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Rome has spoken, and the people are steamed.

The pope's recent letter on the non-ordination of women provoked so much reaction that we have room only for a fraction of it, drastically edited as follows.

Sr. Patricia McCann, RSM, Silver Spring, Md.:

According to the recent Vatican statement, we Catholics need no longer discuss the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is a closed question. What a dilemma for a 55-year-old Catholic woman who affirms feminism and loves the church.

I thought about this during Mass yesterday, one day after the news broadcasts were full of Pope John Paul II's most recent statement on the subject. It occurred to me that I have cultivated a functional schizophrenia to deal with the complex questions of woman-church/woman-society roles in my adult lifetime. Heaven knows I am not alone in this. Many women -- perhaps most of us -- do something similar just to make life work, whether in family, the workplace, church or society in general.

Recently a woman friend said to me, "You seem to be so integrated about the feminist issue in the church." She noted that I am not angry when I speak of the church and its failures in regard to women. It's true, but that has not always been so. She didn't know me 20 years ago when I was so angry at the blindness of the church on women's issues that I could barely pray with it, let alone feel welcome come and affirmed within it.

My anger has diminished as aging and experience have taught me a little more about everyone's limitedness, persons' and institutions' and my own. My rootedness in Catholic tradition is the fundamental framework of my life. The warts accompany the graces.

My conviction about the continuing need for the church to work toward total inclusiveness of women strengthens even as the anger diminishes. ...

Sr. Nancy Clemmons, SNJM, Santa Calif., quotes from the alleged imaginary "Acts of the Holy Spirit":

When John Paul went up to the Vatican, the ultraconservative parties criticized him saying, "Why did you go to unclean women and ordain them?" But John Paul began and explained to them in order: "I was in the city of Rome praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet with four corners. Looking at it closely I observed women from all over the world. And I heard a voice saying to me, |Rise, John Paul; embrace and ordain.'

"But I said, |No, Lord; for nothing womanly have I ever ordained." But the voice answered a second time from heaven, |What God has created you must not call unclean.'...

"And I remembered the word of the Lord, how she said, Other popes ordained men, but you shall ordain women and men.' If then God gave the same gift to them as she gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" When they heard this, they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the women also God has granted ordination." Now those who were denied Eucharist because of the persecution of women joyfully participated in the eucharistic celebration and spread the gospel far and wide.

Monica Kennedy of Towson, Md.:

The issue of women and priesthood concerns me (again) of late. Years ago I accepted my own priesthood and concluded that my authority rested simply in the conversion of my own heart. I stopped struggling over the issue of public recognition/ordination and simply began to practice my priesthood. Many recognize me and many do not, at least not on the conscious level, but that is not the most important thing. The most important concern I have is that my people be fed with Christ, and I do that as God allows and provides. I have learned that Christ rules over me and over all, and that what we publicly celebrate must first exist in Spirit: in the heart, in a very "raw" way, before it becomes visibly or externally manifest.

I do not suffer persecution with delight. I have struggled with my priestly identity in much the same way I have watched priests who wear collars struggle. It has not been easy. I have struggled with loneliness and feelings of alienation. But my priesthood is no longer something I can speak of as existing outside myself; I have become "fused" in a sense. I am priest, through Christ and in Christ, in a sacrificial and redeeming offering for the people of God.

The Executive Committee of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Louvain, Belgium:

The recent consternation and the profound differences of opinion with regard to the question of the ordination of women demonstrate the necessity for objective research that goes beyond mere polemics.

With the establishment of the Chair for Women's Studies in Theology at the beginning of the 1993-94 academic year, the faculty of theology has dearly expressed its desire to devote more attention to the questions concerning the relationship between women and religion, the equal dignity of women within the church at all levels and their contribution to theology.

Within the scope of academic freedom that is inherent to scientific research and in faithfulness to the mission statement of the [Catholic University at] Leuven, we consider it our continuing duty critically and loyally to investigate every aspect of this issue.

Nancy Small of New York:

Memorial Day took on a new meaning for me this year. It's always been for me a day to mourn those who have died and the tragedy of war. But this year, as I learned of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, it became an occasion to mourn a church that tries to kill hope. The pope's message couldn't have been more clear: Women's ordination in the Catholic church is henceforth a topic not worthy of hope or discussion; it is not even a remote possibility.

The response of Archbishop William Keeler, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, was cause for further grief, as he lauded the pope and urged "all those who find this further affirmation of the church's authentic teaching difficult to accept to receive it lovingly, pray for understanding, and to see in it a call for them to live out fully their fundamental Christian vocation according to the gifts that they have been given." The image these words evoked in me is that of a battered woman being told to return to her abusive husband in loving forgiveness. ...

Peter J. Riga, Houston:

I suspect that like so many other evolutionary non-fallible doctrines in the church that needed time for growth and maturity (religious freedom, slavery, usury, tolerance of other religions, democracy, war-peace, and so forth), we need more time to discuss and dialogue about the ordination of women. The discussion of this topic is simply not going to end, papal orders or no papal orders. If anything, Ordinatio will only accelerate the discussion. But we should do so respectfully, without rancor against or attacking Peter. We must be open to and have confidence in the Holy Spirit.

I am therefore left in a quandary. I shall respectfully note and seriously consider the position of His Holiness. For the moment, I give Peter the benefit of my doubt. But since it is not infallible doctrine, I shall continue to exercise my conscience, humbly and respectfully, in discussing and researching the possibility of the ordination of women. I confess that I do not know where the Spirit will lead me. I suspect neither does the pope. We must therefore trust the Holy Spirit.

But in any case, I, for one, will not remain silent. We must speak in order to determine the final truth in a matter that deeply affects over 50 percent of the church's membership.

Jeffrey Vanderbilt, South Bend, Ind.:

I woke up Monday morning [May 30] a moderately progressive Roman Catholic. Imagine my surprise when, before retiring that night, I had become. a near heretic! No one expected that our current pope, John Paul II, would ever ordain women to sacramental ministry. No one expected either that he would try to shut down the ongoing conversation on the ordination of women in such a strong-armed fashion. Just last summer I heard from a reliable witness that the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, had been told during a private audience with the pope that John Paul did not intend to "bind his successor" on this issue. At that time, I breathed a sigh of relief. Today it appears that, if John Paul has not bound his successor, he certainly endeavored to put a muzzle on him.

This latest papal decree, the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, will have but one ultimate effect: to undermine the authority of the papacy. I say this for two reasons. When the time comes for Rome to ordain women, whether that time is 200 or 300 or 1,000 years from now, this decree will have to be "gotten around" in some fashion. Theologians will perform gymnastic feats worthy of the Olympics in order to show how both the current decree and the future consensus of the church on this issue are in some fashion "continuous" with each other. More odiously, many faithful, conscientious Catholics around the world have been further alienated from the papacy today. Catholics, often less liberal than 1, had hoped that perhaps with the next pope, the conversation on the ordination of women would turn a new corner. By attempting to silence and ostracize bishops, priests, sisters, theologians and thousands of lay Catholics who had disagreed with him on this issue, John Paul has shown himself to be the champion of the bully pulpit rather than the true pastor of Christ he aspires to be.
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Title Annotation:readers' letters on papal edict denying women's ordination
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jul 15, 1994
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