Members of Women’s Ordination Worldwide — that’s the name of a group promoting the “ordination” of women — have been in Rome this week, where rather than being shunned, as is appropriate, they were granted an audience with an official from the Vatican Secretariat of State. Hearing their appeal on behalf of some 150 women who have been “ordained” since 2002 (all of whom have been excommunicated), this unnamed official, according to The Tablet, “agreed to give a petition to the Pope calling for the excommunications to be lifted.”
I don’t know how many signatures this petition has garnered, but history has taught us that numbers alone don’t guarantee results. With nearly 900,000 signatures, including hundreds of Catholic prelates, the Filial Appeal to Pope Francis (and the heartfelt concerns of the faithful it represented) was summarily ignored.
But the little ladies at WOW got a concession beyond the promise of a hand-delivered grievance letter. The Tablet reports that “For the first time the group has been given official permission to hold a public demonstration in the gardens of Castel Sant’Angelo”. But not just on any day. Oh no. The protest took place today, “the day that the Pope celebrates a jubilee mass for priests in St Peter’s Square. Members of the women’s ordination group have also been given tickets to attend the Mass.”
The National Catholic Reporter ran a story recapping today’s events just a little while ago:
“We thought that the Jubilee for Priests was a perfect time to really give an offering and a celebration for all women called to priesthood,” said Kate McElwee, co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, the U.S.-based member of WOW. “We really wanted to have this as a celebration and a serious conversation of women in the church.”
Pope Francis’ recent announcement that he would create a commission to study the history of female deacons in the Catholic church — a hot button topic among members of the church — was also brought to the table Wednesday, June 1. Flannery offered only positive feedback to the announcement. If women eventually are ordained as deacons, he said, parishioners will no longer distinguish between males and females performing liturgies on the altar. “They wouldn’t see a significant difference. I think it would be a big step forward.”
Panelist Jamie Manson, who is NCR’s book editor and a columnist, offered a different perspective. “The establishment of women deacons, I think, runs the risk of being a compromise that ends up trapping women in a role in which they will continue to be subservient to men, particularly in service to priests,” she said.
Panelist Marinella Perroni, a professor of the New Testament at Pontifical University of St. Anselmo in Rome, offered three points during her introduction Wednesday, including the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, which “brought to light the necessity of re-thinking the theology of Catholic ministry,” she said.
“I was always convinced that the church of Vatican II must come to de-clericalize ordained ministry, liberating it from the weight of sacrifice. Instead, the terror of a possible Protestantization of the Catholic church has blocked the reception of Vatican II and radicalized the theology of ministry as the stereotypical post-Tridentine ones,” Perroni said. “Personally, therefore, I would prefer that women would aspire to ordained ministry rather than priesthood.
“Liberating” the priesthood “from the weight of sacrifice” sounds like what most of us have experienced in the parishes in the decades since Vatican II, though I’d be lying if I said I had any idea what it means to “de-clericalize ordained ministry” or to “aspire to ordained ministry” in a way that is distinct from the priesthood. (Could it have something to do with turtlenecks?)
A bunch of radical progressives engaged in small group fantasizing, as entertaining as that no doubt must be, leaves aside the issue that really chafes: how did the protest at the Mass itself turn out? The Reporter has that answer, too:
About 20 people gathered Friday in Piazza Pia at the far end of the boulevard that runs into the plaza outside St. Peter’s Basilica, where a Mass for the Jubilee of Priests was beginning. The Women’s Ordination Worldwide supporters dressed in purple stoles — a symbol of women’s ordination — and carried signs that read, “Women priests are here.” They also had a cardboard replica of a telephone booth that was labeled, “Door to dialogue.”
WOW organizers had a permit for their demonstration, making it, they say, the first legal demonstration for the group in Rome.
“We walked down the pilgrim’s path toward St. Peter’s and joined the Mass for priests,” McElwee toldNCR. “However, the women priests with us had their stoles and signs taken away, as well as our leaflets and pins.”
Well at least someone at the Vatican recognized that their little show was inappropriate. Good on them.
All of this, however, points to the frustrating necessity of a larger discussion on a matter that should have already long-since been put to rest. Anyone who has given even a cursory glance to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is aware that the issue of women priests is a dead letter, despite what advocates of The Hermeneutic of Perpetual Innovation (and/or polyester pantsuits) would like us to believe. So since the Church needs women priests like a fish needs a bicycle, why are we still talking about this 22 years later?
I suspect that the real reasons are as complex and varied as the reality of fallen human nature. But if you want to point your finger at the underlying problem that keeps this whole debacle from dying on the vine, I suggest you turn your agitated gaze upon the wholly inappropriate presence of women in the sanctuary.
It is more than a little ironic to note that just two months before the promulgation of Ordinatio Sacerdoatalis, in which Pope John Paul II stated definitively “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”, he ordered the publication of another little document, with the purpose of establishing the practice of female altar service.
Liturgically speaking, this is akin to the man who tells a young lady that he’ll never marry her, but they should at least continue to make out. It is an ecclesiastical tease, the invitation to those of an impressionable age to flirt with a vocation they will never be called to — all while making it that much less likely that boys will continue to take an interest. It’s a completely manufactured and multifaceted vocations crisis all rolled up into one incredibly bad idea.
Some young women see it for the dead end it is. I’ll never forget how one of my female cousins, a number of years ago, was asked by a visiting deacon why she wasn’t serving at the altar with her brothers. She looked at him like he had been dropped on his head as a child, and stated flatly, “Because there’s no future in it.” She must have been about ten years old at the time. It was a proud moment for her parents, and a score for sensible people everywhere.
Today’s demonstration in Rome, however, makes clear that not all the ladies got the same memo.
Of course, it’s not just the presence of female altar boys that send a mixed message. Our sanctuaries are needlessly cluttered with Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (to whom St. Thomas Aquinas would fervently object) and many of these are women. Our pulpits are routinely (and in some cases exclusively) visited by Lectors and Cantors with unmistakable X chromosomes (and in the case of the latter, inexplicably upraised palms). As Benedict Constable argued in a piece published in these pages last year, that this is permitted does not in any way mean it is wise:
To ignore differences of sex or to pretend that such differences make (or should make) no difference in the fulfilling of liturgical roles is surely to ignore, and probably to contradict, the “theology of the body” given to the Church by Saint John Paul II. Especially in our times, when confusion about sexuality is rampant, how we conceptualize and implement male and female roles in the Church cannot fail to have huge ramifications in our theological anthropology, moral theology, and even fundamental theology, extending all the way to the inerrancy of Scripture and the trustworthiness of apostolic Tradition.
The Apostle declares to the Corinthians: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:33–35). Moreover, the same Apostle says to Saint Timothy: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent” (1 Tim 2:11–12).
In accordance with this apostolic judgment, the Church, for nearly 2,000 years, did not permit any woman to exercise a liturgical ministry in the sanctuary. Thus, the Council of Laodicea (365 AD) stated in Canon 44: “Women may not approach near the altar.” But the Church, being guided by the Holy Spirit, cannot err in the pleasing worship of Almighty God. Therefore her constant customs indicate a divine disposition, and all discordant novelties are to be rejected.
[…]Hence, the now nearly universal custom of women reading at Mass deserves to be abolished as the historical aberration and theological danger that it is. Such a restoration of ancient discipline would be one more way to celebrate and consolidate the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which did not breathe a word about opening up liturgical ministries to women, and which expressly stipulated: “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium,23).
Bishop Athanasius Schneider has echoed this theme in his own work on liturgical reform:
All those who exercise an active role in the liturgy, such as lectors, or those announcing the prayer of the faithful, should always be dressed in the liturgical vestments; and only men, no women, because this is an exercise in the sanctuary, close to the priesthood. Even reading the lectionary is directed towards this liturgy which we are celebrating to Christ. And therefore only men dressed in liturgical vestments should be in the sanctuary.
The priesthood is, and has always been, an inherently masculine office. The priests of the Old Testament were types of Christ; the priesthood as a sacrament, as it was established on Holy Thursday, took this intimacy with the person and mission of Christ to a whole new level. There may be thousands of Catholic priests in the world, but there is only one true priest and one true priesthood. Christ’s priesthood subsumes and animates the sacerdotal actions of the recipients of Holy Orders. Father Smith does not offer the Mass or absolve sins because he has been gifted the power to do so. Rather, by acting in persona Christi, the priest becomes a literal proxy for the action and power of Christ the True Priest – an action and power the priest makes present by observing, by means of the office bestowed upon him to do so, the matter and form of the sacrament. Each ordained man partakes of this one power of the priesthood. Like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, all priests share in the supernatural abundance of this priestly power, and there is enough for all. And in order to act “in the person of Christ,” the ordained must bear an actual likeness to Christ on a fundamental level. Christ came as a man — not as a woman, not as a hermaphrodite, but a man. And it is only men who can fully represent Him in the power of His priesthood.
To mistake this is to misunderstand what it is, in the eyes of God, to be a man or a woman, a father or a mother, a priest or a nun. Gender is not merely a social construct, but an ontological reality. And for this reason, women no more belong in the sanctuaries of our churches than men belong in women’s restrooms. We seem to understand this latter concept, so why is the former so difficult for us?
There are those both in society and in the Church who seek to deny these things, in law and in custom. It is important to remember that even where they prevail in introducing some change in praxis or policy, they cannot change the very fabric of reality itself. No matter how we cross-dress it up, sacramental transgenderism is a lie. And until we come to our senses on this matter, only confusion and difficulty will result.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.