Sunday, March 25, 2007

Do You Trust the Church?: A Cnoversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.3)

NOTE: This is part 5 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link: . Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

Does the Church's teaching that women possess full human dignity stretch back only to the 1980's?

"The issue of the dignity of women is addressed precisely because recent trends in society had called this into question."--CPDT

Luis claimed that the Church has only recently come to the conclusion that women were not sub-human. I made the point that the Church has always affirmed the dignity of women—most clearly in the life of the Church itself (the fact that women were immediately baptized; that women saints and martyrs were immediately venerated, that women played important roles in the religious life, etc….).

To this Luis wrote:

Untrue. The first official acknowledgement was "Mulieres dignitatem" (1988). And again, it was about acknowledging the dignity of women as human persons, while still making clear that their dignity does not include the dignity of the ministerial priesthood.

To this I replied:

I have only previously skimmed portions of John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter “Mulieres Dignitatem”

...So I read some more. You tell me Mulieris Dignitatem included the Church’s first declaration of the dignity of women. Once again, I am no historical theologian, but just off the bat I would say that your facts are wrong. The first two paragraphs detail recent discussions of women’s dignity—including the documents of Vatican II, and the works of Pope John XXIII and Paul VI (do you contend that these citations do NOT teach that women have human dignity in the eyes of the Church?):

"1. THE DIGNITY AND THE VOCATION OF WOMEN - a subject of constant human and Christian reflection - have gained exceptional prominence in recent years. This can be seen, for example, in the statements of the Church's Magisterium present in various documents of the Second Vatican Council, which declares in its Closing Message: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling".1 This Message sums up what had already been expressed in the Council's teaching, specifically in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes [49] and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem.3

Similar thinking had already been put forth in the period before the Council, as can be seen in a number of Pope Pius XII's Discourses 4 and in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII.5 After the Second Vatican Council, my predecessor Paul VI showed the relevance of this "sign of the times", when he conferred the title "Doctor of the Church" upon Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint Catherine of Siena,6 and likewise when, at the request of the 1971 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, he set up a special Commission for the study of contemporary problems concerning the "effective promotion of the dignity and the responsibility of women".7 In one of his Discourses Paul VI said: "Within Christianity, more than in any other religion, and since its very beginning, women have had a special dignity, of which the New Testament shows us many important aspects...; it is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear".8"

I would add that the fact that women have equal dignity and rights is affirmed in Paul VI’s 1971 apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens (#13), Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (#19), and Pope John Paul II’s 1981 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (#22-23). The first two documents were written as reflections on the Church’s social teachings with a specific focus on human labor rights. Familiaris Consortio, of course, was written to address the role of the Christian family. The topic of the dignity of women came up in these documents, even though this was not the central point of the documents nor the primary reason for their being written. The issue of the dignity of women is addressed precisely because recent trends in society had called this into question (by exploiting women in the work force, and the rise of both a male chauvinism and a radical feminism that could not balance woman’s right to participation in public life with her central role in the family). Even Mulieres Dignitatem, itself, was written in the wake of a synod of bishops and in light of a recent Marian year. Of course, I also believe that it was written in response to the modern errors of radical feminism.

With just a little more research, I was able to scare up some other references to the dignity of women:

Papal Directives for the Woman of Today: Allocution of Pope Pius XII to the Congress of the International Union of Catholic Women's Leagues, Rome, Italy, September 11, 1947 [

“Catholic women and girls, formerly you would have thought only of worthily playing your sacred and fruitful role in the management of a wholesome, strong, and radiant home; or you would have consecrated your life to the service of God in the composure of the cloister or in apostolic and charitable works. Beautiful ideals, where woman, in her proper place, and from her proper place, exercises quietly a powerful influence. But now you appear abroad, you enter the arena to take part in the battle…

…Towards the center converge all the rays of activity of woman in her social and political life, an activity of which the object is above all else, to protect the dignity of the daughter, of the wife, of the mother; to preserve the home, the family, the child in their primordial order; to safeguard the rights of the family, and make all efforts bear toward the safekeeping of the child under the guardianship of his parents. … We had pointed out the menacing dangers, and We then referred especially to what might be called the secularization, the materialization, the enslavement of woman, all the attacks directed against her dignity and rights as a person and as a Christian.”

Read Pope Pius XII’s 1954 encyclical on consecrated virginity Sacra Virginitatis
] and tell me that he is not assuming the Christian dignity of women.

In paragraph #69 he argues that women have a right to leave their families and pursue the consecrated life despite parental opposition (sounds like a right accorded to someone with human dignity to me), he acknowledges the heroics of consecrated women who were facing current persecution, and he extols the virtues of the many canonized married women saints. Pargraph #70 is interesting, as well (showing the unique spiritual priesthood of consecrated virginity):

“Let parents consider what a great honor it is to see their son elevated to the priesthood, or their daughter consecrate her virginity to her Divine Spouse. In regard to consecrated virgins, the Bishop of Milan [Ambrose] writes, "You have heard, parents, that a virgin is a gift of God, the oblation of parents, the priesthood of chastity. The virgin is a mother's victim, by whose daily sacrifice divine anger is appeased." (70).”

(One does not need to exercise sacramental priesthood in order to have Christian dignity [see post 5.1].)

Pope Pius XI’s encyclical On Christian Marriage, Casti Connubbi states:

“Finally, but especially, the dignity and position of women in civil and domestic society is reinstated by the former [the indissolvability of marriage]; while by the latter [divorce] it is shamefully lowered and the danger is incurred "of their being considered outcasts, slaves of the lust of men."”
(see also paragraph 74 which argues that obedience towards husband is not unworthy of human dignity—thus presuming that women have human dignity).

Pope Pius XI’s 1926 encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque (On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico) [
] does not explicitly mention the dignity of women, but considering how often it highlights the courageous role of women in the resistance (#16, 20, 27), I would safely say the document (like so many others) presumes that fact.

Pope Gregory XVI’s 1840 encyclical “On the Propagation of the Faith” Probe Nostis:

“Likewise a source of joy to the Catholic world, and a wonder to nonCatholics, are the many widespread sodalities of pious women. Under the rule of St. Vincent de Paul or in association with other approved Institutes, they are remarkable in their practice of the Christian virtues. They devote themselves entirely either to saving women from the way of perdition, or to training girls in religion, solid piety and the tasks suited to their state in life, or to relieving the dire want of their neighbors with every assistance. No natural weakness of their sex or fear of any danger holds them back.” (#9)

Despite that concluding expression that smacks of chauvinism today (though, women do have a comparative natural weakness with regard to physical strength), Gregory notes with pride how those women excelled in Christian virtue (which is the declaration that the Church makes every time it canonizes a woman saint)… and that this was even remarkable to non-Catholics. Once again, he considers the dignity of women as a given.

That was the result of me just doing a search with the term “women” on the papal encyclopedia website ( To do justice to the historical question of magisterial pronouncements on the status of women would require more research than I have the time to do at this moment (though it is something I would like to continue).

Of course, throughout the history of the Church, wherever the Church affirmed the dignity of humankind made in God’s image—the Church implicitly affirmed the dignity of women (again, which is why women were baptized and viewed as man’s equal in the veneration of the saints).

As an aside: An interesting article that discusses the human errors (chauvinism) of theologians can be found at:
... the author makes a good point that, despite Thomas Aquinas’ flawed statement about the male sex being more noble, he also defended the dignity of women in a way that was unprecedented for its time.

You write that Mulieres Dignitatem teaches that woman’s “dignity does not include the dignity of the ministerial priesthood.” Once again, why is the exercise of the ministerial priesthood a prerequisite for Christian dignity? I would like a theological argument, and not a sociological argument (i.e. glass ceilings, etc.).
I wrote that Jesus continually challenged cultural prejudices about women that were current in his day… why, then, would he hold back his teaching or truncate the Gospel by being hush about who can receive Holy Orders? In response, Luis wrote:

John 16:12-14 -- "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."
Do you feed steak to a baby? No, because the baby will get an indigestion. The apostles were babies, Chris; and, 2000 years later, so are we.

I replied:
We are such babies that for 2,000 years God permitted women to be excluded from one of the 7 sacraments even though it was his will that they receive this sacrament.. merely because we couldn’t handle it? Again, I asked “what was the ‘ignorance and prejudice that [Jesus] could not handle in his mission to the Jews’ ”? You did not answer that question. Again, I think that this line of reasoning is illogical. Simply quoting John 16 can be applied to justify ANY reversal of doctrine (as is the current practices among some of the mainline Protestant denominations). This also comes back to the question of who defines what the sign of times dictates (and within that, whose voice speaks for the laity… for women, etc.?—when we know there is a diversity of opinion).

I wrote that the personal misconceptions of individual theologians (such as Aquinas) concerning the female nature can coexist along side the valid theological principles whereby only men are ordained (because only men can sacramentally image Christ who was a man). To this, Luis replied:

The fact that Jesus was male is only of secondary importance. The important thing is that Jesus was a human being. At the incarnation, he assumed human nature, and this include to be either male or female; else, he would not have been "like us in all things but sin." What is not assumed is not redeemed ... so we are back at the contradiction that women can be baptized but cannot be ordained.

I replied:
Yes, he assumed a human nature… but he also took on the nature of a male, more specifically. It all comes down to the question of whether being male or female has any meaning in God’s eyes … or is it just, as you say, a matter of genital plumbing. When I read Genesis 1-2 (note: the man and the woman receive some different consequences for the Fall…they are different yet complementary—the man must cling to the woman), when I consider the female heroes of the Old Testament, when I read the writings of St. Paul about husbands and wives, when I read the theology of the body, it seems like the distinction between women and men is not arbitrary… that God intended different gifts to be found in men and women and that these gifts are to be complementary.

Your argument can also be taken to affirm holy matrimony between two men or two women (as some Christian denominations now do). Jesus assumed a human nature, and so redeemed all of human nature. However, it does not necessarily follow that all who are redeemed and justified must necessarily be able to receive the sacrament of holy orders.

Holy Orders empowers one to act in the person of Christ in the very specific sacramental administration of the sacraments… it does not grant any graces necessary for salvation (as baptism does). It does not restore sanctifying grace or result in the remittance of sin (as does Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick). Baptism is a more fundamental sacrament as it is necessary for salvation. Holy Orders, like Holy Matrimony, is not. It is for this reason that when I was studying for the priesthood for some years, the restriction of holy orders to unmarried men did not bother me. As great as holy matrimony is, my dignity as a human being and as a Christian does not require that I receive this sacrament. So, these two sacraments (baptism and holy orders) are not exactly on the same level. I see no necessary contradiction between being able to baptize women but nor ordain them.


I wrote that misconceptions by individual theologians does not mean that prejudice is at the root of the millennium of Sacred Tradition that preceded him and, more importantly, began with Jesus Christ and the apostles.

Luis replied:

Yes it does, because they thought that men and women were mutually complementary *and* mutually exclusive. Now we know better. We know that men and women are mutually exclusive (physically) only at the genital level, and perhaps some psychological traits which exhibit wide
variability. We also know (since Carl Jung) that there is man in woman and there is woman in man. This is not a theory or a hypothesis, but a scientific fact established by tons of clinical evidence.

I replied:
What is this clinical evidence?... because I do not even know what exactly is meant by the hyposthesis that “there is man in woman and woman in man”… you have obviously studied this question and I have not… so you have to explain to me precisely what is meant by this assertion. What is meant by the “man” that is in woman and vice versa… how is it explained? You only mentioned anima and animus to me… and if these are psychological or philosophical terms then I admit that I am unfamiliar and would need them explained. I still would hold to the fact that there are essential differences between men and women that complement one another, and that these differences have theological significance (since God created us this way). Does the fact that only women can cooperate with God in co-creation through the specific and intimate process of child birth have NO theological/anthropological meaning? In the same manner, does that biological fact diminish the dignity of men (are men mere inseminators)?

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