Dawn Eden sent me a link to this cool article.
YONKERS – Polls generally show that 50 percent to 60 percent of Roman Catholics in the United States believe that women should be eligible for the priesthood.
Sister Sara Butler understands this impulse – because she once felt the same way. In 1978, she headed a task force of the Catholic Theological Society of America that came out in support of female priests.
But as she continued her work as an increasingly prominent theologian, her thinking began to change. Now, in a new book – "The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church" – she attempts to explain the underpinnings of the all-male priesthood to doubters and skeptics who think the way she used to.
"The tradition is traced to the will of Christ, not to decisions made by the church," Butler said last night at St. Joseph’s Seminary, where she has taught for four years.
The church’s teachings must be better explained, she said, because many Catholics see the all-male priesthood as a symbol of patriarchal power and sexism, and many more who stay silent are probably befuddled.
"Their confidence in the church’s teaching authority has been badly eroded," she said.
Several hundred priests, nuns, seminarians and lay visitors greeted Butler with sustained applause, a measure of their respect for her and their approval of the church’s position.
Critics of the all-male priesthood were in short supply.
Butler made Catholic history two years ago when she became one of the first two women appointed to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, an influential group that advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"This appointment places Sister Sara among the highest-ranking women in our church today," Monsignor Peter Finn, rector of the seminary, said when introducing her.
Butler made the case last night that the all-male priesthood is grounded in Jesus’ choice of 12 male apostles and the Catholic Church’s sustained understanding of what this meant for the priesthood.
"The answer is discovered in a tradition of practice that is traced back to the Lord’s choice of the 12," she said.
To change the church’s traditional understanding of the priesthood, she said, would be to change the priesthood itself and disconnect the church from the apostles, ending what Catholics believe to be their church’s God-given power to teach.
…Polls continue to show that Catholics are divided. But Cardinal Francis George of Chicago hopes that Butler’s book will alter the conversation. "If this book is well used," he writes in a blurb, "it will change the presently sterile discussion of who can be ordained to the Catholic priesthood."
We hear so much in the press about dissenters on the issue of women’s ordination that it is truly nice to see one from a person now inline with Church teaching. Another nice thing about the article is that the usual critics are not trotted out for a refutation, though there is too much emphasis on polls. Christianity and polls have a bad track record – just ask Jesus when he asked "Who do men say that I am?" Only one got it right and he had help from an outside source – the Holy Spirit.
Growing up, I had the position that women should eventually be in the priesthood, but I was under the opinion that society wasn’t ready for it. How many people would not take the woman seriously? I thought the entire culture had to change for the woman to be able to do the role well. But that was because I looked at the role of the priest as primarily a teacher, basically the same way protestants see their pastor.
I also lacked an understanding in the roles God gave men and women. To me, they seemed arbitary roles that would be impressed upon people regardless of whether or not the personality and individuality of the person did not match the role well. Overall, the attitude was that men and women aren’t different, individuals are different. I even used to argue with my mom about how she said dad was the leader of the family. I was like “Now you’re equals. You need discuss things out and come to an agreement.”
Its a total misunderstanding of equality, of the nature God gave men and women, of what the roles actually are, a misunderstanding of what leadership should be, and a misunderstanding of role of the priest. There’s so much a person has to change their mind about in order to understand why women can’t be priests. And while I once held that position, I find it so difficult to articulate why that position is wrong. Its difficult because the image we have of the woman’s role is one of simply allowing the man to dominate over you, to be not a wife, but a slave. To have no voice and to utterly surpress your personhood.
But that is not what the role of women are and its so hard to get people past those stereotypes.
I think also it is difficult for people (especially Americans) to accept authority. When my husband (who is a convert from the Southern Baptist tradition) understood what the authority of the Church meant, everything else (Marian devotion, the priesthood, etc) fell into place. Catechesis is so important yet is sorely lacking in so many Parishes/Diocese!
Here’s the thing though, 99% of the people who dissent on these issues could care less what the will of God is so I doubt she’ll reach many hearts. Further, as bad as the catechesis has been the last forty years, the Church has always been quite clear on the issue. Pope John Paul II couldn’t have made the teaching more clear in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, yet they snub their noses at that too.
I was blessed to have Sister Sarah as my Christology Professor – and I am edified by her story. She had an opinion (that women should be ordained) which was a dissent from established church teaching (doctrine, not discipline) so she went about it as an academic and what happened? She actually did real research (to find the truth, not simply to back the conclusions she had already drawn) The research led her to embrace and even to fiercely defend the timeless position of the Church. Bravo! If only the other dissenters were as sincere and honest!
I was fortunate to have her as a teacher when I was in the Seminary. She was awesome. She taught Christology and if you weren’t careful in what you said you might have been called a heretic.
Neat! A nun I can respect. I wonder if she wears a habit?
Bless this nun. She makes great points about womens roles, and why the priesthood is not one of them. I may have found a good book to read.
Don’t you love it when that happens? The person who has held an erroneous conviction and then has the courage to admit she was wrong and teach the truth in all its beauty makes the best sort of witness!
I don’t agree that 99% of dissenters don’t care about God’s will. In my experience, MOST of them are certain they are following God’s will by their charity or sense of justice. The cause of their conviction may be subjective, but that their conviction is deeply embedded is what makes it difficult to convince them otherwise. Loyalty (no matter how misplaced) and conscience (no matter how disordered) become intertwined with the issues over which they dissent.
Sister Sarah could use lots of prayer support now. No doubt she will be considered a traitor by persons she has supported in the past.