The deadlock on the ordination of women

In Talbot’s essay, there is a predictable opposition between what is “progressive” – ​​and therefore obviously to be adopted – and what is “traditional”. It goes without saying that inherited practices and values ​​generally stand in the way of equality and fairness. She notes that other more liberal Christian churches began ordaining women and adopting modern attitudes towards sexual morality decades ago. It does not mention the dramatic decline of mainstream Protestantism during those same decades. The Catholic Church, it goes without saying, is not a modern institution. He does not justify his own teachings and actions by contemporary liberal Western standards. Like most traditional cultures, its theology, sacred texts, anthropology, liturgy and organization are imbued with metaphors drawn from human sexuality and gender. Of course, the Church can change – and has changed – but when it does, it must build on its own foundations, not repudiate them.

The women interviewed by Talbot repeatedly declare their love and attachment to “the rituals of Catholicism, its liturgy and its tradition of service to the poor”. The assumption seems to be that you can do without Catholic practices and social arrangements that offend modern sensibilities while still retaining what is of ultimate importance, which appears to be a quest for self-expression coupled with “social justice.” “. Does the patriarchate of the Church need reform? Yes. Does the Church need to empower women to make decisions? Yes. Is ordination the only way to achieve this? Maybe not.

Write about the ordination of women in Common good (“A Modest Proposal: A Place for Women in the Hierarchy,” June 14, 1996) anthropologist Mary Douglas made the factual observation that “you can tell a hierarchical institution to become egalitarian until you be blue in the face, and nothing will happen. No one would know where to start. But tell him to reform the hierarchy and something could be done.

Douglas agreed that if women are truly as valued as the Church claims, “they should not be excluded from the formal structure of the Church.” But she didn’t think ordination was the answer. The ordination request, she wrote, was not only about patriarchal control. “When the church’s use of the gender model is criticized, it is the form of society that is tested, not a form of words.” She was skeptical of Church reform based on “vaunted” egalitarian claims. “Does Christianity Really Involve Egalitarianism? she wrote. “Or could the protections and sense of community offered by the hierarchy also reflect a true Christian vision? “

In egalitarian systems, Douglas insisted, the rules are easily manipulated or ignored: “The stronger voice has a say, and woe to the weaker. The hierarchy, in his experience, does not need to be repressive; it can give way to obligations as a counterweight between the strong and the weak. Gender and sexuality, she noted, are metaphors almost universally used in traditional cultures to justify such reciprocal and balancing agreements. Metaphors denote partnership, not just domination or competition. She urged Catholic reformers to “work with the hierarchical principle”, not to seek to “abolish it”. It should be “invoked to justify an equal share of authority for women”.

Ideally, Douglas proposed, there should be a Women’s Commission on Doctrine, one that would be responsible for certain areas of Church teaching and practice, with a veto over the actions of the male hierarchy. traditional. She argued that it might be appropriate for the commission to have special authority on issues such as contraception, abortion and bioethics. It would be made up of both nuns and lay people from all walks of life. Such a commission would give flesh and blood to the Church’s claim for the equality of men and women, while remaining linked to the sources of traditional Catholic identity, culture and dynamism.

“If we respect a religious institution, we cannot outright dismiss its claim to honor its continuity with its own past,” Douglas wrote. “Telling its members to forget their common past and to create new myths of present reality is to tell them to lose themselves, to die and to disappear. Unfortunately, that’s what some of the women actually say in the Talbot article. For decades, this kind of stalemate got Catholic women and the Church nowhere. At this point, as the Talbot article inadvertently shows, both sides of the dispute are blue.

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