Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

March 17, 2007

"WOMEN'S ORDINATION:IS IT STILL AN ISSUE?" the title of a lecture given on March 7th at Dunwoodie Seminary by Sister Sara Butler, a member of its faculty. Her answer: It is no longer an issue; the Church teaches that ordination is limited to men "by the will of Christ". She presented quite adequately the theological positions in opposition advanced by feminists but managed, in her own estimation, to set them aside, giving priority to "fundamental reasons" that "testify to the conviction that the Church knows and faithfully follows Christ's will for the ministerial priesthood..." She relied heavily on a 1977 Declaration of Pope Paul VI, the 1994 Apostolic Declaration of John Paul II that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women, and a Vatican declaration that this teaching is "infallible".

Thus is dismissed any notion of injustice and the theological concept that the priest replicates Jesus in his humanity, not in his masculinity. Priority is given to the "universal and unbroken tradition" of the Church and its "magisterium". Infallibility was long understood as an umbrella under which revealed matters of faith and morals could be shielded from the rain and winds of mystery and discussion; now it appears as an enormous roofed stadium under which a pope may assemble an unlimited number of ideas that seem to him propitious for all to hold. They become part of the "magisterium". This "creeping infallibilism" leaves little room for mystery and the "development of doctrine", as voiced by Cardinal Newman. John Paul II attempted to lock the door of the stadium by declaring that the ordination of women could no longer even be discussed! Butler did not address this touch of obscurantism. Could it indicate a lack of confidence in the intellectual strength of this magisterial position to weather open discussion?

A question period followed, in which audience members "could ask questions and "Sister will answer your questions." Hmm. Butler had pointed out that despite her firm position, the issue was "still a question". In the presence of open issues, there are those who feel that the presenter should have a more modest position. Should he or she be presented as one who knows all the answers? Or rather as one to participate in a discussion? Could it be that listeners should rather be asked to make comments or observations, as well as questions? Mindful that the occasion did not call for speeches, I put forth a question, but it required an introduction:

"Granted, Sister Butler, that this ordination doctrine you hold is valid; could it not change after the fashion of previous changes in doctrine that had been 'universal and unbroken' up until broken by change. Slavery is no longer morally acceptable as it was for centuries; the taking of money for a loan - a form of usury - was for centuries forbidden but is no longer; union of church and state, the moral ideal for centuries with democracies and its principles of free speech and press roundly condemned by many popes, is no longer acceptable." My question was a tough one, as she acknowledged by twice interrupting my examples of change that were clearly essential to my question. Her answer at the end of the long evening said, unpersuasively, that her magisterial doctrine was so interrelated to other key doctrines as to be unchangeable. But that, of course, is indeed another matter, perhaps but unlikely, for another evening.

We are left with a question once put to a mother.
"How many sacraments are there?" "Seven for my son; six for my daughter!"

March 14, 2007


Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel and his staff developed a pastoral plan for his diocese of San Christobal de la Casas in Mexico's Chiapas state. The plan, developed with input from lay men and women, noted that many of the Catholic people of the diocese had expressed a desire that married permanent deacons be ordained priests. Access to the Mass and the sacraments in an area where priests were scarce was their underlying reason.

The Vatican's Cardinal Francis Arinze last September ordered that this item be deleted from the plan. Bishop Arizmendi responded that "the faithful have a right to be heard from their pastors", a right enumerated in Canon 212. Cardinal Arinze has not as yet made known the rationale underlying his order.

Arizmendi's' diocese has an interesting history. An early bishop was Bartolome de las Casas, the famous defender of the indigenous Indian people. Arizmendi's predecessor was Don Samuel Ruiz, known for the priority he accorded to the interests and just treatment of the poor. A powerful presence, he frequently acted as a mediator between the government and the popular people's party in Chiapas. He had developed the personal diaconate program into enormouis numbers. In 2002 the Vatican suspended the permanent diaconate program in the diocese. The story, as it eked out, was that, over the years, permanent deacons died. Many of their widows, having been caught up in the spirit of bringing the gospel and Holy Communion to the people, continued their husbands' ministry. But with no further ordination of permanent deacons, eventually the ministry of the widows will come to an end.

What rationale underlies the Vatican's orders to click the "delete" button on reporting what the people think and on the permanent diaconate progam and the widows' followup, so successful in evangelization? Is there some reluctance to speak the truth?