National Catholic Reporter
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May 23, 2003

LettersRuether on ordination

As one of the principle organizers of Dr. Ida Raming’s national speaking tour, I was pleased and disappointed by Rosemary Ruether’s May 2 column. I was pleased because her remarks go not to whether women should be ordained against church law, but how those ordinations should take place.

Ruether stressed the importance of community involvement and questioned the choice of ordinations on boats or outside cathedrals. To those not involved in the planning, the choice of a boat may seem odd. As a witness to the Danube River ordinations, I can report that it was a wise security move. I do not have the space here to detail the efforts of fundamentalist Catholics to scuttle the event. Local church authorities even threatened the boat owner. Then the eminent Cardinal Josef Ratzinger virtually leaped to impose the church’s ultimate penalty on the women less than two months after their ordinations -- all the while the hierarchy was pondering how to treat problem priests who abused children. It is more than strange that no priests or bishops have been excommunicated for their part in crimes that destroyed the lives of children and nuns, but women acting on a sacred call to ministry are a threat that cannot be tolerated.

As to the question of community support, I can assure you that people who recognize their gifts and are calling them to service surround the ordained women. Aboard the “Passau,” I spoke with villagers, students and church scholars who supported the ordinations by attending, even if there were few public reports of their attendance.

Dr. Raming and Dr. Mueller are scholars with more than 40 years of principled work on behalf of women in our church. The mere subject matter of their scholarship barred them from university careers in a system that accords Catholic bishops control of faculty appointments in religion departments at state universities. Come to think of it, since when has the church not ordained clergy whose principle ministry is that of scholarship? And which Catholic community is more neglected than the reform movement in the Roman church?

Countless young Catholics have turned away from a depressing and oppressive system that is accountable to no one. Yet during my travels around the country with Dr. Raming, I witnessed young women with tears on their cheeks thanking her for the work she has done on their behalf. As far as they are concerned, actions speak louder than words.

Brentwood, Md.

Howarth is coordinator of Catholics Speak Out, Quixote Center.

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Rosemary Ruether in a few words gave a theology of priestly ordination: “For me ordination is a covenantal act carried out within a Christian community in which the people of God confirm a person as a priest and pastor for the community and the person ordained pledges to serve that community as priest and pastor.”

This theology of ordination resonates with me. So does her observation that bishops have “grown derelict in carrying out their responsibility to ordain a ministry in adequate numbers and quality to serve the church.”

It has become a cliché, even seeping slowly down to the man in the pew: There is no shortage of vocations. Bishops must just acknowledge these vocations and ordain these people at the bidding of the local community. Throwing roadblocks and restrictions is hardly the work of the Spirit. “Maintaining a celibate male priesthood that has become dysfunctional” is substituting institution for free-breathing Spirit.

Brecksville, Ohio

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I’m sure others have noted the delicious irony of the typo (or can it be Freudian slippage?) in Rosemary Ruether’s recent May 2 column.

Advocating the right of the people of God “to take back the power to ordain and carry it out themselves,” she refers deprecatingly to “apostolic secession” (sic!). Since her counsel amounts to schism, “apostolic secession” indeed seems the apt description and wonderfully self- referential. It also increases the suspicion that National CATHOLIC Reporter is rather a misnomer (except, of course, when the pope opposes war in Iraq).

Newton Centre, Mass.

My country right or wrong

Michael Welch’s “Viewpoint” on patriotism (NCR, April 18) recalled to my mind Winston Churchill’s comment: “ ‘My country right or wrong’ is like ‘my wife, drunk or sober.’ ”

In one fell swoop, in the name of patriotism and on the theory of the existence of the yet-to-be-discovered stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, our leaders have effectively ennobled vengeance and the previously questioned aphorisms, “Might makes right,” “The end justifies the means,” and “To the victor belongs the spoils.” Our people now seem to have installed the decisions of self-enriching politicians as the norms for morality. Alice in Wonderland becomes “reality” as the United States, after years of being the cause of inhumane suffering in Iraq, now proclaims itself the humanitarian as it partially mops up the mess it caused.

New Rochelle, N.Y.

Kim Jong II’s reign of terror

Because world attention has been focused on Saddam Hussein, no notice has been given to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il’s reign of terror. The famine in his country has been responsible for anywhere from 1 million to 3 million deaths since the mid-1990s; he deliberately uses it as a weapon against those parts of the population he classifies as least loyal to the regime.

The famine has caused some 300,000 desperate North Koreans to flee the country, thus producing a refugee crisis that no one has noticed.

It is estimated that the system of political prisons and labor camps in North Korea holds more than 200,000 people, and that, given the harsh conditions in these camps, some 400,000 prisoners have perished in the past three decades. Parents, children, grandchildren and other relatives of prisoners are also sent to the camps; forced abortion and infanticide are standard practice.

North Korea is the most oppressive system in the world today. It is totalitarianism at its worst. Saddam Hussein was mild in comparison to Kim Jong Il; at least Saddam built roads and schools, supported the arts, and had the best health system in the world. One wonders why the United States picked on Iraq instead of North Korea, which has nuclear bombs?

Dubuque, Iowa

Assessing U.S. intelligence

In response to Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a chaplain who said in the April 4 issue of NCR, “I’m going to trust our military intelligence more than I’m going to trust the pope’s military intelligence,” I thought this: When communism fell in eastern Europe, I recall the CIA being most appreciative to the “intelligence” that the church offered at that time. When one thinks about it, the people in the streets know more about what is really happening in their part of the world than does the CIA in Washington. After all, who would know best about what is going on in a country than the people who live there? And who do they often trust to tell what they know? They tell their religious leader, for us Catholics, their priest.

I do not believe that the record of U.S. intelligence is all that trustworthy: Should we start with the Cuban Missile Crisis? Now we are told U.S. intelligence has clear evidence that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but where are they? Presently there is nothing found of that nature. What has been found? Terribly sick people, hunger, homelessness, and much anger. And in contrast to the 70 percent of the United States that supported this war, 70 percent of the world now despises the United States.

Maybe it was pretty intelligent and wise of the pope to call on nations to rely on the U.N. inspections over the long haul. The evidence seems to be that those inspections were working and we could have spared ourselves real sickness and death for the Iraqi people and for our soldiers.

Anderson, S.C.

Bob Hoyt

Regarding your April 25 article about the passing of Robert Hoyt, you omitted one undertaking in Hoyt’s life that I cannot forget. In 1953-54, he was my English teacher at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, and he inspired in me a lifelong love of literature.

Novato, Calif.

Conservative clash

I find it curious that on the same page of the April 11 NCR issue two conservative writers should have such discordant views on authority.

John Koller berates Sidney Callahan on the “totally nebulous” appeal to the sense of the faithful regarding morality. On the other hand, Jim Taunt, attacking the “liberal stance of the NCR on the war,” defends “the majority of Catholics” who he claims support the war. He questions the competence of Vatican teaching on international issues.

Which is it going to be, guys, church authority or the people of God? Maybe the solution is more complex and the mutual accountability between those in official authority and the rest of the church is the deeper issue.

Oakland, Calif.

A self-preserving hierarchy

To me the underlying theme of your April 25 issue as seen in the articles on the Los Angeles cathedral protest, the dismissal of a peace and justice director for “promoting antiwar demonstrations,” Macy’s excellent analysis of the Rev. Ida Raming’s research on medieval misogyny, and the commentary on Rome’s new encyclical demonstrate that the church hierarchy’s version of Roman Catholicism is to be preserved at any cost, even if it tramples the basic precepts of the Good News. The inevitable conclusion to such actions by the hierarchy is clear and disheartening to one raised in the Catholic faith, that is, to be a good Roman Catholic is not necessarily congruent with being a good Christian. I pray that our bishops contemplate “What would Jesus do” rather than monitor the political winds of Rome.

Bartlesville, Okla.

Priestly identity

I read two articles in the April 25 NCR: “Priestly identity in church’s time of darkness,” and Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on Eucharist, warning of abuses. Very interesting! It seems to me that over the centuries we have lost the simplicity of the priesthood of Christ. We’ve become an organization that runs a business, and where, because of our human frailty, corruption can take place. We are a business that has put emphasis on externals such as titles and a law that is not life giving. Maybe that’s why we are experiencing a purification in the priesthood and financially!

The call to respond in faith has been overshadowed by law and sin. For example, nowhere in the gospels does Jesus say you must be a man and celibate to preside over Eucharist. Nor must you wear certain clothes. These all came from the mind of men, who were in charge, not women. Nor do I think it should be all women in charge. It must be the sharing of gifts without being threatened by each other. The letter speaks about abuses, but what about the great injustice done to the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist by holding onto a man-made mandate that only a man can preside over Eucharist. If the Last Supper, as we have been taught, was a Passover meal, then all the family was there, not just men. Jesus gave himself in response to a believing community, not with the threat of law and sin. I believe we have lost something special because we emphasized one over the other.

Teaneck, N.J.

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National Catholic Reporter, May 23, 2003