Women priests or not, gendered theology is hurting the church

One thing everyone can agree on about Pope Francis: His press conferences give us something to talk about. This week’s was no different. When asked about women’s ordination, the pope recalled St. John Paul II’s assertion that women could never be considered for the priesthood as a final, settled matter. Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter reports that Francis said:

“But women can do many other things better than men,” the pope continued, before repeating remarks he has said in the past about the Catholic church having two dimensions: a Petrine, apostolic dimension led by the bishops and a Marian dimension, which he called “the feminine dimension of the church.”

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More troubling than the question of whether women can participate in the church’s sacramental ministry as priests is the infiltration of such a gendered ecclesiology into the highest echelons of the church’s hierarchy. This language of Marian and Petrine dimensions has two primary sources. The notion of the church as Christ’s bride, of course, has scriptural roots: It comes from the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul and is expanded upon in the Book of Revelation. The association of that metaphor with Marian and Petrine dimensions of the church, however, comes from a theologian who was a favorite of both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, a Swiss onetime Jesuit named Hans Urs von Balthasar. While he is well known for his contributions to theological aesthetics, many theologians take issue with the gendered language he uses to describe the church as a masculine/feminine complementary reality, where Mary and Jesus, or Mary and Peter, correspond to separate dimensions of the church.

For Balthasar, the Petrine dimension centers on leadership and initiative, while the Marian dimension has more to do with receptivity and fruitfulness—and these distinctions are rooted in the biological distinctions of men and women. In fact, he takes the difference in sexual organs between men and women as the basis for many of the characteristics of his complementarian view of humanity, and by extension, of the church. Coupled with the spousal metaphor (the church as the “bride” to Christ), this complementarity also casts the laity in the Marian role and the clergy and hierarchy in the Petrine office. This is potentially problematic, as it rests on the passivity and submission of the “Marian” principle (the laity) to the Petrine (the clergy).

To cite just one example of his ideology of gender in his major work Theo-Drama, Balthasar describes woman as “man’s answer” and the “vessel of his fulfillment.” Men are not defined in relation to women but as the beings who pose the question, who initiate fruitfulness. By placing sexual difference as the most significant difference among human persons (and not, for example, age or race or ethnicity or any of the myriad other differences we see in humanity), Balthasar’s vision of complementarity informs his whole ecclesiology and casts men and women into specific, rigid roles.

Our Full Humanity

Of course, our tradition is replete with gendered language for God, and with complementarian understandings of God and humanity. But this is not the only way in which the church has been imagined. Theologians, citing Scripture, have called the church a “Mystical Body,” “the People of God” and “the Sacrament of Salvation.” Francis’ remarks, however, echoed Balthasar’s understanding of the church as a masculine/feminine complementary duality, and this is profoundly problematic for scientific, sociopolitical and, most important, theological reasons.

Science has revealed that a person’s sexual biology is far more intricate than the sex organs that are visible on a person’s body. Genes and hormones coursing through the bloodstream affect the development and expression of a person’s “biological” sex. Some women and men have three chromosomes (XXY); others have female sex organs but, on balance, more male sex hormone than female sex hormone. All of this is to say that human biology is infinitely more complex than the “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” statements from new parents (or their doctors or midwives) might lead us to believe. Scientifically, even biologically, there are many factors that contribute to “maleness” and “femaleness.” Any claim that there are only two kinds of humans, male and female, is simplistic. Similarly, even if “femaleness” is biologically anchored, what counts as “feminine” is culturally constructed and varies through time and place. For one community, femininity might mean being shy and retiring; for another, a person who is proudly beautiful and wears makeup and attention-getting clothing might be viewed as very feminine.

Sociopolitically, rigid complementarity cheats both men and women of their full humanity. To assume that women make up for what men lack, or vice versa, reifies stereotypes of masculinity and femininity by dictating the relative strengths and weaknesses that people are to have if they are true to their genders. This ideology proceeds as if all men and all women were alike, instead of the variety of persons we meet daily. Our human experience contradicts the assertion that all men are aggressive or that all women are overly emotional. As the mother of two sons, I can attest that each human is different from the other in interests, abilities and talents and that my boys are more different than alike—and they came from the same gene pool and have the same upbringing! We can also affirm, from our experience with others, that not all men and women fit into this complementary mold, and that human relationships are infinitely more complex than “she makes up for what I lack.” At the very least, human relationships are based in reciprocities that change over time.

In the social and political spheres, we also see the damage done to boys who are not allowed or encouraged to express emotions other than anger, and to girls who are called bossy for taking initiative or, worse, for standing up to bullies. Sexual stereotyping, then, does not just disadvantage women; it stunts men’s possibilities as well.

In the church, complementarian thinking of the kind espoused by recent popes, including Pope Francis, asserts that women have crucial gifts for the church but that these gifts complement men’s gifts, which include, presumably, the charisms required for ordination. Francis takes this a step further, putting women on a pedestal when he claims that the Marian principle in the church is more important than the Petrine, because as God’s mother, Mary is more significant in salvation history that Jesus’ disciples.

Two things to note of theological import here. First, Jesus’ mother is not the only woman in the New Testament. Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary, and others were also in Jesus’ circle of disciples, listening to him and, in Martha’s case, ministering to him. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection in the Gospels. The women in the early church cannot all be subsumed into the Virgin Mary; the church should say their names and know their stories, because even these early narratives reveal that not all women express femininity in the same way (see Martha and Mary for a shining example of this fact).

Second, casting the church in a feminine role and assigning obedience (as in Mary’s fiat) and receptivity to only the feminine aspect of the church, as opposed to the Petrine and clerical aspect, means that the role of the laity is obedience and receptivity. Does this fit with the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, which says in “Lumen Gentium” that the whole people of God are called to minister in the church? If leadership is only Petrine, and Petrine only means clergy, then some men in the church image the masculine aspect of the church while other men (in the laity) image the feminine. But the reverse is impossible: Women, because they cannot be ordained, can only ever image the feminine. This rules out women’s leadership in a church that celebrates Teresa of Avila, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Catherine of Siena as models of faith.

Pope Francis may or may not have ruled out the possibility of seeing women priests in the Catholic Church on the plane from Sweden this week. But in reaffirming the Marian and Petrine construct of the church, he (intentionally or not) sent a message about the people of God that truncates our imaginations and limits our possibilities for full human flourishing. And that’s a bigger issue than who stands at the foot of the altar.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee is associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, New York.

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James Sullivan
1 year 9 months ago
Great analysis/ insight Professor. Francis dropped the ball on this one. In my humble opinion Francis will ok women deacons- this is the trade off for now. He can only take so much hysteria from the trads.
Andrew Russell
1 year 9 months ago
Thank you for the background on this. I will have to become more familiar with Hans Urs Von Balthazar's work, and see where it has influenced St. John Paul II' s Theology of the Body. Do you, Prof. Imperatori-Lee or others know of a study of the influences on Theology of the Body?
alan macdonald
1 year 9 months ago
The American Jesuits support and printed this pro-female ordination article because that is their goal, to have female ordination. It was a great set back to them when Pope Francis said "never" to female ordination, but they're going forward anyway, heresy or not.
Andrew Russell
1 year 9 months ago
I think that maybe I read the article differently. It did not seem to call for ordination of women, but an examination of the theology that arrises from the concept of complimentarity, and the roles of women in Church leadership.
Sam Sawyer, S.J.
1 year 9 months ago

Mr. MacDonald, you might also be interested to take a look at this explainer piece we published yesterday, where we explore some of the theological and historical context around the question of women's ordination and the pope's response. Maybe you'll be more willing in the future to start from the (more accurate) assumption that our interest is in trying to explore and explain a variety of approaches to a complex topic, rather than imputing a motive and a goal, "heresy or not," to all American Jesuits. 

alan macdonald
1 year 9 months ago
Thank you Father Sawyer for your suggestion. I did read the explainer piece but it was more of a confuser piece. When America continues to focus on female ordination in every issue, there is something in the wind. While the American Jesuits can't come right out and support it (that would be heresy), I believe their goal is female ordination. I also believe they support same sex marriage. Can you publish an unequivocal article denying this?
Sam Sawyer, S.J.
1 year 9 months ago

Quoting from the explainer piece: "…as a Jesuit ministry, we are faithful to the pope and the magisterium, and that includes reporting accurately what the Vatican and the pope are saying to the faithful." I think that's unequivocal; we are and intend to be faithful to the pope and the magisterium.

As a magazine, we don't have "goals" one way or the other for what decisions the pope or the church makes. Our goal is a better informed and more charitable conversation, which includes both understanding the church's teaching, and also understanding why that teaching has not convinced everyone yet. That's what we've been trying to do with these pieces. No hidden motives are necessary to explain that.

Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago
Thanks for this post. Many people just accept the Pope's complementarianism without question, but it has roots that aren't pretty ... one of JPII's sources for his beliefs about women came from Edith Stein, who thought that women actually had different kinds of souls than men. Complementarianism flies in the face of science, as this article from Nature explains ... "Sex redefined: The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that" ... http://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943 ... At the end of the day, it's just a way for the men of the church to define women and tell them what they're good for.
Berta Moritz
1 year 9 months ago
Thanks for pointing out Edith Stein's contributions. She took essentialism a bit too strongly forward, I agree with you on that, but her thoughts were important at the time to advance the cause of women and still remain valid in many facets. Her view on material and spiritual motherhood, on matrimony and viriginity, and also on the role of men should not be forgotten. With regard to the biological aspect: let's not forget that medicine never had a simplistic outlook - whole chapters in Internal Medicine talk about deviations from the male/female dichotomy, and this since 30 years or so. And now, we take this as a new finding and attach the proper constructist language to put it on Nature's froomt page.... (sorry for being so direct, but I am a biologist myself)
Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago
More about Hans Urs von Balthasar and women - an article in The Tablet by Karen Kilby: "Second Sex?" ... http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/9th-november-2013/14/karen-kilby
Mark Gotvald
1 year 9 months ago
To paraphrase Pope Peter, he probably said something like, “The reservation of the priesthood to Jewish males…is not a question open to discussion,” as Jesus only chose Jewish males to be the Apostles. He maybe followed up with, "The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on Gentile men and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” However, when challenged by Paul at the Council of Jerusalem, the Apostles decided Gentile men were as worthy as Jewish men to be Apostles and future popes. How easy was that to change the rule? Did it not directly contradict Jesus’ teaching? The same teaching that’s used to say because Jesus didn’t choose any women to be apostles, they cannot be ordained? How did the Church have that authority, but doesn’t have it to allow women priests? Does it not contradict the current hierarchy’s argument against women’s ordination? Is it not limiting the authority of the church in light of this history? In the same way, a future Council could also decide women are as worthy as Gentile men to not only be ordained but to be popes.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Apart from the whole women priest red herring, complementarity is the only interpretation that is fully honest with real men and women and the only way to ensure full human rights - for women and men and for children. A radical homogeny (as in women are just men with average lower strength & size & tastes) eliminates any argument for particular women's rights relating to physical biology (war, sports, healthcare, general physical protection, sexual abuse), maternity (presumption in law regarding children, sexual protection…), choices in life, relationships, clothing, professions… If women contribute nothing particular to the Church or society, then it is unjust to favor them in any way. They would by definition have nothing feminine to contribute. This is obviously false, and would be very detrimental to children, who obviously need mothers and fathers in different ways. The science that denies the binary nature of male and female is way overblown, ideological and contrary to all mammalian biology. To argue from very rare events (like an extra chromosome) to the norm is to get biology backwards. In the healthy "normal" biology of our species, sex is objective at the genetic, chromosomal, hormonal, physical, psychological and phenomenological level. Without it, humanity would rapidly be extinct. To deny it is to bring denial to a whole new level of unreality. The saddest part is that the spiritual depths are being missed or denied – why God explicitly made humans “male and female,” why we must honor father AND mother, why our Savior was a man, born of an immaculate mother, why He chose men for his apostles, why Our Lady is the highest created being in heaven. This is all being lost for a futile grasping of power – for a poor priestly role no one, man or women, has a right to.
Chris Miller
1 year 9 months ago
Catholic women who feel called to Priesthood are not claiming a right to the priesthood. What they ARE claiming is the right to determine whether GOD has indeed called them to priesthood---the same way that men are tested in order to determine whether God has called them to priesthood. I lucked out: When I was a college Sophomore, I wrote the editors of the various Lutheran magazines (there were three at the time) and asked: When would women be able to test whether they could become pastors. The answered varied, but the shortest time frame was 20 years or more...two years later that changed. What was different is that now I could enter the seminary, on an MDiv track with the possibility of becoming a pastor. Previously, we had been allowed to study on the MA level, but not on an ordination track. Finally, women were able to attend the same seminaries, take the same courses, serve the same internship (ie, deacon year), and stand before the faculty as to whether or not we were qualified for ministry as ordained clergy in the church. Just like the men, some made it, and a few did not. THAT is what the women in the Roman Catholic Church are asking for. No more---but no less, too. After nearly 41 years of ordained service to my church, I give thanks daily, that God has called me to this wonderful ministry I have experienced. And I pray that my sisters in the Roman Catholic Church will have this opportunity to test God's call in their lives....sooner rather than later. PR Chris
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Christine - I'm sure that as a Lutheran pastor for 41 years, you had a fulfilling and affirming life and did much good. But, I am speaking about something altogether different - a Catholic priest who is called by God to act in persona Christi, with the power given only to priests ordained by bishops in the Apostolic (Petrine) line, to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. I hold with the vast majority of Protestant pastors that their act on the alter is purely symbolic, since they never received the Eucharistic power. As to your characterization of the priesthood as an "opportunity" and one that a person can personally test and judge a calling as true or not, in the Catholic Church this is not possible. The calling requires 2 parties: the individual and the Church. A calling can only be authenticated by the Church, no matter how certain the individual feels they are called, according to Heb 5:4 "And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was."
James MacGregor
1 year 9 months ago
This certainly is an interesting article. One small point, however. The author states "...the Petrine dimension centers on leadership and initiative ..." The initiative is clear from the Gospels and Acts. But, we are left in the dark as to what leadership is referred to. There may be an underlying and hidden assumption of some sort. We read in Acts 15 that James chaired the Council of Jerusalem. That would indicate that he was probability the head of the Jewish Church at Jerusalem. Peter was but one speaker - perhaps the most important one besides Paul - at the Council. In Galatians 2 we read how Paul set Peter straight for behaving in an un-Christian manner. We do not read any name of any single leader at the Gentile Church in Antioch. Rather, we read of several: men of Cyprus and Cyrene, prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Betty Dudney
1 year 9 months ago
Thank You, Would just like to add, How and Why has God's Will for our times being ignored since the death of John Paul I? Not the second one, who took at least his name and office. All after the Pastoral Constitution of article 29 + "Gaudium Specs." of Vatican II way back in 1965 that plainly stated: "No more discrimination in regards to race or sex...within The Church as not God's Will". Has been ignored! First wrote letters, then went three times to witness and finally wrote a poorly written book I admit, but also ignored, "Equal Rights From God", Still available at Amazon.com in paperback or just $1. for ebook. Because I have seen God's Hand, know the need, not only for so many misused, abused women, but the arrogance it has caused in the male ego and soul so I know in my heart Patriarchy will not have the last word, as God is Good. All the P.R. in the world will not someday be seen for what it is, sooner or later, by the deeper pockets of the female half of God's Image! Peace Be With You. B.C. Dudney
Tom Spencer
1 year 9 months ago
It seems to me that the reasoning presented in this article, while compelling on its own terms, would not simply lead to the ordination of women priests, but rather eliminate the symbolic or spiritual meaning of sexual difference altogether. At some point the academic-disciplinary perspectives of biology, psychology, etc. miss the point. They are too immanent, or too theoretical, or something. Sometimes, working within objective constraints--especially those of revelation--is the way that truth and beauty first emerges.
Henry George
1 year 9 months ago
I suppose the question should be asked if "Original Sin" had not been committed would there any sexual/gender confusion. From what I have read only 0.03 % of humans report gender confusion. Professor Imperatori-Lee seems to be stretching the facts or at least interpreting them all too favourably to her side of the argument. God made us Male or Female for reasons known only to Him. Why some PostModern Theologians don't want to accept that truth is puzzling. Of course if they are not going to accept God's Word and Actions why would they respect the Popes ? Fr. Sawyer S.J. are you not being a tad disingenuous when you say America Magazine has no position in Women's Ordination to the Priesthood or to the Episcopacy, let alone women deacons ? Yes, America should explain why the Pope continues the tradition/discipline/will of the Lord but the voices via editorials/articles over the years do lean toward ordaining women. I have three friends who applied to the Society of Jesus - in what is now the West Coast Province. All three had to meet with a very liberal Sister who asked them if they accepted or rejected Pope John Paul II's declaration that the Church did not have the authority to ordain women as priests. The first provided a nuanced answer saying he was open to the possibility of Women Priests in due time. The second said: I will leave that question up to the Holy Spirit. The Third said: If it is good enough for the Pope it is good enough for me ! The first two became Jesuits - though both have left the Society feeling persecuted for their traditional beliefs. The Third received, the next day, a short phone call from the Vocation Director saying the Discernment Process had ended and he had been rejected. He is now an Auxiliary Bishop... Perhaps we have male souls and female souls and that makes all the difference to our Creator.
Betty Dudney
1 year 9 months ago
Many realize that reproducing or co-creating would have been one of God's main reasons for creating us physically male and female, while being The perfect God of Holy Love retains both male and femaleness of Spirit, as well as giving us Free Will, and complementary brains that work best in community when each is given equal rights and respect, impossible when insist on ruling over the other! Including only males who were allowed to write about God in Scriptures! So maybe we only have half the story?
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Henry - so, your friend was too Catholic for the Jesuits. And now he is a bishop! God surely had the last word on that vocation. As to the male and female souls, there is no doubt that Our Lady is forever female in heaven (our mother) and that those who enter heaven will be united with their male or female bodies.
Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago
***** I suppose the question should be asked if "Original Sin" had not been committed would there any sexual/gender confusion. ***** Let's recall that there was no garden of Eden where everything was swell, there was no Fall from that. We have the gender characteristics we do because that's what made it possible to survive ... evolution.
Henry George
1 year 7 months ago
Crystal, Yes, there was a Garden of Eden. God made Humans Male or Female. Yes, there was Original Sin. And yes we live in this Fallen World with Jesus, alone, as our Saviour. Put your faith in God not nature.
Carolyn Disco
1 year 9 months ago
I think warmly of the quote to the effect that "Rome has spoken; the case is closed. Let the debate begin." Thank you to a great Jesuit for the thought. In my less charitable moments, I murmur, "past time to grow up beyond fear of the feminine." Give the priest shortage more decades to overwhelm the presbyterate and see how long it takes for needed enlightenment to find expression. Necessity is a great teacher. "Be not afraid..." The Holy Spirit at work? Great article Prof. Imperatori-Lee; your words bring hope!
alan baer
1 year 9 months ago
A thousand thanks, Natalia Imperatori-Lee, for validating with gratifying substance and eloquence the sacred truth to our wounded souls.
E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 9 months ago
In the Medieval past theologians and academics discussed "how many angels could stand on the head of a pin". Today they should be concentrating on the 'unintended consequences' of major changes in Catholic doctrines, practices and procedures. One way to evaluate these ideas is to examine the results where such actions have been adopted. In England, the Church of England is a shell of its former self with less than one million attendees at Sunday service. The CofE has latched onto every liberal belief and action, which has not stemmed the loss or increased membership, and has attempted to maintain its clergy by accepting women and LGBTs What is the Church of England doing wrong to lose followers and ministers as it has married ministers, gay and female Bishops and now has adjusted to and accepted even more liberal proposals than some are considering or proposing for the Catholic Church as the panacea? Is this the future of a reformed Roman Catholic Church, another CofE? Or consider the American Episcopalian Church which has followed the CofE in adopting liberal changes. "Overall, the church has declined from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.8 million today, even as the U.S. population has more than doubled. The church has lost more than a quarter of its attendance since 2003." https://juicyecumenism.com/2015/10/09/episcopalians-continue-bleeding-members-attendance-at-alarming-rate/ Isn't it prudent to examine and study the effect of major decisions on the same or similar organizations before taking an action?
Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago
The very bottom line for a church should not be survival, it should be doing the right thing.
E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 9 months ago
"it should be doing the right thing." So, when did the Holy Spirit descend upon you with the "divine knowledge of the right thing" and why did it take 2000+ years? And among the Doctors of the Church are four female saints—Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Therese of Lisieux and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Were they kept ignorant of the "right thing"?
Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago
You seemed to be saying the Catholic church shouldn't let women be priests because the churches that have done so have lost membership. I was saying that's not a good reason to keep women from being priests.
E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 9 months ago
"The very bottom line for a church should not be survival," Obviously you are more interested in your own belief system of the"right thing" without any proof that it is the "right thing" for the Church as a whole and you are apparently not worried or concerned of the ultimate outcome. Also you should reread my original comment, concentrate on the 2nd and last sentences for exactly what should be studied and understood before actions are taken solely for the purpose of taking actions. The old proverb "Look before you leap" is still relevant.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
EP - I agree with much of what you wrote, except to say the angels-on-a-pin quote/question was never a topic of scholastic discussion in any extant medieval document, but an Anglican invention centuries later.
Anne Danielson
1 year 9 months ago
We were created through an Act of Love, and hopefully, we will be saved through the Ultimate Act of Love. There is nothing that is rigid about the fact that every act of Love will serve to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Love. https://www.ewtn.com/library/DOCTRINE/ALL-MALE.TXT
Anne Danielson
1 year 9 months ago
There Is nothing rigid about God, The Ordered Communion of Perfect Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.
Lisa Weber
1 year 9 months ago
Interesting article! Complimentarity seems to be excessively narrow and rigid plus it also has a practical translation of "men lead, speak and make all the decisions while women pick up the messes and make coffee." The issue of ordaining women to the priesthood blocks useful discussion about the role of women in the church. If women are ordained as deacons, they will have the most important part of what women need in the church and that is the right to preach at Mass.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Lisa - I never read any scholarly document on complementarity that suggested anything of the kind in your quote. While there is still a lot of sexism in the world, the answer to it is not to deny femininity or masculinity. Both have positive and negative aspects. And, Catholic history has plenty of great women, both preaching (e.g. 4 Doctors of the Church) and influence (e.g. recently Elizabeth Ann Seton, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, Catherine Laboure, Therese of Lisieux, Maria Goretti, Mother Cabrini, Faustine Kowalska, Edith Stein, Katherine Drexel, Gianna Molla, Mother Teresa of Calcutta). They all understood the concept of complementarity and were completely confident in their femininity. Here is a math analogy of complementarity. If M is not the same as F, then either M>F in some aspect and/or F>M in another aspect. For example M>F in the order of creation (Adam before Eve) and F>M in the single most created being (Mary). If M & F are two representations of Humanity (H), and are equal in at least one aspect (e.g. human dignity, child of God, etc. etc.), then to be different, they must have complementary talents/properties/aspects. The masculine must complement the feminine and vice versa, or they cannot be different and equal.
Lisa Weber
1 year 9 months ago
I do not want to deny masculinity or femininity. Men and women are different and they tend to have different but overlapping gifts. To assign only this gift to men and only that gift to women is excessively narrow and rigid. Too often complementarity is used to justify excluding women from leadership, from speaking in the church or having a voice in church decision-making. "Completely confident in their femininity" is as useless an idea as "authentic womanhood." I am confident in my femininity also, but that does not mean I think the exclusion of women from the leadership of the church is acceptable. I just think that women are allowed to think and have their own opinions, and doing so is well within the definition of "feminine." Holding your own opinion is the right of an adult and it is a right not often granted to women in this church.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
"I just think that women are allowed to think and have their own opinions." Of course, but somehow you felt a need to make that point. How often have you heard or seen written "I just think men are allowed to think and have their own opinions." I suspect never. True confidence is not having to feel the need to point this out, when no one in the conversation is even suggesting the opposite. Anyway, I too am fully supportive of women in leadership, as long as they earn it, and as long as it doesn't mess with the sacramental doctrine of the Church. I have supported many strong pro-life women for political positions in my life. the deaconate is not my call (as nothing doctrinally is my call) and for me, it doesn't apriori ring alarm bells like those clamoring for the priesthood (always for political or self-entitlement reasons). I know from your comments that you are not pushing for a reversal in this teaching. But, the way this was declared by Pope JP II, a reversal would be close to proof the Catholic Church was not the true Church. Then we would all be left to our own weak subjective interpretations and to play Church in our own pet preferences.
Lisa Weber
1 year 9 months ago
Women need to make the point that they are allowed to think and have their own opinions because that is not taken for granted in the Catholic Church. That men are allowed to think and have their own opinions is taken for granted. What does it mean to be supportive of women in leadership, especially when it comes with the conditions of "as long as they earn it" and "as long as it doesn't mess with the sacramental doctrine of the Church"? How does a woman earn a leadership position? What leadership positions are available? Do any of them offer an opportunity to speak publicly on behalf of the Church or to participate in decision-making? Yes, women are chancellors, but my guess is that almost no one can name one even if she is the chancellor in their own diocese. Who might one point to as a woman who is a national leader in the Church and speaks on behalf of the Church? There are nationally prominent Catholic women who comment on various issues, but none speak on behalf of the Church. Which women participate in Church decision-making? Perhaps a few women in the Vatican, but women have no vote in the decision-making of the Church. When women are not allowed to speak and have no authority in the Church, women have no leaders in the Church and the Church is impoverished as a result. Women leave the Church because of the lack of women in leadership. When the Church keeps women in the position of children, it stands in the way of a woman's spiritual journey. I was pondering your citation of Maria Goretti as a fine example of a woman saint. Forgiving your assailant for stabbing you to death does have some application for the discussion of how women are treated in the Catholic Church.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Lisa: Sorry, but I meant Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, rather than Maria Goretti. St. Gianna (died 1962) was an Italian pediatrician who bravely refused an hysterectomy for a tumor to save her child. But, recall that St. John Paul II forgave his assailant and no one thought that reflected a particular negative attitude about men. I fully expect all appointments for leadership, men and women, to be earned, as the alternative would be unearned and would likely be done for identity politics (e.g. gender, race, quotas, etc). Fidelity to the Pope and the Catechism should be minimum criteria, in my opinion, and I would gladly see such faithful women replace unfaithful men. I mentioned it only to separate my support from some proponents who think appointments should be made for gender reasons alone (as seems to happen in some Protestant congregations and Catholic universities) and I think that is wrong. But, Mother Teresa spoke for the Church everywhere she went, and Mother Angelica founded the largest religious media entity in the world. They didn't wait to be appointed. I certainly think more women could be appointed to speak for the Church, and to head agencies and committees (note the CRS and (Covenant house until very recently) and many hospitals are led by women). I agree more could be appointed to these roles and I think they will. This particular issue is of course unconnected to the deaconate question.
Lisa Weber
1 year 9 months ago
I didn't mean to imply that Maria Goretti forgiving her assailant gave a negative message about women - it's just that I get tired of anything that looks like glorification of "women as doormats." Agencies such as hospitals are not essential parts of the church; they are auxiliary organizations. If a woman speaks for a hospital, she is not speaking for the Church. This article made the point that gendered theology harms the Church and I agree with that. It is a long discussion that is overdue and I am glad to see progress made toward dialogue.
Bruce Giermann
1 year 9 months ago
It seems to me that Christ is the bridegroom and that the entire Church, including the hierarchy and the pope are the bride. Does Scripture say differently? Note also that the title of the Pope as "Vicar of Christ" did not come about until Pope Innocent III declared that title for himself. The prior popes were known as "Vicar of Peter." The latter title does not negate the hierarchical structure. However , I do not see the hierarchy as "bridegroom"...that title belongs only to Christ. How is it then that the hierarchy cannot be both male and female?
Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago
Still no challenge that I'm aware of from any Jesuits to what the Pope has said about women never being priests. A number of Jesuits had spoken up for women's ordination in the past (Robert Egan SJ, William Barry SJ, Thomas Reese SJ, Francis Clooney SJ, etc.) and there was that 1977 open letter in the LA Times from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley dissenting from the Vatican's 1976 declaration that women could never be priests. Why are none of these Jesuits speaking up now in response to what the pope has said?
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Crystal - perhaps, the Jesuits have recovered their fourth vow to support the pope, and defend definitive teaching (I live in hope).
alan macdonald
1 year 7 months ago
American Jesuits are very supportive of female ordination and same sex marriage. Every issue of "America" is brimming with articles on both. Their support is tangential because theses two topics are still unorthodox and careers would be destroyed with overt support. So, for now, they will push tacit support in a somewhat deceitful way.
Luis Gutierrez
1 year 9 months ago
As anyone who has read the Catechism of the Catholic Church knows, comparing Mary's ministry with the Petrine ministry is like comparing pears and apples. The Petrine ministry, and the sacrament of Holy Orders, are part of the sacramental economy. Mary accepted her unique ministerial vocation at the Annunciation, so the Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine dimension (CCC 773) and therefore precedes the sacramental economy. Mary brought us the Eucharist in the flesh, many years before the Last Supper. Sorry, but the Pope's words about Mary and the sacramental priesthood amounted to little more than pious (merciful?) lies and don't make any sense; there is no comparison between Mary's ministerial vocation, as Mother of the Redeemer, and the role of the apostles and their successors. The Virgin Mary presided at the incarnation, presided at the redemption (standing at the foot of the cross), presided at Pentecost; and she was not at the Last Supper because she was already far above the institution of the sacramental priesthood, and she is the bridge between the Old Law and the New Law. Hope this was an act of mercy toward those who are heavily invested in the patriarchal culture and ancient/modern patriarchal gender ideology; else, this is yet another (one more!) pope playing ecclesiastical politics, and someone with authority should give him a good dosage of Galatians 2:11-14.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Luis - you misinterpret the catechism and, to my shock, call Pope Francis a purveyor of pious lies. One has to be far removed from orthodoxy (and common civility) to make such an accusation? To learn more about the Petrine and Marian dimensions, I suggest one read JP II’s Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem: “It is a question of understanding the reason for and the consequences of the Creator's decision that the human being should always and only exist as a woman or a man. It is only by beginning from these bases, which make it possible to understand the greatness of the dignity and vocation of women, that one is able to speak of their active presence in the Church and in society. (MD 27, referenced in CCC #773) From footnote 55 of MD: "This Marian profile is also--even perhaps more so--fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united. ...The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. Mary Immaculate precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so, not only because Peter and the Apostles, being born of the human race under the burden of sin, form part of the Church which is 'holy from out of sinners,' but also because their triple function has no other purpose except to form the Church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary. A contemporary theologian [Balthasar] has rightly stated that Mary is 'Queen of the Apostles without any pretensions to apostolic powers: she has other and greater powers.'"
Luis Gutierrez
1 year 9 months ago
Popes can lie with impunity, and often do. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is a pious fraud. Pope Francis is no better than St Peter. If I could, would do to him what St Paul did to St Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). The Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine dimension (CCC 773) and therefore precedes the sacramental economy. All the mumbo jumbo about masculine and feminine ministerial roles is a simplistic rationalization of the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law. For the sacramental priesthood of the New Law, the "proper matter" for the sacrament is the human body, male or female. That only males can image Christ is nonsense, since Mary is the best icon of Christ. Traditionalists who oppose the ordination of women today remind me of the Judaizers who wanted to make circumcision a prerequisite for baptism. If male circumcision is not required for baptism, why should having a penis be required for ordination? The *body* is male or female, but all human beings share one and the same human nature, same flesh, with the Incarnate Word. This is made crystal clear in St John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Check it out. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. We no longer live in a world in which women are "defective males." In his humanity, this is the only "gender theory" that Jesus knew, but the risen Christ knows better, and it is hard to imagine that he wants the Church to remain frozen in the patriarchal culture that is already passing away. It behooves the Church to exercise the ministry of discernment with regard to this critical issue, rather than coming up with more pseudo-dogmatic elucubrations to evade recognizing that the patriarchal order of things is not revealed truth.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Luis - you're no St. Paul (your theories are closer to Dan Brown). But, you have gone beyond rejecting the revelation on human nature. You are now impugning the person of Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Only Begotten Son of the Father. So many similarities with Arianism. Perhaps, we can agree that everyone should read St John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and his other teachings.
Luis Gutierrez
1 year 9 months ago
Saints make mistakes. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was a terrible mistake, even though it was undoubtedly well intended. I am no St Paul, that's for sure. Else, I would do to Francis what Paul did to Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Hope someone with authority would do it. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Alpha and Omega, was NOT a male before the incarnation. God the Father is not exclusively male. Revealed truths transcend the limitation of human languages. This is made clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (239, 370, 2779). It is also made clear in the Theology of the Body, which dismantles all the ancient/modern patriarchal gender theories. For your consideration: Meditations on Man and Woman, Humanity and Nature http://pelicanweb.org/CCC.TOB.html Jesus Christ is a divine person, incarnated as a male as part of God assuming all the limitations of the human condition, including sex and gender. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, what matters is that God became flesh, not that God became male. This is not Arianism; it is simply recognition that patriarchal language is no longer normative for understanding the sacred mysteries of the faith. Take a look at the Icon of the Inexhaustible Chalice: http://orthodoxosllc.com/91-thickbox_default/icon-mother-of-god-the-inexhaustible-chalice.jpg
John Bosco
1 year 9 months ago
The argument is that Jesus discriminated against women in his work force, therefore, the Church discriminates against women in its workforce. When the premise of an argument is false, the conclusion is specious.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
Ms. Imperatori-Lee above denies that sexual difference is the most significant difference among human persons, and suggests it is like "age or race or ethnicity" But, of course sex is the most significant, from our very genetic and cellular structure, to our co-creative roles in new humans and up to eternal bodies in heaven! As Jesus noted, it is the only essential differentiation of humanity designed by the creator (“male and female he made them” Mt 19:4). I would suggest that failure to see this is the central error of modern gender ideology. It not only produces errors in religion, but also in science and society. I think gender ideology, with its misunderstanding of human nature, will be seen in future centuries as analogous to the Arian misunderstanding of divine nature. The latter was very powerful, and popular among the elites of the time (even seducing emperors, including Constantine's sons and several Gothic leaders). And Pope St. John Paul the Great could be seen as a figure like St. Athanasius, making the critical declaration of orthodoxy at the critical time in history.

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