When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope and took the name of Francis on March, 13, 2013, I held out little hope for any significant doctrinal change, even saying so publicly. Over the course of his reign, I have been alternatively hopeful and dismayed by his actions. In particular, I have found myself frustrated by his attitudes and actions towards women, especially as it relates to the possibility of equal roles for women in a male-dominated (some would say “male only”) institution. Yesterday, his actions inspired not only frustration but outright rage when he affirmed the stance taken by Pope John Paul II, that women would NEVER be ordained in the Catholic Church. (Read original article in the National Catholic Reporter HERE.)
My question for Pope Francis echoes that taken by the Swedish journalist who reported on the matter: “But really forever? Never!?”
Never is a long time and quite a claim to be made by an institution in which “forever” has indeed been rare. In matters of practice for example:
- Priests were not always celibate.
- The Holy Days of Obligation have continually changed and now, if they fall on a Monday they are skipped.
- It used to be you could not eat meat on any Friday, then it changed to only those during Lent, and now, if a Friday in Lent falls on St. Patrick’s Day, consuming corned beef is allowed.
- Women used to have to cover their head during mass, communion was only taken in the mouth, not by hand, and wine was only offered to the priests.
- In previous years, only priests could read the scripture or distribute communion.
Even in matters of doctrine, there has rarely been a forever:
- Jesus was not always the only Son of God.
- Mary was not always a virgin and her virginity was not always considered perpetual, she was not always immaculately conceived, and she was not believed to have assumed into heaven after her death.
- Jesus, at one time, was begotten and made.
- There was once debate about whether Jesus was fully human, fully divine, neither or both.
- Matrimony, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick were not always considered sacraments.
- There used to be a purgatory, now there’s not.
- There used to be a hell, but then Pope John Paul II said if there is one, he couldn’t image anyone is there.
My question to Pope Francis is, “Really, never?” Why, when seemingly every other matter of doctrine has at one time been up for grabs, is the question of women’s ordination not at least a possibility? How, after all we now know about Jesus’ treatment of women, the critical role of women in the Jesus movement and their roles as leaders in the in the early Church, is the ordination of women at least not considered?
When pressed in a similar manner by the Swedish press on this question of the Church never considering women’s ordination Francis replied, “If we read carefully the declaration made by St. John Paul II (in his 1994 apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.), it goes in that direction.”
I am enormously disappointed in the pope for this evasive, and dare I say “political” response. Instead of taking responsibility for his own position on the matter, he passes the buck, continuing to paint himself as the “good” pope, friend to the gays and advocate of the poor. I call foul! In forever barring women from ordination, Pope Francis has turned his back on over half of the human race. In this, Pope Francis is no longer the “good pope,” he is the personal representative of the cause of sexism in the Western world – the Catholic Church. Two-thousand years ago, when the Church privileged Peter over Mary Magdalene, ignored Jesus’ equal treatment of women in favor of the hierarchical cultural norm, and then made women the cause of original sin, sexism became the law of Western Culture – a law created by and then enforced through practice by the Church. With Pope Francis’ affirmation of Pope John Paul II’s ban on women’s ordination, nothing it seems has changed, and nothing ever will.
It’s almost understandable that a man of power would refuse women the right to equal power. This is a typical human response to insecurity and fear. But, in banning women from ordination, Pope Francis is not exercising his human right to indulge his fear, instead, he has appointed himself God. If the Church believes that the call to ordained priesthood is indeed ordained by God, then who are they to bar a woman who is authentically called to this vocation? How will the Church ever know if they are not even willing to consider women’s ordination as a possibility and discern for themselves the will of the God they claim to represent? Again, I call foul!
While I am disgusted and angered by Pope Francis’ ban on women’s ordination, more than this I am sad. I grieve over a Church that continues to reject the amazing gifts that women might bring to fulfilling Jesus’ mission of love. I weep over the women who are authentically called to the ordained priesthood who are forced to seek elsewhere for a place to share their gifts or suffer the consequences of silencing their gifts and their call. Even more than this I am saddened by a Church that continues to denigrate half of the human race and who by their own example, are making it ok for the rest of the world to forever reject women as unequal to men.
Just when I thought I might go back and give the Church another chance, Pope Francis shows up with his NO to women’s ordination. This just might be the final nail in the coffin.
Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, MATS was raised in the Catholic Church, received her call to ministry within the Catholic Church, was educated and trained in the Catholic Church and served as Pastoral Minister and Spiritual Director at the local Catholic Campus Ministry. Called to the priesthood, but not to hierarchy or the culture of clericalism, Lauri sought ordination elsewhere and now serves as spiritual leader of Authentic Freedom Academy and the Temple of the Magdalene where she provides spiritual formation, education, guidance, counsel and support to a mostly Catholic audience of women and men from all over the world in search of a different kind of “church.” You can learn more about Lauri’s ministry at www.authenticfreedomacademy.com.