Thursday, April 5, 2018

"A Theological Key for Ordaining Women Re-visiting the argument forbidding Women’s Ordination" (revised 2018) Clare Julian Carbone ARCWP, Salt Lake City

Left to right: Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP, Clare Julian Carbone ARCWP at priestly ordination in Salt Lake City

In 1994 Pope John Paul II declared in his encyclical, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, “The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women".  He substantiated his papal pronouncement with reference to, “the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men”.
The unquestioned logic presented here (ie. Jesus was male and chose only male apostles therefore the Church has no authority to ordain women) has been presented to the Church’s faithful as the unalterable ecclesiastical stance on the subject.  Pope Francis, in his faithfulness to Church teachings, has adhered strictly to this position.  In faithfulness to Jesus, however, and the inclusive message of the Gospel he entrusted to us, I am compelled to question the validity of this argument. Did Jesus really mean to forever establish a male dominated system of power within the Church? Was this not the very kind of political structure he came to dismantle?  Are there other theological and scriptural implications which assist us to better understand Jesus’ intentions in choosing the original twelve disciples as his close associates?
In a recent NCR article Christian Weisner wrote “When asked, Pope Francis has declared the door to priesthood closed to women. But he does after all use the image of a door, and for this door, maybe a theological key may be found. [1] This paper will        re-examine the validity of the argument presented in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and attempt to offer a theological key for opening the door to women’s ordination.

Genesis 3 reassures us that the human person was created in the image of God, male and female, without prejudice to either gender. St. Paul’s admonition in his letter to the Galatians continues to assert that gender has no bearing (whatsoever!) on one’s capacity to be identified with Christ: ”There is neither male nor female”, he declares, “but all are one in Christ Jesus.”  Paul further clarifies that it is Baptism, not gender, which specifically activates our identification with Christ and our capacity to image him, “You who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” [2].  The words written on a popular bumper sticker perhaps best capture the essence of Paul’s meaning: “Ordain women, or stop baptizing them!”
St. Paul further acknowledges the presence of many women in the early Church who were considered “fellow workers” as they carried out a variety of ministries including that of apostle, presbyter, deacon, and teacher.  In his Letter to the Romans Paul refers to a woman apostle named Junia, whom he describes as “outstanding”, and to a woman deacon named Phoebe, whom he also highly commends.[3] 
Most notable of course among the women who followed Jesus and served in the early Church is Mary Magdalene. In the third century she was named, “the Apostle to the Apostles” by Bishop Hippolytus of Rome in recognition of her formal commission by the risen Christ to be the witness and messenger of his resurrection.[4]  Mary’s apostolic commission by the risen Christ to proclaim his resurrection to Peter and the male disciples began the Church’s fundamental message of Easter.  It does not seem unreasonable to presume that the Church would not have hesitated to acknowledge this particular commission as yet another affirmation of a male only priesthood if it had been Peter, not Mary, whom Jesus selected for this task. Instead the Church, over the centuries, has regrettably obscured the ramifications of Mary’s unique calling and witness. 
But what do we make of the original twelve male disciples whom Jesus seems to have selected in a particular way? What was Jesus’ purpose in choosing these men to be his close associates?  Was it really to maintain patriarchal leadership among his followers or was something else intended?  Might Jesus have been attempting to convey to these men something they did not yet grasp? Was his intimate presence to them meant instead to create a paradigm shift in their consciousness?
To assist us with this premise let us imagine for a moment Jesus coming to America in our own day and age and selecting a group of individuals from an alt right community to follow him.  Some might strongly insist that Jesus selected these individuals to affirm their ideology and ensure that this world view be perpetuated after his departure. Others might convincingly argue, given Jesus’ teachings on love and forgiveness, that he chose these individuals to teach and expose them to a more inclusive, diversified way of being true citizens.  
Similarly, it may be argued that Jesus’ intention in choosing the original twelve males was not to validate the generally accepted orientation towards male supremacy but to expose it as contrary to God’s way. Jesus worked intimately with these men, not for the purpose of ensuring a system of patriarchal rule among his followers, but as a means of transforming their self-perceptions and deepening their understanding of Divine inclusive love.  Such a visceral shifting in their innate self-regard would require an initiation of intense focus. Thus we have the choosing of the twelve original companions as men to be initiated into a new way of understanding their humanity. 
If such a dismantling of the traditional structures of power and patriarchal rule was indeed Jesus’ primary meaning in calling these twelve men, did the women, who were generally the objects of male domination, really need to be part of this particular group and its intended orientation? Let us examine now the teaching opportunities Jesus engaged in with both his male companions and with the women he encountered as we consider these alternate perspectives.
Basic to the formation of the twelve was Jesus’ instruction to not “lord it over” but instead to consider themselves “slaves and servants”.[5] Just hours before his death, as if to seal into their memory the primacy of this teaching, Jesus would assume the posture of a slave and humbly stoop to wash the feet of his disciples. Peter in particular expressed resistance to such a radical gesture, which purpose, according to theologian Beatrice Bruteau, was to bring about “a mutation in consciousness”.  She writes, “[i]to be in Christ is to enter into the revolutionary events of Holy Thursday by experiencing the archetypal death and resurrection, letting an old modality of consciousness die and seeing a new one rise to live”.[6]

Jesus would continue to challenge Peter’s ingrained defensive responses admonishing him to, “put down your sword”[7] and prophesying to him how he would one day embrace the ultimate posture of entrusting his soul’s safe keeping into the hands of Divine love.[8]  In similar fashion we note an earlier occasion of Jesus rebuking James and John for their retaliatory response to call down a divine fire of destruction after being rejected in a certain village. Jesus challenges their natural tendency to win and dominate.  In the NASB translation of this event, Jesus instructs them to instead discover their “truer nature[9].
On other occasions, such as with the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, and the Storm at Sea, Jesus allowed his male companions to face their fears, personal limitations and vulnerabilities, while simultaneously exposing them to experiences of true Divine empowerment. While in a state of trepidation or confoundment, for instance, the twelve would witness a storm being quieted, and a great multitude of people miraculously being fed by some force beyond their personal resources.[10]  By way of these experiences and through his continued use of metaphor and parables Jesus consistently attempted to penetrate the concretized perceptions of his disciples; offering opportunities for them to perceive a more soulful understanding of human life in relationship to their Creator.[11]
It seems a compelling argument that Jesus’ intent in choosing the twelve was to liberate them from a well entrenched patriarchal system based in male domination, power and privilege. Women were generally not the culprits of this mind-set - indeed were often the victims of it, and therefore were not included in the particular group initiation intended for the men. In contrast to the political structure of his time and quite pertinent to this study, Jesus often modeled for them a deep regard and reverence for the feminine gender.[12]

Differing from his approach to the males we may observe a variety of examples in which Jesus acted to affirm and empower the women he encountered.  He often encouraged them to trust their inner guidance and not be intimidated by male power. We find a poignant example of this when Jesus defended the woman who entered the exclusive dinner party daring to express her unabashed love and gratitude as she touched him and washed his feet with her tears.[13] In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus would again defend a woman who anointed him with precious ointment, criticizing his apostles for their obstinacy, and commanding them to “Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing to me…and will be remembered.” [14] This event is especially noteworthy when one considers that anointings recorded in the Hebrew Scripture were seemingly reserved for male prophets and high priests. Moreover, I am astounded as I become aware of the immediacy of Judas’ decision to ‘go out and betray’ Jesus in the wake of his rebuke. Was Judas’ betrayal directly related to Jesus provoking too deeply the very sensitive nerve of established patriarchy?
Throughout the gospels we observe Jesus consistently challenging the barriers of gender inequality. He encouraged women to stand up straight[15], to persist in their intentions and not be dissuaded by male criticism, and on notable occasions, encouraged their disobedience to the unjust mores of a male-dominated religious establishment. Such was his purpose it would appear, when he publicly affirmed the woman with the issue of blood who dared to touch his garment, courageously defying the social and religious norms of her day[16]; or when he initiated conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob during broad daylight. While his disciples stood confounded at such an encounter, Jesus revealed to her, unbeknownst to them, his Messianic presence. Her conversation with him was life-changing. Her subsequent testimony led to the conversion of many people in her Samaritan village. [17]   Might we dare liken her witness to that of an apostle?!
Lastly, I have heard varying interpretations of Jesus’ harsh encounter with the Syrophoenician woman. Perhaps he was having a bad day, was one suggestion!  I have wondered, instead, if his unusual provocation was actually intended to strengthen the woman’s determination for her daughter’s healing despite seeming authoritative male distain. [18]
As Jesus publicly championed these women, affirming their right to challenge the oppressive mores of their time, he thereby modeled to the twelve a new way of regarding them and relating to them. In all his encounters with both males and females, the realization of their truest nature and equality before God, would be Jesus’ enduring intention. 

Finally let us examine the parallels between these first called male followers of Jesus and possible parallels with the 12 tribes of Israel. Scholars have long acknowledged an association between these two groups. Are there implications here for us to discover related to our study?
In her brilliant psychological commentary on the book of Genesis, Jewish theologian, Avivah Gottlieb makes two stunning observations relevant to our study. In her chapter entitled, “What if Joseph Hates Us?”, Dr. Gottlieb brings our attention to the expression of fear uttered by Joseph’s brothers after the death of their father Jacob. What we may have thought of as true reconciliation among the brothers when Joseph wept and revealed himself to them and subsequently took them in and cared for them, was according to Gottlieb a pretense of forgiveness for the sake of Jacob. The brothers’ expressed concern, “What if Joseph hates us?” is a better indication of the their fears that Joseph was all along harboring hatred and resentment. Now that Jacob was no longer among them, Joseph was free now to reveal his true intentions of retaliation for their attempt to kill him, depriving him all those years of his father’s love, his home and  his culture.  Gottlieb underscores the trepidation, guilt and distrust which lingered in the hearts of the brothers as they expressed concern for their own safety. “What if Joseph hates us and pays us back for all the evil that we did to him?”
Here we are dramatically presented with the deeper unreconciled nature of their relationship and the unhealed wound lingering within the foundational core of the House of Israel.  By referencing Cabala reflections Gottlieb presents us with the astounding insight that Joseph’s brothers never did receive Joseph’s face to face words of forgiveness before he died, and hence were never truly resolved of their sin against him. [19] In addition we are informed that in the context of his final blessing to his sons prior to his death, Jacob became aware that the Shekinah (the Divine Presence) “had withdrawn” and was not accessible to inspire his words. He was left to bless his sons without the prophetic guidance of Shekinah.
As we note both Jacob’s awareness of the absence of Shekinah, and of the unreconciled rift among the brothers, it behooves us to further consider Jesus’ greeting to his disciples after his resurrection. He greets them face to face with the word, “Peace!” – (ie. Be whole, Be reconciled. You are forgiven) He then breaths on them the Holy Spirit - (ie. He restores the Shekinah, the abiding Divine presence among God’s people). Might we say that in choosing the twelve, in addition to the insights offered above, Jesus was also revisiting the deep unhealed brokenness related to Joseph and his brothers?  By his face to face encounter after his resurrection with those who abandoned him was Jesus recreating and completing the longed for reconciliation buried deep within the House of Israel, and thereby restoring eternal relatedness with Shekinah, the Holy Spirit of God?
It is interesting to note Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospel Luke as it may apply to this insight, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, (ie. a new perspective) for forgiveness of sin would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”[20] 

For centuries the Roman Catholic Church has maintained the stance that only males can fully image the Divine and therefore are solely eligible to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. At its very core this position is a grave oversight of the human potential for both males and females to image God as is assured us in the creation text of Genesis - “and  God created them male and female, in the image of God he created them”. These words alone should be sufficient to allow for an open re- examination of the Church’s antiquated ruling concerning ordination.  Paul further substantiates this concept as noted above when he declares that our baptism identifies us with Christ in whom there is neither male nor female.
Rather than insuring a future all male clergy, Jesus, as this paper asserts, chose the original twelve disciples for the purpose of leading them past a perceived culture of male domination, power and privilege. In this regard he taught and modeled for the twelve, throughout his ministry, a new way of being male, inviting them continually towards servant-hood, non-violence, gender equality, and the potential for true Divine empowerment. Women, who were often the victims of patriarchal rule, did not need to be part of this focused orientation.  Instead, as we have observed, Jesus consistently affirmed and supported women as they courageously followed their inner, intuitive guidance, oftentimes crossing oppressive cultural and religious norms. Ultimately Jesus’ intention was to liberate both men and women from the false power of patriarchy and into the true power of Love. Following the Resurrection both women and men were called by virtue of baptism and the empowering of the Holy Spirit[21] to image Christ in the enacting of this Love. 
As noted by former president, Jimmy Carter, in the introduction to his book, A Call to Action – Women, Religion, Violence and Power, “all the elements in this book concerning discrimination, prejudice, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty and disease, fall disproportionately on women and girls”.[22] In light of these realities, the Roman Catholic Church has a moral obligation to address these gender injustices and the devastating effects they ultimately have on the entire planet. By allowing the full inclusion of women’s gifts, presence and leadership, the Church can extend a powerful message to the world in correcting the atrocities borne to this day by the female gender.
We may rightly conclude from this study that the Church does indeed possess the Christ-given authority to confer priestly ordination on women. Moreover, in as much as the world looks to it for moral guidance, the Church also bears an urgent imperative in the name of Christ and humanity to do so.
Clare Julian Carbone
3220 South 900 East #1
Salt Lake City, UTAH 84106

[1] Weisner, Christian; Interim Results: Pope Francis Revitalizes Vatican ll Reforms. National Catholic Reporter, March 13, 2017  
[2] Galatians 3:27-28
[3] Romans 16:1,7
[4] Hippolytus first described Mary of Magdalene as the “apostle to the apostles” in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, 25.6-7. See also John Paul II, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, # 16 n. 38.)
[5] Mt.20:25-28; Mk. 10:42-44
[6] Bruteau, Beatrice; The Grand Option; Notre Dame Press; 2001; pg 172
[7] Mt. 26:52
[8] Jn.11:21
[9] Lk. 9:54-56 (NASB)
[10] Mt. 14-13-21; Lk. 8:23-25
[11]For instance: Jn.4:32-38. Note also the many parables Jesus used to teach his disciples
[12] For instance:  Lk. 7:36-50; Jn.4:1ff;Jn:12:3-9
[13] Lk.7:36-50
[14] Mt. 26:6-13
[15] Lk. 13:10-16 Jn.12:3; Lk. 10:39ff
[16] Lk.8:43-48
[17] John; 4:1ff
[18] Mt. 15:21-28
[19] Gottlieb Zornberg, Avivah; The Murmuring Deep; Schocken Books New York; 2009; pgs.313-343
[20] Lk 24:46ff
[21]  Acts 1:6-15; Acts 2:1-4;  Luke tells us that about 120 men and women were present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of the Gospel “to the uttermost parts of the earth”.
[22] Carter, Jimmy; Call to Action, Women, Religion, Violence and Power, pg. 1; Simon and Schuster, 2014

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