In 1994 Pope John Paul issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which said the Church had no authority to ordain women. A year later, the prefect at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, ordered all discussion on women priests to stop. And, in 1998, Pope John Paul said those who continued discussing women's ordination were effectively excommunicating themselves.
Structurally, the architecture of the Church is designed to create and maintain the invisibility and powerlessness of women
When Rome became aware of an international conference on women's ordination in Dublin in 2001, and that US Benedictine theologian Sr Joan Chittister was to attend, it threatened her with "just penalties". Despite this, she travelled to Dublin, with the full support of her congregation. The Vatican took no action. Sr Chittister told that conference the Church was facing one of its most serious challenges since slavery, over women. "To most of the world, the colonisation of women is as unacceptable now as the colonial oppression of Africa, the crusades against the Turks, the enslavement of blacks and the decimation of indigenous peoples in the name of God," she said.
Visiting Dublin again last Saturday, Sr Chittister described sexism as “the original sin of the Church”. Former president Mary McAleese, herself banned from a Vatican conference on women last year, told the event that “structurally, the architecture of the Church is designed to create and maintain the invisibility and powerlessness of women”.
Both women also spoke about their own deep personal faith and commitment to what is good in the Church. They spoke against a background which included the conclusion last week of Rome's Amazon Synod. It approved a document calling for ordination of married men there as priests, and further discussion on allowing women deacons. All 181 who voted on the document were male. It was a Synod of Bishops which, structurally, can only be male in the Catholic Church.
That will remain the case until the underpinnings of a male-only priesthood in the Church, described by Prof McAleese as “codology dressed up as theology”, is recognised as such in Rome.