Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spiritual Authority and Feminine Complimentarity

This is one way to claim male spiritual authority and dictate women's spiritual place in the male scheme of things.

Horrors! Catholic children exposed to gender equality!
by Maureen Fiedler on Sep. 18, 2009

Not long ago, the Cincinnati archdiocese banned Sr. Louise Akers from teaching because she supports the ordination of women.

That was bad enough. Then, Dr. Carol Egner, a laywoman and a gynecologist who was incensed by this injustice, wrote a letter supporting Akers to the Cincinnati Inquirer. Her pastor read the letter, and had the gall to demand that she write another letter retracting her position. When she rightly refused, he banished her from her volunteer teaching position with a 6th grade religion class at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.

What is it that these men fear? Exposing children to the gospel ideal of gender equality? Open discussion of an issue of great importance in our church? The thought of actually sharing ministry equally with women?

The issue of women’s ordination seems to have produced a new level of clerical emotion in the last year. Perhaps -- because of the clergy shortage, the theological indefensiblity of this discriminatory position, and the widespread acceptance of women in other denominations -- this is the issue on which they feel most vulnerable.


The comments to this post are rehashing all the hundreds of comments that have accompanied the other posts on the Akers/Egner stories. This one from a Fr. Angelo Sotello gives the traditional response succinctly:

Submitted by Fr. Angel Sotelo (not verified) on Sep. 18, 2009.
Maureen, you make it sound as if no one has been allowed to speak about women's ordination, ever. The inconvenient truth is that Catholics have been arguing about ordaining women since the Gnostics first ordained women, only to have their women priests rejected by the larger Church. As far as Dr. Egner, she may have the right to speak her mind, but she doesn't possess a right to speak in the name of the faith community without a mission from the pastor.

And if you want to point to what is theologically and scripturally defensible, I don't get the argument that because Jesus valued the role of women, that He automatically gave them a call to Holy Orders. It's as if Jesus' call to men for leadership is irrelevant. And the gender equality argument continues to ignore what even sociologists now state emphatically--gender equality does not equal having the same exact roles for a man and woman within the family and household setting.

The household of Catholicism and its leaders has resoundingly responded "no" to women priests over the long trajectory of its pilgrim journey. The new generation of young priests and seminarians are solidly unsympathetic to the cause of women's ordination, which means that they have more than "emotion" on their side. Their opponents will simply die off and the resurrection of a Gnostic women's priesthood will go that way as well.

There are a number of things I take issue with in this comment, but unique from others, Fr. Sotelo does admit women were ordained in the early church--although by those heretical Gnostics. That's a start.

He then brings up the canard that Jesus ordained the twelve to Holy Orders, which of course is not true. He did commission them to leadership in the temporal church. No one is disputing that, just the fact there could have been a lot more than twelve people at the Last Supper.

Fr. Sotelo continues with the appeal to the long tradition of male dominance in the pilgrim church and the fact the new seminarians are solidly unsympathetic to the cause of women's ordination, somehow concluding they have more than 'emotion' on their side. He ends by assuring us that this whole Gnostic notion of women's priesthood will die off with the Vat II generations. For some reason I'd rather be told to become an Episcopalian than have these constant references to the good my death and those of my generation will do for the Church.

Sometimes though, God does work in mysterious ways. Fr. Sotelo's denigration of the historical fact of the ordination of women as a Gnostic heresy tripped a rebuttal in my mind. Gnosticism was far more involved in the notion of life as a personal spiritual journey and they looked for mentors who they deemed to have spiritual authority. Although I don't particularly think much of a lot of gnosticism--the extreme mind/body duality was surely on the wrong path--the emphasis on spiritual authority, as opposed to temporal sacramental authority, is a major problem to Institutional religious authority. Anyway, I had to add my two cents.

Traditional and theological authority should never be confused with Spiritual Authority. Men have no claim to sole authority over the things of the spirit. If this were not so, men would have been the first witnesses to the Resurrection and more than one would have witnessed the Crucifixion.

These two truths, which are thoroughly seated in the realm of the Spiritual, were shared and witnessed by women. The same is true of the Incarnation. It was another woman, Elizabeth, who witnessed and proclaimed this spiritual truth. It was the seer and prophetess Anna who recognized Him at His temple presentation, as did Simeon, who said to Mary, "and you yourself a sword shall pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed."

This statement indicates Mary's spiritual authority and her own spiritual gift. It is then at Mary's bequest, and not His own desire, that Jesus starts His spiritual mission at the wedding feast of Cana.

Men may indeed keep the temporal authority to themselves by their own decree, but I look far more frequently to women for spiritual authority. Perhaps it is this truth which clerical men are afraid of.

I could elaborate a lot on this difference between temporal sacramental authority and true spiritual authority. Indigenous tribes freely recognized that the spiritual path was easier and more truly expressed by women than by men and that when expressed by men it was linked genetically, frequently passing through the maternal line. For the sake of this post, I'm not going to get into the differences between genetic psychic talent and spiritual gifts. I only bring this point up to underscore the differences between men and women which the Church is flat ignoring in order to shore up the male definition of complementarity as it is to be expressed in the Institutional Church.

Temporal sacramental religious authority is NOT the same as spiritual authority. It can however manifest in religious authority as it did in Padre Pio. St Pio was also pierced so 'that the thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed'. It was that gift that gave him his spiritual authority, not just his ordination.

I will be going back and reading the New Testament with different eyes. Perhaps the Gnostics got something correct and having women as spiritual leaders makes a great deal of sense. Perhaps it's precisely that leadership which is both lacking in the current institution and greatly feared---unless it's under their control.

The history of the Church is replete with clerical men persecuting psychically/spiritually gifted women. It still continues to this day, or why else the recent pathetic statement on reiki? I could go on, but I'll leave it here for today. Feel free to comment, as I think this is an area about women's complimentary gifts for the Church which needs to be discussed and not suppressed.

PS, I'd also be interested in comments about Tom Robert's lastest post in the National Catholic Reporter concerning the emerging church. He conducted a fascinating interview with Fr. Richard Rohr, in which Fr. Rohr states the emerging church will center around the contemplative tradition. I happen to think Fr. Rohr is correct and this will lead to a very different church with a very differenct cosmology, theology, and world view.


  1. Colleen, there's a very interesting article in today's Chicago Sun-Times written by Doug Saunders. It is on how Germany views women in the workplace. To quote: "Starting in the 1950s and right up to the present, you could not talk about working mothers or child care without sounding like you were talking about communism," says Birgit Wintermann, a policy analyst in Berlin. I think this speaks volumes about the formation of JPIIs and Benedicts opinions about the place of women both in life (complimentarity) and in ordination. It shows their 'theology' is culture based and not scripture based. Hope you can find the article.

  2. I am one of those people who support women like Sr. Louise Akers and Dr. Carol Egner. I also think there are solid reasons historically, scripturally, and theologically to support the ordination of women. An emerging field for recognizing the role of women and ordination of women are the studies being done into the non canonical gospels.

    I do not know what Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk is doing getting mixed up in all this since he is about to leave the scene as archbishop. Not too long ago he was thumping his chest saying that folks were considering him a liberal bishop. This may have been because he was not an advocate of no wafers for Obama supporters.

    I grew up in the shadow of Our Lady of Lourdes parish belonging to one the neighboring parishes. From time to time I get back there and have noticed the drift back to pre Vatican II thinking in some of those big Catholic parishes on the west side. That is sad and disappointing. The parish I sometimes attend has gone from a place where we used to have dynamic preaching to sermons that are pitched to about eighth grade level. And, yes, the new pastor is a JPII priest. As I shop around for a parish with a good liturgy and preaching, I do not think I will need to go to Our Lady of Lourdes.

    The women's issue and the ordination of women are not going to go away. For me the strongest arguments against those who favor an all male priesthood are that Christianity had its roots in the patriarchy of Judaism and that the canon of scripture was established by men. So you might get away with calling some of the non canonical gospels "gnostic" and not including them in the canon of scriptures. All male societies do things like that.

    I think scholars are going to begin to find ways to challenge that kind of thinking. More and more we are going to discover religious meaning and value in those non canonical writings as research continues. As that movement grows it will wash over and silence once and for all those who would block the full equality of women in the church.

  3. Reading about Fr. Richard Rohr was exciting & invigorating read & the podcasts extremely inspirational & hopeful. It is something that I will have to go back & refer to many times. Catholics are taught to think either/or - black/white - top/down world views. What Fr. Rohr says transcends this, heals that stale old view that keeps people warring with one another and holding views that are "my way or the highway." The new Emergent Church world view thinks "us and them" which is inclusive. This worldview bridges us all together on the same planet with interests in each other and observant and conscious of mankind's essential human needs which are the same for us all. We are brothers & sisters no matter what faith we were born into. All of us are children of God & loved by God.

    Fr. Sotelo says: "I don't get the argument that because Jesus valued the role of women, that He automatically gave them a call to Holy Orders. It's as if Jesus' call to men for leadership is irrelevant. "

    His thinking is pigeon-holing women as roles, not people, persons created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus valued women, not just the "role of women" as Fr. Sotello says. Women ordained would make men irrelevant? It does not make any sense on a spiritual level at all to me. It is something he needs to transcend spiritually but he cannot grasp, but in the next sentence his reasoning goes to what was "popular" and my feeling on that is the notion of keeping women out of a "man's world" makes them feel more relevant. He sees no other context for people except in as roles, and he believes that is pre-determined by sexual differences. Some roles are, but the person is ill-defined and boxed. He has reduced the view of women into mere one-dimensional sexual roles & missing from that is the idea of personhood in Christ and spirituality which acts from the spirit & the ground of Faith, not from the world or culture. His view really discounts the Holy Spirit can come and go where it will. The Will of Our Father is greater. The entire story of Jesus came about because Mary said yes and that was not about sex, it was about creation which is not, on a spiritual level, about sex, but about love. "God so loved the world..." It is about saying yes to love and self-giving. Mary, as Priest, offered her own body to bring this Love into the world. Is that not Priesthood? Her Son also offered His life for Love also. He gave His body and blood so that we would have Life. It's is all about Creation. We are equal in God's Creation. In the world of division and a top-down approach to seeing women are not equal; we're at the bottom of the barrel and invisible and must be quiet. Jesus testifies that women are equal to men when He spoke to them, when the culture said He should not waste His time.

    Regarding "gender equality" Fr. Sotello again just sees men and women as in just sexual roles, and in such a rigid world view. The woman gives birth and becomes a mother. But what Fr. Sotello does not get is that women are more than role fulfillers as wives and mothers. We have God-given intellect, creativity, dreams & work to do of a spiritual nature that God gives us and our child rearing years are not forever or the only Way. His view of women is discriminatory in that he refuses to acknowledge that we are children of God as equal as men are children of God.

    He seems to have a very worldly view of things & unspiritual view.

    Special Note: I have a new musical composition entitled Meditation at myspace if anyone would like to hear it.

  4. Love the term "emergent church" - it is indeed emerging in the most surprising places and the most unexpected ways. The 'Spirit blows' - and soon the words of the Father Sotelo's of this world will be part of the dust of history - but not without struggle. It may take several generations before women are officially ordained within the RCC, but it will come.
    Loved the final two paragraphs of the Fr. Rohr article especially - his affirmation of the worth of Catholic theology, that it gave him the means to speak and that at it's best it carries within itself the spirit of inclusiveness and the spirit of self-criticism.

  5. Here's the link to the Sun Times article,CST-NWS-moms20.article

  6. Margie, thanks for the link. I had no idea Germany lagged that far behind the rest of the West in attitudes towards working mothers.

    I found this quote mind blowing:

    "In 2007, she introduced "parent money" -- Germany's first substantial maternity-leave policy, offering up to $2,800 a month for a year (or for 14 months if the father takes time as well), familiar elsewhere in Europe but a vast change from the few weeks Germany had offered before."

    This is so not the thinking in the US. It seems to me if the Church was serious about the value of children and motherhood they would be pushing for a similar concept here in the States.

    I also thought the statistic that 30% of married couples do not have children because of lack of day care and other support very telling.

    It seems the real 'life style' choice is parenthood and culture is not facillitating that life style choice. The days when mom could be stay at home are long gone for most families.

    Maybe this is why the pro life debate stays at the 'fetal' level. It allows the Church to ignore the real economic facts about raising children in this society.