The synods of 2014 and 2015, called to examine the grave challenges posed to marriage and family life in the twenty-first century, became the occasion for significant voices in the Church to advance long-stalled projects (such as the admission to Holy Communion of those whose marriages had not been blessed by the Church) while concurrently deconstructing the teaching of John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) on intrinsically evil acts and the teaching of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (The Word of God) on the reality and binding force of revelation as conveyed by both Holy Scripture and Tradition.
Similarly, Synod-2019, called to consider the challenges of evangelization and environmental protection in Amazonia, has become the occasion for some Catholics to mount yet another assault on the Catholic practice of admitting only men to Holy Orders. This project has taken interesting forms the past two weeks and raises important theological, pastoral, and canonical questions. LETTERS FROM THE SYNOD-2019 asked Mary Rice Hasson, who has contributed to these exercises in “theological journalism” in the past, to address some of those questions. XR II
VOTES, QUOTAS, AND TITLES: MISSING THE POINT ABOUT WOMEN
by Mary Rice Hasson
The topic of “women” has surfaced regularly in discussions at the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonia Region. And rightly so, argued John Allen of Crux, as Catholic women do indispensable work on the ground, teaching, serving, and supporting the faith of families and communities in Amazonia.
On the whole, it is a welcome development to see more women, including religious sisters, among the experts and observers taking part in the synod discussions. Their participation makes sense. At a recent synod press briefing, Columbian Sister Alba Teresa Cediel Castillo described religious sisters as bringing important stability to Catholic outreaches in the Amazon, where priests are scarce. “What do we do?” she asked, “Well, everything that a woman can do,” from baptizing to educating to accompanying the people in their trials. Indeed, women are at the center of family life and parish communities throughout the world Church and lead countless apostolates and religious orders. It is vital, then, to consider women’s insights, experience, expertise, and prayerful wisdom in any serious discussion about the Church’s evangelical mission.
Women participating in the synod say their contributions are, in fact, being considered thoughtfully. According to Peruvian Sr. Birgit Weiler, “We are really accepted as part of the group. There is not a clerical attitude. There is a lot of freedom of speech and it is a beautiful experience really to discern together.” The “open atmosphere” of the discussion, she adds, encourages women to raise “critical questions…respectfully but openly.” All good.
Even so, some synod interventions (or at least news reports of such interventions) that address women’s participation and leadership seem infected with mirror strains of an old feminist virus.
One strain of this virus actually promotes an odd clericalism, implicitly branding women’s work in the Church as inherently inferior because women don’t wear clerical collars or conduct ordained ministries. This line of thinking surfaces in the continued calls by synod presenters for a female diaconate or “official” ministries led by women. It seems premised on the belief that the Church’s teaching on the equal dignity of women will forever ring hollow—and engender righteous “bitterness” among women—if women are “excluded” from official positions of authority within the Church’s hierarchical (male) structure.
A second strain imports a wholly secular mindset into the conversation. It regards the Church as a corporate structure, and women’s “progress” and elevation to leadership as corporate goals to be pursued and measured—as if the triumph of data-analytics will fix the Church’s sputtering engine of evangelism. This line of thinking derives from the political pressure of feminist agitators who seem convinced that the Church is little more than a creaky corporation, a fusty old men’s club that deserves to be shaken up. (Sr. Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus” fame derides the Church as a “monarchy” that women must lobby.)
The week before the synod opened, a coalition of women’s “reform” organizations and religious sisters gathered in Rome for a rally and conference. After a fruitless forty-year campaign for women’s ordination, campaigners for women’s “equality” in the Church still accuse the Vatican of the “structural and spiritual oppression of women,” and still seek to dethrone the “patriarchy” or at least neuter its offspring, “clericalism.” Some organizations, like Future Church and the Women’s Ordination Conference, openly dissent from Catholic teachings on sexual morality, marriage, and priestly ordination. Others, like Voices of Faith, dance around the ordination and sexuality questions but collaborate with radical groups in a power-seeking agenda.
Banging the drum for women’s “equality,” the coalition staged demonstrations, carried signs, and organized a petition drive seeking “full voting rights” for women at the synod to redress the “injustice” of synod rules that limit women to consultation, precluding them from voting. Religious sisters donned capes emblazoned with the message “Votes for Catholic Women,” and projected the “votes” mantra by light beams onto the walls of the Vatican. The attention-getting maneuvers of the sister “suffragettes,” as Crux called them, seem sadly reminiscent of the indignant, sash-wearing Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins. It’s hard to take seriously.
These groups have succeeded, however, in proposing a more palatable framing for their demands: “Gender equality” in the Church now carries a corporate gloss. The cry for synod “voting rights” is part of a larger drive for the Church to recognize “women as change agents” capable of assuming a “full leadership role in the Church.” Voices of Faith has set a goal to see “30% of leadership positions at the global level of the Roman Catholic Church open to and filled by women” by 2030. Their roadmap includes “merit-based and transparent hiring practices,” a “workplace gender equality policy,” and “monitoring and evaluation.” Such policies are presented as a matter of “fairness,” as well as signs of the Church’s commitment to good governance, efficiency, and best practices. All this provides context for the insistent push during the Special Synod on Amazonia to identify “official ministries” and titles for women, including (potentially) women deacons, and to approach these questions through the lens of functional utility as much as empowerment.
Sure enough, Vatican News (which is run by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications) reported that, early in the synod, proposals to “establish a female lay ministry for evangelization” were put on the table, offered as a path toward “greater active participation of women in the life of the Church” as well as a solution to challenging local circumstances in the Amazon region. By the end of the first week, the call for “new ministries” and “more pastoral responsibility and effective participation,” for women, “even at decision-making levels,” engendered an explicit push for female deacons. Some speakers pressed for continued “discernment” of “the institution of women deacons in the region,” while others highlighted women’s authority as a weapon against the scourge of clericalism: “the inclusion of women…could lay the foundation for a less clerical Church.” Women’s “equitable” inclusion, e.g., “presiding over celebrations of the Word, or leading the activity of a social-charitable nature” serves not only as an antidote to clericalism, but also as a guarantor of “the dignity and equality of women in the entire Pan-Amazonian territory.”
This orchestrated campaign is bearing fruits: The Vatican News summary of October 17 highlights the recurring “theme of women” and the “request to recognize, even in roles of greater responsibility and leadership, the great value offered by the presence of women in their specific service to the Church in the Amazon.” The summary reflects continued pressure for women deacons, portrayed in functional rather than theological terms: “Most Small Groups called for attention to be paid to the issue of the diaconate for women from the perspective of Vatican II, bearing in mind that many functions of this ministry are already performed by women in the region.” The summary then links the female diaconate, as a topic for a future synod, to the notion that “women should be given the power to vote” in Church synods.
Here’s the problem: The secular feminist overlay obscures the mystical reality of the Church and completely misses the point when it comes to women in the Church. “Best practices” are fine in themselves. But they don’t substitute for faith and fidelity. They cannot compensate for a weak or malnourished spiritual life. And they are counter-productive when they displace truth and Church teaching as practical guides. In short, the path to evangelical vitality does not run through quotas, titles, and best practices. Women’s voices need to be heard more fully and frequently, not to please a world concerned with secular-style “gender equality,” but because women are already deeply engaged in the work of evangelism. Their service, leadership, and perspectives need to shape the path forward.
As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in the 1988 apostolic exhortation that completed the work of Synod-987, Christifideles Laici (Christ’s Faithful Laity), lay women in particular have two great tasks—to bring “full dignity to the conjugal life and to motherhood,” and “assuring the moral dimension of culture, namely of a culture worthy of the person.” Today, the dignity of the human person is under global assault. And Catholic women are fully engaged in shaping the moral dimension of culture and testifying with their service to the dignity of the person.
No one doubts that the Church faces severe challenges in fulfilling its divine mission to proclaim the gospel today. The way forward will come from a humble, ever more faithful and faith-filled Catholic Church, however, not from misguided campaigns to apply corporate-style solutions to what are essentially spiritual problems.
[Mary Rice Hasson is the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center and the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum. She has spoken for the Holy See at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2017, 2018, and 2019, most recently on “Gender Ideology: Ideological Aggression Against Women and Girls.” A graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, she and her husband, Seamus Hasson, are the parents of seven children.]
The synod’s discussion on the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate might also benefit from the following comments by the distinguished canon lawyer, Dr. Edward Peters, of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. It was posted on October 1, 2019, on Dr. Peters’s widely-read blog, “In the Light of the Law.” XR II
I have just read Rev. Gero Weishaupt’s essay over at kathnews and ... I find Weishaupt’s assertions quite soundly argued.
In particular, I agree with Weishaupt that the exclusion of women from priestly ordination was declared infallibly by Pope St. John Paul II in Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), that such a ruling must be definitively held by all the faithful as a “secondary object of infallibility” (1983 CIC 750 § 2), and that opposition to this ruling makes one liable to sanction under Canon 1371 n. 1. …
In my view, the ordination of women to the diaconate is also excluded by Sacred Tradition, but I grant that such exclusion was not expressly addressed in the pivotal passage of Ordinatio. Thus, discussion of female ordination, as if it were doctrinally feasible, strikes me as at best theologically temerarious, though not canonically criminal, at this point. Meanwhile any actually attempted ordination of a woman is an excommunicable offense.
A “MISSION SUNDAY” REFLECTION ON THE AMAZONIAN SYNOD
The following homily was preached on October 20, “Mission Sunday” throughout the Catholic Church, by the Very Rev. Jay Scott Newman, V.F., pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the premier New Evangelization parishes in the United States. XR II
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8)? Not if bishops like Erwin Kräutler can help it.
Erwin Kräutler was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1965, but he left home immediately for the missions in Brazil where his uncle was already a priest working in Amazonia. In 1981, Kräutler was ordained a bishop and placed in charge of something called the Territorial Prefecture of Xingu, a structure the Church uses to organize her life in places where there aren’t enough Catholics to sustain a diocese.
The Prefecture of Xingu—named for the thousand-mile-long Xingu River, which is a tributary of the Amazon—is about the size of Germany and has over 600 communities of indigenous persons living in the most remote rainforests of Brazil. There are only 18 priests serving that vast territory, and that is one of the reasons why Bishop Kräutler and others are agitating right now in Rome for permission to ordain married men to the priesthood from among the elders of the indigenous tribes.
But here’s the problem. Bishop Kräutler, who has spent his entire ministry in Brazil promoting indigenous religions while opposing the construction of dams to generate electricity and the clearing of trees to make room for roads to connect that remote territory to the outside world, is also proud of the fact that in all his years as a missionary bishop he has never baptized an indigenous person.
That’s right. A missionary bishop acknowledges never having baptized even one of the people to whom he was sent decades ago as a witness to the Incarnation, life and ministry, the crucifixion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is the man who helped write the working document that is the basis for discussion at the Synod of Bishops now meeting in Rome to consider how best to fulfill the Great Commission in Amazonia. How can this be?
Remember that Erwin Kräutler was born in Austria and was educated in German-speaking universities in the 1960s. That helps us understand that despite the fact that he identifies as a Catholic Christian, he is also a man of the radical Left who came of age during the days of Marxist revolution in European universities. Erwin Kräutler never baptized any of the indigenous people he was sent to serve most likely because he became convinced as a young man that to do so would make him complicit in the crimes of colonial oppression which he believes all Europeans are guilty of with respect to the native peoples of the Americas.
Moreover, as was argued by some theologians in Kräutler’s youth and is still argued today (mostly by aged ecclesiastics who lived through but never learned from the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI), Kräutler apparently believes that all religions are basically the same and lead to the same destination, and so persuading pagans to believe in Jesus Christ and to receive the sacraments of the New Covenant is, in the judgment of those who share this conviction, both unnecessary and a form of exploitation of the indigenous peoples whom the Church should simply serve as a social worker, and otherwise leave alone to live forever in the theoretical innocence of the Stone Age, unspoiled by foreign ideas—including the gospel.
I have focused my fire on Bishop Kräutler only because he personifies one of the gravest crises in the Church in our time: lack of conviction that Jesus Christ is the only savior of all mankind and that the Church’s only reason for existence is to fulfill the Great Commission given to us by the Lord Jesus at the moment of his return to the Father: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
I understand that it is passing strange for most of you to realize that there are men in the presbyterate and episcopate who do not truly believe that fulfilling the Great Commission is the reason not only for the Church’s existence but also for their entire lives, but there are such men in the ministry. And that is among the reasons Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI so often taught about these various themes, including in the 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio on the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, and in the declaration Dominus Iesus published in 2000 by then-Cardinal Ratzinger on the essential and irreformable doctrine that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we are to be saved.
My friends, it is these central truths of Christianity that are the real disputed questions of the Amazonian Synod, not the sideshow arguments about ordaining a few old married men to the priesthood. But we live in a time of fragmentation and incoherence throughout the West, including in the Church, and so it should be no surprise that we must constantly struggle even to establish the truth of first principles every time we have a conversation about almost anything, including the gospel of Jesus Christ. I wish that we did not live in such a time, but as Gandalf instructed Frodo: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So what are we to do in our troubled time? I suggest that we obey the Word of God.
We read in today’s second lesson: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the Sacred Writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14–17).
Saint Paul addressed those words to young Bishop Timothy to help him overcome false teaching and organize the life of the Church in Ephesus against the opposition of those who rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ or who sought to improve it—as they thought—by adding or subtracting according to their wisdom. But the Apostle was adamant that Bishop Timothy could not permit such alterations because he was bound by his solemn promises and by God’s grace given in his baptism and ordination to fulfill his duty as a witness to Christ and an overseer in the Church by teaching only what he had received, and so Paul commanded him:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season; convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1–5).
Friends, it saddens me greatly that so many Catholics—too many of them ordained to the ministry as bishops and priests—no longer heed the instruction of Paul to Timothy and by turning away from the truth of the Word of God have wandered into myths. But that regret only strengthens my resolve to preach the word, to be urgent even out of season, and to be unfailing in patience and teaching.
And I pray that the fragmentation and incoherence of our times and the current chaos in Rome will awaken in each of you the same decision to disregard the false teachers who seek for itching ears and instead remain faithful to the sacred, God-breathed Scriptures which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Yes, if we hear and heed the Word of God. The Word of God written, incarnate, and eternal: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Photo by Anna & Michal via Creative Commons. Image cropped.