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Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Jesuits and women priests

In the past, a number of Jesuits have spoken up publicly for the ordination of women. But now that we have a pope who was once a Jesuit, a pope who has said that women can never ever be priests, those same men remain silent on the issue. Why? I doubt the reason is that they have changed their minds on the issue. Can it really be that solidarity with a pope formerly of their order is more important than speaking up for women in the church?

Here are some of the Jesuits who have advocated women's ordination in the past ....

****** Thomas Reese SJ mentioned that women should be priests in a recent article about women being deacons, Women deacons? Yes. Deacons? Maybe.. Here's part of it ...

When I was asked by a reporter last week whether I favored women deacons, I hesitated and finally responded, “If there are male deacons, there should be female deacons.” .... frankly, even if there were not women deacons in the past, I would still argue for ordaining women deacons today, just as I would argue for ordaining women priests. True, Jesus did not pick any women for the Twelve Apostles, but he did not pick any gentiles either. We would really have a priest shortage today if the priesthood was limited to Jewish Christians.

The church today does many things that Jesus and the early Christians did not do. For example, they would not recognize the Eucharist as we celebrate it today, nor would they understand why we are doing it in churches rather than in homes, and they would be appalled by all the statues (idols) in our churches ....

Even today, the Catholic church has a difficult time dealing with change. During the last two papacies, all discussion of serious change was suppressed. Today, the window closed after the Second Vatican Council has been reopened. This does not mean that every new proposal should be accepted, but it does mean that we should be open to serious conversation and debate on change in the church, especially on the role of women in the church ...

****** Francis X. Clooney SJ mentioned women's ordination in an article at America magazine, 30 Years a Priest: Gratitude, Joy, and a Quiet Lament. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] This issue -- does God call women as well as men to ordination? -- seems likely to remain one of the great divides in the Church of the 21st century, and we all, men as well as women, are, or should be, suffering through the experience. That the Vatican has definitively ended the discussion does not make it less likely that many will continue to have hearts rent by the issue. I am sure God hears many a prayer, many a day, on the topic. But no matter what we think, there is room for quiet lament, and particularly those of us who are ordained should feel this sadness mingled with the joy appropriate to anniversaries of ordination. The priesthood is, as I have said, a great gift, and I know how very sad it would be to have been barred from it, from the start or along the way. I can only try to imagine the sentiments of a woman who has experienced, with humility and conviction, this calling, faced as she is with the prospect of the Church’s insistence that it is incapable of ordaining women -- as if to say: "Even if God calls, the Church cannot." It is clear that some women have moved on, and do not want Roman Catholic ordination any more; others never did; many more have found ways of living out their vocations fruitfully in Church and world. Nevertheless, some still grieve, many who know them and their gifts still grieve, and it is with them all, at my 30th anniversary of ordination, that I lament. It is mindful of them, and for them, that I shall be celebrating the Eucharist on June 10. I think it most appropriate that every priest celebrating an ordination anniversary, most often around this time of the year, take the occasion to pray with, mindful of, women who have discerned that God is calling them to ordination in the Church.

****** William A. Barry SJ wrote sipporting the idea of women priests in his book Paying Attention to God: Discernment in Prayer. Here's a bit of what he wrote there ...

[...] In the contemporary Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere there are hundreds of women who identify with Therese's desire [to be a priest]. They feel that God has called them to ordained ministry in the church, and they find themselves unable to follow through on the Lord's call because of the stance of authority in the church .....

For a number of years I have been a co-worker in ministry with and sometimes spiritual director to a number of women who feel so called. Their experiences are not in the public domain, nor do these women want to publicize themselves. Yet, I believe, the church needs to know about their experience as as part of its ongoing discernment of what God is trying to accomplish ... I have felt some urgency to try to get into the public domain the experience of the women with whom I have worked. The urgency is compounded by the growing realization that many of God's people are being deprived of Eucharist because of the death of priests. As more and perhaps different experiences become part of our shared life the church will gain more charity about God's intentions ....

Each of the women I have in mind has been praying seriously for years and has sought regular and competent spiritual direction. Each makes at least an eight day directed retreat every year, and a number have also made the full Spiritual Exercises (30 days) under capable direction. Those whose prayer experience I know best have developed a relationship of intimacy with God and his Son Jesus that has moved from the discernment of the beginner to that of a companion of the Lord. They have asked to be with Jesus on mission, even on dangerous mission, and have been consoled by his acceptance of their desire. They open themselves honestly and humbly to their spiritual directors and look for challenge because they want to follow their Lord and not go up a garden path. In other words, they are continually testing the spirits as best they can. They ask the Lord whether they are deluding themselves about the desire for priesthood since the door seems to be even more firmly closed now than ten years ago. Nothing in their prayer experience points towards such a discernment of delusion. In fact the opposite seems to be the case ......

All my instincts, training and experience lead me to the conclusion that these women are experiencing an authentic call of God ..... All of us in the church need to take seriously the experiences of women such as I have described. Is God saying something to us about ministry in the church through them? And if so, what is he saying? In Experience and God John E. Smith affirms the necessity of shared experience for a religious community: "A living religion, or rather a religion which hopes to save its life, cannot ultimately afford to avoid the critical test of shared experience. On the contrary, from shared experience comes its life." So too new life for the church's ministry may only come by reflecting on shared experience.

****** Robert J. Egan SJ had a couple of article in Commonweal magazine. One was a conversation with Sara Butler (she was against women's ordination) ... Women & the Priesthood ... which had followed his earlier article, Why Not? Scripture, History & Women's Ordination. Here's part of that article ...

Why are women excluded from being deacons, presbyters, and bishops in the Catholic Church? Are the reasons given reasonable and convincing? What can be learned from the testimony of Scripture and tradition? And what can be learned from the experience of Christians in contemporary societies? These questions provide us with an illuminating example of the crisis of contemporary Catholicism.

“The meaning of Vatican II,” Bernard Lonergan once remarked, “was the acknowledgment of history.” Sometimes I think it was just this acknowledgment of history that so soon afterward provoked a screeching of the brakes in the church and a determined effort to go backward. For acknowledging history can be painful and confusing. It teaches us about the fictions of memory, the prevalence of legend, and the truth about diversity, conflict, change, and discontinuity. We have to learn how to live with the whole truth about our history, to face it and accept responsibility for it. Even making changes is not enough if we’re still unable to acknowledge failings and experience repentance.


[T]he religious idea of tradition does not mean “whatever happened.” All kinds of things have happened in church history—some fortunate and some unfortunate, some glorious and some infamous—including a great many sins, and sins are never indicative of God’s will. They are not part of God’s plan. We all believe that God is at work in our history, but not in a way that diminishes our freedom or manipulates our choices. The Christian God is not a puppeteer. We believe the Holy Spirit makes its presence felt in our tradition, but the Holy Spirit is always free to do a new thing in our midst. Unbroken continuity might mean fidelity to God’s grace; or it might mean stubborn persistence in our refusal of grace. By itself it doesn’t prove anything. The moral toleration of slavery was an unbroken and universal tradition in the church from the beginning at least until the nineteenth century, and arguably until Vatican II, but today it is understood to be an intrinsic evil.

The mere fact that the church has always, or almost always, up to a certain point, said or done something a certain way does not in itself preclude critical reflection, spiritual discernment, even radical change—or even reversal. This is apparently difficult for some Catholics to acknowledge or accept. But it isn’t a theory. It is merely a fact of church history. There is nothing esoteric about it. A library card and an open mind are all that are needed to confirm it.


In what sense do presbyters and bishops need to “resemble” Jesus? Jesus was Jewish; he spoke Aramaic; we think he died in his early thirties. Yet no one is suggesting that church officers should be Jewish, should be fluent in Aramaic, or should leave office when they reach the age of thirty-five. Is the gender of Jesus the one decisive factor in “resembling” him? Would a loving and caring woman represent Jesus less effectively than a man who was grouchy, evasive, and preoccupied with self? Might not the ability to love in a mature, wholehearted way be the single most important factor?

And why is there this need for a resemblance to Jesus? Is it mainly an issue in regard to presiding at the Eucharistic liturgy? We have no reason to believe that presiding at the liturgy was originally thought to require an appointment or an office at all. And the liturgy is an event of communal worship, of praise and thanksgiving, not a theatrical event. Besides this, most of the time during the liturgy as a whole, and most of the time even during the Eucharistic prayer, the presider speaks in the first-person plural on behalf of the gathered assembly. It is only during the presider’s recitation of the institution narrative—and then only when the presider is quoting the words Jesus used at the Last Supper—that the impression might be given that the presider is acting “in the person of Christ.”

More fundamentally, since it is the common testimony of the New Testament, but especially of the Pauline and Johannine traditions, that we live in Christ and Christ lives in us, it is not clear in what sense it is necessary or meaningful for some members of the church to “represent” Christ to the others. This misappropriation of the Jesus role by clergy seems to require deemphasizing the real presence of Jesus in the members of the congregation, which might be said to be at the very heart of the Eucharistic celebration.


The church cannot remain exempt from the principles of its own social teaching. Catholics cannot bear witness to principles of justice, equality, subsidiarity, and participation, and claim exceptions for themselves. The question is this: 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? Which is the more believable interpretation of our history as a people?

This is a very important question, one that urgently needs and deserves an open, prayerful, learned, patient, and discerning conversation among Catholics today.

And yet it does not happen. And so the crisis deepens.

****** And in 1977, the faculty from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (including Joseph Tetlow SJ and Michael J. Buckley SJ) placed an open letter in he Los Angeles Times dissenting from the Vatican's 1976 opinion that women could never be priests. 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 …..

Why will these Jesuits not speak up now for women?


Blogger Jesuit Women said...

Dear Crystal,

Thanks for your careful selection of readings on the topic of Jesuit men and women's ordination. I appreciate your honesty about the confusion and pain that can result when we consider side by side both the brave and encouraging words, and the great silence that we experience from our brothers on this topic.

I wonder if you would be interested in dialoguing with me? I've created a new website and blog,, with the purpose of identifying and gathering women who have felt called to be Jesuits, and are living in the way that William Barry described - constantly testing the spirits and growing in ministry. I think God might be calling these women to something new.

I'd like to hear more of your ideas and experiences.

Peace be with you!


12:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, for the comment. While I do take issue with the church's stance on women and the priesthood, I don't myself have any desire to be a priest. I hope more priests and more Jesuits gain the courage and integrity to speak up for women and equality of the sexes in the church, but I'm not holding my breath ... I think most of them are happy with the status quo and are beyond being shamed into doing the right thing. And as time goes by, the church and its structures are becoming more and more irrelevant o me. I do wish you luck with your project, though! :)

1:07 PM  
Blogger Maggie Wright said...

Good to hear from you :-). Because you are clearly a thoughtful person, I have a few more questions - would love your thoughts on any or all.

Do you see yourself in ministry to others?

What is becoming more spiritually relevant to you, as Church structures become less so?

Do you think it is possible to be a Jesuit, without being a priest?

These are all questions I'm noodling on.

Peace, C, and thanks!


3:27 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I don't see myself in any kind of religious ministry. I'm still trying to figure everything out for myself so I can't advise anyone else.

When I started this blog I was much more interested in prayer and spiritual direction stuff, retreat stuff, theology. But over time I've lost a lot of my faith in God. I still pray but I'm not sure anymore if God is good or if he even exists.

There are Jesuit brothers (not priests) and there are Jesuit lay partners, but I doubt the Jesuit order will let women (or married men) be members of their community any time soon. I think it's possible for non-Jesuits to know as much about Ignatian spirituality, to be as good at spiritual direction, as Jesuits. And the way things are going, lay men and women will be the ones who will end up continuing Ignatian spirituality because the Jesuit order as it is is dying out - not enough men are joining anymore. What's sad is that they would rather let that happen than allow married men and women to be Jesuits.

I've spent some time reading about the Jesuits and their spirituality, their history. There are a lot of interesting Jesuits in the past and present and I really like Ignatius' view of God and how to access him. It just doesn't seem to be helping much with the problems in my life right now.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Maggie Wright said...

Hey Crystal, I've been thinking about your words and if you're open, I'd like to comment back and forth some more when I come back from retreat next week.

I share your experience of needing multiple approaches and open inquiry in the spiritual life (which I find is actually just life.) One way just doesn't seem to cut it for all situations. I'm curious to know where the Ignatian approach has fallen short for you, and if the sense of wanting more has led you down new paths of practice and inquiry. I see from your other posts that you are aware of the greater world, and can imagine how this discourages you and makes you ask why? And is God good? And even, is God?

You're the first woman I've talked with in a blog setting about these questions. I thank you for that, and hope we can chat from time to time.

Be assured of my prayers for your journey, wherever it leads you, on retreat.

6:55 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Maggie. Look forward to 'talking' to you more :)

9:17 AM  

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