What British Catholics Believe, vs Vatican Doctrine.

Once again, two opinion polls (for ITV, and for the BBC) have demonstrated what we all know, but pay insufficient attention to: the enormous chasm that divides Catholic belief as is is, and what Vatican doctrine proclaims it ought to be.


On the ministry itself, whether it is priestly celibacy or women’s ministry, and especially on all matters of sexual ethics, what British Catholics in fact believe is very different from what the Vatican functionaries proclaim it ought to be. This is no surprise – exactly the same pattern is found the world over – only the detailed numbers change, not the basic fact of divergence. Read the rest of this entry »

Yet Another Woman Bishop: Ho, Hum.

While the Vatican wrings its hands over the “grievous sin” of the attempted ordination of women, yet another woman, Rev. Teresa Snorton, has been ordained bishop, this time in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, in Mobile, Alabama. She is just the latest among many women formally recognized as bishop in modern times, including at least two lesbians:  Eva Brunne of the Swedish Lutheran Church, and Mary Glasspool, Episcopalian bishop in LA.

The Anglican communion has been ordaining women as bishop for over twenty years (the first was Barbara Clementine Harris, in Massachusetts, back in 1989). Since then there have been 17 more, including Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is now the first female primate of an Anglican region. There are also Anglican bishops in New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Cuba (yes, really!).  The Church of England has approved the principle of women bishops, to tale effect from 2012. Female bishops have also been approved, but not yet appointed, by Anglican churches in Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America,  Ireland,  Japan,  Mexico,  North India,  Philippines,  Scotland, Southern Africa,  and Sudan.

The United Methodist Church in the US was the first mainline Protestant denomination to appoint a woman as bishop, Marjorie Matthews in 1980. There have been 2o more since. In Germany, Rosemarie Wenner has been the leading bishop in the United Methodist Church since 2005. The Lutheran church in Germany also  has women bishops, as they do across Europe. In the UK, the Lutheran Church ordained their first woman bishop, Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, in January 2009.

Don’t forget either the bishops of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement, South African Patricia Fresen, Austrian Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and German Gisela Forster, or the powerful abbesses of the medieval church, whose authority in some instances exceeded that of their local bishops.

So, without any disrespect to Rev. Snorton, her selection as a female bishop, is of consequence primarily to her local community, her denomination, and her family and friends.  The ordination of female bishops, let alone priests, is now old news. Will someone please tell the Vatican?

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Kentucky native becomes first woman bishop of her denomination

The Rev. Teresa Snorton, a Hopkinsville, Ky., native who earned degrees at both of Louisville’s seminaries and started her ministry here, has become the first woman bishop in the 140-year history of her denomination. Read the rest of this entry »

Pedophilia, Women Priests, and Kid Gloves for the Legion

Amid a welter of excellent commentary on the mad coupling of pedophilia and women’s ordination, Nihil Obstat makes a different comparison: she notes that in  the same week as the latest madness, Pope Benedict has appointed Archbishop Velasio De Paolis to take control of the finances and assets of the Legionaries of Christ.  The need for an outsider to take control of the vast fortune was obvious. The extraordinary, horrifying part is the mild words in the news release about the problem’s of the order, and the legacy of its founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who is said to have ” fathered children and was guilty of other crimes.”

That has to place first as the wryest, drollest, understatement of the year.

Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado raped and sexually abused underage seminarians and priests; kept mistresses on two continents; fathered at least three children; raped his sons; lied, cheated and stole his order’s money to support an illicit lifestyle.  He was aided and abetted by senior members of the Legion.  The organization was maintained by secrecy and deceit.

In the Zenit article Archbishop De Paolis said it is understandable that some Legionaries are “going through difficult moments, that some have already thought of a different path.” He cautioned that the “vocation is something too serious to be able to make a decision about it in a moment of disorientation.”

Maciel’s key supporters in the Vatican, who provided him with a protective shield, included Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state from 1991 to 2006; Cardinal Eduardo Martinez, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz, the Polish secretary of late Pope John Paul II.

Fr. Maciel’s biggest enabler was Pope John Paul II himself.  Maciel brought in money and men to the priesthood; and that balanced the account as far as the pope was concerned.

Ponder this for a minute…..senior members of the Vatican hierarchy protected a serial molester and rapist, a priest that had several children with two different women—because this man had created an organizational structure that attracted seminarians and espoused traditional values and practices.

At the same time, they have set into place the most savage penalties for bishops and women who want to become priests, and refuse to consider the issue of priestly celibacy.

-(Read the full post)

No wonder that she says she is herself now “disoriented” by the events of the week.

Related articles


Women Ordained Catholic Priests?

At The Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has reported on the latest in a series of ordinations of  women as Catholic priests:

“Yesterday in Minneapolis, the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement hosted its Sixth Midwest Region Ordination – an event that drew over 500 people to witness the ordination of one woman to the deaconate, and three women to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.”


Now, I have no intention of repeating Michael’s story:  there is no need, when he does such a good job himself.  Cross over to the Wild Reed and get the full story there.  Then, in the days ahead, read the follow up series which he has promised will be forthcoming at the Progressive Catholic Voice.

But this story resonates with two themes that I have returned to repeatedly on this site, and it is these that Iwant to pick up on here.

On the issue of womenpriests itself, personally I am ambivalent.  I support the principle, and respect the calling in conscience, but am unsure about the validity and strategy employed.  Here is a comment from Thom, and my reply, the last time I wrote about womenpriest ordination. (The “vid”  Thom refers to was an extract from a previous ordination service, taken from the womenpriest website):

Other issues aside, I’m not sure what she’s saying in that first vid, but it isn’t a Mass. No one- menpriests nor womenpriests- have the authority to tailor the liturgy at will. The sacrament and prayer that unites us all, male and female, is universal.

And what is the purpose of the priesthood if everyone gathered may consecrate the Body and Blood? Why seek Holy Orders at all?

I don’t get it. At all.

And my response:

I agree Thom, that the liturgy needs to be treated with respect. Personally, I am deeply conflicted on this. BUT my experience and belief is that when authority attempts to impose excessive restrictions by compulsion, it loses respect and then loses all control.

To maintain a semblance of order, the Church should be stimulating proper and reasoned debate, not simply stifling all dissent.

This is exactly what I was referring to yesterday, writing about sexual theology, when I noted that if authority tries to enforce regulations that lack popular support, people end up simply ignoring the rules:  first the small ones, as with masturbattion and contraception, then the big ones – as with women’s ordination.  Eventually, the very notion of law and rules come into disrespect, and the power in question simply loses all authority (which is an important part of the end of apartheid in South Africa).

“Today, as we ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood, Roman Catholic Womenpriests Midwest region, we stand in union with you, the People of God, as our public liturgy re-dresses an injustice in the Roman Catholic Church that continues to deny ordination to women. We commit ourselves in an act of prophetic obedience that listens to the Spirit from our hearts, that listens to the signs of the times, and that listens in community where the Spirit moves and awakens us to new levels of awareness.” (my emphasis).

This is just one example among many, but one the more dramatic, of honest and sincere people acting in clear conscientious dissent from Vatican orthodoxy.  Until the hierarchy changes its approach to dealing with disagreement, there will be many more.

The second theme I want to pick up on here is the abuse of history.  Consider this, from the accompanying booklet:

“We stand, too, as women and men of the long view. Historical and archaeological evidence reveals that women served as deacons, priests, and bishops from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD: Deacons Phoebe, Sophia, and Maria; Priests Leta and Vitalia; and Bishops Theodora and Alexandra.” (my emphasis).

Did you know about Bishops Theodora and Alexandra?  Or the priests Leta and Vitalia? or the women deacons?  Well, did you?

Nope, me neither.

But then, before I read John Boswell, Alan Bray, Mark D Jordan and others, I also did not know about Bishop Paulinus of Nola who wrote erotic love poems to his boyfriend, but was still recognised as a saint; or of Bishop Ralph of Orleans, boyfriend of the Archbishop of of Tours, and of other bishops and the king, who was consecrated in 1098 over strong objections- made on the grounds of his youth, not his sexuality;  nor that the first generally accepted church condemnation of homosexuality did not come until the 3rd Lateran Council;  nor that for many centuries, the Church in both East and West had rites to bless liturgically same sex relationships, and buried many such couples in shared graves, with monuments and memorials inside churches which strongly resemble those of married couples;  nor……

But you get the picture.  For all that the Vatican likes to proclaim that the church has “always” and “unanimously” objected to same sex relationships, the evidence from secular scholars flatly contradicts this. As gay men & lesbians, the official church historians have simply airbrushed us out of their versions of history.

I have no independent knowledge of Bishops Theodora and Alexandra, or the priests Leta and Vitalia.  But I am satisfied that there is a lost history of women in the early church, just as there is for gay men. All educated, thinking Catholics should be at least considering and exploring the implications of these histories.  In this, we depend on the evidence of secular historians, such as Boswell and Brooten. We certainly cannot rely on Vatican officials to supply a reliable history.


Macy, Gary:  The Hidden History of Womens Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West
Kramer & D’Angelo: Women & Christian Origins
Madigan & Osiek: Ordained Women in the Early Church
Bernadette Brooten: Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism

Womenpriests’ website
Womenpriests’ photogallery

Wild Reed: Revealing a Hidden History
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit

Queering the Church:  God’s Tricksters, Prophetic Vision and Justice in the Church

Huffington Post: Roman Catholic Women Priests Growing in Numbers (June 2009)

Give me Back That Old Time Religion


Gary Macy, a historical theologian, has an article at National Catholic Reporter prompted by the Vatican “Visitation” to US women religious. Macy reminds us in this article that this very concept would have been unthinkable until fairly recently in church history.  Quoting just one example, he notes that

“The abbess (of Las Huelgas near Burgos in Spain) had the power to appoint parish priests for the countryside subject to the convent of Las Huelgas, some 64 villages. No bishop or delegate from the Holy See could perform a visitation of the churches or altars or curates or clerics or benefices under the care of the abbess. The abbess of Las Huelgas was even able to convene synods in her diocese and to make synodal constitutions and laws for both her religious and lay subjects.”

Trappings of the modern church?

Read the rest of this entry »