During the interview of Cardinal Sean O’Malley on CBS’ 60 Minutes this past Sunday, host Norah O’Donnell pushed the Archbishop of Boston on the question of “women ordination” and the possibility of “women priests.”
It was not Cardinal O’Malley’s finest moment of the interview. O’Donnell was aggressive in pursuing the issue on O’Malley, and the host went as far as to suggest that the Church’s “exclusion” of women from the priesthood is actually “immoral” and is an issue of “fairness.”
The question of “women clergy” is heavy stuff, and the challenge deserves a clear, firm, and accurate response, especially when it is in a nationally televised setting with one of the Church’s most visible leaders.
In his first response to O’Donnell’s challenge, O’Malley was entirely correct in saying that “not everyone needs to be ordained to have that important role in the life of the Church.” However, as O’Donnell continued to force the issue upon O’Malley, many feel that the archbishop’s responses left something to be desired, as he paused uncomfortably and tried to formulate some answers.
It also didn’t help that O’Malley eventually smiled and blurted out, “If I were founding a church, y’know, I’d love to have women priests!” Yikes.
Here is one effective way that Cardinal O’Malley could have addressed O’Donnell’s challenge:
O’DONNELL: Some would say that women do a lot of the work but have very little power.
O’MALLEY: Well, there is a common misperception about the Catholic Church that men and women have different “powers.” In truth, we teach that the only real “power” in the Church comes from Jesus Christ.
The Church compares the function of the Church to that of a human body, with Christ as the head. [See 1 Corinthians 12.] Different parts of the human body have different functions and roles, not actual “power.”
In the human body, an eye does not have more “power” than a liver. A kidney does not have more “power” than an ear. They have different functions and roles.
Such it is in the Catholic Church. This view may not be popular in our secular world today, but just as a man can never be a mother, men and women have different functions and roles. We all bring different gifts to the Church, but the only real “power” comes from God.
Of course, there are a number of different ways that O’Malley could have responded to O’Donnell’s challenges. There is also the issue of time constraints in a television interview setting. A forum such as 60 Minutes is not an opportunity for a long and drawn-out theological explanation.
But the bottom line is that Catholic clergy have to be aware that when appearing in secular interviews, questions about “women clergy” and other hot-button issues will very frequently arise. It is essential that bishops and priests have crisp and solid answers to these challenges.
Let us pray that our bishops and priests continue to appear as strong witnesses to Church teaching when appearing in secular interviews.
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