Women Priests

A couple of days ago, another woman was ordained as part of the Roman Catholic woman priests movement:


As astute readers know, the ordination of a woman is instant excommunication for everyone involved. For the women priests and their supporters being excommunicated is a minor thing, since they regard themselves as part of the spiritual avant-garde, using something akin to ecclesiastic civil disobedience to force changes in the mainstream Catholic church. They believe that the “matter” needed for a valid ordination is a human being of either sex, not necessarily a male, as the church currently states.

Even when I tried being an “orthodox Catholic,” I found the logic behind the “no female priests” thing to be spurious. Assuming one believes the church’s account of the Last Supper as an ordination ceremony (which I also never found to be terribly convincing), I find it hard to believe that there were no women present at a Passover seder, even one taking place in antiquity. And if one extrapolates that the Last Supper indicates that the church can only ordain men, shouldn’t one also conclude that only Jewish male laborers residing in Galilee can be ordained? I think the church would be on firmer ground if it just involved Paul’s “women can’t speak in church” clause, rather than on some vague references to the Last Supper, but these days many women aren’t inclined to be silent, whether in church or anywhere else.

I think the slapdash approach to why priests must be male stems from the fact that I don’t think the Catholic church really thought about this issue before the emergence of third-wave feminism. I’ve looked in some of the older catechism, including the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and there’s no mention of male humans being the right “matter” for ordination or the church not having the ability to ordain females. Presumably, it was just taken for granted that men should be the leaders in society, whether at home, in the political world, the boardroom, or the church, and so a detailed theological justification for the male priesthood never developed in the same way that it did for the Eucharist, the Trinity, or Christology.

What the hierarchy and their conservotrad defenders don’t understand about the women priests movement is that at the root of it is a legitimate complaint that women don’t have any input in church governance. The only way for anyone to have decision-making power in the church is to be ordained, and while only a small number of men will be ever be ordained, the church asserts that no women can ever be ordained, meaning that women will never have a say in how the church is governed. The only response that the Catholic church could provide to secular feminism is the bogus “feminine genius,” which reduces the identity and value of women to their uteri (see https://extraecclesiamestlibertas.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/criticism-of-the-feminine-genius/). That men are telling women how they “should be” or what their “true nature” is, should be offensive to every female out there.

Although I’m sympathetic to the general idea of Catholic women wanting more respect and power in the Catholic church, I don’t think that this women priests movement will do it. As conservotrad Catholics like to remind us, the church is not a democracy, and civil disobedience to canon law isn’t going to threaten the hierarchy in the same way that civil disobedience to secular law can prompt political change. While the various polls I’ve heard over the years indicate that a majority of Catholics in the Western world favor women priests (http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=1961), most of these people are content to stay within the comfortable confines of the mainstream church and hope that change will occur in the undefined future. Rather than waste time trying to change an organization that is tone-deaf to the needs and wants of the rank and file membership, I think it would be better to just leave it altogether. In a way, I suppose that what these alternate Catholic communities are doing, whether it’s the Society of St. Pius X on the right or these woman-led congregations on the left.

It’s interesting that both the woman priest movement and the SSPX use more or less the same logic in defending what the mainstream Catholic church views as illicit ordinations, namely that the ordainees (is this a word?) were ordained by a legitimate Roman Catholic bishop with apostolic succession, so while the ordinations may be illicit (i.e., they were done without permission) they are still sacramentally valid. Of course, neither the SSPX nor the mainstream Catholic would consider the women who have been ordained through the woman priests movement to be valid, since the “matter” of the ordainees is wrong. As with many things in life, what constitutes a valid ordination depends on how one defines “ordained.”