Tag Archives: feminism

Pope Francis: End Sexism in the Church & Ordain Women

To mark the World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination today, I’ve posted this letter to Pope Francis. I’ve written it over the last few weeks to submit as part of the May 22 actions on the twentieth anniversary of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter denying women equality in the Church. I encourage all to submit their own letters of support using the information provided by Women’s Ordination Worldwide

Dear Pope Francis,

From an early age, I’ve known of my call. My parents tell me that attending Mass calmed me as a young child, when I wasn’t running to the altar to participate that is. I became an altar server at 10 and served through my college years as frequently as possible. By high school I was coordinating liturgies, large and small, at my local parish and engaged in several other ministries, sometimes as the youngest person by decades. The church was a second home and a safe space, able to calm me through my hardest moments of adolescence. In a word, being around the parish and being among the people was ‘natural.’

At 13, a priest asked me if priesthood was a life that might interest me given my involvement in the life of our parish, and the life of the People of God. I’ve seriously discerned this question, is God calling me to ordination, for more than a decade. Over time, my yearning to lead people in our liturgies or be present to them in life’s most profound, daily moments of suffering and celebration grew. Throughout college, each moment of reflection, each liturgy, each protest for justice, and each tender encounter with another person was a coal added to this fire burning within me. I received a degree with honors in theology from The Catholic University of America as a first step to making my desire to minister a reality.

I wanted to answer God’s call. I wanted to say ‘yes’ to being a priest. I wanted, more than anything, to try and explain to those on the margins the immense love of God that I have long known. I wanted to do all this as a priest.

And yet, I could never say ‘yes.’ The more secure this call became, the more I sensed I could never answer it. It is the most painful struggle I’ve known, for while being in ministerial leadership is natural to me and noted by many, I cannot enter the priesthood. I could not discover the obstacle to my entering seminary at first, for I had both the right equipment and was attracted to the right gender according to institutional guidelines.

Now, the obstacle is clear: the Catholic Church institutionally refuses to recognize in full the dignity of every person, especially women.

For the last few years, I have ministered on the Church’s margins among the gay and transgender community and spent many hours speaking with people about the necessary renewal our Church needs. At one such conference, I found myself at a table with seven women discussing how the Church can uproot the current power dynamics structured against women. Three of the seven shared their experiences of feeling called to ordained ministry and priesthood. In their stories, I saw my own journey of discernment and it became clear that I could not, in good conscience, become ordained while so many were denied access to serve in ministry due to their gender or sexual orientation.

As it was well known I was considering priesthood, I’ve spent a good deal of time at vocation events and speaking with vocation directors. The key point always stressed was the increasing shortage of priests our Church is facing. Relatedly, a wise friend of mine, an older woman as so many of my mentors and spiritual companions have been, once told me that the Church must die before it can rise to new life. Pope Francis, I believe the Church’s current priesthood is dying by the persistent failure of our leaders to welcome more fully all those God is calling to ordained ministry and spiritual leadership. Help raise it into new, renewed life and open up priestly ministry to all God’s people!

Yet, the priest shortage is not the main reason to ordain women. As the Body of Christ, we need each person’s contributions to most fully incarnate God’s kingdom. Denying women their divinely ordained place in our churches harms the Church’s much needed voice against the many injustices which disproportionately harm women, and to which women are often the most capable agents for social change. There are so many people who know they are called by God to lead our Church in renewal and into its finest age as a mediator of God’s love and grace for all.  Without all and by denying some, we as the Church, in so many ways, severely wounded in our consistent defense of life and dignity.

Lastly, in perpetuating an exclusionary vision of ministry, the Church commits a sin of its own making by denying women their full dignity. The Church perpetuates the sin of sexism that it has condemned in many other contexts. This sin’s structural occupation of our community causes the personal corruption of too many Catholics’ understandings about God, Christian anthropology, ecclesiology, etc. Ordaining women and restoring them to rightful positions of leadership, for they were the ones who remained at the Cross while Jesus lay dying and the men fled, is a necessary action by which the Church can begin to truly undermine sexism in our religious community and in our world.

Pope Francis: I implore you to end the prohibitions against women’s ministry, ordained and otherwise, in our Church. Until that moment when all are welcomed to the Church as the person God created them to be and able to minister in the manner in which God calls them, I refuse to leave the Church’s margins for ordination.

In Christ’s peace,

Bob Shine

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Misguided Divorce Comments Speak to Underlying Scandal

Fr. Peter Ryan of the USCCB

Joshua McElwee has another good interview at National Catholic Reporter, this time with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops new doctrinal head, Jesuit Fr. Peter Ryan. The interview is introductory, and Fr. Ryan offers little besides lockstep adherence to the bishops. He’s an expert in bioethics, which is a growing field of moral quandary with medical advancements on the daily – and in this capacity maybe he will advance theology.

However, one response from the priest about divorce struck me as particularly misguided. I quote it here in full, with my comments afterwards:

“[Joshua McElwee] Since you specified the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, I wonder how you would say this on a pastoral level in talking to someone who has been divorced who was obviously in an unhealthy relationship and wants to continue with their life. How do you consider that?

“[Fr. Peter Ryan] Well, there certainly does need to be a lot of pastoral outreach in that area and many other areas where people have real-life problems. I think the first thing to do is to be genuinely compassionate and understanding and to reach out to them with genuine pastoral care.

“At the same time, the teaching about marriage is right there in the Gospel. It’s pretty clearly not something the church happened to come up with years later. … And so I don’t think that somehow it makes sense to think that being pastorally sensitive could somehow mean compromising that teaching,

“… Sometimes people have to accept a really difficult reality that in fact they are married, and then we just have to support them as well as we can. And if they’re not willing to live by the church’s teaching, then we still love them and welcome them to church.

“That doesn’t mean that we violate what the church says about holy Communion, but it does mean we try and reach out to them and help and support them as much as we can.”

The Catholic hierarchy’s failure to adequately understand and address marriage is not newsworthy, and the continued attacks on the divorced, remarried, same-gender couples, etc. are to be expected. Except, McElwee does not ask about any old divorce and receive the party line. He asks about a woman who is separated from an unhealthy (and we can fairly read abusive) relationship and receives a poor response.

It seems, amid all the talk of pastoral concern and compassion,  Fr. Ryan expects the victim of an unhealthy marriage to remain in that marriage. In order to not “compromise that teaching” that marriage is indissoluble, those in ministry should counsel the abused spouse to stay married even if it is a “difficult reality.”

It’s a few paragraphs in an initial interview, and perhaps I could accept it as such and wait to see how this new doctrinal czar acts. The problem is Fr. Ryan is speaking about a larger trend in the Church, and living among the anti-woman and anti-pastoral culture of the bishops he may only get worse. Catholics should be scandalized by this problem: we do not take issues of intimate partner violence and sexual violence seriously in our theology nor in our pastoral practice.

John Garvey of my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, recently wrote in a San Francisco Catholic publication. His words, like Fr. Ryan’s reveal the scandal, in regards to student life on Catholic campuses where “two different messages about sex…can at times clash awkwardly.” Garvey explains that the two messages in conflict are consent and chastity – I will write more tomorrow about this troublesome piece.

I’m obviously not the first Catholic who reads remarks like Fr. Ryan’s or President Garvey’s and feels pained by the bishops’ backwardness, and Meghan Clarke of Millennial writes a piece well-worth everyone’s time. Writing about rape culture and the high rates of violence against women worldwide, she concludes by criticizing the Church’s complicity:

“As a Catholic feminist ethicist, I am currently struggling with the silence of my own community on the structural sin here.  There are a handful of theologians writing on the hookup culture, domestic violence, and sexual violence in war, but these conversations are small and largely relegated to the edges of our moral theology conversations.  Catholic public debate on violence against women is virtually nonexistent, even as we are about to launch a second fortnight for freedom – this time on same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court.  Why isn’t rape culture and violence against women a priority within Catholic moral theology?”

Let us pray that as Fr. Ryan takes over at the USCCB’s head position for moral theology, a growing awareness of women’s issues and the impact gender and sexual violence will help the scales to fall away from his eyes. His response to the divorce question is inadequate in our day, and everyone who is affected by marriage (so everyone…) deserves more Christ-like, loving guidance from our clergy.

–Bob

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