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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Jesuit School of Theology: Berkeley

In 1977, the faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley published an open letter to the Apostolic Delegate in The Los Angeles Times in response to the Vatican's 1976 document declaring women could never be priests. The letter was signed by twenty-three of the twenty-six theologians at the school (including Joseph Tetlow SJ and Michael Buckley SJ) and it has been suggested that some of the signatories' careers were blighted because of their public stance. I admire those Jesuits who signed the letter for being willing to stand up for this issue.

I can't link to the original letter but it was published in the LA Times on March 18, 1977, and Commonweal also published it (you must be a subscriber or buy the article to read it from Commonweal). In the letter, the signatories give four reasons why they disagreed with the Vatican document ... 1) the poverty of the scriptural evidence cited, 2) the lack of unison amongst the Church Fathers cited, and 3) the way the document tries to use tradition, but it was the fourth reason given that really touched me and so I posted it below, along with other bits of the letter ....


An Open Letter to the Apostolic Delegate

We, the undersigned theologians of the Pontifical Faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley … wish to discuss the recent Declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the ordination of women to priesthood which asserts: "The Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination." …. it is our judgment that the conclusion of the Declaration is not sustained by the evidence and the arguments alleged in its support, and that it could sanction within the Church a practice of serious injustice.


4. The sacramental sign necessary to act in persona Christi is to be located within the human person rather than within masculine or feminine sexuality. There is a legitimate concern of the Declaration that "the image of Christ" be perceived by the faithful in the priest. We do not see how women's ordination would derogate from this. On the contrary, the presence of women as priests, as well as men, could be an abiding sign to the faithful that all Christians "have put on Christ Jesus" and in this identification lies their hope for salvation. It is simply a matter of fact that the exclusion of women from priestly ordination in our day does not reinforce "the image of Christ" for a growing number of people, but rather symbolizes sexual discrimination within the Church.

The Declaration correctly maintains that no single person can lay claim to ordination as a personal right. The profound issue of justice does not arise because one woman has been denied presbyteral orders. The issue of justice is engaged when an entire class of Catholics is antecedently excluded on principle even from the possibility that Christ might call them to this ministry, so that simply because they are women it is impossible to admit them to this service of word and of sacrament. The exclusion of any group of Christians from a life or from a function to which they feel a call is so serious an action by the Church, it should be supported as an obvious demand of the Gospel. Any evidence should be overwhelming which makes discrimination an imperative. This Declaration does not contain such evidence.

The Declaration offers neither encouragement nor leadership to the growing movement for the rightful evolution of women within the Church. The emerging consciousness of women's rights is a major moral development of our times, and one which the Declaration positively acknowledged. Despite this recognition, however, the Declaration retards that movement and commits the people of God to abiding and exclusive government by men. In its decision, the Roman Congregation may well be repeating in its own form and through its insufficient sensitivity to the issues involved, such condemnations as those of the Chinese Rites, of the Copernican understanding of the solar system, and of the early emerging biblical movement at the turn of the century.

This is the reason that we write to you, Your Excellency. Roman Congregations have made serious mistakes in the past whose harm to the Church we continue to experience centuries afterwards. We believe that we may well be on a similar path again, and the effect of aligning priesthood with masculinity may identify the Church as regressive for millions of human beings in the future. It is our conviction that this Declaration, because of the faulty nature of its argumentation and conclusions, could impose a grave injustice on Catholic women and undermine the position of the Successor of Peter within the United States, continuing what has become a serious dissipation of his authority.


[W]e make our reflections public to support in their pain those who have read in this Declaration a decision that women will always occupy a secondary role within the Church. There is no question that some have taken serious scandal from this Declaration, that so decisive a document could be issued whose consultation was so minimal and whose argumentation appears so weak. Perhaps this letter can give hope to some who feel here a deep injustice, indicating that one can disagree without either leaving the Church or without a destructive bitterness and mutual recrimination …..



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