Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Woman as a Catholic Priest? A Suitable Subject at the Pope’s Burial?

It has been estimated that over two BILLION people around the world watched some aspect of the Wake and Funeral of John Paul II who is already being called THE GREAT. The Vox populi (or voice of the people) for the first time in hundreds of years is chanting “SANTO SUBITO” or Make him a saint NOW. Obviously, his incredible charisma and personal holiness captured much of the world. The airtime of Television and radio and the space in the print media, focused, in a most unprecedented manner, on HIM and his unbelieveable achievements over a 26 year reign as Pope. The spotlight was on John Paul II. The understandable but out-of-place questions like “Who will the next Pope be?” And “Will he depart from the position of JPII on Women’s ordination?” and “where will he stand on same-sex marriages?” all should be tabled until we have fully mourned and respected the man who possibly was the greatest Pope in a 1,000 years. “Taste” has a symmetry which should be observed.

Hence, it seemed to many that the dragging in of negative comments about what he didn’t do in his years as Pope, was the acme of poor taste and tackiness. We were all present in our own personal ways both to bury AND praise JP II. It is not only a case of Nihil nisi bonum de mortuis (don’t speak ill of the dead). It is also an insensitivity to the feelings of millions of mourners who truly feel the profound sense of loss and who need space to grieve. It is no time to engage in grumpy polemics or the advocacy of one’s own agenda.

Greatness of personal life and achievement does not mean the perfection which still belongs to God alone. Even the greatest person who ever lived would have some aspect of the “not-done.”

Shrill demonstrators advocating abortions rights or gay marriage or lay power grabs or attention for clerical molestation victims of 30 years ago have all surfaced this week and have generally been treated as mere publicity seekers. They were all seeking their own agenda with minimal focus on grief. However, one addendum to this sorry list which has received almost reverential attention has been the subject of women’s ordination. The writer was invited THE DAY OF THE POPE’S FUNERAL to participate in a panel on a major cable network which was supposedly to range over the Pope’s life and work but which instead focused largely on the need to dialogue the subject of the woman as a Catholic priest. My poor health prevented me from the participation to my own great frustration. Given the tasteless direction the panel took, had I been there, I, with no future anywhere except heaven and with no need for approval from the female lobby, would have been driven myself to articulate a particular view .

Being the dinosaur that I am, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to tell the little “joke” of the 1995 era which reflected what most mainline theologians thought at that time.

The Pope sees the Lord in a dream Who grants him three questions JP II might need to solve. The Pope asks:

1. “Will there ever be married priests” The Lord replies: “Not in your lifetime.”
2. “Will all religions unite under a common belief?” The Lord replies: “ Not in your lifetime.”
3. “Will there ever be women priests.?” The Lord replies: “ Not in MY lifetime.”

I recall that in my television years at NBC, I interviewed a seething woman theologian, from St. John’s University in 1960 on the subject of women’s Ordination. She confidently predicted that a woman would be ordained a priest possibly in 1985, or in 2010, with probability or in 2035, with certainty. Her predictions seem wan and anemic today particularly in the light of the stance of the Church through the articulation of Pope John Paul II, the Great. As General MacArthur proclaimed on the USS Missouri in Tokyo bay in 1945: “This case is now closed.” Also Monsignor William Smith, the highly respected American theologian, opined after the Pope’s death: “The Pope was not giving his personal opinion. He was simply voicing the official position of the Church.” Apparently, some wistfully hope that the ban on ordination of women is simply the verbalization of a kind of Neanderthal, “super conservative” Slav which will be nullified with the election of a more modern and “progressive” Pope. Yet, John Paul II proclaimed not his personal opinion but the Voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Magisterium.

Women cannot be ordained priests of the Catholic Church. (Cf. Pope John Paul II’s letter ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS of May l994) . Still, the drums beat and the demonstrations go on. And will continue to do so. This is more than theology. This is also a psychological question. When one meets a fully mature and educated woman like Sr. Sarah Butler, professor of Theology at the seminary of St. Joseph in Yonkers, New York, and an accredited theologian to the Vatican,, one can listen with respect and full attention to her understanding of the point. She clearly points out why one must submit to the Church’s stance which she explains is based on THEOLOGY. For a full look at her careful reasoning, one might consult her article in the Chicago Studies theological journal of April 1995. In sum she asks three basic questions all of which are answered in the negative.

1.Does the Church teach the subordination of women?
2.Are women barred from full participation in the Church?
3.Is the ministerial priesthood the subject of a “right“?

Sr. Butler’s great strengths lie not only in her superior scholarship but also in the profound understanding of the glories of her womanhood and her equal but different role in the great plan of salvation.

It is unseemly to argue that one’s genitalia are the criterion of being a priest as so many of these howling advocates endlessly shout. There is a famous story in the annals of the New York Archdiocese priest “lore” which highlights this conjecture. Allegedly, a priest was giving the “Last Rites” or Sacrament of the sick, anointing the forehead of the dying person with his thumb when a modern-type Nun, hospital chaplain, somewhat sarcastically remarked to him: “If I had a ____________ (male phallus) I could do that, too.” He replied, “That’s funny, I always use my finger.”

Psychologists always look for hidden or unconscious meanings of words. Is there some kind of rejection of one’s own femininity encased in these angers? When one meets the angry, screaming females with almost neutered male cohorts, one begins to intuit another dimension. Their allegation is one of sheer nobility stating that the ONLY reason she wishes to be ordained is to care for Christ’s faithful in the Eucharist. Eucharistic availability is surely a legitimate reason for seeking more vocations to the priesthood. But there may be other motivations unknown to her conscious life. Does she want to be a man? If even Unconsciously? Is she bent on psychically castrating her own father by bringing down “Father” to her “level” or raising herself to his? Is she feeling oppressed by men with a need to retaliate? Does she see that she is ,in effect, seeking and reverting back to an elitism or clericalism which has been the bane of the clergy for centuries?

One of my religious Brother priests, a certified archivist, was present at an ecumenical meeting of archivists at a renowned Episcopal church in New York City. The Rector was introducing the First woman priest of that church. The new “priest” was built like a line backer, in black skirt, brown tweed jacket and Anglican style clerical collar. She approached my colleague who is small in stature and thrust out a beefy hand and said in a deep voice: “Hi, I’m FATHER RALPH.” My colleague swears and avers to the truth of this incident.

Perhaps, more time should be spent in broadening people’s minds with the glorious intellectual and aesthetic tradition of our Church rather than hurling raging remarks around the world and seeking androgynous couture.

Following Sister Butler’s insights, I suggest that the plaintive cry for “full” participation really points up two needs: first, the need to promote and support more effectively the vocation and mission of all the BAPTIZED. Not just in direct and ecclesial service but in the real “marketplace”. And second, the need to find adequate ways, formal and informal, to incorporate the true, many and wonderful gifts of women into the public life of the Church. Anything else is blowing a lot of futile and angry hot air into what could be a loving and exciting modern Church. Or as some fancy writers put it: “It’s time to stash the balderdash.”

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