In the Vineyard :: September 20, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 18
Does the Church's History of Sexism Limit Its Future?
Father Avery Dulles, S.J., gave a lecture in 1996 at Fordham University discussing the apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II in 1994, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, on the inability to ordain women to the Catholic priesthood. Dulles’ defense of the prohibition on women’s ordination has serious theological holes, as scholar Julia Brumbaugh writes. The theological argument against Dulles focuses on three areas at the heart of the question: sacraments, tradition, and salvation.
In addition, although the question of women’s ordination has been “answered” many times in the negative, perhaps not all of the questions about women’s ordination have been asked and understood.
Much of the literature and history of the discussion about women’s ordination has taken place in periods when women were assumed to be subordinate and inferior to men, which is now not the case in Catholic teaching. Yet, the products of this mistaken belief (the inability of women to be ordained as deacons) still stand. For example, Fr. Dulles’ defense of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis argues that the history that shaped this prohibition has not problematically impacted the issue or even affected the shape of the Church’s structure throughout history even though he acknowledges that sexism is an evil, as laid out by church teaching. Many Catholic scholars in recent history believe that this sin of sexism is intertwined with the history of banning women from the diaconate.
Despite the ban, many women feel called to the diaconate. Casey Stanton, a 35-year-old woman from North Carolina who holds a master of divinity from Duke Divinity School, felt a call to serve women who are incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. She had previously served as a chaplain intern, but could not represent the Catholic Church in any official capacity (as a chaplain) because the law in North Carolina requires state prison chaplains to be ordained. Stanton was not seeking to be ordained as a priest, but if she was able to be ordained as a chaplain, she could answer that call to service.
She also sought to become a chaplain at the Veteran Affairs hospital, but encountered the same obstacle to becoming a full-time chaplain. Earlier this year, she helped found an organization called Discerning Deacons [with which VOTF collaborates], that calls for further conversation around women’s ordination to the diaconate. With her co-founder, Stanton hopes to encourage discussions about allowing women to answer God’s call to serve in places where deacons are needed most.
Jessica Morel is struggling with a similar choice. She, too, feels called to serve and is in the process of education and discernment with the U.S. Army to become a military chaplain. However, because the U.S. military requires chaplains to be ordained, she would have to become ordained in an interdenominational church, automatically excommunicating her from the Catholic Church. The idea of being excommunicated feels “heavy and almost paralyzes me,” she says.
Morel served in the army for eight years, and then began working in holistic care for veterans, serving veterans living with PTSD, struggling with moral injury, or coping with military sexual trauma. At the same time, she also completed a course on leadership through her parish, which inspired her to use her faith as a means of healing for the women with whom she worked. Because she wanted to work with women at the point of their trauma, rather than after they had been struggling for years, she re-enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, hoping to become a military chaplain. However, she was told there was no way to become a Catholic military chaplain as a woman.
In the military, chaplaincy is the only 100% confidential space for members to discuss experiences that are troubling them. One service member told Morel that had there been a woman serving as a chaplain, she would have felt comfortable disclosing her rape by a commanding officer.
There are currently 16 chaplains in the Arizona National Guard, and only one woman. Morel would like to become the second. These 16 chaplains serve 8,400 service members.
Kayla August, who is beginning her doctoral studies at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, served as a lay minister in a women’s dormitory at the University of Notre Dame. She feels a call to preach, and her doctoral studies focus on preaching, but she believes Catholics “miss out on what God may be speaking to us” by preventing women, particularly women of color, from preaching during Mass. She explains, “I really truly feel that women have this unique gift within us. I stay in wonder of what could be, if women were given the space to fully utilize their gifts.”
As the (currently all-male) diaconate in the U.S. shows declining numbers, as is the case generally in the priesthood and religious life, it may become even more important to ordain women as deacons to connect individuals to the life of the Church. Pope Francis’s commission studying women in the diaconate met this past week, and will hopefully bring forth some progress and positive consensus on women’s ordination.
Join Us at Voice of the Faithful's 2021 Conference
Re–Membering the Church: Moving Forward
During VOTF’s 2021 Conference, a panel comprising women liturgy leaders from the Paulist Center Boston (link is external) faith community will discuss lay-led liturgies, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and VOTF working group leaders will offer presentations on VOTF projects in diocesan financial transparency, Church governance by and through lay involvement in Diocesan Financial Councils, adherence to protection of children guidelines in parishes and dioceses, and women’s emerging voices in the Catholic Church.
Synod 2023 Updates
The Preparatory Document and the Vademecum for the 2023 Synod have both been issued by the Vatican. You can find them on our Synod resources page on the website. Or you can go directly to the Preparatory Document or to the Vademecum. We also recommend watching the video on the synod background and on action steps you can take.
From Section 1.5 of the Vademecum: Experience at the local level (highlights added):
As stated in the Preparatory Document (no. 31):
The purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the Pastors and the Faithful of the [local] Churches at all the different levels, through the most appropriate means according to the specific local realities: the consultation, coordinated by the Bishop, is addressed “to the Priests, Deacons and lay Faithful of their [local] Churches, both individually and in associations, without overlooking the valuable contribution that consecrated men and women can offer” (EC, 7). The contribution of the participatory bodies of the [local] Churches is specifically requested, especially that of the Presbyteral Council and the Pastoral Council, from which “a synodal Church [can truly] begin to take shape.”4 Equally valuable will be the contribution of other ecclesial entities to which the Preparatory Document [and this Vademecum] will be sent, as well as that of those who wish to send their own contribution directly. Finally, it will be of fundamental importance that the voice of the poor and excluded also find a place, not only that of those who have some role or responsibility within the [local] Churches.
Similarities Across the Pond!
Members of the the Scottish Laity Network (SLN) recently reached out to VOTF’s Executive Director, Donna Doucette, for information on VOTF’s BridgeDialogues Project. Donna responded and then received the following information about the Scottish Laity Network, which has a very similar mission to VOTF's.
From the Scottish Laity Network (SNL)
The SNL seeks to enable Scottish laity to come together as disciples of Jesus and through prayer, dialogue and discernment find ‘new ways’ of being Church in Scotland in the 21st Century.
We are rooted above all in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Gospel.
We are inspired by the principles of Vatican II seeking to make the gospel values a lived reality in the world today, and by the encyclical letter Laudato Si’, the vision of Pope Francis to listen and respond to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.
We trust the Holy Spirit to guide us as we make this journey.
We aim to provide a forum of support and respect for lay people to:
- discern the ‘signs of the times’ in responding to, and engaging with, the challenges we all face in the world today to bring about the kingdom of God on earth
- give a voice to and dialogue with, in a spirit of love and respect, those who have been marginalised, whether in the Church or in civil society
- work to become, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘a church that is poor and is for the poor’
- try to live simply and sustainably as envisioned in Laudato Si’
- share pastoral, theological and liturgical practice and resources
- encourage dialogue, transparency and accountability in all aspects of local Church governance and to raise issues, if necessary, with the relevant ecclesial bodies
Lay people are on the front line of the life of the Church and we affirm and respect our right to fulfil our specific mission that we received in Baptism.
Lay people are on the front line of the life of the Church.
We need their testimony regarding the truth of the Gospel and their example of expressing their faith by practising solidarity.
Let us give thanks for the lay people who take risks, who are not afraid and who offer reasons for hope to the poorest, to the excluded, to the marginalized.
Let us pray that the lay faithful may fulfil their specific mission, the mission that they received in Baptism, putting their creativity at the service of the challenges of today's world.
The Mission of the Laity – May 2018
For more about the SLN, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pope Francis Calls Communion a Gift, not a “Prize for the Perfect”
While some U.S. bishops have called for denying communion to pro-choice politicians, Pope Francis disagrees. On a flight back to the Vatican earlier this week, he was asked whether politicians should be denied Communion because of their stance on abortion. He answered that bishops who choose to act in a way “that is not pastoral” are choosing to “enter the political sphere.” He explains that bishops should take a pastoral approach, and act like shepherds when dealing with issues such as these. “And what should a shepherd do?” he asks. “Be a shepherd. Not go around condemning. They must be a shepherd, in God’s style, which is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. A shepherd that doesn’t know how to act in God’s style slips and enters into many things that are not of a shepherd.” He emphatically denied ever publicly denying the Eucharist to anyone in his entire life in the priesthood.
Francis explained that Communion “is linked to the community.” By denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, he says, pastors are forgetting that all Catholics “are [children] of God and they need our closeness.” He also mentioned his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” which allowed for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist. He implored Catholics to remember that “these are poor people who are temporarily outside, but they are children of God and need our pastoral action.”
He continued to warn against bishops who choose to act as politicians, rather than pastors. “If we look at the history of the church, we can see that every time the bishops did not act like shepherds when dealing with a problem, they aligned themselves with political life, on political problems.” This choice by bishops to act as though they are above the norms and teachings that apply to all else, deciding to act in a decidedly non-pastoral way, is not one that Francis supports.
For VOTF’s position on clericalism, please see here.
Listening to the Faithful: Vatican releases Synod Preparatory Document
“The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops presents the base text and ‘vademecum’ – or handbook – to guide the journey of the Synod on Synodality. Listening without prejudice; speaking out with courage and parrhesia; dialoguing with the Church, with society, and with the other Christian confessions. The General Secretariat for the Synod has published the Preparatory Document, along with a Vademecum (or handbook) to indicate the guiding principles that will direct the path of the Synod on Synodality. The solemn opening of the Synod will take place in Rome on October 9-10, and in the particular Churches on October 17; and will conclude in the Vatican in 2023 with the assembly of bishops from around the world. The Preparatory Document, released on Tuesday, is intended above all to be an instrument facilitating the first phase of listening and consultation of the People of God in the particular Churches, which will take place from October 2021 to April 2022.” By Salvatore Cernuzio, Vatican News
- Vatican releases guidance for dioceses to begin synodal path, By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, in National Catholic Reporter
Pope Francis is preparing a radical reform of the church’s power structures
“In 2001, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was a rapporteur for the summit of bishops at the Vatican — and he did not like what he saw. The Catholic Church had adopted a top-to-bottom approach that stripped local churches of any decision-making power, and the synod of bishops was reduced to nothing more than a stamp of approval for prepackaged conclusions made in Rome. When Bergoglio emerged as Pope Francis in the 2013 conclave, the synodal process was high on his list for reform.” By Claire Giangravé, Religion News Service
New group discerning the future of a female diaconate
“Jessica Morel is approaching a heart-wrenching crossroads. Morel, a 42-year-old Catholic mother of four, is in the midst of a five-year education and discernment process with the U.S. Army to become a military chaplain. The problem is, there is no pathway for women to become Catholic chaplains in the military, and the military requires chaplains to be ordained. Seeking support, Morel discovered Discerning Deacons, an organization that brings together Catholics, including women discerning the diaconate, to learn, pray and discern the possible future of a permanent diaconate open to women.” By Sophie Vodvarka, National Catholic Reporter
- New women deacons commission to meet with unclear agenda, By Phyllis Zagano, National Catholic Reporter
Ex-Cardinal McCarrick, 91, due in court in sex assault case
“Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the once-powerful prelate who was expelled from the priesthood for sexual abuse, is due in court Friday (Sept. 3) to face accusations that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts nearly 50 years ago. McCarrick, 91, is scheduled to be arraigned and is expected to enter a plea in suburban Boston’s Dedham District Court more than a month after he was charged. McCarrick is the only U.S. Catholic cardinal, current or former, ever to be criminally charged with child sex crimes.” By Alanna Durkin Richer, Associated Press, in Cruxnow.com
- Former Cardinal McCarrick pleads not guilty to sex assault, By Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press, in National Catholic Reporter
- Former Cardinal McCarrick pleads not guilty; two more lawsuits filed, By Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service, in The Pilot
- In McCarrick arraignment, activists see new phase in accountability push, By John Lavenburg, Cruxnow.com
- Two new N.J. lawsuits sue McCarrick for abuse, By The Editor, Essex News Daily
Vatican won’t say if women can vote in upcoming Synod of Bishops
“Vatican officials declined on Tuesday (Sept. 7) to say if women would be able to vote on concrete proposals about the future of the Catholic Church at the end of a two-year process of consultation of ordinary faithful that Pope Francis kicks off next month. For years, women activists and even nuns have pressed to be able to vote at Synod of Bishops meetings, which bring together the Catholic hierarchy to Rome to discuss pressing issues facing the 1.3-billion strong church.” By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, in America: The Jesuit Review
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