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Theology of the Body and Patriarchy’s Agenda: Assuring Heterosexual Male Dominance

Holy Trinity

Yesterday, I wrote, “The theology of the body is all about maintaining the domination of the world by heterosexual men in the name of God and divine order.”

After I had posted that statement here, a reader replied, asking,

C’mon. Do you have any evidence to suggest that is true?

This response makes me wonder if many Catholics today simply don’t know or have not quite understood the history of the preceding papacy, that of John Paul II, and what the previous pope chose to do to women in the church.  Perhaps I remember that history because I lived through it–I lived through it as a Catholic theologian.

After the reforms of Vatican II prompted lively theological discussion about many issues, including the possibility of ordaining women, Pope John Paul II slammed the door shut–definitively, he hoped–on any further discussion of women’s ordination with his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis.  Though this document fell short of declaring the pope’s views about women’s ordination infallible, it was intended to communicate that the pope had spoken definitively and decisively about this topic, and that this was the last word we might expect from Rome re: women’s ordination.  Women’s ordination was closed to further discussion, the pope decreed with this Roman document.

The apostolic letter declared that women must stop hoping for what is impossible: the church’s hands are tied by scripture and tradition, and it cannot ordain women because both scripture and tradition forbid this.  As many right-wing Catholics fond of the circular argument offered by Ordinatio sacerdotalis like to say, “There will never be priestess [sic] in the Roman Catholic Church. Theological impossibility.”  (This statement occurs in the thread appended to the article to which I’ve just linked.)

Note the tautology: it is impossible to ordain a woman because scripture and tradition say that it is impossible to ordain a woman.  It is impossible to find any theological basis for ordaining a women in scripture and tradition because papal fiat has declared this to be the case.  Discussion ended.  Let’s please now move on to the realm of what is possible.  And I will tell you what is or is not possible.

There is a direct genetic line between John Paul II’s closing of the conversation about women’s ordination through papal dictate and the recent Vatican document which couples penalties for abusive clerics and anyone attempting to ordain a woman.  As critics of this Vatican document note, though pastoral authority has been extremely slow to impose penalties on bishops who shelter clerics abusing minors or on those clerics themselves, the penalty for attempting to ordain a woman is swift and merciless: automatic excommunication.

And, even as bishops (e.g., Cardinal Bernard Law) with an atrocious history of protecting and shifting about clerics abusing minors have not only not been punished, but have been awarded cushy sinecures and impressive new titles, church officials have repeatedly acted quickly and without mercy against women who in any way appear to provide support for discussion of the possibility of women’s ordination.  In 1995, Sister of Mercy Carmel McEnroy was fired from her position as a tenured professor of theology at St. Meinrad’s University.  Her crime?  She had signed a letter calling for further discussion of the issue of women’s ordination.

In 2008, just before Archbishop Raymond Burke assumed a prestigious new position in Rome, he declared an interdict against Sister of Charity Louise Lears, a longtime pastoral minister and religious educator in the St. Louis diocese.  Her “grave crime”?  She attended a women’s ordination ceremony (the two women ordained were immediately excommunicated).

In 2009, longtime Catholic lay minister Ruth Kolpack of Beloit, Wisconsin, was fired by Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison.  Her transgression?  It was thought that she supports women’s ordination.  And she refused to renounce a master’s thesis in which she argued for the use of inclusive language in the liturgy.

The intent of John Paul II’s 1994 document about women’s ordination was, in short, punitive, and it has had a strongly punitive effect in the life of the church since it was issued. It was intended to put the possibility of any theological discussion of an issue that, in the view of theologians, remains open, completely off-limits.  It hedges about any further theological discussion or action premised on that discussion with fierce penalties, including, in the case of those who attempt to ordain a woman, the ultimate penalty of excommunication.

John Paul II intended to put women in their place.  Decisively so.  Shutting women out of ordination is shutting them out of the power structures and governance of a church in which clerical status confers power and privilege denied to all non-clerics. This intent is clearly evident in John Paul’s 1988 apostolic letter on the place of women in church and world, Mulieris dignitatem.

Though this document speaks in flowery language about the equality of men and women, and about women’s significant feminizing gifts and feminizing role in the plan of salvation, it also declares in no uncertain terms that men are meant by natural law and the divine plan to rule and women to obey.  Basing its observations about the complementary roles of men and women on his theology of the body, John Paul II reminds women that the task of imaging Jesus as a shepherd within the church is reserved to men alone.  It is as impossible for women to image Christ in this way as it is for women to be ordained.

As Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama, told the Catholic Medical Association of Atlanta in 2007,*

[In Mulieris dignitatem], [t]he pope indicates that one can also appreciate that the presence of “a certain diversity of roles” [based on gender] is in no way prejudicial to women, provided that this diversity of roles is not the result of arbitrary imposition, but is, rather, an expression of what is specific to being male and female.  “This issue,” he points out, “also has a particular application within the church.  If Christ–by his free and sovereign choice clearly attested to by the gospel and by the church’s constant tradition–entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women . . . .

Women are equal to men in the eyes of God.  But God has designed the created world such that men and women have distinct and complementary roles.  In the church itself, men are icons of the Savior in a unique way foreclosed by biological facticity to women, who cannot mirror Christ as shepherd or bridegroom because (tautology again) only those with male genitalia can mirror a Savior who was incarnate in the body of a male.

With all this weight of testimony–and there is much, much more to be cited–I wonder why any Catholics today doubt that there is strong evidence to suggest that John Paul II’s theology of the body is all about assuring the domination of church and society by heterosexual men. I haven’t, of course, touched on the question of the same pope’s attitudes towards gay and lesbian Catholics, which fit hand in glove with his attitudes towards women.

Just as John Paul II developed the innovative new, non-traditional theology of the body, which hinges natural law, scripture, and tradition on the biological fact of gender difference, making that fact central to the drama of salvation, he also gave his stamp of approval to the 1986 document of Cardinal Ratzinger on the pastoral care of homosexual persons, which also developed a draconian innovative new language to describe gay and lesbian persons as intrinsically disordered.

We would be foolish–we would be extremely misguided–not to understand the Vatican’s attempt to clamp down on discussions of women’s ordination and the role of women in the church as one facet of an agenda that is all about shoring up the claims of patriarchy at a time in which these claims are contested, another facet of which is the attempt to shame openly gay and lesbian Catholics and drive them from the church.  Make no mistake about it: the theology of the body is all about maintaining the domination of  the world by heterosexual men in the name of God and divine order.

The actions of John Paul II and his right-hand man, the current pope Benedict, demonstrate this intent with crystal clarity.

*I have taken the liberty of removing typos (e.g., “prejudical,” “contenance” [Bishop Baker’s document also says “complimentary” when it clearly means “complementary”]) from this document.  I have also corrected various errors of punctuation and taken the text from all caps to lowercase with capital letters when warranted.

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 10 August 2010.


38 Responses

  1. I would point out, as certain matters of fact, that his Holiness was wrong.

    The Angelic Doctor searched for a scriptural basis to disallow women from presbyterate ordination and could find none. Some 500 years later (circa 1975), the Pontifical Biblical Council was charged similarly and found, to a man, that there is no reason in scripture to bar a woman from the collar. His Holiness went ahead and published his 1976 letter outlining why (despite the report he had fresh in hand) it was impossible for women to be priests.

    Research since then has shown more and more of the existence of ordained women throughout the first millennium of the Church. It’s not as solid as having Aquinas on your side, but it’s decent enough to call the ‘tradition’ argument into question.

    • Thanks, Tim. This is a valuable reminder of how open the question of whether women might be ordained remains in Catholic tradition at its best.

      It’s shocking (and shameful) how so many of those who opt for the a-traditional and innovative theology of the body simply don’t know the tradition in its depth and complexity. My study of Aquinas in grad school was eye-opening, to demonstrate to me how open many theological questions we imagine are now closed remain.

      I wish more of those commenting on these issues would do a good, intensive, scholarly sound study of the Angelic Doctor.

  2. Bill, two comments:

    1. I can’t have a baby. Is that discrimination? After all, its something women can do that I can’t.

    Seriously, the question is “Is the inability to admit women to orders in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in any way alike men being unable to bear children – in the sense that birth is something women can do and men can’t, and sacerdotal ordination (according to the traditional view) something that only men can receive and exercise and women can’t?”

    2. People throw the word “patriarchy” around as if it were obviously bad and can be changed instantly. I think there are some bad things about patriarchy which I’d like to be rid of – matriarchy, too, for that matter.

    As for changing it, that’s not just a matter of rolling out of bed one morning and saying “Today I am turning over a new leaf – no more patriarchal behavior.” I suggest you can’t throw patriarchy out without some understanding of its social function, and suggesting both an alternative and a means to move from one to the other.

    Take “Pashtun wala” for example. This is a phrase for the values, and the complex network of behaviors, that transmit and actualize those values by a society as it creates its culture. The Pashtuns self-identify as a tribe in the so called tribal regions of Pakistan and across the border into Afghanistan. That international border is politely regarded as a fiction by the Pashtuns, whose culture probably extends back 5,000 years.

    If you want a living example of Jesus culture, the Pashtuns are pretty close.

    So when people make startling claims about Jesus living counter to His culture, those claims must be tested against the best available models of ancient Semitic behavior within a society and the culture it creates.

    Two books have proven transformative for me in addressing these questions:

    1) The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology 3rd edition by Bruce J. Malina.

    2) Handbook of Biblical Social Values, John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, editors.

    Malina and Pilch are part of The Context Group (see http://www.contextgroup.org/).

    One of the great insights this group of scholars provides is a lens, as it were, through which a corrected reading of the Scriptures is possible. Here are a couple examples:

    1. “You are the salt of the earth.” Every home had an “earth” – a “hearth” where bread was baked each day “our daily bread.” Hearths were fueled by animal dung, and salt was used to catalyze combustion. So to be the “salt of the earth” was not to be a flavoring, or to be a preservative, but to the catalyst behind meeting peoples critical survival needs, and all that becomes possible for people once those needs are met.

    2. Discussion of the relationship between Jesus and the Church as being like the relationship between bridegroom and bride. The Context Group explains that relationship as a pivotal, crucial expression of fundamental values in ancient Semitic society:

    – Limited goods: there were more mouths than resources, and the little that was available to the poor was taken, first to support the Temple Cult in 2nd Temple Judaism, second to support the Roman Empire.

    – Honor & shame:

    * The patriarch’s role was to complete in the marketplace and in society for scarce resources. If you were successful in competing for scarce resources, you were “honorable.” This competition was agonistic

    * The matriarch’s role was to organize the household, to allocate those scarce resources. “Shame” in this case was NOT about a personal sense of self-worth, it was about the maintenance of scarce resources.


    Marriage in this culture had many crucial functions. Not the least of these was to actualize an equalizing and grounding function. As Genesis puts it, “the man and the woman were naked and HAD NO SHAME.”

    Jumping to the Pashtuns for a moment, would you like to know why those people are trying to kill us? Because Western Modernity has judged their society and culture as something horrid. Now I’ve got to expose my own biases. A culture that cuts a young woman’s nose and ears off (hence the old saw to “Cut off your nose to spite your face”) is HORRID and should be both challenged and changed. But I don’t have the first idea about how to do that.

    What’s more, given the deference we give to Scripture as a culture artifact, created by and within a society, as a means of transmitting its core values, there is a supposition that the relationship between people and the Divine is, somehow, carried by and exposed by Sacred Scripture. How do we identify and keep the Divine, and separate it from (but relate it to) that which is socially and culturally variable?

    A direct encounter with social constructionism leaves people bewildered, confused, un-anchored, defensive and combative. The redefinition of ancient role by Modernity results in “culture shock.” That’s where the push-back against gay marriage comes from.

  3. Bill,

    There is a huge difference between saying that theology of the body is all about maintaining male dominance and observing that the theology of the body has the consequence of perpetuating systems of male domination.

    You have no evidence of the former. On the latter, your point would be well-taken.

    One should also note that the systems of male domination that were in place when John Paul II took over were significantly more draconian than the current systems. Furthermore, a woman’s right to vote was only reconized in the US in 1920, about the same time that John Paul II was born. In many countries, the Church’s position on woman’s rights is substantially more liberal than society’s.

    • What a fascinatingly strange argument, David–one that bends over backwards to avoid giving credit where credit is due.

      It was John Paul II–not any other pope–who created the theology of the body. I wonder why you want to avoid noting that, and therefore noting that any intent to reinforce heterosexual male dominance in the theology of the body comes right from JPII.

      Your argument about the church and what it represents in the world is, it seems to me, tantamount to saying that the church should be excused when its level of moral practice and justice is beneath that of society as a whole, and praised when its level of moral practice and justice is marginally above that of society as a whole.

      Better, it seems to me, to focus on the reign of God, as Jesus did, and to admit that both church and society often fall short of its vision of the possibilities of human community.

      And you’re not engaging at all the injustice in the church itself. To deny women ordination is turn them into second-class citizens of the church and to exclude them from the governing sector of the church and its power.

      Surely the church ought to exemplify a level of justice that surpasses that found in secular society.

    • Bill,

      I am not very familar with the theology of the body arguments. But, I have never heard that claim that JPII developed the theology with the intent to reinforce male dominance. Hence, I still don’t see the evidence of his intent.

      I think what can be said is this: to the extent that theology of the body is used to justify exclusion of women from priestly duties, the theology is weak.

      JPII can rightly be accused with hampering the effort to have women included in the priesthood. But, he can hardly be accused of creating the tradition that has kept them out. And to claim that he created the theology of the body to defend the tradition is a stretch of logic and imagination.

      I think it does a disservice to everyone to claim that you know what JPII intended by creating the theology of the body. The most that can be said is that he intended to create a theology of the body that has, as a practical consequence, the continued exclusion of women from the priesthood. It is hard for me to see that theology of the body has the intellectual consequence of exclusion. That is a little bit like saying that the Church’s position on abortion justifies killing doctors who perform abortions. In rare cases, it does have the practical consequence; but, it is impossible to say that it is an intellectually required consequence.

      • David, I’m sorry, but I can’t quite follow your logic here. You say,

        But, I have never heard that claim that JPII developed the theology with the intent to reinforce male dominance. Hence, I still don’t see the evidence of his intent.

        The word “hence” follows from “I have never heard that claim.” You claim that you have not heard, and therefore don’t see.

        But I offer abundant evidence in the posting to which you are replying, which makes crystal clear to me and many others the underlying intent of John Paul II to develop the theology of the body to reinforce heterosexual male domination. The intent is evident in everything he did vis-a-vis women in the church.

        If you can’t hear and can’t see, I must confess I’m at a loss to know how to address your questions. I will definitely pray for you–and for myself–that we both hear and see clearly. For the future of our imperiled church, much depends on developing ears to hear and eyes to see.

        P.S. As I keep noting, we are coming from very different places in this discussion. I wonder, David, if you’ve ever been demeaned because of your gender, race, sexual orientation, economic or social status, etc.?

        If the answer to that question is no, then I wonder how you gain insight into what those who are dehumanized by others due to such innate characteristics experience and feel? It seems to me that the only way we gain such insight, short of having the experience of dehumanization, is listening sympathetically to those who do experience such dehumanization. Stretching ourselves to hear and to see through the eyes of demeaned others . . . . Learning to see the world in a new way, beyond our own power and privilege.

        Surely the gospels call us to such solidarity. What we see and hear depends very much on whom we stand in solidarity with.

      • Bill,

        Just because JPII perpetuated male dominance with the theology of the body doesn’t mean that JPII had the intent to do so.

        I can certainly understand that women feel demeaned or dehumanized because the Church (at least in the Western world) hasn’t provided the same opportunities to serve that society generally offers. Moreover, I think that these feelings are justifiable.

        • David, I think it’s crucial, for our vocation as disciples of Jesus, to learn to stand in solidarity with those unjustly oppressed.

          We can learn from our own experiences of unjust oppression–they can serve as a call in our vocational lives–to stand in solidarity with others who are oppressed. Or we can build bridges of empathy in our understanding by listening carefully to those who have these experiences, when we ourselves are protected from them by our gender, race, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation.

          Poet Sharon Olds challenges her readers to learn to speak from their real places. To me, that’s a highly significant observation about dialogue. If we don’t own and speak from “real places” as we dialogue, the dialogue becomes jejune, an exercise in hair-splitting words about whether someone whose actions lead to ugly effects in the lives of others intended those effects.

          In my view, the “real place” from which we are called as disciples of Jesus–always–to speak is one of solidarity with those who are unjustly made victims by either church or society or both.

        • Bill,

          I don’t disagree with standing with those who are being unjustly treated. But, it does everyone a disservice to stand in unity on the basis of untruths or injustices, which is what I think you have done.

          Women are not being “unjustly oppressed” because of what JPII has done, or because of his theology of the body. Women were denied the opportunity to be clerics for a long time in many demoninations before JPII.

          Claims such as yours – that JPII intended to continue the male domination – don’t help bring us closer to solidarity. It makes it seem as if there are two sides to the Church – the oppressors and the oppressed, when, in reality, we all stand in solidarity with the Risen Lord.

          • David, I’m sorry that you are (apparently) unable even to see the injustices done to women–deliberately, intentionally, with full aforethought–by the previous pope and continued under the current one. If you were a woman (or a man who experiences similar injustice due to your skin color, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status), perhaps you’d be more sensitive to this issue.

            It certainly doesn’t help to accuse me of propagating untruths or even injustices (!). (Talk about a twisting of the logic of this dialogue . . . .)

            Since you believe this of me, then I’m sorry you can’t look more empathetically at the evidence that countless women in the church offer re: the injustice they experience. I’m sorry you can’t listen to their voices.

            It might help if groups like the Knights of Columbus were integrated and included women as full partners in their enterprise?

            Re: your final remark, sorry–but I see no way to stand in solidarity with the Risen Lord without standing in solidarity with those experiencing privation and persecution. It was that Risen Lord who told us, in his life and ministry, that we serve him in the least among us. Reflecting on this theme, some of the writers of the canonical epistles of the New Testament tell us that if we fail to see God in the flesh of our brothers and sisters–particularly the least among us–we fail to see God at all.

          • Bill,

            I can see the injustice; I just don’t see any evidence to support your claims that JPII deliberately, intentionally, and with full aforethought caused the injustice.

            You are propogating untruths and injustices even if your cause – women ordination – is just. Not only is what you are saying about JPII’s intents mere speculation, but it is only tangentially relevant to the discussion about the proper role of women clerics.

            Even though I would tend to agree with you on the issue of women ordinations, as a scholar, I would think that you would be more careful in your arguments. Vilifying the argument is one thing; vilifying the person is much different.

          • David, you say,

            Vilifying the argument is one thing; vilifying the person is much different.

            But I wonder what you imagine you yourself are doing, when you state that I am “propagating untruths”? Or when, in your previous comment, you stated,

            I don’t disagree with standing with those who are being unjustly treated. But, it does everyone a disservice to stand in unity on the basis of untruths or injustices, which is what I think you have done.

            In your culture, perhaps, it is not a serious offense to impugn someone’s veracity (and, therefore, his character) without offering a scrap of evidence for slandering a person with the charge that he’s not telling the truth. In my culture, it’s highly offensive.

            I have chosen, however, not to take offense and to move beyond your slander of my character to ask how, in what concrete ways, you manage to achieve solidarity with those who are oppressed–since our salvation depends on our doing so.

            Again, I ask: have you yourselve ever experienced discrimination or injustice due to your race, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic class? If not, how do you build bridges of solidarity with those who do experience such unjust discrimination? It is essential to our call as disciples of Jesus that we find such solidarity with the oppressed.

            You may choose, if you wish, not to answer this question. If you do so choose, however, I have to tell you, this conversation seems futile, since I have carefully explained my own standpoint on these issues and how they are rooted in my experience as a gay person in church and society. I have put myself into the discussion. I don’t hear you doing the same.

            As a result, we are talking past each other, casting useless words into the wind, and I wonder why anyone would wish to do that, when there are so many real problems to face in our church and our society. We can talk honestly only when we talk from our real place.

            What is your real place, David, may I ask? Where does your passion come from, in these discussions? Are you seeking to advance a serious discussion about how the church should deal with the needs of those who experience serious discrimination and oppression in both church and society? If not, how do you justify your refusal to do that, when it is central to our call to walk in the footsteps of Jesus?

            These are pointed questions, I’m aware. But so is calling another person a liar a pointed remark–and particularly, when the charge is attended by no evidence to support your slanderous claim. I ask these questions in the interest of furthering real dialogue.

            Are you interested in answering them?

          • Bill,

            I am not attacking your veracity; I am attacking your evidence and arguments.

            You suggest that JPII intends to continue with the male dominance. Your evidence is that he has published the theology of the body. But, the theology of the body does not support the claim that men have the right to dominate women. Even weaker is the argument that JPII published this theology with the intent to continue male domination.

            It is to no one’s advantage to suggest that we should believe these false arguments, even if the cause is just. The cause of women is not made better by inventing falsehoods; the cause is weakened.

            My “real place” for this discussion is as a neutral observer of the “evidence” of JPII’s intent to continue male domination.

            I don’t disagree (or at least I don’t think I disagree) with your cause of women ordination. But, I think it would be much more helpful, and ultimately convincing, to attack the evidence and the arguments that have been proposed for not permitting women to become priests. Because I haven’t studied this issue, I can’t tell you what evidence or arguments are being put forward. However, it would seem that the evidence and arguments would have to fairly compelling to justify women’s exclusion.

            It also seems better and more fair to assume that the reasons put forth by the Vatican are without malice or evil intent. In other words, assuming that the Vatican sincerely believes that exclusion is necessary, what is the evidence, and what are the arguments that support their positions? Only by coming to such an understanding can any real conversation be achieved. I would expect that to be one of the scholar’s goals – to examine other’s “real places”.

          • David, you say, “I am not attacking your veracity . . . .”

            But you have twice stated that I am “propagating untruths.” To tell me that I’m propagating untruths for which I have no responsibility at all is akin to your claim that one can separate the misogynistic effects of John Paul II’s theology of the body from John Paul II’s intents.

            This is linguistic game-playing. Please do me the courtesy of assuming that I intend to write what I write, and that when I claim I am writing what is true, I am confident that I am speaking the truth.

            Since I don’t want to come to unfounded judgments about you and your motives: I take it that the answer to my repeated question about whether you yourself have experienced discrimination because of your gender, race, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status is no?

            And since we do not ever speak from the neutral position from which you claim to speak–since we always speak as people carrying a weight of history on our backs, with interests and commitments that derive from our social location–I have to ask again: where are you coming from in these discussions, David? What’s your interest here? With whom are you standing?

            It seems crucial, if dialogue is to be effective and not a matter of bantering empty words, that people be transparent about who they are and where their commitments lie.

  4. David here’s a link to the talks of JPII which constitute Theology of the Body: http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2TBIND.HTM

    Good luck with reading this because it’s dense. Please note though that it is based almost exclusively on the second creation story in Genesis. JPII more or less blows off the first creation story in which man and woman are created at the same time as equal parts of God’s image and there is no temptation, no original sin, and no fall.

  5. Bill,

    The title of your post is, “Theology of the Body and Patriachy’s Agenda: Assuring Heterosexual Male Dominance”. You haven’t even come close to making a case for your theory that JPII wanted heterosexual males to dominate.

    I think I could accept a premise that JPII’s theology of the body helped continue a system that has tended to favor male domination in the Church’s hierarchy. But, I don’t know what conclusions that leads to.

    • David, just as you have an opinion about my honesty and integrity, which you’ve felt free to vent (why, I wonder?) without offering a scrap of evidence to substantiate that charge, you have an opinion about the case I make here. I respect your right to have an opinion.

      I do not respect your opinions, unfortunately, because they are not substantiated, and they do not appeal to anything I recognize as reason or evidence. Confronted with massive evidence–not from me, whom you choose to slander as a liar, but from numerous theological sources, from millions of women in the church–that John Paul II’s approach to women in the church was deliberately oppressive, you simply choose to go the ad hominem route. You charge the bearers of that evidence with lying.

      The ad hominem argument is a conspicuously weak one. It is the kind of argument at which one grasps when one has only straw at which to grasp.

      Again, David, I wonder what energizes your blind defense of the indefensible. Have you ever stood in the shoes of those who experience unjustifiable discrimination? Have you yourself experienced discrimination due to your skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic background?

      If not, how do you manage to understand and stand in solidarity with those who do experience such discrimination? I assume that question must be in the forefront of your consciousness as a disciple of Jesus, since it is essential to our discipleship that we stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

    • Bill,

      I agree that women are being unjustly denied opportunities. So, what does that prove?

      The reasons for the denials are only tangentially related to JPII. Women were denied opportunities long before he ever had a say in shaping policy.

      JPII was pretty clear in stating why he thought that denying woman access to the priesthood was just. I am willing to listen to some evidence, including language from the theology of the body, which would suggest that JPII wanted male domination to continue. But, you haven’t provided any such language. I haven’t read all 129 teachings; but if there is something there point it out.

      • David, I’m curious: how do you, as a follower of Jesus, muster the empathy and understanding to stand in solidarity with those on the social margins? I ask that not as a personal, intrusive question, but because it’s central to our dialogue here.

        It is clear to me as I read the gospels and listen to the church teach me that one cannot faithfully walk in the footsteps of Jesus without seeing him in the least among us–without actively seeing him, taking care of his wounds, feeding, clothing, sheltering, and welcoming him, defending him from oppression, visiting him in prison, etc.

        I ask myself what the Knights of Columbus might have done, for instance, with the million and a half dollars they gave to remove the right of civil marriage from their gay brothers and sisters in California–what they might have done to take care of Jesus in the least among us, rather than using their money to inflict harm on an already marginal group of human beings.

        These are crucial questions, it seems to me. On them depends our ability to see and hear, as we read the gospels and the teaching of the church.

      • Bill,

        The fact that you think there is a “right of civil marriage” and that the Knights of Columbus are trying to take this “right” away makes me realize that we are talking about different things using different language for a different objective.

        I read the titles to JPII’s talk on theology of the body. There isn’t anything in the 129 titles that could be remotely construed as a deliberate attempt to perpetuate domination of women.

        Let me repeat – We can debate whether theology of the body is bad theology. But, it seems silly to debate that it was designed to dominate women. You haven’t offered any language to debate.

        I know of an atheist who contends that religion was invented so that the people in power can maintain their power. I don’t think I could ever convince her that her thesis doesn’t have any evidence.

        • So, David, when the evidence piles higher and higher, and we don’t want to admit it’s there, we just pretend that the courtroom itself isn’t there? That its walls have suddenly vanished?

        • Bill,

          The evidence that you claim is there just isn’t there. Period. There is plenty of evidence that the Vatican doesn’t want women to be priests; theology of the body just isn’t part of that evidence.

          Is theology of the body good theology? I don’t know. Do I assume that it is good theology because JPII announced it? Of course not. Do I assume that it is bad theology because you and other like-minded theologians don’t like it? Of course not.

          I try to listen to the arguments and evidence on both sides. Frankly, I am not at all impressed with arguments that suggest that I have to identify with one side or another. It is hard to make good judgments when the issues are prejudged; that is the very definition of prejudice.

          • I see, David. You’re going to play Bishop Berkeley as you pretend that the courtroom walls have simply vanished while the pile of evidence accumulates. (It’s noteworthy that you have simply ignored the three pieces of evidence I posted earlier today: not there, and so they don’t exist.)

            And I’ll continue to play Dr. Johnson to your Berkeley: if I can kick the walls, they’re most certainly not a figment of my imagination.

            Do you practice law according to the rubrics you use in discussions like this?

          • Bill,

            Show me the words of JPII that demonstrate JPII’s intent and we will have something to discuss. Otherwise, I am afraid we are just commenting on commentators’ comments.

          • Thanks, David.

            A question has been on my mind, and perhaps I haven’t asked it yet.

            Have you, as a white, heterosexual, married man who practices law ever experienced discrimination due to your skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status?

          • Bill,

            I have not. Then again, on this particular topic very few people have experienced discrimination.

            Moreover, discrimination is not necessarily a bad thing. It is unjust discrimination that is to be avoided. The real question on women’s ordination is not whether it is discrimination; it clearly is. The question is what is the basis of the discrimination.

            I think you are trying to make the case that JPII intends on preventing women from being clerics, and will go so far as to publish a theology of the body to achieve his ends. That a very questionable premise which doesn’t advance the cause of women’s ordination.

          • You’re wrong, David. You say,

            Then again, on this particular topic very few people have experienced discrimination.

            Women constitute half of the human race. To call that half “very few people” indicates a failure of imagination and empathy that should be extremely troubling to you as a follower of Jesus.

            As you 1) attack my character, veracity, and scholarship, 2) ask for evidence which you claim is not there, and then redefine the meaning of evidence once it is offered to you, and 3) play semantic games suggesting that we cannot point from the effects of John Paul II’s teaching about women to his intent in delivering those teachings, please keep in mind that there are real human beings and real human lives at stake in discussions like this.

            It’s a waste of your time and energy and my time and energy to keep playing these word games, when we do not put our real commitments on the table for public inspection in these dialogues. They cannot rise to the level of dialogue in the absence of such commitment (and honesty).

            And so I wish you well, and will pray for you, as I hope you will for me, that our hearts and minds be enlarged by God’s merciful love, so that we can see the needs of our world clearly and respond with compassion. I can’t give more time to a discussion that cannot move forward, when one of us is not willing to speak from his real place. I appreciate what you have contributed to the discussion.

            P.S. You say, “Moreover, discrimination is not necessarily a bad thing.”

            Please. I’ll find such a statement credible when it comes from the mouth of someone who actually deals or has dealt with discrimination.

          • Bill,

            It is probably just as well for us to end this discussion.

            One thing that I would ask from you – especially as a scholar – is that you make an effort to understand JPII’s (or the Vatican’s) reasons before hurling unprovoked attacks against the Vatican in the name of some imaginary person for whom you lay a claim of defense.

            I don’t understand why JPII was so strident in his rejection of women clerics. At first glance, his position does not seem supportable, at least in the long-term. The gift of understanding, which we must have before we can have the gift of wisdom, requires us to honestly determine the true reasons that JPII issued his edicts, not invent our own reasons, or displace our reasons upon him.

            At times like this when we are trying to understand JPII, both of us have to move from “our” place to “his” place before we can offer interpretations on his motives. That charity of thought is what will illuminate our discussion. If we were to provide him wide latitude in our understanding, and we were to find his position defensible, but not irrefutable, then we would have something to talk about.

  6. P.S. Catholic theologian John Wijngaards, ‘Women Bishops? Views in the Roman Catholic Church, Official and Otherwise’, in Women and the Episcopate, ed. James Ridley, Affirming Catholicism (London, 2006), pp. 44-45:

    The Roman Catholic Church is at the moment in the grasp of a rigid, masculine, patriarchal system of control. This heavy-handed masculine hierarchy has, moreover, proclaimed a monopoly over the image of God. “Only a male can represent Christ at the Eucharist” (Inter Insigniores, 1976). In Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), Pope John-Paul II even uttered the assertion never before made in the Church that Jesus Christ had to become incarnate as a male – to represent the Father -, and that therefore only a man can be his (and the Father’s) image at the Eucharist. This claim clashes with the deep-seated experience of Catholics that they touch God in feminine images. Indeed the absence of women at the altar went largely unnoticed in the past when patriarchy was the dominant cultural climate. Things have now changed.

  7. P.S. More information for you, David. This is from Irish priest-theologian Fr. Kevin Hegarty in the Irish Times today:

    It seems to me that the Vatican’s main concern is to preserve the male hierarchical character of the Catholic Church in its present form. Its procedures are archaic, cumbersome and precious, utterly out of sync with the ways of the democratic world.

    Father Hegarty also notes,

    Since the 1980s [i.e., since the papacy of John Paul II] the church has been in the grip of a restorationist mentality. The ‘glad, confident morning’ that followed the Vatican Council has long faded into the distance. Reform has stalled, and some liberal theologians have been silenced.

    In appointments, passive docility to papal teaching in all its aspects is valued way above creative fidelity to the work of ministry in today’s complex world.

    I can keep the quotations coming. I can fill many pages of this blog with similar material from well-respected Catholic voices around the world. Since you’ve called me a liar and have stated that I make up evidence that’s not there, I am happy to provide other voices with other evidence to substantiate my claims.

    But it would be better, don’t you think, if you would challenge yourself to inform yourself? The information I’m providing here is easily accessible for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, and who want to see and hear. It seems somehow demeaning for me to dig it up for you when you can easily do that for yourself, as an adult eager to learn.

  8. P.S. Another tidbit for you, David–again, from a well-respected Catholic theologian writing today in a well-respected Catholic publication, National Catholic Reporter, about John Paul II’s theology of the body and its agenda. The theologian is Eugene Kennedy.

    As I’ve just said, you’re an adult seeking to learn as an adult (as I myself am), and I won’t insult you by summarizing this article. Please enjoy reading it and reflecting about it.

    I wonder if it strikes you, as an attorney, that the cumulative weight of evidence of Catholic theologians and faithful Catholic voices around the world writing right now in this vein about JPII’s theology of the body provides strongly corroborative evidence for the thesis you keep challenging in my article. I’m not an attorney, but my father was, and I have always understood that the heavier the pile of evidence becomes, the stronger the onus is on the person challenging the evidence right in front of his eyes.

    What say you? Is the evidence you claim I don’t have mounting up, or do you want to continue claiming that it’s just not there?

  9. “Have you, as a white, heterosexual, married man who practices law ever experienced discrimination due to your skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status?”

    Every category listed above, real or imagined, is having an easier time than those starving, drowning and dying in Pakistan at the moment. As Jesus stands “with the least,” that’s where Jesus can be found. Perhaps that’s where our attention should be too.

  10. […] my reply to this reader’s response links to what I have posted at Open Tabernacle (and here) on this subject, I’m cross-posting to Open Tabernace what I say on Bilgrimage in […]

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