help is on the way

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 28, 2008

Fr. Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., wants Catholics to revisit the issue of women's ordination.

Does the church need woman priests? The evidence rises that it does. The evidence begins in the New Testament: the prominence of women at the cross and resurrection, Christ's friendship with Mary and Martha and other women; women church leaders in the Acts of the Apostles. The Biblical Commission declared over 30 years ago that Scripture raised no obstacles to women's ordination.

Finally the silence on women's ordination has been broken by the American bishops -- specifically the South American bishops of Brazil, who last spring issued a document pointing out that 75 percent of their weekly celebrations were without a priest. "We must have the courage to change ...Conservative tendencies," they said, "must not stop the church from making prophetic gestures. The access of women to the ordained minister is a pending debt." ...

[chop]

But the women have reminded the silent bystanders of the whole church's responsibility to speak for them. The big universities -- like Fordham, Notre Dame, Boston College, Catholic U., and Georgetown -- have the opportunity to sponsor public hearings, to bring together scholars to lay out the scriptural, sociological, and theological arguments on both sides. There are practical as well as theoretical problems. If the arguments of the opponents hold water, let them demonstrate that in open discussion. Get the bishops to listen and say what they really think, not just what Rome wants to hear.

Schroth's article is titled "Women Priests: Let the Whole Church Decide." In the canonically decisive sense, the Universal Church already has decided, and her judgment was repeated, and given definitive and binding force, by the Bishop of Rome in 1994 (Ordinatio sacerdotalis):

I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

The teaching seems clear enough as stated, and for those yet in doubt was in the following year declared to be part of the deposit of faith. To be a Catholic means to accept the deposit of faith, to take its teachings, including unpopular teachings, as true.

Is the call for open discussion of defined teaching the same as dissent from that teaching? Not necessarily: a university could sponsor a colloquium on, say, the doctrine of homoousion simply to arrive at a clearer understanding of that doctrine. But to open the question of whether defined teaching should be revised is ipso facto a denial that the teaching is binding. As we've pointed out before, no one says "let's begin a conversation about why things should stay as they are."

Few would dispute the claim that -- as regards such a counter-Enlightenment doctrine as that reserving priesthood to men -- a lot more convincing needs to be done: the faithful deserve better explanations than those commonly offered from the pulpit. Scholarly discussion that contributed toward that end would be welcome. A critically-trained scholar could do a service to the Universal Church by helping confused Catholics understand where and how their resistance stems from unexamined assumptions unconsciously swallowed as part of the ambient culture, and why the Church teaching partakes of a trans-historical reality larger than any culture and rooted in the authority of Christ himself.

Well, if you were the Pope, would you find Schroth's article a good-faith effort at performing this service? If you were Schroth, wouldn't you think the Pope a fool for doing do?

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