Women priests now!
Luis T. Gutierrez, Guest Columnist
Congratulations on this editorial. The ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is the most urgent issue facing the Roman Catholic Church.
In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to be male. This is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.
We need to reconsider the church as a family and recognise that the patriarchal church hierarchy is becoming an obstacle to evangelisation as we enter the transition to a post-patriarchal society. Hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem. According to the dictionary, patriarchy is basically the rule of the father as head of the nuclear family, which extrapolates to all other social and religious institutions. In its radical form, it becomes the culture of male domination and control - of women by men, of nature by humans.
The exclusively male hierarchy is becoming stale as a symbol of the Christ-Church mystery. Granted that ordination to the priesthood is not a 'human right' (for either men or women), Christ should be allowed to call those he wants here and now. Why should we keep Christ frozen in the patriarchal culture he had to deal with during his earthly mission to the people of Israel? Would Jesus, in today's world, select 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? If Mary was called to divine motherhood, why is it that baptised women cannot be called to sacramental motherhood?
Unity in diversity
St John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) may provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarised as unity in diversity ("original unity of man and woman"), individuality in community ("communion of persons") and equality in mutuality ("spousal meaning of the body"). The complementarity of man and woman is for reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.
The TOB is not about radical feminism. It is not about radical patriarchy either, past or present. It should be noted that the letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), which is not a dogmatic definition of revealed truth, is entirely written in past and present tense, and says nothing about what the church can or cannot do in the future. The term "definitive", as used in this document with regard to the male-only priesthood, therefore applies to the past and the present, not the future, since the document says nothing about the future.
Nothing essential (dogmatic) of the Catholic faith would have to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The TOB confirms that there is one (embodied) human nature and explains that "body" is more fundamental to the structure of the personal subject than being somatically male or female (8:1). Sexual differentiation is a gift but is also a limitation of the human condition. What matters for the redemption is that the eternal word became human ('flesh'), not male.
What is needed is to clarify our sacramental theology to separate patriarchal ideology from revealed truth. Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of Ephesians 5 abundantly shows), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male.
The problem with the traditional (with small "t") argument is that "in persona Christi" refers to a divine person, not a human person. The second person of the Trinity was not a male before the incarnation. This divine person became human as a male, but this was part of embracing all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin"). Even after the incarnation and the redemption, Jesus Christ is one divine person in two natures - divine and human.
Divinity and humanity
The Christ who transubstantiates the bread and wine into his own body and blood is a divine person, not a human person. The body is a sacrament of the whole person, but is not the whole person. This applies for human persons, and even more so for a divine person. The ordained priest acts in place of a divine person who became human, not in place of an idolatrous male.
To act "in persona Christi capitis" means to act in place of a divine person. Neither men nor women are divine persons. Any baptised human person, male or female, can be ordained to act "in persona Christi capitis". All ministries, including ordained ministries, should be mediated by the church, but must be based on vocational discernment and should be gift-based, not gender-based.
The exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CIC 1024, CCC 1598). The church does have the authority (the power of the keys) to ordain women as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides it would be for the glory of God and the good of souls.
With so many nuns who have the 'signs of the priesthood', it is lamentable that they cannot be ordained for reasons that have nothing to do with divine revelation. Ordaining nuns to the priesthood would be the right response to the 'signs of the times' and the most sensible response to the shortage of priests throughout the church.