One of the great Catholic prophets of our age,the Benedictine nun Joan Chittester has written:
The patriarchal society is essentially a violent thing in which man, the males of the system, own, administer, shape, or control all the major facets of the culture-is a stifling thing.
Women have been stalemated economically, socially and religiously. This is a given from which few would object. For Christians Chittester gets to the heart of the matter:
Patriarchy is theologically incongruent. The image of God has become totally male though God in scripture said it was otherwise….It rests on four interlocking principles: dualism,hierarchy, domination and essential inequality. It takes biological differences, imposes hierarchy on them, gives hierarchy dominative power and justifies all of it on the theory of intrinsic inequality. But none of it stands to be justified by the life and teachings of Jesus.
n 1976 Pope Paul Vl requested that the Pontifical Biblical Commission, a permanent Vatican body of twenty biblical experts, study the biblical evidence for and against women’s ordination. David Stanley SJ was one of these experts.
The Commission’s report was unanimous in finding,”the New Testament by itself alone will not permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate priesthood.” Furthermore the Commission voted 12-5 in favour of women priests with one abstention and two absentees. The Bible, especially the New Testament, teaches very clearly the equality of man and woman in the spiritual domain (relationships with God) and in the moral area (relationships with other human beings). But the problem of the social condition of woman is a sociological problem that must be treated as such.”
The ultimate answer could only come from the ”living tradition” and that must include the sensus fidelium. And then the bombshell which sadly sealed the reputation of a very good man and and a good pope caught between the demands of tradition and traditionalism.
Inter Insigniores the Vatican’s response was given in Rome a few months later: No women need apply. Even at this time, huge numbers rejected the conclusion. David Stanley resigned in disgust. He accused the authors of “flagrant disregard” for the evidence of the New Testament. And that was the end of Stanley’s job teaching scripture at the Jesuit run Gregorianum. Stanley would not be the first scholar thrown under the Vatican train. Under John Paul ll and his enforcer Josef Ratzinger many more would be sacrificed.
The shallow ecclesial justifications for this discrimination have been embarrassing in the extreme. The exclusion of women was culturally conditioned.Jesus lived in a rigidly patriarchal society yet he broke the mold in having serious female disciples.He ordained no one.The only priest in the New Testament is Jesus himself, the High Priest.The Spirit moving in culture gradually corrects the early understanding
Rome’s attempts to foreclose the discussion has been justifiably ridiculed and has been a cause of scandal in a Church which has prided itself on its deep respect for learning and reason.
Roy Bourgeois is merely the latest in a never ending line of truth tellers who will be made to walk the plank on this issue.Fr.Tony Flannery a Redemptorist priest in Ireland has been silenced by Rome for similar opinions His editor in the magazine Reality, Fr Gerry Moloney, apparently been told not to print any articles on celibacy, the use of contraception and the involvement of women in the clergy, for an unspecified period.
A similar firestorm has broken out in Austria. An “Appeal to Disobedience” signed by 300 priests support the discussion of the possibility of ordaining married men and women.Led by Monsignor Helmut Schüller, it rejected the Cardinal’s trump card of obedience in favour of conscience saying that Second Vatican Council had begun with an act of disobedience on the part of those bishops who had refused to sign the documents prepared by the Vatican.Clearly the austrian initiative believes that the Spirit is calling the Church to a deeper understanding of priesthood based on the dignity and equality of all the baptized
The bishops chosen by Pope John Paul 11 are surrounding the laager ready to make a last ditch stand to seal up this tomb of time bound thinking.
The revolution of female equality in this case the evolution has taken a quantum leap forward in the past forty years Building on other historical struggles of women such as the suffragettes movement itself an outgrowth of the abolitionist movement, female equality has gradually been sanctified and accepted save for dark corners of the Muslim world and apparently the Catholic church. People’s minds have changed and the Church stands convicted of sexism.
As Joan Chittester has put it “The old order is falling; the old world is over.It may yet be functioning,skeletal and bare, but it is clearly over.”
It is obvious to all but the aging men in the Vatican.