There seems to be a new article on the ordination of women, sex abuse, or some combination of the two every day now, many displaying theological tonedeafness and worse, scorn for the motives of Catholics who dare to take seriously the Church’s longstanding theological traditions. But there are delicta , and then there are graviora delicta . In fact, some published opinions are so bad as to make Maureen Dowd’s verses sound like a hymn.

On Saturday, The Guardian ’s Lucy Mangan approached Christopher Hitchen’s level of spume when she said, of the profoundly unstable Mel Gibson’s recent hate-tirades,

Received wisdom is that Gibson cannot recover from this. But one course is still open to him. If ever priesthood beckoned a man, it is surely now. At least he apparently saves his violence for adult females. Truly, God works in mysterious ways.

It’s one thing to harbor spite for the Church, priests, or Catholics in general, but at least spitefulness is a relatively uncomplicated emotion. Willful ignorance strikes me as even more invidious. Such was on display in Tim Padgett’s positively agonizing opinion piece found yesterday in Time . Padgett’s argument, if you can call it that, holds that the Church’s repeated disapproval of mock-ordination ceremonies owes to “Dostoyevskian paranoia” about potential threats to clerical power.

Still worse than Padgett’s conspiracy theory is the fact that he, like so many Catholics, only allows himself to view the Church through the sullied lens of politics. He speaks of public opinion as if it were a factor in determining the Church’s perennial teachings, and opines that Church leaders have poor public relations skills. At least he doesn’t refer to parishioners as constituents.

He goes on, alleging the Church now teaches that “ordaining women into the priesthood [is] a sin on par with pedophilia.” It most certainly doesn’t, just as it doesn’t teach that stealing is a worse sin than rape. Both are graviora delicta , but one is quite a bit higher on the graviora scale than the other.

The misunderstanding goes still deeper. Padgett seems to think that women’s ordination is a real option the Church simply refuses to take up. He might be surprised to hear that the Church has never taught that ordaining women is a crime. Instead, it has taught that there simply is no such thing as a Christian priestess; therefore, mock-ordination ceremonies that confuse Catholics about the Church’s teachings constitute serious offenses to the belief of Catholics. It happens, alas, that mock-ordination ceremonies are one of the more popular modes of Gnostic protest these days.

Rehearsing reasons for the Church’s constant understanding of the male priesthood needn’t be done here, but two points nonetheless come to mind. Along with a muddling of the theology behind the question, Padgett and others of similar mind seem not to realize that when they ask, “Why not ordain women?” their question sounds, to many Catholics, indistinguishable from the question, “Why wasn’t Jesus a woman?” It’s a question of reworking the narrative of Christianity into a form that better suits the whims of modernity.

Articles by Kevin Staley-Joyce

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