From left to right:
Bishops Ida Raming, Patricia Fresen,
and Gisela Forster
at Pittsburgh, first US ordinations
July 31, 2006.
Twelve women were ordained
in first ordinations in
U.S. in Pittsburgh
-8 priests, 4 deacons
Claiming equal rights by using equal rites:
a response to Rosemary Radford Ruether
by Patricia Fresen
Rosemary Radford Ruether has recently written a very scholarly paper, comparing the form of ordination in RCWP with that which will be used by the MMACC community for the ordination of a new womanpriest later this month. In the paper, she puts forward good arguments against apostolic succession.
As I read Radford Ruether’s paper, I feel impelled to point out that she has missed the main reason why we our do RCWP ordinations in the way we do - and why we emphasise apostolic succession.
The main point about our claim to be ordained in apostolic succession is not that we believe that apostolic succession actually goes back to the apostles, nor that it passes on in some mechanistic way the power to ‘confect’ the Eucharist and not even that it is the only possible valid form of ordination.
The main point from the beginning of RCWP was, in fact, to claim equality for women in the church and to bring about change in the R.C. church with regard to the ordination of women. This meant, from the beginning, that we needed to be ordained in exactly the same way as the men. It is the official church that regards ordination by a bishop in apostolic succession as the only valid form of ordination in the R.C. church - and therefore there was the need to use the same process if we were to claim equality with male priests and validity of Orders. Therefore it has been important that we be ordained, like the men, by a bishop ordained in apostolic succession. Our insistence that ordination does indeed ‘take’ in a woman, despite all the traditional and contemporary arguments against this (so well described by Radford Ruether) has clearly made some impact on both the hierarchy and the people - which would not have been the case, we believe, if we had bypassed the traditional, canonical teaching about a bishop being the minister of sacred ordination.
If we had used a different form of ordination, not recognizable as the rite of priestly ordination in the R.C. church, I think we would have been much more easily laughed off or ignored by the hierarchy. Doing it their way has been the main point, first in order to claim validity of ordination and therefore equality with men in the church and secondly to bring about reform - and this certainly seems to be working. Further, the impact we are having on the
And the church’s claim that only men who share Christ’s maleness have the power to ‘confect’ (dreadful word!) the Eucharist is loudly and clearly contradicted by people’s experience, in the assembly, of ordained women presiding at Eucharist, or by the images of them on television screens, on You-tube and on photographs.
I know of several women who have been ordained, in the last ten years or so, by a community laying-on of hands without the presence of a bishop. None of these ordinations has had the slightest impact on the
I believe that, rather than our RCWP claim to apostolic succession being ‘faulty’, it has been necessary in the context of claiming equal rights for women in the church:
we claim equal rights by using equal rites! Radford Ruether’s arguments against apostolic succession, showing the confusion and the faulty teaching about it, assume that RCWP subscribes to the official view. This is not necessarily the case for many of us within RCWP. But that is the path we have needed to take, given the circumstances. It is, I am convinced, a valid path to ordination and priesthood. But we too question the theology and the faulty claims about the historicity and traditions regarding apostolic succession.
One more point: Braschi is not the bishop to whom we are referring in the statement cited by Radford Ruether taken from the RCWP website, although it would be easy to read the text in that way. Braschi did not ordain our first women bishops, but we cannot reveal the identity of the bishop who did.
Working out, within RCWP, the way forward with the MMACC community will be our next challenge and I am convinced that, together, we will find it.