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Don't blame Jesus for every point of view.

Disagreements occur for various reasons. Sometimes they simply reflect a conflict in personality or personal prejudice. One person may not particularly like the other, and so is always ready to take the opposite side on a disputed point. "If he says that, it must be wrong!"

Disagreements also occur when people jump to a conclusion without having all the facts, or by misreading the few facts they do have. Unless personality and prejudice are also involved, such disagreements can be settled by supplying more information.

But other disagreements occur when both sides have all the facts but interpret them differently. These are good-faith disagreements regarding issues that lack clarity.

But there are still other disagreements that occur because one or another side holds fast to a conclusion on the basis of unquestioned assumptions rather than on the basis of arguments backed by evidence.

Let me attempt to illustrate the last type by way of example.

During Pope John Paul II's visit to Denver in August, several national news programs conducted interviews and discussions on various controverted issues in the Catholic church today.

One of the best of these programs, ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," had as guests, in sequence, Helen Alvare of the U.S. Catholic Conference; Fr. Andrew Greeley, the well-known author; and Archbishop John Foley, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Foley, with whom I studied in Rome back during the days of the Second Vatican Council and about whom I have several fond memories, was asked the inevitable question about the ordination of women.

Cokie Roberts acknowledged that "it is the position of the Vatican that women cannot be ordained as priests because Jesus did not ordain women."

Quoting an unnamed parish priest, she suggested to the archbishop that such a line of argument can be carried to its "logical conclusion, that only Jews could be priests, that that's who Jesus picked as priests. ... What is your answer to that? I mean," she concluded, "we don't do everything in the church according to how Jesus did it."

Foley replied, "Well, what the church said is, the church does not consider itself authorized to ordain women, because, as you said, Jesus did not do it. The apostles, whom he called to be his priests, did not consider themselves authorized to do it, and their successors did not consider themselves authorized to do it."

In this instance, ironically, the disagreement between Roberts and the archbishop was based on unquestioned assumptions that both of them accepted.

Both assumed that Jesus explicitly called people to the priesthood (Jews and, specifically, the apostles), while deliberately excluding others (women).

But these are only assumptions, gratuitously asserted. That is, they are statements not backed by any evidence.

While there is persuasive evidence in the New Testament that the notion of a distinct group of 12 did come from Jesus himself, there no evidence that he ever ordained them priests or regarded them as such.

Even by the '50s of the church's first century, the church still had no cultic leaders called priests. In fact, the topic of the Eucharist appears only twice in the seven undisputed letters of Paul -- both in 1 Corinthians--and none of Paul's letters says anything about who presided at these meals.

Moreover, nowhere in the New Testament do we have any evidence that the 12 appointed others or laid hands on them to designate them as their successors.

My point here is not to throw into question the ordained priesthood (better: presbyterate) and the notion of apostolic succession.

The church was and remains free to develop its ministries and its governing structure to meet changing pastoral needs and challenges. But that is not to say that each of its ministries as well as its overall governing structure were directly and explicitly willed and put in place by the Lord himself.

There is simply no evidence to support such a view. To insist upon that view in the absence of evidence is to make a gratuitous assertion, not an argument.

One may want to insist that the Catholic church is right, let us say out of ecumenical concern for the Orthodox, in not authorizing the ordination of women at this time in its history. Fair enough.

But one should not try to support even legitimate conclusions on the basis of assertions made without evidence.

On this and some other difficult issues we have to be careful not to attribute more to the mind, the will and the practice of Jesus than the evidence allows.
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Title Annotation:ordination of women; Starting Point
Author:McBrien, Richard
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 8, 1993
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