CRUX reports here on today’s news “That only men can be validly ordained to the priesthood is a truth that is part of the Catholic faith and will not and cannot change”

Cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a report which re-affirms Pope St John Paul II’s ruling in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

This teaching has now been upheld by four popes: Paul V, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. It is time now for the dissent from this ruling to cease.

However, while dissent should cease, I don’t think discussion should.

The popular idea is that when the church makes a definitive ruling all discussion is shut down and everybody is supposed to shut up and obey.

I don’t think that is the way of the spirit. Instead, what the definitive ruling does is establishes a teaching clearly and firmly, and that clear, firm teaching then becomes the foundation from which a whole range of other discussions can open up.

Rather than shutting down change and growth in the church, the definitive teaching can actually open things up, but to do this the dissent must stop and faithful Catholics of all opinions should start thinking outside the box and use this definitive statement to ask other far reaching questions–not just about women’s ordination, but about the role of the priest in the modern church, the proper role of laity, and the larger questions of human sexuality and the human family. All of these issues are touched on in the matter of women’s ordination.

Let me pick this apart a little to show you what I mean.

  1. If only men are to be ordained priest, what does that say about the priesthood. We are familiar with the iconic argument, that the priest is in persona Christi and because Jesus was male the priest must be male. However, in yesterday’s post I explored this truth a bit further. If the priest represents Christ in the iconography of the liturgy, then he represents the different aspects of Christ also. We are familiar with the Pastor as Good Shepherd and perhaps the priest as Judge and Lord of Mercy, but another powerful image that runs through the Scriptures is that of God as the Bridegroom, the Husband and the Father. This nuptial imagery in the Scriptures has been widely neglected in this argument, and of course, while a woman may image a shepherd and minister of mercy, she cannot picture the Bridegroom, the Husband and the Father.
  2. This discussion should then continue into further into the iconic role of the priest in the liturgy. Just how does this work and what connections do the icons of the liturgy have with the archetypes that operate within the human psyche at a deep level. How does the iconic role of the priest in the liturgy reverberate within the deepest imagination and sub conscious of the worshipper? This particular image of the bridegroom, husband and father therefore supports and re-inforces the natural role of man and woman in the human family which is reflected in teh family of the church. These issues are not negligible in a society that is increasingly confused about family and gender roles.
  3. Another issue that this decision opens up is the proper role of the priest in the church. We should constantly be examining the clericalism in the church. Why does the male priest have to do everything. In fact he does not. The only thing the priest can do that others in the church cannot do is to say Mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick, preach (along with deacons) and take certain administrative decisions, and those decisions are not necessarily bound up with his priesthood, but with his office as pastor.
  4. This should open up again the role of the laity in the church. Able and qualified men and women should be able to do much more in the administration and decision making of the church, and this definitive decision should force us to continue to ask these questions–how does the priest best serve the people of God? How does the laity best serve the people of God? How do they best work together?

Rather than focussing on the exclusion of women from the priesthood, those who do not like the decision should move forward positively to begin examining these larger questions.

Is another of those questions the ordination of women to the diaconate?

I don’t think so. I have read the literature on this and it is clear that this demand is coming from a feminist perspective. Although proponents of women deacons are careful to say, “Oh no! We’re not pushing for women’s ordination to the priesthood!” Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Whether they are or not, the foundation of their arguments are all from the viewpoint of feminist theology and the feminist movement. It is therefore a push for power as perceived by masculine models and I personally do not think there is any mileage in it.

While there is a need for more lay people to be involved in the mission of the church there is no need for women to be ordained deacons. Women can already do just about everything in the church as lay people. Why add another layer of clericalism and patronize the women by suggesting that the only way they can really serve the church is to be a cleric.

Instead we should push forward in the discussions on some of the other issues I have raised so that this weeks’ definitive re-affirmation becomes a foundation for deeper understanding of the priesthood, the family and the role of the laity in the church.