Tag Archives: Pope Francis

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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Jettisoning ‘Worthiness’ From Our Faith

Pope Francis’ comments about ‘even the atheists’ being redeemed fueled stories in the media that displayed a confusion among Catholic respondents. Even the Vatican issued a clarification that seemed to correct the pope. It raised for me a more fundamental question about why non-theists or non-Catholics being redeemed upsets the more religious among us.

I often tell friends who love to disprove atheism as a hobby it is not disbelief that threatens our Church, it is apathetic belief. For this reason, I shy away from encountering atheism in my thought. Their conscience decision to engage spirituality in such a way is largely more experiential than intellectual, and you cannot argue experience. The pope’s comments are not a challenge to atheism though, but progress in dialogue with those who differ in belief – and, perhaps more telling, a conversation starter for necessary dialogue with Catholics ourselves.

If an atheist is redeemed why should this bother the believer?

If the theist’s beliefs are objectively true, then nothing they posit in this life will affect their redemption because it is of divine origin. If the atheists beliefs are objectively true, and there is no God, then this whole discussion of Christian redemption is futile.

Except for worthiness, which is the sole reason why Catholics have been objecting to the pope’s words (and they have in droves). Faith becomes a calculus of inputs and outputs, thus being Catholic and doing all the right things is the input to attain the output of redemption. Why would anyone who does not put in the time and work gain the reward? It would seem to lessen the redemption of those of us who labored; in other words those who are “worthy.”

In this mindset then, Pope Francis admitting the reality that ‘even atheists’ are included in Christ’s redemption can be jarring – or liberating if worthiness is something you hope the Church will soon jettison.

Inclusion in salvation, present to God’s overwhelming love should be a goal we desire for every person. The Catholic mind is communally-oriented and our conception of salvation cannot escape this nor can we cast communion with every human being aside. Atheists’ redemption is included in this universal nature of redemption, and we need to overcome inflated piety or over concern with worthiness for a shift in thinking to occur.

The Church, which is all of us as the People of God, needs to shift our thinking and ask, Why are we not overjoyed when all are redeemed? Why do we fail to express unconditioned joy at the thought any person would gain salvation? Is that not the entire point of evangelizing and bringing others into a relationship with Christ – so, even if this occurs post-mortem, is it not still the final end we would celebrate?

God’s all powerful ability to welcome any and all into the Kingdom of God cannot be limited by our human conceptions of worthiness, so rather than worry we must release false aspects of our faith. We must release the idea that our worship, service, or devotion contributes to more worth in God’s eyes. We must release the idea that those who worship in other traditions or participate in no tradition, or even adamantly defame God, are some how unable to participate among God’s love in an eternal sense. Beyond just acknowledging our work does not ‘earn’ salvation, we need to practice this in our lives – doing good, but not pretending it increases our worth before God.

Our worth is already maxed out.

God loves us, every single person in their uniqueness, without failure. To speak of equal love for all does not diminish God’s love for each one, but in typical both/and fashion we live this tension. Worthiness needs expulsion from our consciousness, and a leveling in our minds of all humanity before God. Pope Francis simply stated the long-held belief that Christ’s paschal mystery redeems all – it should not have rattled the world so much, and yet mired in our false beliefs it did. Let’s move on.

–Bob

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Pope Francis the Child

Pope Francis, the Child with the other kids

A strange moment occurred this evening – the Pope made me cry.

Actually, this was not the first time a pope made me cry. Engaging the broader Catholic world since middle school, I personally knew of popes only in the repressive contexts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Tears then were from frustration and hurt about the inability of these two men, and the bureaucratic system behind them, to truly love as Christ did.

Tonight, the tears were peculiar though and the reasons behind them very different. As a blogger on Catholic LGBT issues for Bondings 2.0, I’ve closely followed Francis’ papacy as it begins. Cautious optimism accompanied an intellectualized understanding what this man may mean for Catholicism, but always kept at arm’s length from my interior life. Since March I wondered when the ‘other shoe’ would come crashing down from the Vatican, shattering the high hopes many gambled on Francis.

I often hear older friends speak of John XXIII as inspiring them in their 20s with his pastoral tone, joy and love, and openness to the world. I knew this phenomenon happened, but I could not relate in my life. I could not, thought attempting diligently, comprehend how a pope could be a source of inspiration (other than working to combat their misguided power) or contribute to my life positively. Tonight, that reality changed when I read of his actions with Italian students at Jesuit schools.

Tonight, the hope and optimism since Francis’ election came exuding out of me having pierced my interior life against all efforts to separate them. His consistency with being Catholic and challenging our world, while expressing love and pastoral care unbridled by regulation seems genuine. It seems real and lasting, and for the first time I glimpse at John XXIII’s impact on those in their 20s during Vatican II. I read these words, spoken to the students:

“When a student doubting his faith asked for words of encouragement, he likened the faith a long walk. ‘To walk is an art,’ he said, ‘To walk is the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue. And many times, the walk is difficult, it is not easy… There is darkness… even days of failure… one falls…

“‘But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen…Get up quickly, continue on, and go…But it is also terrible to walk alone, terrible and boring. Walking in community with friends, with those who love us, this helps us and helps us get to the end.’”

Throwing protocol out, Francis answered ten unscripted questions from children after calling prepared remarks “a little boring.” One student today said, “You are like a child.” It made me call to mind Matthew 19 where Jesus says of the children, at first being driven away by the religious authorities, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them: for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Maybe that is the blessing of Francis. He reached out to God’s children, spoke to them with a tenderness and simplicity we hear Jesus preach in because its roots are true love. He speaks to the difficulties faith entails in an honest way, not pretending Catholic life is always joyful or rewarding and allowing for doubt, even falling. In a world torn apart by superficiality and disposability (another theme he’s been mentioning!), Pope Francis is preaching authentically with the people in our language and speaking to those most deep and unarticulated desires sometimes best expressed through the eyes of childhood.

For the first time in my 23 year old life, a pope inspires me and calls me to more as a Catholic with his witness. Where this journey ends is unknown, and certainly Pope Francis and I do not agree on everything – yet, my hope grows because Pope Francis the Child is a companion on our common journey and not a papal father from above.

–Bob

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