At the beginning of this week, Irish theologian Mary Condren published an outstanding commentary on the recent Vatican document coupling clerical pedophilia and women’s ordination. Condren’s analysis appeared in the Irish Times. (Once again, one of the encouraging developments of this tipping-point moment in the history of the Catholic church is the willingness of the secular media to provide forums for serious, open discussion of theological and moral issues, when the church itself and its institutions have not provided those forums in recent years.)
Condren’s statement is being widely circulated, and it deserves to be heard as widely as possible. I’ve seen it now at Religion and Morality, Clerical Whispers, Bishop Accountability, and in the e-newsletter of Voice of the Faithful.
I’m offering a link to Condren’s commentary here, with a brief reflection on her article, in order to invite readers of Open Tabernacle to read Condren’s fine analysis of the recent Vatican decision to couple clerical pedophilia and women’s ordination in a single document re: penalties for transgressing church laws. In Condren’s view, this Vatican decision is the “final straw” for women, because the Vatican’s Normae de Gravioribus Delictis provides heavier penalties for those “attempting” to ordain a woman than it does for priests sexually abusing minors. Condren notes the shock of many faithful Catholics in her Irish homeland following the publication of this document.
As Condren indicates, the shocking Vatican decision to link clerical pedophilia and women’s ordination in a single document is causing many Catholics to take a second look at the arguments set forth in the Vatican’s 1976 document forbidding ordination to women, entitled “Declaration on the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood.” Paul VI issued this document despite the findings of his own Pontifical Biblical Commission that there is no sound scriptural basis for excluding women from ordination.
Condren rehearses (and refutes) the arguments of the 1976 Vatican document. I highly recommend Condren’s concise summary of the Vatican arguments vs. women’s ordination. She focuses on (and deconstructs) four primary arguments of “Declaration on the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood.”
These are as follows:
1. That incarnation took place in the male sex and therefore women are excluded from the priesthood.
2. That no women were ordained in the New Testament.
3. That the practice of the church has a normative character in the fact of conferring priestly ordination only on men; it is a question of an unbroken tradition throughout the history of the church.
4. That when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be the “natural resemblance” which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man; in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ.
I’m struck, in particular, by one significant theological basis for Condren’s critique of the decision of the Catholic magisterium to exclude women from priestly ministry. She cites the ancient patristic dictum (repeated in the work of St. Athanasius) that “what has not been assumed cannot be redeemed.”
The logic of this patristic affirmation is that God had to become fully incarnate in the human flesh of Jesus in order to redeem all of humanity. What God did not assume through the act of incarnation–what God did not assume into the human flesh and redemptive act of Christ–is left outside the circle of salvation, because it was not assumed into Christ’s incarnation and redemption.
This ancient patristic christological insight has profound pastoral implications, and Condren is correct to point them out. When the church chooses to treat the human flesh of its female members as if that flesh is defective, is less than fully human, is incapable of mirroring and transmitting the divine, it contradicts one of its core christological insights: what is not assumed cannot be redeemed. (And when the church, at a pastoral level, treats the human flesh of its gay and lesbian members as if our flesh is defective, less than fully human, and incapable of mirroring and transmitting the divine, it similarly contradicts one of its most fundamental christolological affirmations, at a profoundly troubling level).
The church’s refusal to grant all rights and privileges of the baptized to women–a refusal most emphatically underscored by the exclusion of women from ordination–is more than a pastoral blunder. It undercuts, at a profound level, one of the core insights of our faith: that the principle of incarnation requires the church always to reach out and draw the humanity of every human being into the circle of salvation. Insofar as their refusal to ordain women and their punishment of those who “attempt” the ordination of a woman are premised on the belief that the human nature of women is secondary to that of heterosexual males (and Condren argues convincingly that this is the underlying presumption of the church’s refusal to ordain women), the Catholic church’s leaders are betraying, clouding, failing to communicate one of the most central insights of our religious tradition vis-a-vis the incarnation.
Insofar as the pastoral leaders of the church proclaim to women and to LGBT persons that our flesh is defective and its worth is subordinated to the worth of heterosexual male flesh; insofar as the pastoral leaders of the church require women and LGBT persons to apologize for and hide our actual, God-given human nature as a precondition for full participation in church life: to that extent the church’s pastoral leaders are making null and void one of the most central proclamations of our tradition–namely, that the salvific mission of Christ is to draw all things to himself in the act of redemption.
I won’t say more about Condren’s article in this preface. I do encourage readers of this blog to read it. It’s well worth the read. And the link is provided above . . . .