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The sham “ordination” of three women as “Catholic womenpriests” and one as a “deaconess” at a Presbyterian church in Boston on July 20 is a sad event for Catholics.
“Be one” is the ever challenging call from Christ to his flock. That oneness is to be achieved through his Church which, we believe, subsists in the Roman Catholic Church through the apostolic succession--the unbroken line of bishops from the apostles until today--and the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit.
“Sad” might sound like a weak adjective to describe the event. Some might have expected us to qualify the fake ordination in stronger terms like “mockery,” or “an insult to all Catholics.” But, as much as we understand the inner anger that a profane use of what we hold as the most sacred--a sacrament--may cause to our hearts, the focus of our reaction has to be openness to forgiveness and reconciliation.
This event is sad primarily because those who participated in the parody, by their own actions, have separated themselves from the communion of the Church. And that is also, in some measure, our failure because we have not been able to convey to them in a joyful and convincing manner the beauty of the Catholic faith as handed down to us.
The Church’s mission is to pass on to each generation the Deposit of Faith as received from Christ. Often, that faithfulness to Scripture and Tradition is misunderstood and rejected by the prevailing cultural establishment of the time and, in turn, by some Catholics who embrace the dictates of popular culture over their faith.
The Church’s countercultural values might be perceived by some as a weakness. Instead, it is a source of strength and the confirmation that the mission of the Church is not to be popular in each generation, but to challenge and inspire Catholics and, indeed, all people of good will, to understand and conform their consciences to the will of Christ.
To the issue at hand, it must be said that, in an uninterrupted tradition stemming from the will of Christ, the priesthood has been always conferred only on baptized male Christians. The validity of the sacrament of Holy Orders requires that as a premise, just as in the Eucharist it is bread and wine that are required to become the body and blood of Christ.
We cannot pretend to know all that was in Christ’s mind when he willed to choose 12 male followers as apostles, even if many women were also among his disciples. But we do know that cultural impositions of his time would not have prevented Christ from changing the rules. In fact, the Gospel is filled with evidence of this, even in his relationships with women; recall Christ’s reaction when an adulterous woman was about to be stoned to death. Stoning was the law; it was the tradition, as much as it might horrify us today. Christ was often not obedient to the prevailing religious establishment, and so it is hard to believe that, had he willed women priests, he would not have signaled that in some way.
What we do know is that the nascent Church understood Christ’s choice of only men as his apostles to be his will. Thus from the very beginning and to this day, the Church believes that she has no authority to change that.
God created humankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Both sexes are complementary and each one shares its gifts for the good of all. Sexual differences are not just cultural or physical, but are intrinsically related to our being born male or female, not simply a consequence of a cultural imposition.
Ideologies that blur that diversity deny the complementarity of the sexes. In their quest for a purported “equality” they impoverish the concept of personhood, failing to recognize the full dignity of each individual.
Men and women are called to play diverse roles in life, each one at the service of the other. The complementarity of the sexes speaks of a culture of service and love for each other rather than an indiscriminate fight for power at all costs.
During the papacy of Pope Paul VI the Congregation for the Doctrine on the Faith stated with regard to this issue that “equality is in no way identity, for the Church is a differentiated body, in which each individual has his or her role. The roles are distinct, and must not be confused; they do not favor the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others, nor do they provide an excuse for jealousy; the only better gift, which can and must be desired, is love. The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints.”
Thus, it is not about power, but about service, about love.