Guest blogger, Dr Phyllis Tunicle is a member of the New Catholic Church, and a leading theologian and campaigner for women’s ordination to the priesthood. Dr Tunicle’s doctorate in the Sociological Implications of liturgical anomalies is from The University of American Samoa. She is scholar in Residence at Morgantown Community College in Upstate New York where she maintains a study cubicle in the library. The author of three vegan cookbooks and a scholarly paper on deaconesses in the early church, Phyllis is a founding member of COW – Catholics for the Ordination of Women. She speaks regularly on the issue of women and power in the church. Phyllis is married to her partner, Anglican priest, The Rev. Lavinia Snow and they have three Pekinese dogs, Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego. Dr Tunicle is sixty seven.
I’m delighted to be a guest blogger here and would like to use this column to correct Pope Francis’ recent explanation on the cruel ban on women in the priesthood in the Catholic Church.
He “explained” that women are banned from ordination because there is a “Petrine” ministry and a “Marian” ministry. Men can be priests and thus exercise the Petrine ministry which is “apostolic” and includes only men. The “Marian” ministry is reserved for women. This, of course, is the old argument of complementarity–that men and women are equal but different.
In my book How Now Brown Cow–Women Deacons in the Early Church–I pointed out that, in fact, there need not be such complementarity. While it is true that men and women are equal, it is not true that they are different. The current transgender movement has helped us to see that a strictly binary understanding of our sexuality is too simple. It is time for the Catholic Church to come on stream with those of in the New Catholic Church and affirm a “unitive nature anthropology.” In other words, to proclaim the truth that men and women are not only equal but the same. If Pope Francis wants to maintain such a thing as a “Petrine” and a “Marian” ministry–(a notion, by the way, which seems to be his own invention) then surely it is possible to propose a third way–a “Pauline” ministry.
Not only is “Pauline” a gender neutral term, but it references back not to Peter, but to Paul who counted among his followers women teachers like Prisca and women church leaders like Lydia and Phoebe (the first woman deacon) but also fearlessly proclaimed that in Christ” there is neither male nor female.” (Gal. 3:28) Paul is therefore the first proponent of a “unitive nature anthropology”.
Those who are opposed to women’s ordination will say, “Christ only appointed men as his priests and deacons. We can’t change what Jesus established.” This argument is certainly nonsensical. Jesus only wore sandals. Are we to ban boots and shoes? Jesus only chose Jewish men as his apostles. Must every priest be Jewish? Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Must one quarter of all priests be fishermen? You see how shallow this argument is. Whenever an argument is made from what was ancient in the church a logical fallacy develops. That was the first century. This is the twenty first. In the New Catholic Church, of which I am a member, we embrace change and do not seek to restore ancient practices for their own sake.
Which brings me to the question of women deacons. Because we in the New Catholic Church seek to be faithful to the Catholic Church we have not yet authorized the ordination of women. All of our priests are clear that they are “priests in good standing” with the Catholic Church. While some of them, (like my friend Father Andrew Grabber) ministers to those who are on the fringes, he always maintains his status as a “priest in good standing.”
Should we have women deacons? My studies have shown that there were indeed women deacons in the early church, and this is a tradition that needs to be restored. It seems that one of the roles the women deacons performed was assisting at baptisms. This is because baptisms were performed in the nude. This is another ancient custom which could be restored. The symbolism is beautiful–the person to be baptized is like a newborn child–being re-born spiritually. Why did this custom die out anyway? Only because as Christianity moved into Northern Europe nude baptisms became more problematic due to the cold climate. However we now have heating in churches and the possibility of heating the water for baptisms. Part of the Pauline ministry would therefore be this third way in which men and women both serve as “Pauline” deacons officiating at nude baptisms.
Does this sound strange or radical? I don’t see why. My wife Lavinia tells me there is already a nudist female bishop in the Church of England. If “in Christ there is neither male nor female” why should there be any embarrassment about our God-given bodies?
I hope to write more about this topic in weeks to come. In the meantime, for those who are interested to be better informed about the issue, I encourage you to visit the website or our partners–also members of the New Catholic Church: CFC and RCWP.