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Lift Ban on Discussing Women's Ordination

By Christine Schenk, csj

It is June 29, the feast of St. Peter and Paul. As I write seven Roman Catholic women in Austria are being ordained to the priesthood.

The Spirit’s call to priesthood in the Roman Church is met with great rejoicing and eager anticipation when it occurs in male candidates. When it occurs in female candidates it is perceived as a disaster of only slightly less significance than a recurrence of the bubonic plague. The hierarchy says that such female priestly calls from the Spirit must be isolated, suppressed and stamped out. One can almost hear the pleas of desperate curial officials: “please just make them go away.”

But they won’t go away. Certainly Dr. Ida Raming’s call would not. Raming is a well known European theologian who, after a decades long struggle to reconcile her call to priesthood with the Church’s refusal to consider female ordination, published The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood: Divine Law or Sex Discrimination ? in 1973. Neither would theologian Dr. Iris Muller’s call go away. It led her instead to found the Association of St. Mary Magdala so women who experience a priestly call could find support. There was precious little to be found anywhere else.

Unfortunately, discussion of this event will likely focus more on the qualifications of the ordaining Bishops than on the obvious gifts of the women presenting themselves to serve. Though the primary ordaining Bishop, Romulo Braschi, is identified as having “apostolic succession,” the women’s ordinations will not be recognized by Rome. Any competent spiritual director anywhere however, would easily and clearly affirm their priestly calls.

And this points to what should be a minimum next step on the part of Catholic leaders. At the very least, the Church must lift its ban on discussing women’s ordination. Catholic leaders should engage those women who experience a priestly call; in conversation about what meaning this may have for our church.

I wonder if deliberately avoiding and suppressing this long overdue dialogue does not come close to that “sin against the Holy Spirit” which scripture tells us cannot be forgiven. It can’t be forgiven of course, until we allow the Spirit’s leading to come to full voice. Refusal to acknowledge female spiritual experience in this regard seems at least a sin against charity if not against the Holy Spirit.

In July we celebrate the feast days of two female saints in the Catholic tradition. July 12 is the feast of St. Veronica and July 22nd the feast of St. Mary of Magdala. All four Gospels name Mary of Magdala as the first witness to the resurrection. If the male apostles had refused to listen to her experience, news of the resurrection would have been at best delayed, or at worst (if such a thing were possible) suppressed completely. Our earliest experience of Christ tells of God’s good news coming through the witness of women.

St. Veronica’s story is not as biblically well founded. Nonetheless, I think she could become a new patron for women priests. The Vatican bases its opposition to female ordination on lack of “iconic resemblance” to the male person of Jesus. (Of course this has never stopped us from baptizing women into the Body of Christ...a schizophrenic situation for Catholic women if ever there was one).

The story of Veronica comes from an early Christian legend in which a woman from Jerusalem wipes the face of Jesus with her veil while he struggles under the weight of the cross to Calvary. Her veil is miraculously imprinted with an image of Christ’s face. The intriguing part of the story lies in the derivation of the woman’s name. “Veronica” means literally: “true icon.”

One wonders if this much beloved story does not bear its own mute yet subversive testimony to women’s self understanding through the centuries that we are “true icons” of Christ despite the blindness and lack of spiritual vision of some of our brothers.

With Christ we now also bear the cross of persecution for witnessing to the deep and wide mystery of a God in whose image both women and men are made.

We stand under both the shadow and the power of that cross while awaiting a day of
justice and the fullness of time when our tears have finally, fully watered the ground of that new creation and new church for which we yearn and labor, groaning in great travail.

St. Mary of Magdala, St. Veronica, pray for us. St. Peter, St. Paul, pray for us.

Summer 2002



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