I have friends who sometimes, not unfairly, note that I have a certain streak of pessimism, or even cynicism. In my defense, I have occasionally noted that I receive (and look at) daily updates from The New Yorker, knowing that every few months I will find an article of depth, intelligence, and insight. Foolish? Likely. But surely a sign of some sort of optimism and hope.
Alas, the recent article—nay, long semi-fictional account—titled “The Women Who Want to Be Priests” and written by Margaret Talbot (for the “Annals of Religion” section) is not that article. The sub-title is equal parts quavering emotionalism and defiant pomposity: “They feel drawn by God to the calling—and won’t let the Vatican stop them.” After quickly reading the 7700-word-long essay, I though: “Well, who are the Triune God, the Incarnate Word, the Apostles, the Magisterium, and the Catholic Church to stand in the way of feelings? Ordain them ladies already!”
Actually—sarcasm paused—I wondered for a moment as to why this venerable form of priestette posturing and apologia had seemingly disappeared for quite a while. The first decade of the 2000s witnessed a steady stream of such pieces, all of them following the same predictable formula: Jane D., who is now in her 60s (or 70s), was called from the age of 8 (or 12, or 18) to be a priest; she was confused and then enlightened, persecuted and then encouraged; she earned a dozen degrees from trendy, lefty schools; she likely is lesbian; she thinks the Catholic Church is a patriarchal, rigid, mean-spirited institution that demeans and ignores women; she’s into all sorts of trendy stuff and talks a great deal about “social justice”; and she insists that she really is a priest even though the Vatican and the institutional church refuses to acknowledge this “fact”.
So, for instance, here are few snippets from the New Yorker piece:
• “A cradle Catholic who was born and raised in France, Humbert knew that in the Roman Catholic Church only men could be priests—it was an indisputable rule anchored in official teachings and traditions. This was in the early nineteen-seventies…”
• “But, even if many Catholics would welcome women’s ordination, the prospect seems as distant as ever. The Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, as its traditionalists are forever reminding its would-be reformers. Its governance is elaborately and rigidly hierarchical.”
• “In 2014, when Tropeano was forty, she enrolled in a Jesuit divinity school in Berkeley, California, where most of the other students were men preparing for the priesthood. A friend thought that Tropeano herself seemed very much like a priest in the making.”
• “Moreover, whatever Francis’s own sympathies might be, there is a limit to what he can change when so much of his hierarchy remains intransigent.”
• “Advocates for female ordination point out that Jesus welcomed women into his community. The Holy Roman Empire, however, eroded the faith’s early egalitarianism, and medieval theologians enshrined the idea of women as inferior, impure, and unfit for ministerial service.”
• “Via went on, though, to lead a thriving congregation that is not recognized by the canonical Church. There are dozens of other womenpriests leading their own worship communities. … In 2005, Via and her friend Rod Stephens—a priest who had voluntarily resigned his orders because he is gay and wanted to live with the man he loved—founded a parish in San Diego, the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community.”
• “She recently started a blog called ‘Becoming Father Anne,’ and likes to call herself a ‘Vatican reject.’ In an e-mail, she explained that she aims to ‘challenge and mock the absurdity and narrow-mindedness of this idea that women cannot live out the role of priest within the Catholic Church.’ She went on, ‘You say women can’t be priests? Watch me. I will strive to be a completely kick-ass priest.’”
Very deep stuff. And on and on (and on) it goes. And, of course, there has to be an appearance by Massimo Faggioli, who is apparently a professor in addition to full-time worker for the cause of St. Joe Biden: “Of the main issues on which Pope Francis has been a hero to liberal Catholics, the most disappointing to them is the issue of women. He is less conservative than some former Popes in saying that women should work, but he is still close to the traditional narrative of separate and complementary—not equal—spheres. In that way, he is a typical cleric born in the nineteen-thirties.” Chronological snobbery, anyone?
Addressing the overwhelming flood of expressive individualism, selective victimization, male-bashing, orthodox-smearing, and hyperbolic ranting in such a piece is pointless. After all, trying to reason with emotive irrationalism is like trying to rope feral cats with cooked spaghetti noodles.
So what’s the point?
Allow me to quote from three pieces I’ve written on this topic. First, from a November 30, 2008 Insight Scoop post:
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.
Secondly, from a November 18, 2013 CWR post:
Hey, it’s the American way! Not happy with being a man? Become a woman. Tired of your wife? Try a new one. Bored with reality? Create your own. On and on it goes. Stories such as this one are symptomatic of several deeper issues, including a disdain for certain—not all—forms of authority and tradition/Tradition. This is easily proven: does anyone think that Noll would be allowed to publish a sympathetic piece about a man claiming that he was the true President of the United States, based on his belief that he won the election of 2012? Naw, that would be whacky. Don’t be silly.
But in the realm of “religion” and “spirituality,” what is actually silly or stupid is often defended in the name of a deeply spiritual and personal “call” or “experience” that transcends the allegedly restrictive bonds of traditional, male-dominated institutions. That stuff is catnip to reporters who cut their teeth on feminist theology and neo-Marxist political philosophy, or have drunk similar, popularized elixers of liberation. (And don’t forget the sacred trump card of the all-powerful “conscience”!)
And, finally, from a November 2, 2008 Insight Scoop post (with minor edits):
Hmmmm…. “the goal”. What is it? Again, applying simple logic, the priestette’s view of the Catholic Church must be a variation of these perspectives: 1) the Church is a man-made institution that must change with the times, or 2) the Church is an institution founded by Christ but under the control of men who hold beliefs contrary to those of Christ. In the first case, the most logical thing to do, as a radical feminist-type, is to simply attack and destroy the Catholic Church. And, of course, there are many feminists and their supporters who do just that; they, I think, are far more logical than women such as Zeman, who seem to operate in a fuzzy, confused world of nostalgia intermingled with feminist politics.
In the second case, it seems absolutely nonsensical to be working to be ordained and given official recognition by the very men who represent and defend the very thing you detest and oppose. Again, it seems more logical to simply scrap the entire thing and say, “Hey, we are the true Church! We don’t need the Catholic Church!” If the bishops suddenly stated, “Whoops! Our mistake! We just realized that women can and should be ordained!”, it would still mean that priestettes would be ordained and recognized by the very authority they detest as patriarchal and male-dominated. It would also mean (to repeat what I’ve already said) that infallible teaching can be fallible, which means the Catholic Church is a complete farce. And who, really, wants to be ordained and given props by a farcical Church (yes, yes, I know—waaaay too many people)?
In all seriousness, I think it’s a fascinating issue. And I’m more and more convinced that the strange mixture of nostalgia and irrational feminism, as well as the obsessive, ideological desire to be in a visible position of “power”, has a lot to do with it. That said, it has nothing to do with theology, even though the entire issue is rooted in theology, especially matters of Christology, anthropology, and ecclesiology. But if there is one thing that seems quite obvious about these women, it’s that they are theologically illiterate. Of course, I’m sure they would beg to differ.
A decade ago, the Reign of Gay was just ascending; now we live in the apparent zenith of the Tyranny of Trans. The intersection between women claiming to be men because they say so and women claiming to be Catholic priest because they say so seems quite obvious. I suspect there will be more pieces like the one foisted upon the world by The New Yorker. Meanwhile, the theological, historical, and simply logical incoherence of it all will remain.
As G.K. Chesterton wrote in New York Times Magazine, nearly a century ago, on February 11, 1923: “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”
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