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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

truth or consequences

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 18, 2005

Yet more Catholic women are attempting to bootstrap themselves into Holy Orders. This time in the waters of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

All the women being ordained July 25 are members of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization of Catholic women whose goal "is to bring about the full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church," said the group's Web site. Seven women were ordained in the organization's first ceremony in 2002. ... "We consider these ordinations to be valid but illicit," said [Prof. Victoria] Rue, who was ordained as a deacon last year and will move a step up to priest this year.

Here's a thought experiment, notionally addressed to a liberal Catholic who approves of the ordination of women or believes it may take place in the future.

Let's assume that a male Anglican bishop with valid episcopal orders performs the Catholic rite of priestly ordination upon a woman called Kate. As an orthodox Catholic, I contend Kate has not been ordained. But you, thinking it possible that women might one day be ordained, are obliged to acknowledge that some women have already been ordained -- viz., those subject like Kate to the conditions just mentioned. Prof. Rue is correct that an ordination may be illicit (i.e., contrary to ecclesiastical norms and permissions), but still valid. However, a future pope's or future council's decision could change the conditions of liceity for Holy Orders, but not the conditions of validity. Thus, if it will ever be the case that women are validly ordained, then it already is the case that women are validly ordained. I deny the if-clause, of course, but you don't, and so are obliged to accept the consequent.

Suppose Kate attempts to confect the Eucharist and you and I each come into possession of the communion wafers. You are obliged to treat them as you would treat the Blessed Sacrament validly consecrated by a validly ordained priest (Can you be sure they aren't the Real Thing? You can't). I would treat them no differently from the biscuits left behind by my kids after staging a pretend mass on a shipping crate in the basement (No Mass took place in either case. For Kate as for my kids, what was flour before remained flour afterwards). Now if I saw you trying to insert Kate's wafers into the ciborium of our parish tabernacle, I would do everything -- not excluding physical constraint -- to prevent you. And if you saw me disposing of Kate's wafers according to my belief that they are nothing more than stale bread, you'd be obliged to do everything you could to prevent me. Please note that these aren't in-yo-face demonstrations of personal bigotry. These are sober and sensible actions directed by conventional Eucharistic doctrine.

Now here's my question. Is it possible that two persons such as ourselves 1) could be in total agreement about the facts of the case (i.e., the circumstances of Kate's ordination and her eucharistic action regarding the wafers), 2) could be in total disagreement about the ontological reality of the wafers in question, such that one worships what the other discards, and 3) could both belong to one and the same Church? If 1 and 2 are true, doesn't it follow that 3 must be false? Finally, if orthodox and liberal Catholics wouldn't belong to the same Church under the conditions so specified, do they belong to the same Church now?

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