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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Robert Egan SJ on women's ordinarion

There's a post at US Catholic - Sex abuse and women's ordination? by Bryan Cones - about the Vatican's new norms on sex abuse and a newly added offense, the "attempted ordination of women" ......

[...] Why is that bad? First, the "attempted ordination of women" already brings with it automatic excommunication, so making it one of the "delicta graviora" is redundant. Second, it conflates two completely separate issues, and in effect, or at least in the minds of many people who will read the news, seems to equate the "attempted ordination of women" with the rape and torture of children.

Quite frankly, it is an outrage to pair the two, a complete injustice to connect the aspirations of some women among the baptized to ordained ministry with what are some of the worst crimes that can be committed against the least of Christ's members.

I agree with Bryan. This reminded me of a 2008 article by Fr. Egan for Commonweal magazine on women's ordination - Why not? Scripture, history & women's ordination - that I posted part of back then, in which he asks whether the tradition of excluding women from the priesthood has been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus. Today I came upon what must have been a commentary in Commonweal magazine on Fr. Egan's earlier article. The first part of this article - Continuing the Conversation: Women & the Priesthood - is written by Sister Sara Butler criticizing Fr. Egan's pro-women's ordination view, and the second part is Fr. Egan explaining his view. I've just posted below Egan's part of the article but you can find Butler's part at the link ........


Continuing the Conversation: Women & the Priesthood
Sara Butler | Robert J. Egan
July 18, 2008

Robert J. Egan

My article began with a specific question: “Why are women excluded from being deacons, presbyters, and bishops in the Catholic Church?” My main concern was to provide a clear, fair-minded analysis and evaluation of the reasons given currently for this exclusion, as they are expounded by Sara Butler, MSBT, in her recent book.

The focus of my concern was to maintain a respectful attitude and tone while being scrupulously honest about the current relevant scholarship and the cogency of the author’s arguments. In addition, I wanted to locate this discussion in the context of a deeply troubling situation of broken communication in the church today and a resulting tension at its very heart as a community of faith and love. It was my intention to avoid interjecting merely personal opinions about these issues in what was essentially a review essay.

My article also ended with a question: “Has the tradition of excluding women from the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopacy really been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus? Or has it been part of a mostly unexamined and partially unconscious bias for subjecting women to men’s authority and power?” This was not a conclusion, but a question: “a very important question,” one that “urgently needs and deserves an open, prayerful, learned, patient, and discerning conversation among Catholics today.” In such a conversation, we might learn new things, feel them in new ways, see them from new angles, or have new thoughts about them. Such experiences might help us understand each other better and make out more clearly what God asks from us today.

In her response to my article, Butler does not deal directly with my central argument. She leaves much of it out of consideration altogether. By making assumptions about my opinions and conclusions, and attaching these to passages culled from various parts of my article, Butler frequently portrays me as saying things I do not say. I would have to repeat much of my article to set the whole record straight. On the basis of her testimony, she tries hard to characterize my views as Protestant. This falls short of being a reasoned argument, and seems to me a type of name-calling one would like to think had become obsolete in an ecumenical age.

In her first paragraph, she speaks of my “doubts” and my “opinion” and talks about a “grave injustice,” though there is nothing about any of this in my article. She says that I deny “Jesus’ freedom from convention in relating to women,” though in fact I explicitly affirm it, while pointing out this doesn’t mean Jesus could communicate with his contemporaries in gestures or symbols they didn’t understand. She says I suggest that Vatican II “repudiates” the Council of Trent; but to notice that on certain subjects Vatican II clearly goes beyond Trent is not fairly described as “repudiation.” She says my appeal to Vatican II’s attempt “to provide new foundations for a theology of the presbyterate” is “genuinely puzzling.” Yet most commentators on the council speak explicitly of this new theology, which emphasized the presbyter’s relationship with his bishop, his leadership role in the community, his pastoral service to his people, and especially his ministry of the Word, in ways that go beyond what Trent emphasized.

Butler speaks of arguments she imagines I have advanced in favor of women’s ordination. She speaks twice of my concluding that the church’s traditional practice was dictated chiefly by “the conviction that women are not only different from men but also inferior by nature and destined to be subject to the authority and power of men.” These claims are false. I reported that the inferiority of women to men and their subjection to the authority of men (taken for granted throughout most of the church’s history) was the explanation often given for their exclusion from ordained ministry - something no one denies. Whether or not it was the main factor that dictated this exclusion is a question I suggested deserves prayerful discussion among us.

Butler writes, “Egan concludes that the ordained ministry evolved gradually to meet the church’s organizational needs. In his opinion, this took place under the prompting of the Holy Spirit but without reference to the commission Jesus gave to the Twelve.” This is not a coherent summary of anything I actually wrote, but the main idea is hardly “my” conclusion in any case. We know there were different forms of governance and types of ministry in the early Christian communities. There was no single structure, the same in every place. It isn’t my opinion but our common faith that the church’s life unfolds under the influence of the Spirit. It seems apparent that different kinds of assistance, leadership, and service evolved gradually, and only gradually became identified with particular offices, and subsequently with “priesthood.” But during these developments, references were, in fact, being made to several key biblical passages that became influential, including references to the commissioning of the Twelve.

To make all this an issue about me is misleading. None of this discussion is a personal idiosyncrasy on my part. It reflects aspects of the work—not just of Anglicans and Protestants—but of many Catholic scholars as well, including Paul Bernier, Raymond E. Brown, John J. Burkhard, John N. Collins, Bernard Cooke, Alexandre Faivre, Richard R. Gaillardetz, Daniel J. Harrington, Richard P. McBrien, John P. Meier, Nathan D. Mitchell, Thomas F. O’Meara, Kenan B. Osborne, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Carroll Stuhlmueller, and Francis A. Sullivan, among others. In particular, important work has been done in recent years on the meaning of “the Twelve,” the distinct category of “apostles,” and the origins and development of the roles of presbyter, overseer, and deacon, much of it in the years since the promulgation of Inter insigniores (1976). It is, I believe, mainly Butler’s neglect of this literature that is at the heart of the conflict between us.

Finally, Butler provides an astonishing list of my purported “objections” that she claims includes “the nature of Holy Orders as a sacrament, apostolic succession,” “the hierarchical structures of the church...the role of Tradition and the magisterium in determining the teaching of the Scripture and the church’s authority to teach in a way that commands the assent of the faithful.” These strike me as reckless claims: reckless in their choice of words, and reckless in their willingness to accuse. Any such interpretation is inconsistent with my intention in this article. As a Catholic theologian and a Jesuit, I do not dispute the sacramentality of ordination, the idea of apostolic succession, the hierarchical structure of the church, the role of tradition and the magisterium in the interpretation of Scripture, or the teaching authority of the church, although I think commanding the assent of the faithful is unlikely to produce fruitful results in our present situation.

Still, theology as a social practice has an obligation to examine the community’s faith as something living, challenged by new events and circumstances, adapting to different cultures and historical periods, and appropriating the questions, research, reflection, and discernment of each new generation. Theology has the vocation of working for the church in its own continuing development. This is why the world’s bishops, gathered at the Second Vatican Council, trusted the theologians they invited as advisers and collaborated with them in such a fruitful and historic way.

The church’s understanding and teaching has developed over two millennia. On some subjects it has remained substantially the same. On others, it has changed dramatically, in ways that could not have been foreseen: on slavery, women’s inferiority, the divine right of kings, the uses of torture, the status and dignity of the Jewish people, the execution of heretics, the idea of religious liberty, the moral legitimacy of democratic governments, the indispensability of Thomism, and the structure of the universe itself. New questions arise, and new horizons open, cultures themselves are transformed, and the fund of human knowledge changes.

Through all this, we are called to remain faithful to God, confident that God understands us and will remain faithful to us in our pilgrimage through time. Sometimes we disagree about what this faithfulness requires in regard to a particular issue. I think the best we can do, in our own day, is to remain in attentive, thoughtful conversation with each other, to speak and listen with respect and candor, and always with charity. These sustained conversations, rooted in hope, patience, and reasonableness, and nourished by prayer, are entrusted to the special care of our church’s leaders, who are missioned to inspire, protect, and guide them, in the communion of love made possible by the Holy Spirit.



Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi Crystal --

I don't think I had read that earlier post of yours, and in any event I am sure I didn't read either Egan's earlier critique or Butler's response. I want to thank you for posting the give-and-take on this issue. This is an important issue for me -- and for my wife, who is not at all interested herself being ordained -- and for many good women friends-in-ministry, who would be.

In my mind, Fr. Egan originally gave an excellent survey of the question. I remember keenly the evolution of this question from Vatican II onward, and the controversy about it around the time of my own ordination to the diaconate in 1989. In particular, I remember when John Paul II declared the teaching "definitive" and the conversation over, and Cardinal Ratzinger's "Responsum," labeling the teaching as "infallible" -- something that I pointed out (as does Egan) was a weighty and important judgment but a clearly fallible one.

This past April a long-time Catholic woman friend of mine was ordained a priest. (I was in Africa.) Both Joan and I have known her from our years in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, nearly 40 years ago. She worked for the Church for many years in various capacities. I don't think I'd have had her courage, to follow her call in spite of the weight of the Church's teaching. Reading these articles fans both my admiration for her and my resolve to raise this issue -- in whatever venues might be open to me.


3:35 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

What's scary is that it's kind of scary even to admit knowing a woman who became a priest - sigh.

It's interesting when Egan mentions how Butler criticizes him as thinking like a "Protestant". In a way, Protestants are just Catholics who re-thought some things. The church acts as if the very idea of considering change is just evil in itself.

What I especially find strange is the church's insistance that Jesus didn't want women to be priests, as if at the last supper he'd passed around a blueprint for the present day Catholic set-up :)

6:33 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Exactly! I really feel that Jesus would have been entirely comfortable with women being leaders/presiders/priests. He was so open with women, far more than his culture and religious tradition allowed for. I think the early Church GOT IT -- women were in important community roles. As if the example of Mary Magdalene (the "apostle to the apostles," first to witness the Resurrection) and others were not enough, the Bible even names a woman deacon (see Romans 16).

You hinted at something that I didn't write, but felt. That woman friend of mine who was ordained -- Diane Whalen is her name -- wrote to me just before she was ordained a deacon, saying that she didn't expect me to attend then, because of possible ramifications to me. I really wanted to attend her ordination as a priest, but had been scheduled for a long time to attend an important event for our sister parish in Malawi, the dedication of the Namitembo Trade and Agriculture School. I had thought that I might "quietly attend" her ordination... and now I read the latest from the Vatican, which suggests that I might have been excommunicated for doing so!

Sometimes I just don't know.

10:51 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, that's what I thought of too - I was remembering Fr. Roy Bourgeois :(

1:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Roman Catholic church apparently views the dignified and community supported service (ordination) of women as grave a crime against the faith. The sentence against it is seen as equivalent to that pronounced against the rape and torture of children in its care.

This is monstrous, given that many christians, and I include myself among them, see the absence of women in positions of power in the church as the major contributor to the ongoing sex abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.

7:01 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, I think what's interesting too is that women who want to be priests are automatically excommunicated but not priests who abuse children. I guess excommunication is not about moral badness but about disagreeing with authority.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Victor said...

Hi Deacon Denny and hello Crystal,

"IT" is really great that people like ourselves and/or should "I" simply say Christians as ourselves that we are, who can learn to agree to disagree without throwing rocks at each other in reality. Truth be known, "I'M" truly angry at GOD (Good Old Dad) for not helping U>S (usual sinners). With all due respect to HIM and HIS Angels, he seems to be letting ALL kinds of so called gods mess UP our lives and HE's not doing anything to correct the problems.

Victor! Victor! Victor! What do ya want U>S gods to do about "IT"? "IT" is not easy taking care of little retardo's as yourself ya know! When will ya learn that you're "NOTHING" important in this world and we are your 92% spiritual reality flesh cells so why can't you learn from "IT". "IT" would be great if your so called "Jesus The Christ" existed but we your gods only gave ya 7% "Jesus" cells so that ya wouldn't go buy a polar bear in reality if ya know what "I" mean? Look Victor! Stop thinking that Adam and Eve really did exist and that this so called Good Old Dad really put humans in charge of the animals of paradise and.....

STOP "IT" RIGHT THERE sinner vic cause GOD really does exist and every year HE HIMSELF comes as a HUMAN CELL disguised as a "Santa Cause".

Don't ya mean "Santa Clause" Victor and don't forget that all of U>S gods are called to “go and preach to all nations” (see Matthew 28:19) and besides we're doing the best we can Victor. :(

sinner vic, me, myself and i wrote as "ONE" Soul and we spiritual reality cells wrote what we wrote so put that in your pipe and smoke "IT" if ya know what's good for ya! :)


12:10 PM  

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