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.