CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I write in response to recent local newspaper articles, including Diane Winston's commentary in the Aug. 11 Sunday Gazette-Mail and Chuck Smith's op-ed on March 25.
The Bishop of Rome has stated that the Catholic Church does not consider herself authorized to admit women to the priesthood. If he were to do so, he would forfeit his role as the successor of St. Peter "to strengthen his brethren" and protect and pass on the Apostolic Tradition.
In calling only men as his apostles, Christ acted freely, emphasizing the dignity and the vocation of women, unafraid to challenge the prevailing customs and laws of the day.
The Catholic Church centered in Rome and the Catholic Churches of the East, i.e. Byzantine, Greek, Maronite, Coptic, Melkite etc and the Orthodox Churches of the East, i.e. Greek, Russian, Coptic, Syrian Antiochian etc, trace their origins/teachings to the 12 apostles through Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria. If any of these Apostolic Churches were to act unilaterally to ordain women to the priesthood, they would be in heresy and cause a schism similar to that of 1054 A.D. that divided the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches.
Apostolic churches have not, do not, and will not ordain women to the priesthood. Neither do those Protestant churches that trace their origins and teachings to Martin Luther (Lutherans), John Knox (Presbyterians), John Smyth (Baptists), John and Charles Wesley (Methodists) and to the founders of other denominations since the 16th century. These religious leaders did away with both the notion of "sacrifice" and of priests whose primary function is to offer sacrifice. Thus, they decided not to ordain anyone to priesthood. Expanding the definition of "ordination," these Reformation churches "invested (men and later women) with ministerial functions." Protestant ministers are not and do not claim to be priests. Catholic/Orthodox Churches ordain priests who offer sacrifice as our worship services make very clear.
Since apostolic times, Catholics and Orthodox have taught the doctrine strongly promoted by Protestants that all Christians are called to ministry and service by Baptism in what is termed "the priesthood of believers." Reacting to Protestantism's stress on this very sound doctrine of "common priesthood," the Catholic Church minimized the role of the laity and emphasized the ministry of ordained deacons, priests and bishops. Now, no longer defensive, the Catholic Church again emphasizes all are called to ministry and service similar to that of Protestant clergy.
Since Henry VIII, the Anglican Communion has shunned the designation "Protestant," even though, in the coronation oath, the monarch of England states, "I solemnly and sincerely profess ... that I am a faithful Protestant." The Anglican Communion initially ordained only men to its priesthood and, much later, also ordained women to its priesthood. The Episcopal Church in America, contrary to the directives of the worldwide Anglican Communion, also ordains women to the episcopacy. In England and throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, this practice is a contentious and divisive issue, one that pales in comparison with the desire/decision of some Anglican Provinces to ordain sexually gay men and women to its priesthood and episcopacy.
Is the complaint that "women may only fill ecclesial roles subordinate to men" more true in the Catholic Church than it is in other religious groups? Some say these other religious groups give only token representation to women and minority groups." Have critics of the Catholic Church posed the question of ordination to priesthood/religious ministry to the Orthodox Churches, the Protestant churches, Judaism or Islam?
Catholic women broke the "glass ceiling" centuries ago when Catholic nuns administered large monasteries, large hospitals, and large school systems. Today, there is quite possibly a higher percentage of Catholic female hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lawyers, college and university presidents, educators, bankers, military officers, educated mothers and housewives and other professionals than there is in any other religious group. "From a broad spectrum of economic, social, ethnic and educational backgrounds, Catholic women have successfully used their God-given gifts to make major contributions to Christian thought, life and culture."
Over the centuries Catholic women have served as "missionaries and martyrs, reformers and peacemakers, pioneers and prophets, teachers and humanitarians, mystics and writers of spiritual literature." They have lived the gospel in a variety of ways responding to the particular needs of the time and circumstances. I did not need Pope Francis to tell me that women are more important in the Church than priests and bishops. I have known it since my earliest days, and nuns and other Catholic women have proven it time and again.
Furthermore, what institutions down the centuries and throughout the world, have done or are doing more than the Catholic Church to raise the dignity and status of women, to educate women, to eliminate polygamy, both polygyny and polyandry, to eliminate honor killings, rape, sex-trafficking, prostitution, indentured servitude, genital mutilation and AIDS. These ministries are being performed by Catholic nuns recruited, supported and working under the aegis of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Someone please tell me the names of any groups that have or are doing more for women than the Catholic Church has done or is doing.