The Vatican has issued new guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse (which in principle is to be welcomed), and included in those guidelines a declaration that the “attempted” ordination of women is to be classed among the “delicta graviore“.
That women’s ordination is to be linked with paedophilia is so ludicrous that I will not even attempt to discuss the stupidity. Likewise, I will not discuss the abuse guidelines until I have properly scrutinized the original document. However, the Vatican horror at women’s ordination is highly topical in the light of events elsewhere, and worth some consideration. Before coming to the Vatican statement though, let us take a quick refresher in recent history, in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and in women’s ordination in other denominations.
Did you realise that women priests have been around for over two centuries? As early as the late eighteenth century in England, John Wesley allowed for female office-bearers and preachers.
Here are just a few notable dates over that period:
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- 1807: The Primitive Methodist Church in Britain first allowed female ministers.
- 1853: Antoinette Brown Blackwell was the first woman ordained by a church belonging to the Congregationalist Church. The Congregationalists later merged with others to create the United Church of Christ, which ordains women.
- 1879 The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy
- 1917: The Congregationalist Church (England and Wales) ordained their first woman, Constance Coltman (née Todd) at the King’s Weigh House, London
- 1920’s: Some Baptist denominations started ordaining women.
- 1948: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark started to ordain women
- 1956: The Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first female minister, Margaret Towner.
- 1960: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden started ordaining women
- 1967: The Presbyterian Church in Canada started ordaining women.
- 1971: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Joyce Bennett and Jane Hwang were the first regularly ordained priests.
- 1972: Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi to be ordained in Reform Judaism, and also the first female rabbi in the world to be ordained by any theological seminary.
- 1976: The Anglican Church in Canada ordained six female priests..
- 1977: The Anglican Church of New Zealand ordained five female priests.
- 1977: On January 1, 1977, Jacqueline Means became the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church 11 women were “irregularly” ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, before church laws were changed to permit women’s ordination. They are often called the “Philadelphia 11.” Church laws were changed on September 16, 1976.
Note particularly this last entry for 1977, when 11 women were “irregularly” ordained against formal church rules, but with the cooperation of sympathetic bishops, exactly as the Roman Catholic Womenpriests have been. This later forced the formal approval of female priests in the Episcopalian Church. Today, an increasing number of Anglican and Episcopalian priests, and a majority of new candidates, are female. Initially, restrictions were placed on their elevation to bishoprics, but that has now gone. There will be female bishops in the UK from 2012, as there already are in the US (which is headed by a woman), Australia and many other countries, and in many denominations.
The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement began exactly as the US Episcopalians did, with irregular ordinations by sympathetic bishops. Since then, the same sympathetic bishops ordained three women Catholic bishops, who have since trained and ordained a number of new priests, in the US and in Europe, including not only women, but also married and openly gay men. With a critical shortage of priests in the regular clergy, these priests are having no difficulty finding congregations to serve, and their numbers are increasing steadily. My guess is that “irregular” or not. in time, they too will come to outnumber the “approved” candidates in training. No wonder the Vatican is worried.
The point is that this is not about the priesthood being uniquely reserved by Scripture for women, or there would not be the extensive range of Protestant denominations, many of them fervently committed to Scripture, which have approved women for priesthood. Rather, it’s a means of maintaining and enforcing Vatican control. The knowledge that unnamed Catholic bishops have ordained women as priests and later as bishops, that others have continued to assist and co-operate with them, and that ordinary Catholics are accepting them as priests, is clear evidence that their grip on total control of Catholic minds has slipped dramatically – just as public support for gay marriage has done in Portugal and Argentina, and the widespread disregard for Humanae Vitae did earlier.
This is to be welcomed as a sign of Catholic maturity.
In her useful commentary (written before the document was published, Mary Hunt notes the contrast between the Protestant churches taking decisions in summer open and transparent summer assemblies, the Vatican simply dictates new rules from on high. She also notes that the simple fact that the Vatican has taken formal notice, is a reliable sign that they are worried. She believes that
the Vatican is obviously worried that the tide has turned against it inside as well as outside.
by drawing attention to women’s ordination, even if it is a tactic to distract attention from the pedophilia crimes and cover-ups, the Vatican is signaling its own desperate situation. Rumors of internal dissention in the Vatican ranks are rampant.
She sees the same good news that I do – that increasingly, Catholics will simply disregard unrealistic rules and regulations, and gives some good examples.Read her full post at Religion Dispatches magazine.
- Another Woman Priest – Santa Barbara (queertheology.blogspot.com)
- Woman is ordained as Catholic priest in Canada (globalnation.inquirer.net)
- Heeding the Call of the Spirit: Women Priests in Santa Barbara (gaymystic.blogspot.com)
- Defying the Vatican, Catholic Women Claim Their Priesthood (time.com)
- Woman in Priestly Garb Sounds ‘a Great Echo’ (nytimes.com)
- Women Priests Scare the Pope Worse Than Child Rapists (womensrights.change.org)
- Do the new Vatican norms really equate ordaining a woman with raping a child? (farfromrome.blogspot.com)
- What British Catholics Believe, vs Vatican Doctrine. (opentabernacle.wordpress.com)