Friday, October 18, 2013

About The Possibility Of Female Cardinals

As a commenter on this blog,  Agni Ashwi points out on the linked NCR article, female cardinals do not have the fire engine red in your face plumage of their male counterparts.  Perhaps there is a message here.

The idea of Pope Francis appointing female cardinals seems to be picking up steam.  David Gibson writes of this possibility in a Religion News Service article posted at NCR.  Like many others who have written on this idea, Gibson glosses over the Canonical requirements that state a Cardinal must be an ordained priest and hold or be elevated to the rank of bishop.  There hasn't been a lay man promoted to this rank since 1858, previous to the changes in Canon Law of 1917.  Gibson mentions Jaques Maritain, a lay philosopher, was tapped by Paul VI, and refused the position, but doesn't clarify if Maritain would have had to undergo ordination in order to accept the honor.  This is something of a major oversight in my opinion.  He also writes that a number of people have said JPII asked Mother Theresa and she refused.  I put in that in the category of 'not particularly believable'--at least in the sense that the offer was made seriously and not in jest.  The following is an excerpt from Gibson's article:

Could a woman vote for the next pope?

Pope Francis has said repeatedly he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic church, and some argue he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals -- the select and (so far) all-male club of "princes of the church" that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Whether it's even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn't stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea "is not a joke. It's something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal."

Arias quoted an unnamed priest -- a Jesuit, like Francis -- who said: "Knowing this pope, he wouldn't hesitate before appointing a woman cardinal. ... And he would indeed enjoy being the first pope to allow women to participate in the selection of a new pontiff."

That was enough to start the ball rolling. The report was quickly picked up by Catholic media in Italy and then raced around a church that, in the months since Francis' election, has been primed to expect the unexpected from this pope......

It wouldn't surprise me if Pope Francis was considering such a move.  I just have questions as to what he would expect to accomplish with it.  First, Francis' stated desire is to enhance lay involvement in running the Church and so I would expect both genders of laity to be considered for such an appointment, otherwise it's just more gender discrimination.  Second, this would have the effect of setting back women's true equality since it would give perhaps a hand full of women a token say in the election of any future pope. It would be a form of tokenism whose enactment would effectively keep women from ordination by giving a very few women another form of authority. I just happen to think this idea doesn't do much to solve some serious problems, but some dedicated and smart people are really getting behind it.  Dr Phyllis Zagano left the following comment after the linked article.

"The main obstacle now appears to be the requirement that a cardinal must be ordained. Yet that could be resolved by allowing women to be deacons, a level of ordination just below the priesthood. The idea of opening the diaconate to women has been gaining currency in recent years and has emerged as a possible path to the conclave for laypeople and specifically for woman."
You can have lay cardinals. More likely, cardinal-deacons (including women), who would be clerics, not laypeople."

Her comment, unfortunately, wreaks of clericalism and I am not a fan of clericalism.  I freely admit that is why I do not get on board with the women's ordination movement, or the diaconate for women, or women as cardinals.  I am not interested in the Vatican "allowing women to be deacons" even if it is "a level of ordination just below the priesthood". Nor does it stroke my ego that such an appointment would be have to be "More likely, cardinal-deacons (including women), who would be clerics, not laypeople."  The truth is I wish smart women like Dr Zagano would spend their time debunking the teachings that there is any Gospel evidence that Jesus ordained anyone or that our current clerical caste is anything more than an invented construct designed to enhance clerical power. Why waste time poring over St Paul to justify a female diaconate when it would be more useful to spend that same time asking whether Paul's letters justify any kind of institutionally ordained priesthood in any form. Seems to me that all Paul's letters prove is that his communities called forth their own leadership, and did that without his prior approval for such appointments.

I am not naive enough to think that Pope Francis will dismantle the entire clerical structure as he himself is way too invested in it and it's perks.  After all he played the game well enough to be elevated to Pope.  And yet, I also don't think any tinkering he does with Cardinals or the diaconate or seminaries or accountability for bishops or any other action that essentially serves to preserve the clerical system is going to stop what's coming.  There are not nearly enough priests, especially in Latin America, Africa, and the Orient to provide the Eucharist that makes Catholicism what it purports to be--a sacramental church.  Much sooner than later the people will decide the other six sacraments are more important than the one, and at that point, plumage of any color won't matter any longer and neither will token reforms for women.


  1. I understand your valid points. However, let us see a woman become a Cardinal, a Bishop, a deacon, and at the same time discuss the clericalism & the sacraments. It is long overdue for women to be in leadership positions in the Church. I don't see it as a "token reform." Imagine the announcement of a woman Cardinal by Pope Francis & the message that sends to women and girls throughout the world?

    I see it as pointing in the right direction.

    I also have a question about this though in this hypothetical. If Mary So&So is elevated to Cardinal, does she get to do all the things the male Cardinals do?

    If in the above case Mary So&So cannot have all the freedom her male counterparts have, then I would think it was a token position, in name only, and not in substance.

    Yet even in that token position is the seed planted for the necessary reforms, imho. Yet, I could be totally wrong!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your insight into this subject. I see your point after reading a little online about Martin Burber, "I and Thou."

    This quote seems to sum it up, somewhat.

    "The ultimate Thou is God. In the I-Thou relation there are no barriers, and this means that man can relate directly to God. God is ever-present in human consciousness, and manifests himself in music, literature, and other forms of culture. As previously mentioned, Thou is inevitably addressed as It. Because of this, the I-Thou relation becomes the being of the I-Thou relation. God is now spoken to directly not spoken about."

    However, even in this quote the use of the word "man" is used. Everything I read, even in the writings of Thomas Merton, the word "man" is used. It can be misconstrued to mean that "I" would only apply to men and/or that these great spiritual men were only speaking to men only. And, it is not that I think that these men only implied that they were speaking about men. It is assumed, however, by men that they are only speaking to men. I guess that Jesus had his difficulties too in His time in getting the men to accept women as equal in the sight of God. The woman at the well was the story in the Gospel that pointed me in the direction of women being equal to be His disciples.

    Thanks again for sharing that.

  3. I can imagine such an announcement and then me cringing when she turns out to be light years apart from where I am. I have a very difficult time imagining Francis appointing a woman whose theology and ecclesiology would be that much different from her male clerical contemporaries. Pope Francis may be talking about reforming some things about the clerical structure, but the all male celibate priesthood hasn't made the agenda.

  4. Exactly Dennis. I don't see any other solution. JPII shut the door on women's equality in the current version of priesthood. The solution is to do an end around it or dismantle it entirely. It would have the additional benefit of ending the global priest shortage which in the long run is the bigger issue. At least in my mind.

  5. That 'man' thing does get to me too Franny. In the defense of Martin Buber, he was writing long before the idea of genderless semantics was on anyone's radar, but his I-Thou concept was pretty enlightened for his time.

  6. I think Martin Burber probably did not see himself as a sexist but was only following the verbal expressions of gender common to his time. I very much believe that he (not most) men used the term man for both men and women. That is what I was once taught but in the end I have discovered it was unconscious prejudice. The important thing is that we treat each other as I and thou no matter what gender we are.. What is God? I think the mind of God is a little beyond the Burber thought, beyond all human thought. God is much greater than an I-thou being. God is the infinite indescribable by us finite men more powerful than the Big Bang.

  7. That the male celibate priesthood is not on the agenda may lead to another failed papacy. Hopefully, Francis will change and understand the unacceptability of the current structure.

  8. Each celebrant of the Eucharist should be "elected" by a small congregation. No need for anything other than the priesthood of Baptism.

  9. Oh, yes, I agree with you on that. I am just noticing this more and more in just about everything I read.

    It seems that referring to God as male, as "He", which is referring to God as an object on the same level as man, in man's (His) image and likeness. Then the sick logic from that notion flows that women are also objects and below men, since God is defined as male & speaks to only men, with a gender preference for men only, at the exclusion & denial of women. It has become so much a part of our language & culture to refer to God as "He", an object, and unfortunately it leads to maligning the very concept of God. It maligns man's relationship to women as well, imho.

    Perhaps the gender semantics becomes increasingly annoying to women who are more enlightened. I suppose it would annoy men now also who are more enlightened, or at least more sensitive & caring towards women.

    I think it would be a healthy spiritual exercise, of which I would also like to make, that exercised the practice of not referring to God as He, even for a day. Not easy to do, especially if one even quotes the scriptures.

  10. I was taught that too, Dennis, that the term man was meant for both men and women & see through that as I read. I tend to agree that it was unconscious prejudice. There has also been in history the unconscious prejudice against the Jewish people which went on for hundreds of years prior to the holocaust which went beyond overt prejudice to massive murder, senseless killing. It started in Passion plays in Germany in medieval times from what I have read. We've seen the gender of women unconsciously and overtly prejudiced for far longer than that & into the present day.

    Since God is a person, if we believe in the concept of the Trinity, then the question posed is Who Is God and that is a direct question we can all ask, whether a man or a woman. This distinguishes us from all other creatures, that we can ask and have a relationship with God. It is a relationship that is very mysterious because God has no prejudices to hold back from ever creating. I can ask more questions if I am seeking wisdom from God. Doesn't matter if I am a woman or not. God does not discriminate. I could even ask if there are more persons in the divine nature of God than the concept of the Trinity. That is just the nature of questioning and it seems the questions get bigger the longer I search for meaning. What if God can be a person that could be symbolized as a four leaf clover instead of with three leaves only? What if we included the Mother of God in our understanding of the divine nature of God?

  11. The more we seek and the more we learn, we understand we know little. The Trinity is a mystery beyond finite understanding, but we can work at it as a symbol. Perhaps we can even understand more over the generations if we have open minds.

  12. rdp46, Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopalian priest who has a long acquaintance with the subtleties of Gurdjieff's thought, has a book on The Law of Three which is a careful approach to the symbol you refer to; she also comments on the genderizing of God in a helpful way--why it doesn't work; she is also up to the metaphysical dimensions of thinking about the mystical life--perhaps from long practice of Centering Prayer--she knows wisdom systems

  13. I am old enough to remember that the proposed dogma of the assumption of Mary into heaven did not make it thru to proclamation--this second assumed body would have meant that the godhead included the feminine--symbolically...what a can of worms (good old matter, divinized!)

  14. I think you are missing my point.

  15. Perhaps I am missing your point Fran, but my statement was meant to answer your question "who is God?" My answer is our finite minds do not come close to understanding the question. That we call God a person is merely a metaphor of our language. God is the infinite mystery and the more we know, the more we really know very little. The Trinity, like the mind of God is a wondrous mystery.

  16. Thanks, Rachells, I have heard of Cynthia but only read some reviews of her work. Perhaps I will one day get around to reading it. You have tickled my interest!

    I learned Centering prayer at a Trappist Monastery near Aspen, CO and at a Buddhist Monastery in Oregon. It is really hard to accomplish and the thing I learned first is, we have a difficult time clearing our minds of all the considerations of our lives each day. Then there is weariness. The Buddhists told me that until I was able to get through the mind clearing and then sleep that I would not get into deep meditation. They were correct. I find it hard to get into true meditation and centering prayer unless i have a week to do it. Yes, an hour of quiet during the day is wonderful but it is not what the Trappists and Buddhists taught me. Centering is difficult!!!!

  17. Excellent point Rachells!

  18. I have to admit I had to look this one up. It seems Catholics are free to believe that either Mary was assumed into heaven before death, or rose after death and then was assumed into heaven. That's a very interesting either/or. I had always assumed--pun intended--that Mary was taken into heaven similar to Ezechiel, before death. Seems I could be either right or wrong.

  19. the word on the streets was that the dogma would be proclaimed; it was not and there was not a dogmatic proclamation representing official Church teaching--the beliefs of the faithful (Lourdes, Fatima) are another matter--remnants of the low church, the folk, who carry the old ways--when I was a child I was carefully instructed that the Church did not believe that Mary was a God--this was a refutation of the Protestant taunt that Mary was equal to Jesus, etc.

  20. You asked "What is God." I was responding to what you said. I know full well that God is an infinite mystery, as you say. I do not disagree with anything you have said. I was saying that women have a relationship with God just as much as men can. That's all. Basically.

    I would never to claim that I know it all about who God is. Everyday is a mystery and everyday I wake up I learn something new and never believe that all the answers can be found in the catechism or in any one religion. imho.

  21. Dennis, the way I write sometimes is a mystery. It is more to encourage more mystery and discussion than anything else. I am of the belief that everyone here is much more learned & has read a lot more than I have. Perhaps I shouldn't write at all.