Two statements -- two diametrically opposed positions on women's ordination -- have come out this week and they make us ask what the future of our Church will, or should, be.
The Church of Yesterday
This is what Pope Benedict XVI had to say about women's ordination in the latest collection of interviews with him -- the one that is lighting up the mass media more for his remarks on condoms. L'Osservatore Romano, 11/21/2010, published this excerpt in Italian and we have translated it into English:
"The wording of John Paul II is very important: 'The Church does not have the right to confer priestly ordination on women in any way.' It's not about not wanting to, but not being able to. The Lord gave shape to the Church with the Twelve and then with their own succession, with the bishops and presbyters (priests). We were not the ones who created this form of Church, but rather it was constituted by Him. Following it is an act of obedience, perhaps one of the toughest acts of obedience in the present situation. But this is important, that the Church show it's not an arbitratry regime. We can't do what we want. Instead, there is God's will for us, which we follow, although this is tiring and difficult in the culture and civilization of today.
"Among other things, the responsibilities entrusted to women in the Church are so big and meaningful that one can't talk about discrimination. It would be so if the priesthood were a kind of domination, while on the contrary it should be completely service. If you take a look at the history of the Church, then you realize that the significance of women - from Mary to Monica up to Mother Teresa - is so prominent that in many ways women define the face of the Church more than men. "
I was almost prepared to believe that Benedict XVI really wanted to ordain women but felt his hands were tied until I got to the point where he dismisses the importance of access to the priesthood by saying that it's not about domination, it's about service. O.K., Your Holiness. So when are we going to see nuns be able to become bishops and cardinals and popes? The entire leadership structure of the Roman Catholic Church is not accessible unless you are born with male genitalia. Not about domination? Who has the last word in a parish? I can't think of a single parish where it's a woman. If women "define the face of the Church", perhaps it's time to consider allowing them to BE the face of the Church!
The Church of Tomorrow
The Pope thinks the Church is powerless to ordain women, but a brave priest in Australia, Fr. Greg Reynolds, pastor of three parishes in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, not only believes the Church can ordain women but, in a homily to his flock two months ago which he mailed to his Archbishop, he argues that the time has come.
"I am convinced in my heart that it is God's will that we should have women priests...I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to share my position publicly, and yet very reluctantly...I believe certain women are being called by God to the ministerial priesthood, and our official church is obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit. I feel I can no longer sit back and remain silent."
Fr. Reynolds, who has been a Catholic priest for 30 years, was told by Archbishop Denis Hart that he risked being dismissed if he went public with his position. Fr. Reynolds is expecting this outcome, but says that he believes in loyal dissent and that the Church needs people who will speak the truth. "Generally I feel at peace and right about what I am doing," Fr. Reynolds said.
What continually amazes me about these cases in particular is: Here is a man who has not made any waves for thirty years. He has just been a quiet, hard-working parish priest. And yet he is willing to risk his entire livelihood to stand up for justice for women. That's why we should keep Fr. Reynolds in our thoughts and prayers and also pray for the Catholic clergy we know who support women's ordination -- that they will have the courage to go public as Fr. Reynolds has, whatever the cost.