The National Catholic Review
Cambridge, MA. On June 10, I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, by Cardinal Terence Cooke. I won’t be getting together with my nine Jesuit classmates (everyone is still in active ministry, but we are saving the reunion for the 50th, I think), but I am sure all of us will be marking the day. 30 years is a long time, and just to reflect back on these three decades invariably prompts memories of the many pastoral contexts in which even I -- ever the academic -- have served: on campus at Boston College and now Harvard; in parishes from Everett, MA, to the south side of Chicago, several parishes in south India, and now at our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, MA; the occasional wedding, some family funerals; by a conservative estimate, at least 1700 homilies over the years; any number of "priestly moments" in which I felt the presence of God’s grace, beyond my own capability and wisdom. In all of these contexts, it is true that I have received more than I have given. These days I have therefore been mindful of the blessing of this vocation, and the gift the Society of Jesus, within the Church, has given me in this priestly ministry. I would, and do, recommend the vocation and the life to young men thinking of how to serve in the Church in the decades to come. But it is also a moment of lament, stirred most immediately by last week’s news report on the directive from the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, (re)asserting the rule about excommunicating "the person who attempts to confer holy orders upon a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive holy orders." (See for instance, the translation of the decree of excommunication at the National Catholic Reporter site.) We all know that there are Catholic women with a very deep conviction that God is calling them to priestly service in the Church. Many of these women, during long years of service to the Church, have discerned the matter over and over again, tested it in community -- and still affirm, "God is calling me to ordained ministry, to the priesthood." Some of these women have suffered very patiently and quietly in a Church that says it cannot ordain them; some have left, often sadly, and welcomed ordination in another Christian community; and some, reports tell us, have been ordained by bishops -- and for this, they are to be counted as excommunicated. This blog is not the place to debate the merits of positions on women’s ordination. But it seems obvious that very many of us feel strongly on this issue -- including, surely, many who are ordained 3 or 13 or 30 or 50 years -- and we are not likely to change our minds now. This issue -- does God call women as well as men to ordination? -- seems likely to remain one of the great divides in the Church of the 21st century, and we all, men as well as women, are, or should be, suffering through the experience. That the Vatican has definitively ended the discussion does not make it less likely that many will continue to have hearts rent by the issue. I am sure God hears many a prayer, many a day, on the topic. But no matter what we think, there is room for quiet lament, and particularly those of us who are ordained should feel this sadness mingled with the joy appropriate to anniversaries of ordination. The priesthood is, as I have said, a great gift, and I know how very sad it would be to have been barred from it, from the start or along the way. I can only try to imagine the sentiments of a woman who has experienced, with humility and conviction, this calling, faced as she is with the prospect of the Church’s insistence that it is incapable of ordaining women -- as if to say: "Even if God calls, the Church cannot." It is clear that some women have moved on, and do not want Roman Catholic ordination any more; others never did; many more have found ways of living out their vocations fruitfully in Church and world. Nevertheless, some still grieve, many who know them and their gifts still grieve, and it is with them all, at my 30th anniversary of ordination, that I lament. It is mindful of them, and for them, that I shall be celebrating the Eucharist on June 10. I think it most appropriate that every priest celebrating an ordination anniversary, most often around this time of the year, take the occasion to pray with, mindful of, women who have discerned that God is calling them to ordination in the Church.


Anonymous | 6/8/2008 - 12:27pm
I've read with interest the article and comments. I was received into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil. Having been a devout Protestant for many years (baptized Episcopal), I can say that it has been a relief and a joy to find the firm structure of the Magisterium. I question, though, the 'calling' to the priesthood that some women are feeling. It seems to me that it could not be from God. Women priestesses have a very long history in the pagan religions, and the monotheistic Jews (God's Chosen People) rejected it outright. Jesus Christ did not found His Church on a woman nor did He name any women followers as apostles--knowing as He did (and having the Mother that He did) that women had plenty to say, be, and do within the Church. Looking at the Episcopal Church, it is self-evident that the ordination of women priests opened the door to homosexual priests, etc., and of course, that church is now in a fight for its survival. The fact that in civil society, women can now vote, hold many positions that were previously closed to them, etc., does not therefore mean that God wants women priests. He allowed that centuries ago, and those religions disappeared. If He had wanted women priests, they would've been ordained from the beginning. I feel sorry for those who will insist upon the 'right' of women to be ordained. It seems they are leading astray those who most need the guidance and compassion of the Church.
Anonymous | 6/6/2008 - 9:33am
Dear Fr. Clooney, Your long career as priest/teacher has given you the opportunity to be a powerful influence in the formation of many. Your courageous anniversary lament is a monument to that influence. Thank you. Congratulations on your commitment to God and to God's people to help them discover truth as the Spirit reveals it in our tradition and in our lives. Writing this lament as a testament to your ordination anniversary tells the world just how committed you are to the ministerial model of equality and inclusivity that Jesus, the consummate teacher, lived out and died for. Thank you. As a priest/teacher myself, (a seminary trained Roman Catholic Womanpriest, ordained in Minneapolis, Minnesota in August of 2007,) your deep wail of compassionate insight and understanding of the suffering of the many women-called, gives me profound hope that our path of prophetic obedience to the Spirit is recognized and deeply understood by some of our brother priests. I do appreciate your resounding call to prayer by them on their ordination anniversaries. It is my fervent hope that those prayers will lead more will to speak their lived truth as publicly you have. Thank you. Imagine a church where men and women minister side by side with the fullness of the face of humanity, the richness of the complete human experience, available to all. Imagine a church where the energy used to keep so many out is used instead to draw so many in. Imagine a church where all of God's people are free to respond with the ultimate yes of their lives for service in whatever way the Spirit leads them. Your grieving lament shows that you do imagine that church. Let us all keep praying that the Spirit's will be done. Thank you and God bless the coming years of your fruitful ministry as a man of truth as we journey on the path to holiness as a pilgrim church in much need of forgiveness and healing. Alice Iaquinta, M.Div.
Anonymous | 6/6/2008 - 6:49am
Dear Brother in Christ! Thank you for writing this open letter! I wish more priests like you would dare to publish their thoughts, and express their sorrow regarding this. Those who think the Church can't ordain women need to hear your voices. The suffering Catholic women with unfulfilled calls are many. The Church needs also their (our) ministry as a witness to the world. We're all part of the sensus fidelii. The Holy Spirit guides the Church also through what is revealed to us. And what is inspired by God can't be quenched even by thousands of decrees. The conversations will continue for sure. God calls us not to be silent when we see that something is terribly wrong. Women were ordained during at least the first thousand years. Who gave the Church permission to do that if not Jesus - who grew up with women naturally having all the ministries in the synagogues? In fact, the early Church adopted the presbyter ministry from the synagogue! But not the hiereus ministry from the temple. Maybe because there's just one unrepeatable sacrifice left in the Church - Jesus himself. Who needs a representative if the original is present? And why must it be a man who carries this sacrifice to God? Shouldn't it ideally be both a man and a woman to show that we're, only fully together, the image of God? You'll find more thoughts on women priests in my blog: A Catholic renewal. There are postings in English, about St. Thérèse's call among other things. Welcome to comment! I wish you all the best for your continued ministry! May you be surrounded by many female (and male) colleagues around the altar one day!
Anonymous | 6/11/2008 - 1:09pm
Thank you so much for publishing your support for women's ordination in such a hostile climate. Here is the prayer adopted by Women's Ordination Worldwide: O Holy One, You who are Creator of all, who made humanity in Your image, Saviour of all, who called women and men to witness Your ministry, death and resurrection, Inspirer of all who seek and serve, we thank You for the women You have blessed with Your call to celebrate the eucharist, to minister alongside their brothers in a renewed Roman Catholic Church. We pray that the Church will soon welcome and nourish to the full women's gifts as priests, prophets and leaders, knowing, as Mary of Nazareth knew, that with You all things are possible.
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 5:05pm
My sadness is that some remain preoccupied with what they can't do vice what they can do. Some men feel "called" to change their gender and vice versa. Doesn't mean that "calling" came from God or that it is right. However, the Church got this issue right (as she always does on the issues of Faith and Morals).
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 12:40pm
Part of the problem with our Church today is that we let society determine what is and is not correct, moral, etc. The Church says that only unmarried, single men can be priests. That should rest the case. Just because other Protestant traditions allow a woman to be ordained a priest does not mean that Catholicism should too. We have too many people in the Catholic Church today that really do not want to be Catholic but the ''church of me'' that is in tune with society. That is the difference because the Church is not of the world but lives with the world around it fending off its pressures to give its citizens a safe haven. I respect any man who has been ordained as a priest and deacon and served as long as Fr. Clooney has, but I also see great division created by so many clergy because they feel that they know better or try and say that they have a right to bring the issue up to be discussed, thus, intentionally causing a rift. "But it is also a moment of lament, stirred most immediately by last week's news report on the directive from the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, (re)asserting the rule about excommunicating." Absolutely, the Church is doing its job. What happened to ''obedience''? This does not mean just blindly following as some would argue. Those ordained are serving our Lord through His Church and need to remember that.
Anonymous | 6/4/2008 - 4:37pm
Advocates of women's ordination fail to see just how extreme their supporters really are. Take for example the group Womanpriests. They don't vest like priests; they refuse to use our sacred symbols and respect our ancient rituals. At least, the Anglican women priests celebrate the Liturgy as if they were part of a Tradition. To be more exact: I don't Catholics are ready to call the Trinity Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. I don't think most Catholics want their rituals randomly changed and 1970's vestments used. The group womenpriests want to change the entire church structure; they want to change the name of God as understood for centuries and they want to remove any resemblance to anything that we perceive as being part of the Catholic religious Tradition. It isn't just about ordaining women to priesthood; it's about changing our entire way of doing theology.
Anonymous | 6/17/2008 - 7:31pm
For those of you who feel that the Church is simply following a silly rule and women should be ordained . . . there are deeply rooted reasons for not ordaining women to be priests if you do your homework. Forgive me for I am not an expert, but as a previous poster stated, there was a reason why Jesus built his Church on a man, why th apostles were men, despite him having several strong female followers who certainly helped spread the word. It is not a slam against women to refuse them ordination, priests are called to be representatives of Christ in the Mass. Jesus Christ was a man, not a woman. Not to mention there are several avenues for women who want a bigger role in the Church. They can becomes nuns, they can serve in certain ministries, even marriage is a call to holiness. These rules are not arbitrary and you cannot judge the rules of the Church through 21st century eyes.
Anonymous | 6/6/2008 - 6:03pm
What these women need is more than your sympathy. They need spiritually mature, orthodox, loving spiritual directors to help them toward spiritual maturity and orthodoxy. St. Therese's acceptance of God's will is an example for all women who struggle as she did; perhaps for some this desire for the impossible is a cross leading to their sanctity, just as doubt of God's existence can be. The right priest (or other person) to give such a suffering woman the spiritual direction she sorely needs would first understand that "discerning" anything contrary to infallible teaching is not true discernment of God's will. I'll pray you become a priest capable of giving the needed direction--maybe that's what you should pray for at your anniversary.
Anonymous | 6/6/2008 - 5:20pm
A fine article and interesting remarks. Many years ago I remember reading "The Flight From Woman" and thinking that this "flight" was in response to fear. It seems that the "fear of the feminine" is so fundamental and pervasive in our Church that it will take an incredible inbreak of Spirit to reconsider the whole notion of gender "role" attributed to women before this obvious acknowledgment of some who feel called to priestly service. It is instructive to read reflections of Mary Hunt and Rev. Mary Ramerman in varied viewpoints about this issue.
Anonymous | 6/6/2008 - 9:21am
Congratulations on 30 years of ordained ministry; and bravo for at least expressing a wistful sort of sorrow that the joy of RC priesthood cannot be shared with women. For many of us (I have been priested some five years now) the RC church has become more or less a ''non issue'' and rather irrelevant to the call of ministry itself. Individuals and individual congregations of faithful Roman Catholics are the exception of course. But for as long as pronouncements come from the Vatican that attempt to codify the workings of the Holy Spirit, Roman Catholics will be the poorer for that narrow view. Peace and blessings
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 2:36pm
Great article. I felt the rending of the heart even though I have no desire to be a priest. As a woman and a former Anglican who is a newly confirmed Catholic I was astonished to read the recent edicts concerning the ordination of women. I thought when I was confirmed that there was at least a dialogue going on about this issue. Now the door has been slammed shut. I am sure Jesus Christ did not wish women to be partial or conditional members of his church. No where in Holy Scripture did Jesus say that women could not be ordained. Ordination didn't even exist then. It appears that when I swam the Tiber to Rome I was supposed to have left my brain on the banks.
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 9:20pm
Nice post. I have difficulty understanding why women who feel called cannot find other ways to answer the call; replacing preaching by writing books and using other media, and replacing the pastor's role by other means of being present to others for help. Only the sacramental dimension is inaccessible. I don't totally understand why, but I see that the rigid rule of the Church against the ordination of women is causing great suffering. This Church must not be about rules but about individual people first.
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 10:22am
I see St. Therese at the top of this page. She felt called to be a missionary and never was one. She felt called to be a priest and never was one. Yet, she was both missionary and priestly. She is one of the greatest of our time at reaching into the hearts of others with the message of God. She offered up the whole of her life on the altar of her heart for the sake of her spouse, Jesus. May we all rise to her level of holiness and do the same.
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 2:18pm
If we don't accept the judgment of the successor of Peter, if we continue to fight for something that is theologically and ontologically impossible, if we insist that women who feel called to ordained ministry are called by God and blocked by His Church (thereby separating the Church from God and looking at it as a purely human institution), if we spend all our energy fighting each other over fundamental points of doctrine rather than evangelizing the world, how can we call ourselves Catholic anymore? Women's ordination is not a ''wait and see'' sort of thing. The matter has been definitively, permanently, infallibly closed. The Church does not have the authority to ordain women, period. This means that nothing will happen even if a validly ordained bishop lays hands on a woman and attempts to ordain her. It also means that God cannot possibly be calling women to ordained ministry in His Church, no matter how sincerely they believe they are. We can continue to have discussions about disciplines such as celibacy for diocesan priests, but we cannot continue to pretend that there is a chance women will ever be ordained in the Catholic Church, as if it's simply up to a pope to change his mind one day. I recommend an excellent short book on the subject: The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church, by Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT. Sr. Sara is a Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in New York and is herself a ''convert'' to the Church's teaching on this subject.
Anonymous | 6/5/2008 - 3:24am
Thank you, Fr. Clooney, for sharing with us your thoughts and feelings on women's ordination. Thank you for opening your heart to our quiet lament. I wish you a Happy 30th Anniversary and many more good years until you can celebrate your 50th Anniversary together with your nine Jesuit classmates. Who knows maybe by that time the Spirit will have emboldened those who are so afraid of change:-)
Anonymous | 6/4/2008 - 12:07pm
Well said, Brother! This whole women's ordination thing reminds me of the scene in Disney's "Aristocats" where the two hounds hear the butler coming on his motorcycle. The smaller dog yells out "charge", and the other takes great offense because he's the chief and only he gets to yell out "charge". Why not believe only an Italian can be a good pope? Why not decide that people of, say, African origins, cannot perform sacraments because they really don't understand the historical context? Why not insist that only people from middle and upper class backgrounds should hold high ecclesiastic office because they have the social skills necessary to relate effectively with the political authorities? All these opinions have had their day! But that day passed. Unfortunately, it took us ecclesia some time to wake up to that fact. This silliness about not ordaining women because they are women seems also likely to take a long time to die off. And as you point out, this foot dragging by Rome is probably going to cause a fair amount of pain before it also dies off. But it will, inevitably. For two reasons: first it is a stupid position, out of step with history and nature and even scripture. Which leads to the second reason, it is decidedly un-Christian, clearly out of sync with the whole thrust of Jesus' teachings and especially his actions. Even Rome eventually must bow before the Christian God of history, our God, who is concerned about each of us and all of us, including those who are not Italian or white or rich or male. It may take some time for this Christian fact to trickle up to the Vatican. After all, "trickle up" into the Vatican has historically been pretty slow. But it will, eventually. But I share your lament that it is so slow, with so much pain inflicted on others in the process. Thank you, and May Godde be with you!
Anonymous | 6/4/2008 - 9:15pm
Thank you for your kind words. This year I celebrated my 18th year of ordination. No, it was not Roman Catholic. I wrote to the pope. I talked with my bishop. The pope did not bother to answer me and my bishop said, "Pat, the church does not call women to ordination." My question to him was, "Well, what if God does? He looked at me, surprised. I looked at him with tears in my eyes. I turned. I left. I was ordained in another tradition. Pat