|First Ordination of Roman Catholic Women Priests in 2002 on the Danube|
My Response: I agree with Gary Wills and John A. Dick that the word "priesthood" has been associated with patriarchy and power.
The term women priests in the context of our international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement is associated with prophetic ordained ministry as a human rights liberating movement of Spirit rising up for justice. We are leading the way toward a renewal of ministry by modeling mutual service now in a community of equals. This is a paradigm shift that is already the Roman Catholic Church toward inclusive ministry in the 21st century with women priests: "Their ministerial words and actions are expressions of service: inviting conversion and building community, promoting acceptance and belonging, bringing healing and strengthening, and offering forgiveness and reconciliation." What a joy it is to participate in a much-needed holy shakeup! Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP, https://arcwp.org
On January 3, 2019, the Boston Globe published an article by the Catholic journalist and historian, Gary Wills: "Celibacy isn't the cause of the church sex-abuse crisis; the priesthood is." Writing about clerical sexual abuse he noted "The church response has consistently been to doubt, dismiss, or minimize reported acts of abuse. " He asks as well "How, we have to wonder, can men dedicated to the Gospel allow or abet such a response?"
I am not commenting about celibacy or clerical sexual abuse this week end but about ministry and power.
Wills correctly pointed out, I believe, that sexual abuse is about power over people. We know today that it has existed for a long time because institutional leaders wanted to preserve and protect their institution and their own institutional power.
For Wills, however, the problem comes down to "priesthood" which he sees as "an affront to the Gospel," because priesthood is historically about power over people. I would like to quote from Gary Wills' article and then offer my own reflections about ministry and power.
I resonate with Gary Wills in his biblical and historical analysis. For some Catholics, however, it becomes a very sensitive point, because they still understand "priests" as superior to Protestant "ministers." Nevertheless, there were no Christian priests in the early church and the historical Jesus did not ordain anyone. Christ is present when we gather for community worship not because we have a priest but because of the assurance we read in the Gospels: "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20)
As the Catholic Church now moves into the necessary and inescapable third millennial reformation, I hope the words "priest" and "priesthood" will gradually fade away. For a renewed vision of church, we need to change our vocabulary, because old words often come with their own particular baggage. The baggage of "priesthood" is institutional power, patriarchy, and clericalism. Yes of course I know many very fine and wonderful "priests" (and came close to being one myself). The key issue here, however, is ministry.
I prefer to speak about "ministry" and "ordained ministry." (The only place where I still use the word "priest" is when writing about "women priests," because I see that as a way of affirming that these Catholic women are indeed bonafide Catholic ordained ministers. The day will come, however, when we can drop the term "women priests" and recognize, acknowledge, and support women and men who are ordained ministers: married, single, gay, and straight.
Ministry is about service. It is not about power. Matthew 20 reminds us that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve.... Ordained ministers are called and appointed to be reliable Christian guides. They help us understand and live in the Spirit of Christ. Their ministerial words and actions are expressions of service: inviting conversion and building community, promoting acceptance and belonging, bringing healing and strengthening, and offering forgiveness and reconciliation.
Ministry is not about power over people. Institutional church leaders are not here to be served. They are called to serve and promote unity and collaboration. As brothers and sisters in the community of faith, we must also call them to that as well....
John A. Dick, Ph.D., S.T.D. (ARCC Vice President and Treasurer) is a historical theologian - Catholic University of Leuven and University of Ghent
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