Sunday, March 25, 2007

Do You Trust the Church: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.4)

NOTE: This is part 5.4 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.

What does the Sense of the Faithful have to say about this? ... and can there be a true development of doctrine at work?

"You write of the sense of the faithful as if the laity are monolithic on this issue...and united in their opposition with 'the Vatican.' "--CPDT

Regarding the question of whether the Church could whirl chaotically in the wind [given the debated "signs of the times"], Luis wrote:

Don't hold your breath. It is hard for the Vatican and 1.2 billion people to whirl chaotically in the winds of change, even if they wanted to.

I replied:
Actually, we all could whirl chaotically if we, as some of our fellow Christian communities are now doing, reversed some of the core teachings found in the deposit of faith (for 2,000 years) as found in Tradition and Scripture. Indeed, I do not think we will whirl chaotically and abandon the Faith as it has been defended, refined, and handed down. That is why I thank God that the teaching Magisterium gives us this guidance… often in the face of serious pressure from society to change its teachings to better suit what they determine to be “the sign of the times” (I could see some Enlightenment Catholics saying that the sign of the times deemed that it was high time to reinterpret the Gospel accounts of the miracles and even Jesus’ resurrection, the Arians would have suggested that the sign of the times was that Jesus was not fully divine; the Donatists would have said that the sign of the times dictated that Christians who were baptized by bishops who later apostacized, needed to be re-baptized, etc.)… certainly the sign of the times points to the need to reassess our teaching on human cloning… after all, what do we know about the definition of human life, we are "only babies who cannot yet eat steak"?

On who interprets the sign of the times, Luis wrote:

Regarding who interprets the signs of the times, it is the church [of] Christ, the *entire* church (i.e., the sense of the faithful), not only the Vatican.

I replied:
I agree with you there—it is the entire Church that interprets the sign of the times. However, when you bring up the sensus fidei (sense of the faithful) you sure bring up an ambiguous concept. How does Vatican II's Lumen Gentium define the sense of the faithful:

“The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office… The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when ‘FROM THE BISHOPS to the last of the faithful’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, GUIDED BY THE SACRED TEACHING AUTHORITY (MAGISTERIUM), AND OBEYING IT, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Th 2:13). … The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.”

I must admit, I do not fully understand what the sensus fidei means. I have long wanted to make a study of it. Does it just mean that the laity participate in the infallibility of the Church through passive acceptance of the teaching of the Magisterium (surely, it must mean more than that)? But how do we consider the sense of the faithful when they are detached from the Magisterium through either ignorance of its teachings or outright hostility and close-minded defiance and rebellion (for example, was the Protestant Reformation with all of its accompanying heresies an expression of the sensus fidei given all the laity that followed Luther)?

And yet, people appeal to the sensus fidei in the issue of artificial contraception as well… 80% of Catholics, they say, disagree with Church teaching. And yet, after personally reading Humanae Vitae and the other recent papal documents on marriage and the family, after observing the effect of contraception on society, marriage, and the family…I am so certain that this 80% are DEAD WRONG! (and it required Pope Paul to stand his ground and courageously say NO to daunting wave of opinion that said he should reverse Church teaching). Many younger men and women of my generation do not have the same cultural baggage that prevented the previous generation from actually reading Humanae Vitae and studying the issue. Many of the them are coming to this same conclusion as I did (look how popular the theology of the body is becoming among a core of young practicing catholics).

Of course, how do we determine what IS the sense of the faithful? Do we rely on polls? Do we count those Catholics who are not practicing their faith, or who have never even read Humanae Vitae, or who have never even attempted to understand WHY the Church teaches a certain doctrine, or who have never tried to live in accordance with that teaching (actually relying on grace)? I think that if we left those people out of the equation, then the sense of the faithful would read a little differently on that issue.

Again, I do not mean to get off topic, but Humanae Vitae is a classic example of how difficult it is to determine and rely on the vague notion of the sense of the faithful. In the column on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae the author (not sure, perhaps it was you?) stated that “the encyclical was an authoritarian (and futile) exercise in telling married couples when to use (and when not to use) the ‘pill’ and other methods of artificial birth control. It thereby invaded the sacred space of personal conscience for single and married people alike.” If this is a conclusion of the sense of the faithful, then I cannot trust it. I disagree—this is NOT a violation of people’s consciences. The Church has not only the authority but the obligation to teach and clarify to the flock the meaning of the sacred nuptial act in the context of Holy Matrimony—that is part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! As a lay person, I deserve to hear the truth about that (especially when trends in society threaten the truth). Much like the sensus fidei, “conscience” is also sometimes appealed to in such a way that it is divorced from authentic formation in the teaching of the Church (the Catechism warns about this false notion of an autonomy of conscience—see Catechism of the Catholic Church #1792).

Indeed, I believe that the Church does not have the authority to admit women to holy orders… and I have many friends (male and female) who share the same belief… are we not to be included in the sense of the faithful? You write of the sense of the faithful as if the laity are monolithic on this issue...and united in their opposition with “the Vatican.” Why do you presume that the sense of the faithful necessarily contradicts what the Pope and bishops teach on this matter? Note, also, that the sensus fidei as defined in Lumen Gentium presumes that the faithful are “guided by the sacred teaching authority, and obeying it”… if people begin with the presumption that the magisterium is misinterpreting Sacred Scripture, and that Sacred Tradition is utterly unreliable on this issue (because it is marred by misogyny), …indeed, when there is an openly hostile and adversarial attitude taken toward the magisterium (“just the teaching of old men at the Vatican”) then how can we say that the sense of the faithful is truly at work.

So, if I appeal more often to the teachings of the bishops and the Holy See (the “Vatican” designates the political unit of the city state) than to the sense of the faithful it is because the latter is far more easily defined (synods convene, documents are published, etc.). I do not mean to deny the role of the faithful in determining the sign of the times… but it is a thorny question, because the faithful are not monolithic… and how do we know what they believe?... as I said, polls are insufficient and superficial. And, like I said, I am part of the faithful as well, and I dispute your interpretation of the sign of the times.

Luis continued:
Also, may I suggest we keep this dialogue focused on the ordination of women. The church has a long way to go in understanding all aspects of human sexuality -- but we know that a man is a man, a woman is a woman, there is man in woman, there is woman in man, and both men and women are human .... and Jesus was *human* (John 1:14).

I replied:
Well, actually, you are the one who brought up the question of what the Church taught about slavery… and also, when the Church first defined that women share equal dignity as men. These are big and complicated historical questions, but I tried to engage those issues when they related to the main topic at hand.

However, I do not think that the Church’s teachings on human sexuality are entirely off the topic at all. As I said [see post 5.3], if I follow your line of argument that men and women have only a superficial physical/genital difference, then this would affect other moral teachings. It would follow, for example, that two men should be able to be joined in Holy Matrimony, … sexual reassignment surgeries would also be morally justifiable. After all, the sex that God created an individual with would be entirely arbitrary, just a matter of physical plumbing… it would have no real significance.

In addition, if you look at the major organizations that are proponents of women’s ordination, many of them also have a parallel agenda that argues in favor of redefining the moral character of homosexual acts and homosexual unions, artificial contraception, and sometimes even “women’s choice” in the procuring of an abortion (the following is an article on a recent demonstration of support for abortion workers by clergy from the United Methodist and the United Church of Christ:

I personally suspect that this is because their understanding of the Christian faith is heavily influence by what I would term radical feminism. I do not mean to harp on these moral issues, I just bring them up because they are the clearest evidence of how some Christians are trying to change traditional Christian teaching in order to better accord with modern social opinions. There is an authentic Christian feminism out there, but if it results in promoting things that harm and kill women (like abortion or contraception), then that ain’t it.

Once again, your assumption about the sacrament of holy orders is that, if someone was redeemed by Jesus Christ then they necessarily should be able to image him in the specific sacramental administration of the sacraments—WHY? Once again, Holy Orders does not confer justification, it does not give any necessary grace in the way that baptism does. If God ordained that only men receive the sacrament, then that is His divine logic… even though we might not totally know why (remember, we are just babies after all). The Church just says that it has not the authority to do otherwise then what is found in the deposit of faith (via Scripture and Tradition).

Church Councils have made specific definitions of the divine and human nature of Christ and of the divine and human wills of Christ. Should we suspect a future Council to decided that matter of whether Christ had “woman in him” because Jung’s psychology suggests that it would be the case? Again, I need an explanation of what is meant by his theory…. Is it backed up by serious metaphysics, or is it fad psychology?


I wrote that if Jesus taught that women should be able to receive Holy Orders, and that that was the will of God (which he would have presumably communicated to the apostles at some point), then the apostles and succeeding bishops would have betrayed Jesus (for 2000 years) by not continuing this teaching. Luis wrote in reply:

Perhaps betrayal is the wrong word, because it sounds judgemental. It
is more like the situation Jesus anticipates in Jn 16:12-14.

I don't see why -- 2000 years for us is like 2 seconds for the Holy
Spirit, who must be patient because sin and prejudice make our minds
obtuse to most treasures already contained in the deposit of faith.

I replied:

I think that the presumption that the apostles and succeeding bishops suppressed the truth because of their own chauvinism is already judgmental. Once again, I think that applying
John 16—that the Spirit will lead the Church into all truth—to this issue is illogical. 2,000 years may be like 2 seconds for the Holy Spirit, but it would still be the case that the Holy Spirit allowed one of the 7 sacraments to denied to half of the Church’s population for 2,000 years.

The Church wrestled over other issues concerning the sacraments—such as what age baptism and confirmation should be administered, who should administer Confirmation, when Holy Communion should first be received, the structure of the Eucharistic liturgy, Holy Matrimony legislation, etc. But, never did it question the sex of those who should receive Holy Orders.

I would say that if Jesus clearly taught that women should not be excluded from Holy Orders, and the apostles and succeeding bishops received that teaching (orally, at least), but then allowed themselves to ignore it because of prejudice… then that would qualify as a very serious betrayal. If it was a teaching that Jesus made clear to the apostles, and they suppressed it… that is more than John 16 can account for. That would be more like the gates of hell overcoming the Church. Not only that, but the entire body of Eastern Orthodox churches—despite their differences in theology and culture—also managed to suppress this truth!

I stated the fact that Church councils explicitly deny the existence of women deacons and priests [Councils of Nicea—325 and Laodicea—360, which use the terms”deaconesses”, “presbyteress” and “priestesses”]. To this Luis wrote:

Again, the use of the terms "presbyteress" and "priestesses" indicates
that their understanding of Christian women priests was nonexistent.

I reply:

Precisely. How could they have an understanding of women priests when they do not exist. If an “understanding of women priests” means women who were validly ordained as deacons or priests then they do understand this hypothetical notion. It is just that they reject the notion. That canon from Nicea states: "Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity." So, they mention the existence of women deacons—but make clear that they are not deacons in the sense of ordained sacramental ministers (clergy). On the contrary, they are members of the laity. So, both Councils seem to understand the idea of ordained women clergy… but they reject the possibility.

Regarding how the admittance of women to Holy Orders could be an organic and authentic development of the Church's doctrine on the sacrament (I argued that it could NOT be), Luis wrote:

By "further development" I mean coming to a mind that the genital
plumbing of Jesus is not normative for ordination to the diaconate,
priesthood, or episcopate. What is normative is that he became human,
not that he became male. We simply have to get over the traditional
phallocentrism that most religions share. This is not a 180 degree
change. It is simply to keep going along the straight and narrow path,
shedding both new and old distortions of the faith.

I replied:
It is a 180 degree change in Church teaching to say that "the Church has no authority"… and then that "the Church has the authority…" OR "the male sex is an important part of imaging Christ in the sacrament of Holy Orders" and then "the male sex is not an important part…"
It is strange for a religion so steeped in phallocentrism to give its highest veneration (hyperdulia) to a woman saint (the Blessed Virgin Mary). It is strange for a religion so steeped in phallocentrism to entrust the teaching of its young males to the teaching authority of so many female religious sisters. The Catholic Church is not exactly the Taliban.

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