Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Women Priests, Breaking Male Sacrificial Tradition

Women religious raise their voices to "Break the Silence" on women's ordination

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, over 100 women religious go public in their support of women's ordination and Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who was informed by the Vatican that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant his support of women's ordination within 30 days. He did not recant, and no further communication has been received. In collaboration with the campaign spearheaded by the Women's Ordination Conference (WOC), titled "Break the Silence. Shatter the Stained-Glass Ceiling." the National Coalition of American Nuns wrote the letter addressed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The 113 signatures add to the over 200 women religious that signed two petitions in conjunction with the "Break the Silence" campaign since November 11, when WOC opened the first petition.

"Catholic women religious are among the most prophetic people within our Church," stated Aisha Taylor, executive director of WOC. "The Vatican has intentionally created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and the women who signed the letter and our petitions add their voices to the thousands of WOC members who, for over 30 years, have called for women's full inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the signers have been members of WOC since the first conference in 1975." (The sexual abuse crisis has given the Vatican and it's diocesan leadership a lot of practice with fear and intimidation.)

Among the signers are Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, who defied the Vatican in 2001 and spoke at the first Women's Ordination Worldwide conference in Dublin; Sr. Theresa Kane, RSM, who made national headlines when she publicly requested, with Pope John Paul II sitting near-by, that he ordain women; Sr. Ivone Gebara, CND, one of Latin Americas leading theologians.

Bourgeois' threat of excommunication is the second attempt this year in silencing the voice of women and men religious who prophetically stand in support of women's justice and equality in the church. On June 26, Sr. Louise Lears, a Sister of Charity who dedicated her entire life to serving the Church, was penalized by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis for attending the ordination of two Roman Catholic women.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission found in 1976 that there is no scriptural reason to prohibit the ordination of women. The Bible describes how women were prominent leaders in Jesus' ministry and early Christianity. In all four gospels, Mary Magdalene was the primary witness to the central event of Christianity-Christ's resurrection. (This is true, but male clericalism derives it's power not from the central event of the resurrection, but from ancient notions of annointed priests sacrificing to appease unseen gods.)

"It is long overdue for the Vatican to respond to the church's need for an inclusive clergy, which embraces women--all of whom are created equal and can be called by God to serve as priests in an accountable and inclusive Catholic Church," Taylor concluded.

Founded in 1975, the Women's Ordination Conference is the oldest and largest national organization in the world that works solely to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic church. WOC represents the 63 percent of US Catholics, and millions of Catholics around the world,that support women's ordination. WOC also promotes new perspectives on ordination that call for more accountability and less separation between the clergy and laity. For more information, visit The NCAN letter follows. (And that is the problem. Traditional theology about the priesthood has done everything in it's power to increase the separation between the clergy and laity.)

Via FAX:
December 12, 2008

Cardinal William Joseph Levada

Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith

Piazza del S. Uffizio 1100193 Roma, Italy

Dear Cardinal Levada:

The Vatican's threatened excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois because of his belief in the priestly ordination of women has diminished our Church.

As women religious who love our Church and who have served the People of God for decades, we support our brother Roy. As a Maryknoll priest for 36 years, he has followed the Gospel of Jesus in his ministry for peace and justice by speaking out against the war in Iraq and against the torture of countless human beings, aided and abetted by the U.S. government's School of the Americas. He has been a prophetic voice for thousands in our society.

Roy is now a prophetic voice in our church because of his support for women's equality in all Church ministries. Excommunications depend not on edicts or laws, but on compliance. We do not believe Roy is outside the community and we embrace him wholeheartedly. Like Roy, we know women who testify that they are called to priesthood. We know that Jesus did not discriminate in calling both women and men to ministry. And we know that our church needs the gifts of everyone called.

So we join Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the majority of U.S. Catholics, who believe that women are called to priestly ordination in the Catholic Church. We look forward to the day when Catholic women, following in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene who announced the Resurrection to the male Apostles, will minister as full equals in our church.

Sincerely yours,


Looks like Fr. Roy is starting to rally some troops. Now if only like minded priests and bishops would show the same courage. Perhaps then the Vatican would be inclined to take a serious look at something other than the maintenance of the current status quo.

This morning I read an impassioned plea from one bishop in Ireland for more young men to enter the priesthood, and then he qualified it to any single man. He went on the explain that parishes would be closing or combining as the current priest shortage made it impossible to provide Mass as in the past. He said laity would have to begin to take more of a role in the administration and ministry in their parishes. He also said that this might be the silver lining in the cloud of priestly shortage.

I thought that was kind of an interesting statement, since the laity is supposed to have been given permission for that very same thing over forty years ago. But to counter that is this statement from Cardinal Arinze: Cardinal Arinze warned that priests “should not try to introduce a sort of secular democracy that is not in accord with the divine nature of the hierarchical institution of the Church. The virtue of humility is one thing, it’s another thing to seek to clericalize the laity or laicize the clergy. The Church has nothing to gain by this, and everything to lose with similar initiatives.”

The truth is the Church has a lot to gain by opening up the priesthood to married men and women, but elite clericalism has 'everything to lose with similar initiatives'.

Fr. Tom Doyle and colleague Marianne Benkert have an extensive analysis of clericalism, how it developed, and why it is so devastating to clerical abuse victims and their families. The history of the priesthood and the theology behind it makes this analysis worth the time it takes to read.

What struck me though, is this paragraph in which Benkert speaks of the pervasiveness and power of the influence of clericalism's notion of the Divine priesthood:

"Nowhere is this more prominent than in the area of sexuality, where every sexual thought, word and action outside of marriage is considered mortally sinful. The Catholic cleric by virtue of ordination publicly proclaims his commitment to celibacy. The Church teaches this sacrifice of sexual activity offers greater freedom to serve the people of God. This gives the cleric an aura and trust that is not duplicated in any other situation. Any sexual abuse by a cleric then takes on a special significance as historian Mayke De Jong says it was from sexual purity that the priesthood was believed to have derived its power.

To be truthful, I had never ever looked at the fact that the Church's sexual teachings could be considered nothing more than an adjunct to prop up the power of it's priesthood as sacred, holy, and set aside from the laity. I never looked at it I suppose, because it is so obvious as to be entirely missed. The Catholic obsession with sexuality is mandated by the very nature of it's priestly theology. This is no different than the virginity of priesthoods mandated by various Roman and Greek divinity cults. These cults also believed the efficacy of their priesthood was directly proportional to the virginity of their priesthood. No wonder the concept of married and female priests is more of an anathema to clerics like Cardinal Arinze than the fact the Church harbors pedophiles.

If the 'power' of the priesthood is based in notions of sexual purity and abstinence, then it only makes sense that any other sexual activity be permissible only if it's linked to the power of fertility, and most specifically the male end of fertility.

One also can't leave out the fact that in the Roman culture in which the Trentan notion of priesthood actually found it's genesis, the penis was used as a symbol of power--a charm to ward off evil. It was frequently worn around necks as a talisman. In this milieu it would make sense that one would sacrifice sexual power for spiritual power. The official sacrificer must officially sacrifice something in order to obtain official power.

I'm glad that over 100 professed women have come out in support of Fr. Roy, but have serious doubts that the same kind of support will be found in the ranks of his fellow clergy. The women have little to lose in the way of power within the clerical system, and the men have everything. I guess we'll see just how many are willing to place their own power on a different sacrificial altar. I suspect there won't be many, and those will be retired from active ministry. Until the Cardinal Arinze's of the world retire, and the light of reason illuminates the clerical myth, that's to be expected. In the meantime we can expect more and more ranting on the sexual sins of the laity and the importance of the traditional priesthood. Apparently they need each other.


  1. The petitions are only part of the process. There needs to be one more set of petitions: one signed by all of those who would be willing to walk away from the RCC and to the WOC.

    Each one who was willing to move, would represent a significant diminishment to the power and prestige of the RCC. Not to mention, a significant decrease in the RCC's income.

    When such petitions are signed in large enough numbers, the Vatican will have two choices, continue business as usual or, submit. Care to guess which one they are most likely to take. My opinion: they will take the path of hate and violence, as they have historically done in an attempt to squash the rebellion.

    There are currently 30+M disaffected catholics in this country who are yearning for a true home. How many of the 75+ percent of those who are active but not participating, are looking for a home as well. And, once the floodgates opened, how many active congregations would choose to dissociate from the RCC.

    As disheartening as it was to watch, we saw a precursor in the Episcopal/Anglican schism this year. That event is still unfolding, but it is interesting to see how clearly the congregations are seperating now.

    One other possibility that I am exploring is the requirements for becoming certified as a lay minister in the WOC. At the moment, there are relatively few priest/priestesses for the US, which would suggest the possibility that the laity could fill a very needed role.

  2. dear colkoch. . .what you post here is most interesting. . .This last weekend watched the documentary called Deliver Us From Evil concerning Priest and sexual abuse. . .Fr. Tom Doyle was in it and i was impressed with him. . .

    He mentioned how the disciples, Priests, and the Popes where not celibate to start with. . .He said celibacy was instituted to deny property rights to the offspring of the Priest, thus assuring the material wealth stayed within the Church rather than being passed to biological heirs. . .

    Once again it was the same root cause as the root bases of marriage that Slain talked about in his book (Sex, Time and Power) . . .I find it interesting how power to insure materialism is so often disguised as issues related to sexuality. . .

    Why does this strategy continue to work?. . .

    Instead of talking about sexuality being the root of all evil. .
    .what is the root that needs to be addressed?. . .

    It seems to me all theses sexual related issues are just slick manipulation to misdirect the underlying issues. . .

    And maybe the only question that will ever bring light to the surface here is not going to come from the Priest. . . Why does the laity allow their voices to be muffled?. . .

    I write this without judgment but would love to here your opinion on the question. . .

  3. Colleen, you've made clear for me a link I didn't see so clearly until now.

    You say, "The official sacrificer must officially sacrifice something in order to obtain official power."

    There's a shell game going on here. The claim is that Father is uniquely qualified to effect the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because he himself has sacrificed in a unique way.

    So this is the liturgical link to the bogus game of self-denial by the big men on top, about which I wrote recently!

    We hear about their struggles and sacrifices, and about their self-denial, because those struggles, sacrifices, and self-denial qualify them to preside at liturgy.

    And to have power in the church. Power over the rest of us. Because of the sacrificial liturgical role they play.

    And isn't it interesting that, while they tell those of us under them to sacrifice our desire for power, or to mortify our desires for self-assertion, power is the one thing they do NOT renounce, in their lives of self-denial?

  4. But Bill, access to the BIG POWER, is the payoff for the sacrifice of the little power. Access to the BIG POWER justifies whatever they want to do, say, or command from the 'little people'.

    The trouble is the BIG POWER is much much bigger than their little definition and probable cares very little about their notions of sacrifice.

  5. The Bishop also said that without the priesthood there is no Eucharist. What hubris! Whenever someone 'sacrifices' themselves for the sake of the other, Eucharist happens. He has reduced Eucharist to an object, and a magical one at that only happens when the PRIEST says the magical words. The bishop needs to deepen his notion of Eucharist and just what it is that Jesus has called all of us to be in this world.

  6. Mlou, you're absolutely correct, but once the Church became a social institution rather than a gathering of believers, it had to adopt the same concept of sacred priesthood offering sacred sacrifice as it's Roman, Greek, and Jewish forerunners.

    Jesus was adamant. Call no man Rabbi, call no man your father, you have no other Master save the Messiah.... That may be true for small groups, but not for formal institutionalized religion. The messenger is in direct opposition to the message, but I guess we're not supposed to see that.