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Ordination, Irish Women, and the Pope

Pope Francis washing the feet of a woman

The Roman Catholic Church officially offers seven sacraments, but, as a friend of mine always says, men have seven sacraments, whereas women have only six, because ordination to the priesthood is not an option for Catholic women.

Lots of people who know I’m Catholic have asked me what I think of the new Pope. So far, he’s both likable and kind. I admire his humility, and I was moved that he washed women’s feet on Holy Thursday. It seems like a no-brainer, but the guys who love rules came out of the woodwork to complain.

To dispute the Pope’s actions, they used the same argument that keeps women out of the priesthood. At the Last Supper, they say, Jesus washed the feet of male disciples. Re-enacting that event on Holy Thursday, the priest should wash the feet of males only. Similarly, Jesus supposedly chose men as disciples, the progenitors of modern priests. Ergo (Latin’s the appropriate language here, no?), modern priests should also be male.

I’ve never heard anyone address the implications of this argument. Those male disciples were Jewish. They were fishermen. They were between the ages, probably, of 20 and 40. They spoke Aramaic. Why is gender the only trait we focus on when restricting access to one of the sacraments, and, of course, to power and influence in the Catholic Church? We should scour the world for youngish, Jewish, Aramaic-speaking fishermen to be priests, because, after all, that’s who Jesus chose.

In fact, though, the entire argument is specious, as many scholars have pointed out. Cleveland’s own FutureChurch has helped educate people about the real history of  Christianity. Jesus had women disciples, mentioned frequently in Scripture. Jesus appeared first to women after the Resurrection. The early Church had women deacons and was supported by wealthy women. Women have always played a critical role in the Church, but have been unable to follow a vocation to the priesthood.

Fortunately, other Christian churches have become less restrictive. Protestant churches largely allow women to become full-fledged ministers. The Anglican/Episcopalian denomination ordains women as priests. My friend Meagen Farrell is undertaking a book project about the pioneering women who made this happen in Ireland. (You can learn more and sign up to support her here.) On Monday, April 8, at noon, you can see Meagen’s presentation on her projected book, including activities for kids, at the St. Malachi Center (2416 Superior Viaduct, Cleveland). If the Anglicans can do it in Ireland, maybe someday the Catholics will do it here, and in the Vatican.

Probably, however, not in the foreseeable future. Regarding how I feel about Pope Francis, he’s down-to-earth and devout and devoted to people who are poor—all very important virtues. But he’s unlikely to make other changes I would like to see: acceptance of homosexuality, married priests, a more rational attitude toward birth control, less hierarchical governance, and women’s ordination. With no prospect of change on these issues, I find it harder and harder, as time goes by, to call myself Catholic.

6 Comments

  1. Hi Kathy,

    Before Easter, Pope Francis told the bishops to find new ways of evangelisation (I am Australian so I spell it with an ‘s’). I pricked up my ears when an Archbishop here said that evangelisation in the West is a difficult and complicated problem. Then Cardinal Pell from Sydney said the Easter message is not positive thinking. I thought: At last! They can now see the disconnection between church thinking and modern day thinking and realise it is a tangled, knotty problem. Based on this, I wrote a letter to my Archbishop.

    His reply was immediate, gracious and addressed the issue. My wife, Sandy, said, “He is tactfully giving you the brush off”. He began the letter by saying, “I am writing to acknowledge your recent letter which deals with the important issue of evangelisation in the contemporary Church”. In saying this, he has coupled the problem to the solution. He will only consider evangelisation within the framework of church thinking.

    Here lies the issue with your post. You begin with ‘The Roman Catholic Church’ and exit finding it harder and harder to call yourself a Catholic. If you stopped calling yourself a Catholic, you would still have the same beliefs. You would simply have abandoned an incorrect framework of thinking and stopped looking for a solution within the problem.

    Let me go back to the Creed. I didn’t know you were a Latin teacher when I invited you to have a look at my website so I was very relieved that you agreed with what I said about ‘consubstantial’. Taking the language point of view again: In the Creed we say, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic (Greek word)”. I have never once heard a pope, bishop or priest offer a disclaimer that these words of the Creed cannot possibly refer to the Roman Catholic Church.

    It’s after midnight so I’ll stop here, Kathy. Thanks for all the interesting stuff.

    Monday, April 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Kathy wrote:

    I’m responding at last, Michael. Are we not apostolic because we don’t or can’t evangelize? (I’m American, so, you know.)Because we don’t acknowledge the gap between church thinking and modern-day thinking? I need you to write more about what you mean.

    Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Good question about apostolic and evangelize (I give up). I hadn’t been thinking at that level. I only wrote to the Archbishop about evangelization because I wanted to ask him for a job. He tactfully gave me the brush off but it would never have worked anyway because we have different worldviews.

    I should talk about that first. When I said about Sandy’s mother and her personality disorder, you said, “So we have that in common” and I thought, “Kathy Ewing, I think we have more in common than we realise”. I don’t watch films or read books and I may not know what you are talking about all the time but I still read your reviews and articles because I’m trying to absorb that common ground.

    When Sandy was a little girl, her parents would leave her in the car outside the golf club, so she knows what it is to be left. Five years ago, I showed her photos of my mother kneeling before her son, receiving the priest’s first blessing. People would say: Isn’t it wonderful. Mrs Whitely, the mother of a priest, was in Rome for her son’s ordination, and she is such a saint! Sandy’s reaction was horror: “Where were you in all this? What happened to the eight year old boy she left behind?” My mother really went missing! (2.1 of the book section).

    My worldview, my orientation towards the church, is not going to be the same as that of an Archbishop who has had a positive relationship with mother. His aim is to build Holy Mother Church, whereas I want to break the church/laity symbiosis and get back to first principles (Summary page). When you say you are finding it harder to call yourself a Catholic, I see part of it as abandoning some Archbishop’s worldview so that you can see with your own eyes.

    I don’t see a problem, theoretically. I know you have lost your church and the crypt where you prepared meals, and that’s real. The same with our house. How do I get Sandy to realise we have to sell? There will be so much grief. We live in one of the richest areas in the world but if you aren’t in the mining industry the costs are crippling. The main problem is Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. The US is solving its huge real debt by turning it into paper debt through quantitative easing. They are exporting the problem to us. Our dollar should be below 70 cents US but we are at $1:03, which is great if you want to buy something on the internet but it means every bill we receive is one third higher than it should be. The US is waging economic war on us and we can’t do anything about it. Huge distraction but it’s where my mind is. Actually I am getting distracted so I will submit this and get back to church thinking / modern-day thinking a bit later.

    Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink
  4. I am not an academic or a theologian, so I can’t theorise about apostolic and evangelize. I am just a computer programmer and systems analyst. Having said that, it was Nate Silver from the New York Times who won the last two Presidential elections, leaving aside President Obama who got the political job. He crunched the data and predicted every seat and every percentage, and in doing so wiped out the career of every political pundit. He who has the best analysis wins.

    When the Pope changed the Creed, I turned to Aelred Graham’s book The Love of God, which has the subtitle An Essay in Analysis. The key point I found in the book is this: the Father establishes Himself at the source of life and sends the Word to the source of thinking and sends the Spirit to the source of acting, and the impact of this action of the Trinity is a new nature called grace. The Father then sends us, in turn, to the centre of affairs in our world so that faith and charity can flow out and establish His Kingdom there. It’s all about sending, and this as I understand it is the meaning of the word ‘apostolic’. If we say the Creed as an itemised list of things then we just don’t get it. Instead, when we say the Nicene Creed, we are proclaiming the Trinity as the dynamic force in our lives.

    With regard to the good news, or evangelization, I have no concept of persuading someone else to my point of view. Sandy and I were married eight years before she became a Catholic, mostly motivated by anger that I wouldn’t talk to her about it. To me, someone else’s spiritual journey is an entirely private matter and I’m not going to get between them and their God. On Aelred Graham’s analysis, the Good News is what we bring when we arrive at the centre of affairs in our world, and my world is to do with rational organisations and business thinking. And this is where the issue of church thinking versus modern-day thinking comes in.

    It just hit 1:05 AM in the morning here so I think it’s a good time to go to bed. Bye, Kathy.

    Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  5. There is a gap between church thinking and modern-day thinking but the problem is bigger than both. You would have to be outside both to grasp the problem. This is the same with all really difficult problems, for instance, life: Charlie Brown says, “You know, Linus, some times I think we come into life unprepared”. Linus says, “What do you want Charlie Brown, a chance to warm up first?” With really difficult problems, you have to know all the ways of solving the problem before you can understand the problem because until you know all the ways of solving the problem you don’t have the information required to understand the problem. I am not advocating that people leave the Roman Catholic Church but if they already have then they have a distinct advantage because the way the church thinks is part of the problem.

    What we need is really good analysis. The church side of things is not my concern. I have been trying to solve the problem by looking at computers. You can’t store an idea on a computer. You can’t store wisdom on a computer. The computer is the machine of the rationalist. To bridge the gap between church thinking and modern-day thinking, you have to address the failure of rationalism and get outside the enlightenment itself in order to address the flaws that went into producing the enlightenment in the first place.

    If we draw a timeline from the writing of the Creed around 400 AD to now and picture it as a road, then about half way along there is a ruined bridge, where the Scholastic discourse collapsed at the end of the thirteenth century. On the other side of the gap, the roads curve around so that people aren’t even aware of the gap and therefore never address the problem.

    I’ll leave it there, Kathy. I hope this hasn’t been too mind-bending.

    Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  6. Kathy wrote:

    Very mind-bending, but that’s a good thing. I follow about 43% (since you’re an analysis/numbers guy) of your posts. Not so strong on the church history and economics. Better on the BPD and relationship side. Don’t give up on me! I’m mentally composing a post right now, though, on the concept of evangelising. (Going your way this time, just to be fair.)

    Monday, May 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

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  1. […] More Blog Love: Ordination, Irish Women, and the Pope Fellow Cleveland author and gender equality advocate Kathy Ewing mentioned my project in her recent post about relations between the Vatican and women. […]

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