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Stiff-necked conservatives and the NCR

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | May 02, 2003

I do not object to bishops being the ones who ordain, if it is understood that they represent the local as well as the universal church. I believe the validity of their act of ordaining is rooted in this relation to the church. It does not flow literally from an apostolic secession that imagines the power to ordain as a "magic touch" passed down from bishop to bishop through two millennia. At the same time, when bishops grow so derelict in carrying out their responsibility to ordain a ministry in adequate numbers and quality to serve the church, then the church as people of God have a right to take back the power to ordain and carry it out themselves. It seems to me that this is the case today in the Catholic church.

That's Rosemary Ruether in this week's National Catholic Reporter. Her theology seems to get fuzzier and her antipathies sharper as the years go by. She professes a conventional Baptist understanding of ministry -- according to which it is the community that confers on the ordinand whatever there is to confer -- then contradicts herself in the notion that the people can "take back the power." But Rosemary, how can the community take back that which it never let go?

I myself have twice been invited to participate in "laying hands" on people being ordained in a Baptist setting. One was a friend being ordained to a social ministry in Washington, D.C. The other was the first woman to be ordained by the Baptist church of Nicaragua.

Ruether, clearly, has no shortage of spiritual homesteads. Why then is she so keen to yank ours from underneath us? Like St. Peter -- "Lord, to whom shall we go?" -- we have no alternatives, no fall-backs. It would appear that her aim is not to find a place of shelter for herself and her comrades but to make orthodox Catholics homeless.

My interest is less with Ruether's project in itself than with the editors of the National Catholic Reporter who keep her on board. Do they really think conservatives are being captious when we doubt the sincerity of the NCR's good will toward the Church? We may at times express our suspicions uncharitably, but do they really think we misunderstand their motives?

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