Viewpoint -- On women as priests
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Issue Date:  November 4, 2005

A challenge to Benedict to create an inclusive church


While Pope Benedict XVI served in his former job as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he affirmed the Roman Catholic church’s practice of gender apartheid in its selection of males-only for priesthood. A woman, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, cannot be another Christ because Christ was a male person. This teaching, promoted by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, negates the teaching of St. Paul about baptism, contradicts the example of Jesus and ignores the experience of women in priestly ministry in the early church.

In Galatians 3:28, Paul teaches the radical equality of women as images of Christ who by our baptism represent Christ. “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” Baptism makes women fully qualified to represent Christ. Church authorities use the metaphor of Christ as bridegroom and the church as the bride to justify an all-male priesthood. Christ did not use this image to limit the role of his female disciples. A metaphor should not be taken literally, so why does the institutional church insist that only men can represent Christ if women and men are equal images of Christ by their baptism? It makes no sense to me, and appears to be sexist.

In the Gospels, Jesus treated women and men as equals and partners. According to all four Gospels, Mary of Magdala is the only person described as being present at both the cross and the tomb. She is the first witness of the Resurrection, the woman whom early church fathers referred to as “the apostle to the apostles.” The woman who anointed Jesus’ head broke through societal norms and overcame false perceptions about Jesus’ mission. Scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, in her groundbreaking book In Memory of Her, concludes that unlike the male disciples who did not comprehend that suffering is part of the mission of Jesus, the woman who anointed Jesus’ head recognized that Jesus’ messiahship meant suffering and death. Unlike the male disciples who abandoned or betrayed Jesus, the female disciple became the true disciple of Jesus.

Fifteen archaeological inscriptions have been found that demonstrate women were sacramental ministers in the first three centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The catacombs and churches in Rome display beautiful mosaics and frescoes showing that women served priestly roles in the early church. Pilgrims can see how seven early Christian women celebrated Eucharist at an overnight vigil in a fresco in St. Priscilla’s catacomb.

In this time of crisis in the church, the credibility of the hierarchy is on the line over the shocking worldwide clergy sex abuse of minors and subsequent cover-up by church authorities. More than ever we need Mary of Nazareth’s strength in our souls to speak truth to power, to do justice for victims and survivors of abuse, and to reform our beloved church. As a strong model of integrity, Mary is an inspiration for all God’s people, including priests, both male and female.

It is my hope that Pope Benedict XVI will reflect on the example of Jesus, Mary and the early Christian women who lived the Gospel of inclusion and mutual service. Pope Benedict XVI could follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and treat women as equals and partners, capable of reflecting fully the image of Christ. A good first step would be to open the priesthood to women, reminding us that women are equal symbols of the sacred. In addition, Pope Benedict could invite Catholic feminists to fill 50 percent of leadership roles in church institutions. If Pope Benedict XVI listens to women’s experiences, opens the priesthood to women and promotes women in decision-making positions, he will fan into flame a new Pentecost in our time.

Bridget Mary Meehan, a member of Sisters for Christian Community, is author of 20 books on spirituality, including Praying with Women of the Bible. She is co-coordinator of Women-Church Convergence, an international coalition of Catholic feminist organizations.

For other viewpoints on this subject:
Viewpoint -- On women as priests: An African and an American disagree on ordaining women
By Peg Helminski
Viewpoint -- On women as priests: Only the pope can resolve widening chasm on ministry
By Mary Frances Coady

National Catholic Reporter, November 4, 2005

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