Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hierarchical Questions

The concern that many religious women have about ordination of women to the diaconate is the question of where they would fit in the hierarchical order of the Catholic Church.  While many would like to think all are equal, the Church is not a democratic society.  There is a hierarchical assumption that opens doors for some that are closed for others, that gives privilege and deference to some that is not given to others.  This is a reality that can’t be denied and must be considered within the question of ordaining women to the diaconate.  In fact, the opposition of some to women’s ordination is an underlying belief that women should not be given a higher rank in the Church.  Pope Francis implied when he raised the concern that ordaining women to the diaconate would be problematic for him because he is trying to weed out clericalism.  He does not want women added to the ranks of people who seek a clerical status out of a desire for power or control. 

When women were ordained to the diaconate in the Early Church, their rank had to be clarified.  They were not subordinate to a priest, but to the bishop who ordained them.  They had a supervisory role over consecrated virgins and widows who were instructed to obey the instructions of women deacons.  If women were ordained to the diaconate today, and this same hierarchical structure were assumed, that would place consecrated religious in a status subordinate to women deacons.  This would impact congregations of religious women and cause havoc in congregations that have a mix of ordained and non-ordained members.  Would the ordained sister be under the authority of her major superior or the bishop?  If the entire congregation were ordained would they all be under the bishop?  These obstacles are being discussed by religious communities and their leadership now. 

However, this hierarchical question has not caused a problem for male deacons.  Their place in the hierarchy is under the local bishop who ordained them, and they are assigned to the cathedral or to local parishes to support the priest.  This organization has not had a negative impact on the chain of authority in congregations of religious brothers, such as the Christian Brothers.  Questions of rank and authority need to be spelled out clearly before women are ordained to the diaconate. It is not a likely outcome that consecrated religious would be subordinate to women deacons, or that women deacons would be supervising religious women.  It is not likely that many women religious would want to be ordained to the diaconate if it placed them under the authority of a bishop rather than the major superior of their own congregation.  After studying the topic of women’s ordination for several years, I have come to a better understanding of the issue.  My conclusion is that the Church is not ready to ordain women to the priesthood, but the time is right to ordain women to the diaconate.
For me the more important question is not why has the Church denied women the right to ordination.  I understand that ordination is a calling and not a right.  My question is this: Why isn’t Consecration a Sacrament like the Sacraments of Marriage and Ordination?  The sacramental nature of Consecration and life as a vowed religious is clear to those of who live it, but our place within the structure of the Church needs to be given more consideration.  Papal recognition of the Sacramental nature of Consecration could help vocation to Religious Life by giving it the status it deserves. Some Sacramental works now reserved to the priests alone could be carried out more effectively by religious men and women.  One of these is Anointing of the Sick which was traditionally carried out by women in the time of Jesus and in the Early Church.  There are three changes I support and would like to see happen.  Allow deacons and consecrated religious to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. Designate Consecrated Life as a Sacrament.  Ordain women deacons.    

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Woman at the Last Supper

The last remaining objection to women's ordination to the priesthood rests on the belief that only twelve men were present at the Last Supper and empowered to re-enact the sacrifice in his name.  On this the Church bases its decision not to ordain women, and the subsequent tradition of only appointing men to preach and teach and rule.  This is the sole remaining objection, but there is good reason to believe this may not be true.  Even if it were true, Jesus clearly appoints women to apostolic service and to preach.
Other traditions that sprang from this myopic male world view have already been set aside.  For example, the stipulation that only males may stand in God's service or touch the Holy vessels (Pope Soter c. 176 and Pope Sixtus c. 120) and the prohibition against women from actively participating in liturgical activities (Pope Boniface c. 418).  Members of the laity, both male and female, serve at the altar in Roman Catholic Churches, and all are called to participate actively in liturgical services.  Women preach and teach Catholic theology and lead Catholic organizations and institutions around the world.

The Didaschalia Apostolorum (middle of the 3rd century) and the Apostolic Constitutions (c. 375), as well as Conciliar decrees at the Council of Laodicea c. 360 and the Council of Saragossa c. 380 forbade women from accessing the altar or touching altar vessels or altar cloths as well as from singing and speaking.  These prescriptions, found not to be based not on sound theology or Christological interpretation, but on sexual discrimination against women, no longer are considered valid.  There is a precedent for overturning traditions related to the sanctity of the altar and the celebration of the liturgy, therefore the tradition that only males may preside at the Liturgy of the Eucharist is not a forgone conclusion, much as some may wish it were so. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Women Priests and Bishops

In this photo taken last year Pope Francis is cordially greeting the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén.  Pope Francis has called the issue of admitting women to the priesthood closed, but he set up a commission to study ordaining women deacons.  We do not have enough priests to administer the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick to the dying in hospitals in the United States and Europe.   

Women's ordination to the diaconate has a clear precedent in the early Church that ordination of women to the priesthood does not.  Ordaining women to the diaconate and extending to them the faculties to administer certain Sacraments would alleviate this dire situation.  Although I, personally, have no interest in being ordained a priest, the more I read about the arguments for and against ordaining women to the priesthood, the more in favor I become. 

The main obstacle to women being ordained to the priesthood derives from Christ’s ordination of the Twelve Apostles on Holy Thursday night, and conferring on them and their successors the threefold Messianic power of administering the sacraments notably the Eucharist.  This is used to support the tradition of only men ruling the people of God in his name and only men being granted authoritative to preach his message of salvation.  Objections to the refusal of the Church to ordain women to the priesthood has become a syndrome, particularly in the United States and Europe where ordination of women to the priesthood in the other mainstream Christian religions is now a commonly accepted practice.     

Some assert that there were no women priests in the Early Church because priestesses in early Greco-Roman societies, and among the Gnostics, Monatists, Marcosians and Colyridians were associated with the fertility cults of pagan religions.  This objection was based on valid concerns about the connotation of priestesses involved in pagan sacrifices in fertility cults confusing the meaning of the sacrifice of the Christian Mass.  However, this is not a cause for concern today.  The implication that those in favor of women's ordination today are somehow guilty of pagan heresy is frankly offensive.