(I recommend reading the entire essay on this link above)
July 18, 2008
Continuing the Conversation
Women & the Priesthood
Sara Butler Robert J. Egan
"Why not ordain women? In the April 11 issue of Commonweal, Robert J. Egan, SJ, invites readers to look again at this question. Egan doubts that “the tradition of excluding women from the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate” has “really been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus.” In his opinion, the tradition probably rests instead on “a mostly unexamined and partially unconscious bias for subjecting women to men’s authority and power.” Until the church honestly faces “the whole truth about our history,” he writes, Catholic women will continue to suffer a grave injustice...
..."Egan develops his argument in response to my effort to set out the logic of the church’s teaching in The Catholic Priesthood and Women (2007). He acknowledges the force of a distinction the magisterium draws between the “fundamental reasons” for the tradition of reserving priestly ordination to men and the theological arguments advanced, by way of the analogy of faith, to explain why it is “fitting...."
"What are these fundamental reasons? According to Inter insigniores (1976), the church relies on the constant and universal tradition of reserving priestly ordination to men, a tradition it traces to Jesus’ example of choosing only men to belong to the Twelve, finds confirmed in the practice of the Apostles, and has always recognized as normative for the ministerial priesthood. In Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), Pope John Paul II likewise traces the tradition to the will of Christ, known by way of his choice of twelve men. He elaborates this point by underlining Jesus’ freedom from convention in relating to women—a freedom Egan does not think Jesus really had—and by describing more fully the biblical testimony regarding his call and commission of the Apostles. John Paul asserts, for example, that Jesus appointed these twelve men to represent him, and that the ministry committed to them was not entrusted to all of the baptized.
The idea that Christ’s will for the ministerial priesthood can be known by way of his choice of men and not women to belong to the Twelve is not new. It has often been included, along with appeals to the teaching of St. Paul, among the reasons advanced by theologians for reserving the priesthood to men. Its chief patristic warrant comes from the late fourth-century bishop St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who found evidence of the Lord’s will in the fact that he called no woman to belong to the Twelve, and that no woman was appointed to succeed the apostles as bishop or presbyter. Epiphanius is confident that if Jesus did not entrust sacerdotal functions to women, it was not for lack of worthy candidates, since he had his own mother and many holy women in his company. And yet he did not call women to this office. As the author of human nature, he knew best how to assign responsibilities in his community. The “Marian” version of this reasoning, long influential in the East, was reformulated in the West by Pope Innocent III in 1210 and passed along in the canonical tradition on which Scholastic theologians relied: “Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was of higher dignity and excellence than all the Apostles, it was to them, not her, that the Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
"...Egan faults me for not fully facing up to the objections he raises, but his objections extend far beyond my brief in The Catholic Priesthood and Women. My objective was to explain why the Catholic Church reserves priestly ordination to men, not to defend the existence of the ministerial priesthood. This I take for granted. In fact, I regard it as required by Catholic faith that Jesus’ intention for this apostolic ministry is known by way of the mission he gave the Twelve, and that this office is passed on in apostolic succession by means of the sacrament of Holy Orders. This doctrine was reaffirmed and enriched at the Second Vatican Council (see Lumen gentium 18-28) and in the teaching of the postconciliar magisterium. Ordinatio sacerdotalis requires Catholics to hold that the church has no authority “to confer priestly ordination on women”—that is, to ordain women as presbyters or bishops, the two degrees of the sacrament of Holy Orders that comprise the “ministerial priesthood.” (In my book, I consistently refer to “the priesthood” rather than to “Holy Orders” or “ordained ministry,” because I intend to bracket the question of the diaconate.) ...
Robert J. Egan
"My article also ended with a question: “Has the tradition of excluding women from the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopacy really been faithful to the teaching and practice of Jesus? Or has it been part of a mostly unexamined and partially unconscious bias for subjecting women to men’s authority and power?” This was not a conclusion, but a question: “a very important question,” one that “urgently needs and deserves an open, prayerful, learned, patient, and discerning conversation among Catholics today.” ...
"... I reported that the inferiority of women to men and their subjection to the authority of men (taken for granted throughout most of the church’s history) was the explanation often given for their exclusion from ordained ministry
http://www.archny.org/seminary/st-josephs-seminary-dunwoodie/administration/sister-sara-butler/something no one denies. Whether or not it was the main factor that dictated this exclusion is a question I suggested deserves prayerful discussion among us.
.."We know there were different forms of governance and types of ministry in the early Christian communities. There was no single structure, the same in every place. It isn’t my opinion but our common faith that the church’s life unfolds under the influence of the Spirit. It seems apparent that different kinds of assistance, leadership, and service evolved gradually, and only gradually became identified with particular offices, and subsequently with “priesthood.” But during these developments, references were, in fact, being made to several key biblical passages that became influential, including references to the commissioning of the Twelve. "
"To make all this an issue about me is misleading. None of this discussion is a personal idiosyncrasy on my part. It reflects aspects of the work—not just of Anglicans and Protestants—but of many Catholic scholars as well, including Paul Bernier, Raymond E. Brown, John J. Burkhard, John N. Collins, Bernard Cooke, Alexandre Faivre, Richard R. Gaillardetz, Daniel J. Harrington, Richard P. McBrien, John P. Meier, Nathan D. Mitchell, Thomas F. O’Meara, Kenan B. Osborne, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Carroll Stuhlmueller, and Francis A. Sullivan, among others. In particular, important work has been done in recent years on the meaning of “the Twelve,” the distinct category of “apostles,” and the origins and development of the roles of presbyter, overseer, and deacon, much of it in the years since the promulgation of Inter insigniores (1976). It is, I believe, mainly Butler’s neglect of this literature that is at the heart of the conflict between us. "
..." As a Catholic theologian and a Jesuit, I do not dispute the sacramentality of ordination, the idea of apostolic succession, the hierarchical structure of the church, the role of tradition and the magisterium in the interpretation of Scripture, or the teaching authority of the church, although I think commanding the assent of the faithful is unlikely to produce fruitful results in our present situation.
..."The church’s understanding and teaching has developed over two millennia. On some subjects it has remained substantially the same. On others, it has changed dramatically, in ways that could not have been foreseen: on slavery, women’s inferiority, the divine right of kings, the uses of torture, the status and dignity of the Jewish people, the execution of heretics, the idea of religious liberty, the moral legitimacy of democratic governments, the indispensability of Thomism, and the structure of the universe itself. New questions arise, and new horizons open, cultures themselves are transformed, and the fund of human knowledge changes... "
Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT, teaches at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. Her Cardinal Cooke Lecture on the subject of the ministerial priesthood is available on her faculty page.
about the writer
Robert J. Egan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, teaches theology and spirituality at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.