12 August 2007

Thumbing their noses at the Vatican (and I'm downright gleeful!)

I took a small road trip yesterday to visit a friend and had some time alone in the car. On Saturdays, my local NPR affiliate plays a whole bunch of interesting programs, among them Car Talk, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and Weekend America. I don't get to listen to all of them, usually, but that does not mean that I don't enjoy them.

Weekend America had a story about a movement in the Catholic Church to ordain women. I'm thrilled to my fingertips about this. The fact that the Church does not recognize the ordinations matters little to me.

Change within the Catholic Church could be best categorized as having a glacial pace, so I'm unsurprised that the Vatican excommunicated the first women to be ordained. For heaven's sake, the Church only admitted in 1992 that maybe they ought not to have excommunicated Galileo in 1633. "Glacial" is perhaps too kind a word for the pace of change.

Pope John Paul II had plenty to say about female ordination in letters dated 1988 and 1995. Through all that woman-hating waffle (should you bother to read it, as I did) the basic message is: "Hey, ladies. We hear you. Be patient. Be faithful. Listen to the priests and bishops. Be a nun if you want to serve. Obedience to cannon law is paramount. Barefoot and pregnant is the best condition for you."

Here's a couple of direct quotes from the 1988 letter, offensive in the extreme: We must now focus our meditation on virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality." How's THAT for a gem? Add it to this piece of nonsense: "In the name of liberation from male "domination", women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine "originality". There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfilment", but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness."

The bold emphasis is mine, of course.

Being a feminist, you see, is inherently evil in the eyes of the Church. Women should be wives, fulfilling their 'duty' to be fruitful and multiply, or they should be nuns. It is that whole virgin/whore debate all over again; either you are a virgin, pure, holy, obedient, or you're a whore, plain and simple. What a load of sanctimonious bullshit.

I'm sure that Pope Pious XII will have plenty to say on this issue as well, since women continue to defy Vatican prescriptions for their behavior. Especially since Pious is even more conservative, more of a right-wing nut job than his predecessor was.

By not behaving, being disobedient, the women who have been ordained are taking their place in history as feminists, ground-breakers, and leaders.

I had a conversation with my father about this whole issue; he himself was excommunicated for marrying my mother, a Protestant. The fact that Mum converted to Catholicism and raised the sibs and I Catholic has no bearing whatsoever on Dad's excommunication. And yes, this happened in America in the 1960s, amazing enough in itself. So he's got his own axe to grind with the Church, but by and large he and I disagree about almost the whole religion issue. He still believes in much of his childhood teachings, whereas I do not.

"Why would the Church's stance on this surprise you?" He asked me, in all seriousness.

"Well," I said, "Because I was raised as a red-blooded American woman, who believes that she's got the same rights as any man...remember 'we hold these truths to be self-evident?' and the whole feminist stance I have?"

"But the Church has never played by the same rules as the government," he reminded me, "and the chances of the Church changing anytime soon are slim and none."

This issue for me is more about equality than religion, in the end. So perhaps he's right. But I refuse to accept that just because we don't have penises that we can't be priests.


John said...


As always, engaging! Thanks for bringing this won-ton to the table to chew on. I, as you can well imagine, wrestle with the whole women in ministry thing - even though my words and thoughts do not carry the weight of the Pope's. I, unlike him, am fallible.

Here's the gem stuck in my teeth "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church a Cenchrea." (Rom 16:1). In our tradition deacons are ordained - therefore Phoebe must have been, most likely was ordained. Hmmm.


Lucy Arin said...

Hi John-

Not sure what you mean by the statement that you "wrestle with the whole women in ministry thing". We should/should not be pastors?

As I said, on what basis do we disqualify women? Original sin? Gimme a break; even the Pope's 1988 letter makes references to the fact that original sin was a HUMAN failing, not a female one.

As for the idea that the Pope is infallible; again, laughable. Becoming pontiff does not change the fact that he's still human, and therefore, by definition, imperfect. I've never bought the whole "divine right" theory for Popes.

I see the fact that other Christian faiths allow female ordination as proof positive that they're light years ahead of the Catholics when it comes to women's rights; a sad fact, but no less true.