This week, the General Synod of the Church of England has finally made the ordination of women bishops its official policy. The first women bishops can be expected in a matter of months or less. Why is it then that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome is so hypersensitive about any suggestion for the ordination of women put forward by a Catholic writer or speaker? If it hears of a future speaking engagement by such a person, even if the topic is about something else altogether, it writes to the local bishop and demands that the event be cancelled. But treating it as so great a mischief is clearly out of line with, if not rather insulting to, the Catholic Church’s ecumenical partners in the Anglican Communion.
Pope John Paul II declared in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 that the doctrine that the Church was not authorised to ordain women was “definitively to be held” by all the faithful. The vigour with which this has been enforced since, however, suggests there is something else in play beyond obedience to papal edicts. Some in the Vatican have a particular nervousness about issues surrounding gender identity, specifically the argument promoted by certain American feminists and others that the sexes are in principle interchangeable, and the differences between them are wholly conditioned by culture and social custom. The defenders of orthodoxy apparently see the ordination of women as undermining the idea, central to civilisation, that the sexes are complementary rather than the same. If true, that would make the Church of England a rather dangerous institution. There is an inconsistency here.
In 2008 Pope Benedict declared that the distinction between men and women was “central to human nature”. His primary target appeared to be the writings of Professor Judith Butler, who has influenced academic opinion in America with the idea that gender is a social construct and sexual orientation is therefore flexible – one is only masculine or feminine, gay or straight, because one has been conditioned that way. But to give this such importance is to ignore the fact that 99 per cent of the population would regard her theory as nonsense. As well as the testimony of parents and teachers, all the scientific evidence is stacking up behind the view that boys and girls are born different, while homosexuality and lesbianism are traits laid down before birth.
The CDF has just sponsored a conference on gender complementarity, but the emphasis was on the breakdown of family life and the destructive influence of poverty rather than the importance of maintaining gender distinctiveness. Pope Francis told the conference not to confuse complementarity “with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern”. Such an outbreak of common sense suggests the campaign against Professor Butler and her extreme ideas should now be laid to rest. She was never that important. And witch-hunts against those who want to advocate the ordination of women should henceforth be regarded as beneath the Church’s dignity.
See Also: http://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/499/-i-want-to-see-catholic-women-ordained-bishops-but-not-into-the-hierarchy-as-it-is – (by Una Kroll)
” As well as the testimony of parents and teachers, all the scientific evidence is stacking up behind the view that boys and girls are born different, while homosexuality and lesbianism are traits laid down before birth.” – Tablet Editorial –
This article, in this week’s ‘Tablet’, highlights the need in the Roman Catholic Church for ongoing dialogue on the emergence of the ministry of women, and the acceptance of sexual diversity in the Church. This has been enunciated at the time when the Church of England has (at last) come around to the affirmation of women as bishops in that part of the Body of Christ.
While former Popes – especially John Paul II and Benedict XVI – forbade the discussion of women as priests in the Roman Catholic Church, and it seems that Pope Francis is not yet ready to accept the fact that women might have a legitimate call to priesthood and episcopal oversight; there can be little doubt that the Roman Catholic Church is about to experience a serious problem of finding enough men to staff the parochial units of the Church in the U.K., and that the ordination of married men, and even of women, might be God’s way of providing the remedy.
No doubt the recent determination of the Church of England will put pressure on the Roman hierarchy to do something about the situation in their own Church. However, if the mills of God in the Anglican Church grind slowly, they would appear to be positively lethargic in the Catholic Church, and it may take a real crisis in ministry to bring about any change in ministerial discipline in the rule of the Vatican.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand