Sunday, 24 October 2010

Women priests and St Mary of the Cross. Sigh.

I really fail to see why the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross should be an excuse for protestant academics to lecture Catholics  on the desirability of ordaining women.  But the Fairfax press begs to differ, so I think a little fisking is in order.

Laura Beth Bugg is, by birth, a US Baptist, by profession, a lecturer in the sociology of religion at the University of Sydney.  Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to have much understanding of the Catholic faith. 

Sainthood, the hierarchy and the priesthood

Let's take a look at what she has written in Friday's SMH:

"St Mary of the Cross now joins the ranks of women deemed worthy of canonisation because of extraordinary works, virtuous behaviour, service and leadership but not worthy of serving as priests."

No.  Sainthood is not about work, behaviour, service or leadership.  It's about heroic virtue, above all that virtue that encompasses all others, charity.  And it is not a question of the worthiness of St Mary or other woman to become priests - it is about capacity. A woman is simply not capable of being ordained - even if a ceremony was gone through by a properly ordained bishop, no sacramental mark on her soul would be effected. 

"Australians have connected with different aspects of St Mary's story - her passion for the marginalised and her perseverance despite adversity. But her story also illustrates how the Catholic Church hierarchy continues to impede women's deeply held commitments and aspirations."

Give me a break.  It is not a matter of what the hierarchy wants or doesn't want.  It is a matter of what God decrees.  We can all aspire to impossible things I suppose - like growing wings and flying.  That doesn't mean nature is going to change and give us them. 

"In the 19th and 20th centuries, nuns like St Mary challenged not only the expectations that larger society had for women, but also the authority of priests and bishops who shared a different vision for their work. Since that time, nuns, along with countless other Catholic laywomen, have led social movements, worked to establish schools, orphanages and hospitals and have served the sick, the poor and those on the margins of society. Often they have done it on impossible budgets, in dire physical and political conditions, and with little or no institutional support."

True enough.  Clerical misogynism, arrogance and even malice is an ongoing phenomena, and the charisms God grants to women have often served the Church well in counter-balancing this.  Indeed, Cardinal Pell made some very apt comments on this very subject from Rome last week.

"With a shortage of priests in many countries, nuns and laywomen now perform sacraments such as confession, anoint the sick or offer communion. In some rural and remote areas, they serve as parish priests in all but name. But because they are lay people, and not clerics, they are vulnerable, as St Mary was, to intrusions from the authority of bishops."

Well no, they are not performing the sacraments named.  Religious and laymen and women can perform baptisms.  They can, in some limited circumstances when properly authorised, witness weddings.  They may distribute communion including to the sick.  But they cannot anoint, hear confessions or say a Mass.  And when they do perform sacramental functions it is perfectly appropriate for their activities to be supervised by priests and bishops - the Catholic Church is hierarchically constituted.

"Only ordained clerics can preside at the Eucharist, hear confessions, and make decisions about property, politics and theology."

Depends what one means by 'make decisions'.  Of course there are controls over Church property and limits to theological debate.  But Catholic women can be theologians, nuns can make decisions about their order's property (within the constraints of Church law) and as for politics, it's a free for all (well ok, within reason.  The Church does have a right to teach on this.  But women as well as men are free to participate)!

"Just this year, the Vatican released a document that deemed both the ordination of women priests and paedophilia as graviora delicta, or "grave crimes" against the church."

So why does the Catholic Church take such a stand? It gives two primary reasons for denying women ordination as priests. First is that Jesus selected only men as apostles and, second, that during the sacraments the priest acts in persona Christi - in the person of Christ - so that person must, like Christ, be a man....

The church argues that woman is, by her nature, different from man, because of her role in original sin and God's command that man should rule over her. Of course, the Catholic Church shares this with other religious traditions."

Well, the argument is a little more sophisticated than that, but let's agree that gender does matter.  'Man and women he created them' has real content.

"Growing up in the Southern Baptist denomination in the United States, I, too, could not have been ordained as a pastor. And women within Theravada Buddhism are fighting for their right to serve as bhikkhunis, or monks. Each of these denominations, along with Islam and Orthodox Judaism, sings the same song with a slightly different tune - women can't be at the top because of authority, tradition or nature.

But there are those who struggle against this pattern. This past week a woman was ordained a Catholic priest in Canada."

No.  She was not 'ordianed', merely purported to be.  And she was automatically excommunicated as a result.

"The church did not sanction her ordination, and she will shortly be excommunicated. Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a movement for women's ordination that began in 2002, supervised the ordination. Since that time nearly 100 women worldwide have been ordained, although none have been recognised by the church.

Pretended to be ordained.  Mock ordained.  Not really ordained...

These are not women who wish to break off from the church; they want to reimagine it. There are yet other Catholic feminists who understand the very concept of priesthood and the hierarchical structure of the church as fatally flawed. They do not wish to see women as priests, but to see the entire Catholic community as one that is radically democratic and committed to peace-making, justice and community building."

And yet they have indeed broken from the Church.  One can be Catholic, by virtue of believing what the Church teaches and being in union with the successor of Peter.  Or one can separate oneself from the Church.  If you think women can be ordained, if you think the very concept of the priesthood or the hierarchical constitution of the Church are flawed you are, by definition, a protestant, not a Catholic.  Say like maybe a baptist?

Ms Bugg then goes on to claim Sr Irene McCormack to her cause. I don't know enough about Sr Irene to assess these claims.  But I do know that claiming St Mary McKillop to the false cause of women's 'ordination' is yet another piece of anti-catholic bigotry that genuinely Catholic women could do without. 

If you want to be part of any organisation, you have to accept its rules.  In the case of the Catholic Church, you have to accept the truth of its teachings. Ms Bugg, please, spare us your lectures (and it's oh so tempting to make jokes using that name.  But we shall all refrain...).


PM said...

It is worth underlining that St Mary of the Cross not only had high regard for Pope Pius IX, who treated her well, but also never publicly opposed the bishop who excommunicated her, Bishop Shiel. She referred to him in private at the time as 'my poor, dear bishop' and recognised that he was an old and sick man manipulated by others.

Interstingly, I read a piece the other day by the present bishop of Port Pirie which suggested the excommunication may never have been canonically valid in the first place because of defects of substance and process.

Cardinal Pole said...

Dr. Bugg's article capped off four days of letters published on the topic of Catholic womenpriests, with the last two days' worth responding to this one from the second day:

"I think many Catholics saw the irony of the Mary MacKillop celebrations in a church in which women are still excluded from full participation. As I said at Mass last Sunday: "Today we celebrate a woman's canonisation; hopefully it won't be too long before we celebrate a woman's ordination."

"Father John CrothersSt Declan's Church, Penshurst
See this blog post and comment by me in order to see all the letters collated.]

I wonder how Fr. Crothers's Local Ordinary has dealt or will deal with this scandal?