ We feel committed not only to the example of Christ, but also to the attitude of the Apostles in this matter” or “uninterrupted tradition that in the Catholic Church women have never been ordained”, and so on, if you, most Venerable Head of the Catholic Church, are prepared to consider my expositions seriously.
Even as a young teacher I felt deeply touched by the complaint of the Church about the shortage of priests. A number of other women and girls felt similarly. In accordance with the Church’s appeal, I prayed fervently for good priests and vocations to the priesthood. But one day the question struck me: “Should I not follow his call myself?” (Today I know my patron saint, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also felt a vocation to the priesthood -see enclosed leaflet.)
In Brasil and elsewhere, many lay women and nuns have (re-)established, on the instruction of their bishops, complete parishes and have run them.There they carry out all the pastoral work which otherwise a priest would do, with the exception of administering the sacrament of penance and leading the celebration of the Eucharist. These restrictions have to be borne by those poor communities - not because those women lacked the human or spiritual qualificalions, but because the Church (still) denies those pastors their ordination.
And although they have to contend with “great poverty, with the lack of respect for women in society, and numerous adversities, these women carry out their work to the complete satisfaction of their bishops, loyal to them and to the Church. The Latin-American bishops and the Vatican have definitely no more problems regarding the loyalty of These women than they ever had with the loyalty of male clergymen. (The heretics in the history of the Church were of the male gender!) .
In my opinion the beneficent service of these pastoral workers under such unfavourable conditions is only possible because these women are called by God. However, if they are called by God, then the Church should not deny them ordination. After all, St Peter did not take it upon himself either to deny those Gentile men and women baptismal water, who had been filled with the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 10,44-48: 11,17; 15,8 and 9a).
Venerable Head of the Catholic Church,
Let me take you at your word that there must be no discrimination. Please make sure that double standards are not prevalent in the Church - not even where women are involved, not even where the ordination of women is at issue.
Veni Sancte Spiritus!
Come, Divine RUACH !
With this prayer for all of us I greet you
Josefa Theresia Münch
Please find enclosed a tract concerning the priestly vocation of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
I am planning to send (translated) copies of this letter also to Cardinals, Bishops, possibly to some media agencies, organisations and episcopal conferences.
- Go to My Letters to the Pope”, The Catholic Citizen, Journal of St. Joan’s International Alliance, vol 72 (1991) no 1, pp. 18-29.
- Go to Should Women be Silent in the Church?, in the German Catholic weekly Der christliche Sonntag, 15th. Aug. 1965.
- Go to “Catholic Women Priests?”, Der christliche Sonntag, 10th Oct. 1965.
Return to the duty of speaking out?
Please, credit this document
as published by www.womenpriests.org!
This 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.
You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.
Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.
The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.