By James Dooley, Contributor
I’m a practicing Catholic from the Boston area with a rather large and loud Irish family (nine siblings). I grew up learning to love and serve my neighbor, as well as to never eat meat on Fridays during Lent (unless the Cardinal said it was OK on St. Patrick’s day). My faith serves as a lens through which I view life and it brings purpose and abundant joy into everyday tasks.
From the perspective of today’s secular culture, there are countless Catholic doctrines that appear backward like prayer, fasting, and chastity, while others like opposition to contraception and gay marriage come across as downright oppressive. As a practicing Catholic, I have a duty to inform myself on why the Church teaches what it does and to have an understanding of the reasons behind the doctrines.
After reading “1972: Oh, For God’s Sake” by Carly Priest in the Crusader, I was caught off guard by my insufficient understanding of why the Church prohibits ordination of women to the priesthood. In her article, Carly correctly pointed out the vital role of women in Catholicism, but calls to mind the seeming injustice of barring women from the priestly leadership role in the Church.
Now I’m no theologian, hell, I only did two years of Catholic high school, but I did some research on the reasons behind why the Church holds this doctrine and I wanted to share it with the Holy Cross community.
Now, mind you, if you aren’t open to the idea that such doctrine could possibly be justified by reason, then don’t bother reading on. If you firmly hold that the Church’s teaching on this topic is the result of nothing more than archaic misogyny, I’m probably not going to convince you otherwise. If you truly believe that without the prerequisite of female priests, dialogues on equality are not possible, all I can do is point you towards the countless beloved female Saints of the Church. For those of you interested and open-minded enough to learn about the Church’s reasons for such an apparently backward teaching, please read on, as I’ll lay it out from a layman’s perspective.
Contrary to Ms. Priest’s assertion, in no way is the resistance to female ordination part of a “narrative of inherent female inferiority to uphold the male-created traditions of old.” Instead, the Catholic Church’s tradition is the way it is because Jesus set it up that way. Like it or not, Jesus gave His own priestly authority to the twelve male apostles. Why didn’t He choose women? Only God knows!
Also, Jesus not appointing female priests does not represent a supposed “second-class” view of women held by Our Lord. Actually, the Gospels make it abundantly clear that Jesus treated women with equal dignity. A crucial image of this is when He jeopardizes his reputation as an upstanding Jewish man by talking with the Samaritan woman at the well.
In addition, it’s not like there weren’t plenty of virtuous women that Jesus could have chosen to represent Him. Think about it! How baffling is it that Jesus would choose those fear-filled and flawed first apostles when He could have easily chosen His Mother, the sinless and grace-filled Virgin Mary! While Jesus could have chosen women to be his first priestly apostles, the fact remains that He didn’t. From this fact stems the Church’s teaching on male-only ordination.
Another question Ms. Priest raises in her article is whether or not “any limit to the roles women play in society creates a second- class citizenship, intended or otherwise”. While a legitimate concern, this perception doesn’t match up with reality. In a family, are mothers inferior to fathers because the roles they play in bringing about life differ? No. In the early Church, were the women at the tomb of the Resurrection lesser than the men on the road to Emmaus? Of course not! They both serve as witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection but in different ways. Women and men can serve different roles and still be equal in dignity.
Apart from her misconception regarding women’s dignity in the Church, Ms. Priest does raise the crucial point that in today’s Church, girls seem left without a perception of female leadership equal to that of what their male counterparts find in the priesthood. Yet, such a counterpart role for women does exist! Religious Mothers and Sisters (Nuns) take on the vital role in the Church family of educating the young, caring for the sick and orphaned, and most importantly, praying for the needs of the Church.
It could be argued that the Catholic Church lives today as a single parent. While there are enough Fathers (priests), there are a dwindling number of Mothers (nuns) in parishes across the country. With the dramatic decline in women’s vocations in the last fifty years, most parishes are left without evident perceptions of female consecrated life. Could it be the decline in the visibility of female vocations that is the driving force behind the confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on all-male ordination? Certainly, it is a possibility.
As lay faithful or concerned bystanders, how can we better support women’s role in the Church? What solutions do we have apart from overriding the archaic decisions of Jesus? First and foremost, we must pray for more female vocations to religious life with the same fervor with which we pray for vocations to the priesthood. Next, we must actively support women’s discernment in our parishes. Putting collars on women is an extremely misguided attempt to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to “love one another,”. Instead, fulfillment must come through supporting and cherishing our religious sisters and mothers along with supporting laywomen who continue to serve as witnesses to the joys of the Resurrection!
Photo Credits: Discalced Carmelites