On the sad lies and embarrassing illogic of womens’ ordination supporters

Those who have followed my writings and rantings over my ten or eleven years of blogging (I began blogging, ahem, when I was twelve) know that I have a few pet peeves. They include, but are not limited to, pronouncements from Hans Küng, declarations from Anne Rice, lousy music, Dan Brown novels, burnt coffee, and people who think the Oregon Ducks’ (football) offense is “a gimmick”.

And then there is the women’s ordination movement, which I find to be both completely disingenuous and hysterically ignorant. Or, as I put in a post a few years ago:

Why does this rankle me so? Part of it is simply the brazen illogic, self-obsessive bloviation, and disdainful dissent so readily evident in the priestette movement. Their theology is lousy. Their ecclesiology is incoherent. But there is also the fact that these women, in seeking to “empower” women and pursue “justice,” are (unwittingly or not) attacking authentic femininity and making a mockery of not just the priesthood, but of the unique nature of women, especially as embodied by the Blessed Mother.

The 1976 CDF document, Inter Insigniores, stated, “Women who express a desire for the ministerial priesthood are doubtless motivated by the desire to serve Christ and the Church.” Perhaps; I’m not so sure. God alone will judge their motivation, but isn’t it striking how so many of these women don’t seem interested at all in Christ and have only criticism for the Church (or, as noted above, make an artificial, convenient division in the Church so they can appear to be pro-Church while bashing Church authority).

You would think that supporters of women’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood might—just might!—try to come up with something better than “the Pope is mean and hates women.” But, as Sadhbh Walshe proves, in a Guardian column titled “Thanks for nothing, Pope Francis,” it ain’t to be. It’s so bad, I suspect that embarrassment itself was embarrassed to be seen near Walshe’s piece, which was apparently written under the delusion that having no knowledge of what one is writing about is an essential qualification for snotty, whining arrogance. Let’s take a look, shall we?

It’s hard not to be fascinated by the Catholic church’s relatively new Pope Francis. From his opening act washing the feet of Muslim women prisoners (three no-no’s in one) to urging young Catholics to break out of their “spiritual cages” and “make a mess” in their diocese, to his casual chat this week with reporters on the plane back from his triumphant trip to Brazil, this pope has demonstrated a charming willingness to shake up the conservative institution and to make it a more open and accepting place.

When it comes to making the church a more equal institution, however, where roughly half the population (that is women) are not actively discriminated against, Pope Francis is sadly proving to be as traditional and conservative as the best of them.

Tradition, bad. Conservative, bad. Not agreeing with Walshe, really bad. Why? Uh. Well. Um. Because. Just because. Don’t be a chauvinist, sexist jerk (see below); just accept her premises without questions.

The big takeaway from the plane chat, or at least the big media takeaway, was the pope’s acknowledgement that gay priests exist and that they have as much right to their affinity with God as their heterosexual counterparts. When asked about the so called “gay lobby” within the Vatican, the pope replied:

“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized.”

Considering that his predecessor, Pope Benedict, declared in 2005 that men who had deep rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests, the new pope’s words can at the very least be viewed as a step towards cementing gay men’s rights to equal status and treatment by the church, including their right to be ordained. This step in the right direction would be easier to applaud, however, if it had not been followed by two steps backwards on the rights of women, straight or gay, to ever having a chance to enjoy the same equal treatment.

Big breath. (There are times, frankly, when I suspect—based on a wealth of evidence—that only about .000004% of secular journalists have ever read an entire statement or text by Benedict XVI. And then I realize: that estimated percentage is far too high. Then again, the text in question was not penned by Benedict XVI, but was approved by him. Details.) Here is the text of the 2005 document, “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies  in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders,” presented by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education. I will summarize, for this discussion, the key points:

• The Church (via the Catechism, among other texts) “distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies.” Pope Francis made a fairly obvious reference to this distinction. And if you think he believes that homosexual acts are now “okay”, you are surely smoking some fruity weed.

• Homosexual acts are “grave sins” that “under no circumstance can … be approved.” Again, I’ll bet the barn, the bus, and the bank account that Francis says, “Yep, exactly.”

• Those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are dealing with a serious disorder and “trial.” They must be “accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Goodness, Benedict sure was harsh, wasn’t he?

• While the Church profoundly respects “the persons in question,” she “cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.'” This is a crucial section, obviously, and it seems readily evident that the “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” in question refer to tendencies toward homosexual acts that are either not being addressed, or are so deeply a part of the seminarian’s person that they constitute a significant impairment to being a priest. This is a far more serious problem than the issue of being attracted to someone of the same sex, as the document later notes (“Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem…”).

And it’s also quite obvious there is a strong correlation or resemblance between “gay culture” (condemned in the document) and a “gay lobby” (renounced by Pope Francis). But, then, you’d have to actually read the text in question and engage your brain, two steps that are apparently unhead of by more than a few journalists and commentators. With that important background established, let’s return to Ms. Walshe’s muddled musings:

When the thorny issue of women in the church came up, the pope kindly acknowledged that a woman’s role “does not end just with being a mother and with housework,” (something mainstream society figured out about a century ago). He went on to pay lip service to the need to expand women’s role in some way, but while he had no concrete ideas on what this might entail, he made it clear than it would never include the right to be ordained alongside men:

“On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.”

This bold statement did not go down well with advocates for Catholic women who were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the pope’s position. He was happy to dismiss the declarations of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, regarding gay priests, but an apostolic letter written nearly 20 years ago by John Paul II outlining his personal objections to the ordination of women is held to be a “definitive formulation” that is not open to further discussion.

Big, big breath. Francis, as we’ve seen, in no way “dismissed the declarations of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, regarding gay priests…” This “argument” is yet another example of the disingenuous approach I mentioned at the start of this post. Secondly, there is an obvious difference between an Instruction issued by a Congregation dealing with discipline (and, to a certain degree, matters of prudential judgment) and an apostolic letter issued by a pope and directly addressing a matter of doctrine in solemn, authoritative language. Third, to suggest that the Apostolic Letter, “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” was merely the expression of “personal objections” is not just sloppy, but also disingenuous. After all, John Paul II stated, in that 1994 text,

Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. (par 4)

In other words, John Paul II simply but very seriously stated that no pope has the authority to overturn and change the teaching of the Church on this matter. Period. But Walshe has no interest in clarity or precision; she smells blood, completely unaware it is coming from the gaping wounds in her “arguments”:

As Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of Women’s Ordination Conference said in a statement, there are plenty of other sources the pope could have looked to regarding women’s ordination that did not involve slamming the door in their faces:

“[Pope Francis] could have quoted the Vatican’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission that concluded in 1976 that there is no valid scriptural or theological reason for denying ordination to women. Pope Francis could have cited history that documents women’s leadership in the early church, or acknowledge the great works Roman Catholic Women priests are doing today. He could have looked to Jesus who welcomed women as his equal.”

He could indeed have done all of those things, but like pretty much every other member of the all male hierarchy in the church, the pope’s mind appears to be “definitively” closed on this issue. The church has gotten away with blatant sexism for so long that even a leader who says all the right things about the need to be inclusive and forgiving and non judgmental (and who probably genuinely believes what he says) loses all self awareness when the rights and expectations of women to be judged as equals within the church are raised.

This is truly ridiculous: John Paul II’s apostolic letter is dismissed because it was “written nearly 20 years ago,” but we should silently and swiftly acknowledge the infallible decree issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission nearly forty years ago! That makes sense—if you are so desperate to score points that you toss aside any and all semblance of common sense. And, of course, the Commission did not say there weren’t valid Scriptural or theological reasons for not ordaining women; rather, it offers the conclusion, “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” And that, frankly, is up for serious debate.

Much more significant is the document, “Inter Insigniores,” presented by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in October 1976, that was approved, confirmed and ordered by Pope Paul VI. That text is worth reading in its entirety, but I will just provide this quote:

In the final analysis it is the Church through the voice of the Magisterium, that, in these various domains, decides what can change and what must remain immutable. When she judges she cannot accept certain changes, it is because she knows she is bound by Christ’s manner of acting. Her attitude, despite appearances, is therefore not one of archaism but of fidelity: it can be truly understood only in this light. The Church makes pronouncements in virtue of the Lord’s promise and the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to proclaim better the mystery of Christ and to safeguard and manifest the whole of its rich content.

The practice of the Church therefore has a normative character: in the fact of conferring priestly ordination only on men, it is a question of unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West, and alert to repress abuses immediately. This norm, based on Christ’s example, has been and is still observed because it is considered to conform to God’s plan for his Church.

I wonder why Ms. Hanna failed to mention that text? Puzzling, without a doubt. Finally, one last quote from Walshe, whose failure to grasp basic facts and simple logic is simply breathtaking:

In the church’s eyes then, these women are sinners who have broken Canon and so must be punished. That would be fair enough I suppose if punishments for breaking church laws were evenly applied. Engaging in homosexual acts is also a sin according to Catholic teaching, but when asked about the case of Monsignor Battista Ricca, who had an alleged gay relationship, the pope waxed lyrical about the need to forgive past sin and forget it:

“The theology of sin is important. Saint Peter committed one of the greatest sins, denying Christ, and yet they made him pope. Think about that.”

Those are noble words that the pope might want to think about further himself. If a male priest can be forgiven for engaging in sexual acts that the church considers sinful, can a female priest be pardoned for the “sin” of simply becoming a priest? If Francis’ own concept of forgiveness and forgetting were equally applied, and the women priests were welcomed back into the fold, we could end up with a woman pope some day. Now that is something worth thinking about.

That’s right: she actually equates someone who asked forgiveness for a sin with someone who insists on continuing to publicly hold to and defend a sin! She does know, doesn’t she, that Peter wept and repented, and then was reaffirmed in his position as head apostle by Christ? (Also, she does know about Judas, right?) The “conception of sin” presented by Francis is that sin is bad and must be rejected and repented of. Continuing in sin, whether it be homosexual acts or publicly attacking Church teaching through word and deed, is, well, sinful. A “woman priest” is not going to be “welcomed back into the fold” unless she renounces her sin. Is this really so hard to understand?

Wait. Don’t answer that. Hearing people say, “Yes, it really is hard to understand” is yet another one of my pet peeves.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1232 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.