Recall that nearly a month ago, after Pope Francis made some remarks suggesting the possibility of a potential commission to consider looking into the matter of deaconesses, I wrote the following:
Does Pope Francis have any idea of the needless can of worms he opened up with his statement earlier today, made to a gathering of superiors general of women religious communities, that the issue of female deacons should be revisited and possibly studied by a “commission”? … However, when there is just a sliver of hope, which might open the door a crack, which in turn can start a small move toward the ordination of women, the usual suspects will construct an entire narrative out of curious papal remark. … If he said what he did just as an off-the-cuff statement, does he not see how unhelpful it really is, and how it only provides fodder for those who would, ironically, undermine both the authority of the Church and the unique role of the ministerial priesthood?
And, sure enough, NPR (among many others) is found grasping at the fodder with both hands in a piece titled “Seizing On Pope’s Remarks, Women Meet In Rome To Discuss Female Priesthood”:
All across the Mediterranean, early Christian frescoes and bas reliefs carry the names of women deacons and even bishops — such as Phoebe, Helaria, Ausonia, Euphemia and Theodora. Yet in 1994, Pope John Paul II not only decreed that women are definitively excluded from the priesthood, he even banned all discussion of the topic. Pope Francis broke that taboo last month when he announced he would create a commission to study whether women can serve as deacons as they did in early Christianity.
What nonsense. But that’s what you get with what I used to often call the “priestette movement”. As I’ve stated before: “Their theology is lousy. Their ecclesiology is incoherent.” And that’s just the basic stuff. As has been shown (for example) their historical scholarship operates in the murky, conspiratorial realm of Dan Brown—which isn’t good, in case you weren’t sure. But what is especially noteworthy in the NPR piece is the self-important, hyperbolic silliness: “Pope Francis broke that taboo…” No, he didn’t. What he did do, in my opinion, was make an imprudent comment that is now being spun into something not even remotely close to the content and intent of what he said. So:
Seizing this new sign of openness, supporters of a female priesthood converged on Rome this week, to coincide with the Vatican’s Jubilee for the all-male clergy. … Father Tony Flannery, whose support for women priests was one reason the Vatican suspended him from public ministry, also took part in this week’s discussion. He rejected the claim that since Jesus’ disciples were male, only men can minister the sacraments in persona Christi, or “in the person of Christ.” “Now that is such a ridiculous argument,” he said. “In fact, that argument has its rightful place back at the time of the flat earth and the persecution of Galileo.”
If that’s the sort of dull and desperate soundbite that appeals to you, then you probably aren’t too interested in what and why the Church teaches about the priesthood and related matters. This is middle school stuff. But it’s effectiveness probably shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, especially since we apparently live in the Middle School Ages.
Panelist Jamie Manson, columnist and book editor at the National Catholic Reporter, said a female priesthood would be an important signal in a world where women suffer disproportionately from violence, poverty, lack of education and trafficking. “Imagine if a church of one billion people, with this charismatic, rock star pope, suddenly said to the world, that women are equal to men,” Manson said. “Imagine the power that would have over cultures across the world, where this patriarchal idea of women’s subservience to men is at the root of all that women suffer globally.”
Yes, imagine if a pope were to say:
Everything that has been said so far about Christ’s attitude to women confirms and clarifies, in the Holy Spirit, the truth about the equality of man and woman. One must speak of an essential “equality”, since both of them – the woman as much as the man – are created in the image and likeness of God. Both of them are equally capable of receiving the outpouring of divine truth and love in the Holy Spirit. Both receive his salvific and sanctifying “visits”.
The fact of being a man or a woman involves no limitation here, just as the salvific and sanctifying action of the Spirit in man is in no way limited by the fact that one is a Jew or a Greek, slave or free, according to the well-known words of Saint Paul: “For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This unity does not cancel out diversity. The Holy Spirit, who brings about this unity in the supernatural order of sanctifying grace, contributes in equal measure to the fact that “your sons will prophesy” and that “your daughters will prophesy”. “To prophesy” means to express by one’s words and one’s life “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2: 11), preserving the truth and originality of each person, whether woman or man. Gospel “equality”, the “equality” of women and men in regard to the “mighty works of God” – manifested so clearly in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth – constitutes the most obvious basis for the dignity and vocation of women in the Church and in the world.
Which is what John Paul II said almost thirty years ago. Similar papal remarks are plentiful. But it doesn’t matter. Not to these folks:
But after Pope Benedict issued a decree in 2010, all those women were automatically excommunicated from the church.
Some of those pioneering women priests also came to Rome this week, and they scored another first. Janice Sevré-Duszynska, who was ordained by a bishop in Kentucky in 2008, says she and another woman were received by an official in the Secretariat of State, one of the Vatican’s top departments. “We talked to a wonderful priest, we were able to give our letter to Pope Francis, our petition to lift our excommunciations and stop all punishments against our supporters as well as begin a dialogue with women priests,” she said.
For the canonical facts behind the 2008 decree about penalties for those who attempt to confer holy Orders on women, see this post by Dr. Edward Peters.
What to make of the apparent meeting between a Vatican representative and non-ordained woman pretending to be ordained? As is often the case with Francis, it’s not clear. Perhaps it is a gesture meant to suggest dialogue or a vague sense of “listening” or even “accompaniment”? Who knows. What I do know, without doubt, is that those who support the “priestette movement” have only goal, and it isn’t actually “service” or “ministry”. It’s about power. Therefore, keep in mind these four facts about the supporters of women’s “ordination”:
1. They are theologically ignorant. (“Here is the badge of heresy,” wrote Blessed Cardinal Newman, “its dogmas are unfruitful; it has no theology.”)
2. They view the Church primarily in terms of human authority and position, not as a divine institution founded by Christ for a specific end, with certain functions and roles established by Christ within the Church for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls.
3. They act in bad faith, or lack real faith. This is evidenced in their dismissal of Magisterial teaching; it is the “Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (CCC, par. 890).
4. They are immature, attention-seeking, delusional, and narcissistic, with no demonstrable love or concern for the Church, her teachings, and her mission. Like the Pharisees, they demand attention and recognition, claiming they have a superior ability to know, interpret, and live the law. Yet they lack the gravitas of the Pharisees; there is a self-absorbed flippancy to these priestettes that is both sad and sickening.
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!