Ordaining women would not achieve change sought by McAleese

Rite&Reason: Churches embracing liberal mores fade more than those that reject them

St Peter’s  in Rome: Church cannot choose popularity over authenticity.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

St Peter’s in Rome: Church cannot choose popularity over authenticity. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Let me declare myself. I am a practising Catholic woman who is totally at ease with an all-male priesthood. I offer two primary reasons. Like the church, I believe that gender is a given before it is a constuct and that God would not have made humanity in two halves, as male and female, if our functions and roles were everywhere interchangeable.

Second, Jesus selected 12 men to lead the church. I am conscious the divine dispensation is an inversion of the order of worldly power. Leadership in Christ’s kingdom is about lowly service, not domination.

Jesus modelled this to the 12 by washing their feet at the Last Supper.

Mary Magdalene, however, did not need that lesson. In fact, she had already given it. Unprompted, she washed the feet of Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee, to the discomfort and bemusement of the host.

Jesus’s words of praise for her were lavish. She would be remembered, “wherever the Gospel is preached”. She is. So, it was not because she was unworthy or unqualified that Jesus failed to chose her among the 12. It was for other reasons, perhaps too elusive for us to grasp fully, but somehow part of the great paradox that is the Gospel of Christ where “the greatest are the least” and preferment goes according to God’s will rather than natural claims of entitlement.

Women tend to be involved to a greater extent than men in church activities. Many of them find themselves these days on church councils and advisory bodies. Women with theological qualifications can be found in seminaries or writing and researching for leading Catholic publications.

Tokens? Who says? Usually other women who insist their personal exclusion is due to their gender rather than other considerations.

Concepts of rights

Gender equality is not the only issue where contemporary concepts of rights clash head-on with the Catholic Church’s teaching. There are strong and trenchant calls from within as well as outside the church for a change in its teaching on marriage and even abortion.

Setting aside the fact that churches which have embraced liberal mores have dwindled far more than those that don’t, we can point out that this is asking the church to choose popularity over authenticity, to abandon all credibility, to throw away the book and reinvent itself according to modern principles of enlightenment.

But ordaining women would not achieve the paradigm change Mary McAleese and indeed others within and without the church are calling for. Rank-and-file membership, male as well as female, would still be, from this perspective, powerless and passive in the pews.

So the church would need to reinvent itself according to modern principles of democracy as well and become a bottom-up organisation instead of the divinely founded and inspired top-down body it claims to be.

A significant presence of women in leadership roles would colour decisions no more or no less than in other organisations. As in non-religious organisations, people’s views and attitudes are shaped more by their life experience than their gender.

Teaching vs policy

Is there ever an issue in politics that breaks along gender lines? Or anywhere close? But decision-making in the Catholic Church is about faithfully imparting teaching, not creating “policy” in line with the values of the world at any given time.

The failure of the church to understand leadership as humble service and to teach as Christ taught, bravely and humbly and consistently, has led to abuses of power. However, the correct exercise of authority must not be compromised in addressing the necessary reforms to make power accountable.

What the church preaches and teaches does not always make sense according to the wisdom of the age. This is exactly how it was at the beginning when St Paul, observed that it was “folly to the Greeks”.

The worldly wise and sophisticated among us today, inside and outside the church, see the same folly and fulminate against it.

But then St Paul tells us that worldly wisdom, such a mix of opportunism, guile and grudge, is not even a match for God’s foolishness.

Margaret Hickey is a writer on social and faith issues. She is currently an activist in the Pro-Life Campaign to retain the Eighth Amendment

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