Friday, May 30, 2008

Ordain a Woman, Go Straight to Hell

According to the AP, the Catholic hierarchy is cracking down hard on the groundswell within Catholicism that favors ordaining female priests:
The Vatican is slamming the door on attempts by women to become priests in the Roman Catholic Church. It has strongly reiterated in a decree that anyone involved in ordination ceremonies is automatically excommunicated.

A top Vatican official said in a statement Friday that the church acted following what it called "so-called ordinations" in various parts of the world. ...

The church has always banned the ordination of women, stating that the priesthood is reserved for males. The new decree is explicit in its reference to women.
Not that I thought Pope Ratzinger was going to deliver any surprises in this area - I remember hims well from his hard-line days as a Cardinal - but I didn't expect this re-entrenchment, either.

I'm not a Catholic and never have been, so I don't have a personal stake in this. But it's a matter of justice for Catholic women who don't want to give up their faith, yet also don't want to accept permanent second-class status. Most other Christian churches are much further along in reforming their clergy to include women.

Since the AP report didn't delve into the background, I did a little research to determine what that rather snide reference to "so-called ordinations" might mean. There's an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests that's been busy ordaining women as priests, and they're mad as - well, mad as heck - at this latest threat from the Vatican.
We hold up heroic women in the church’s tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death.

In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law. The Catholic Church teaches that a teaching or law of the church is authoritative only if it is “received” by the sensus fidelium, the community of faith. If the community of faith does not accept the law, it has no effect on us. All people have a moral obligation to disobey an unjust law. St. Augustine taught that an unjust law is no law at all. Since 70% of U.S. Catholics favor women’s ordination and a growing majority of Catholics worldwide also favors women’s ordination, we do not "receive" or accept the Church's prohibition against the ordination of women and the church’s continued reliance on sexist metaphors, beliefs and assumptions for denying ordination to women.

Pope Benedict XVI, written when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in the commentary section of the Doctrine of Vatican II, volume V, page 134, stated: "Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority."
(Source: Womenpriests press release)
So! The Pope would be hoist on his own petard, if he cared about such things. But I'll bet he wasn't thinking about women when he wrote those highfalutin words about the primacy of conscience. Maybe women's consciences aren't quite as pure or reliable as men's?

Other internal critics within the Catholic Church eschew the Womenpriests' civil disobedience tactics but note that eight out of ten Catholic scholars worldwide support the legal ordination of women.

The preponderance of evidence does support the idea that women enjoyed roles as teachers in the early church, particularly if you consider the apocryphal texts. (No, I'm still not a theologian or historian of religion, but I'll fake it for a moment because this material was part of the class on gender, sexuality, and religion than I'm still helping teach for the next week.) The lineage of women leaders is much longer than Joan of Arc; it goes all the way back to the birth of Christianity.

For example, the Acts of Paul and Thecla tells the fantastical story of the virgin Thecla becoming a follower of St. Paul and a teacher in her own right. In the process, she had to survive burning at the stake, an attempted sexual assault, and being bound to a lioness. After the miracles that delivered her from these perils, she lived to age 90.

More significantly, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip both portray Mary Magdalene as first among the disciples. If she, too, was an early teacher of the gospel, then she was one anointed by Jesus himself.
Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman.
Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them.
Mary answered and said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.
(Gospel of Mary 5:5-7)
Of course, many orthodox Catholics will object that these are gnostic texts and thus heretical. This only begs the question of why they were deemed heretical in the first place. Might it be because the Church Fathers wanted to eliminate all evidence of the power that the Church Mothers had yielded? (If you're interested in smart, nuanced scholarship that illuminates this history, check out Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels.)

Definitely heretical: the cult of the Ceiling Cat.

Evangelicat from I Can Has Cheezburger?


ThePoliticalCat said...


The church has long been conflicted over the role of women in the early years, making Mary the Magdalene, for example, out to be a prostitute simply because she was an unmarried female student of the Christ.

Sungold said...

Thanks! I'm a little amused that the church has now had to back down on the idea of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. If there's indeed an afterlife, Pope Gregory the Great (who originally made the conflation between Mary Magdalene and an unchaste woman mentioned in the Gospels) has a lot to answer for.

MysticSaint said...

Women are not worthy of Life - Peter

Sacred Marriage of Christ and Mary Magdalene

Sungold said...

Thanks for the links, Mysticsaint!