Thomas Shaughnessy's column on women in the Catholic diaconate and priesthood presents the common arguments against the ordination of women, but it misses what many of us consider to be the salient points.
First of all, he says that Christ chose 12 men to be his priests/bishops, which makes it sound as if ordination were then what it is now; it also fails to consider that we know so little of what was actually the case with the disciples.
Just to give one instance, the role of Mary Magdalen has been deliberately obscured and neglected by early church leaders. An early pope, for instance, decided without any scriptural evidence whatever that she must have been an ex-prostitute, which has of course neatly taken her out of real consideration.
What we do know is that there were female deacons, because Paul mentions them several times.
This is all that Donna Rougeux, the Lexington woman who became a deacon in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, is asking: to become part of one of the oldest traditions in Christianity. As to women priests, we simply have no evidence, which should make us more willing, not less, to examine why we are excluded.
As to Shaughnessy's claim that excluding women is not sexist, I beg to disagree most strongly. In my life as a "cradle Catholic," I have heard many arguments against the ordination of women, and all of them ring hollow.
At their base is distrust for women, and often worse. Recently I opened at random a book on the topic in a local Catholic bookstore. I put it down hastily when I read the phrase "women's unholy rage to be priests,"
Not sexist? Examining, as Shaughnessy does, the concept of the sacraments, we see sexism and even a certain contempt for women.
According to the church, baptism opens up the other sacraments to Catholics. Yet one is excluded. At the base of the refusal to allow the ordination of women, there is without much doubt either a feeling that our souls are defective or that our baptism is of an inferior type in a belief system that offers six sacraments to men and only five to women.
Citing tradition does not compensate for this second-class status; it is putting a weaker argument against one of the strongest beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Shaughnessy goes on to state that, if the church changed its mind, it would imply that God is flawed or a trickster. No, it would simply mean that we have grown, as I hope we always do, in our understanding of God's purpose.
There are many things in scripture that we have abandoned because we have come to believe that we had understood God's purpose in a humanly flawed manner. I could cite Apostle Paul's support of slavery, for instance.
I prefer to believe that God will be most pleased with the Catholic Church when it realizes that it was a mistake to deprive the priesthood of the spirituality, the talents and the wisdom of half of the human race. Either we are an essential part of the Body of Christ, or we are a lesser, supporting part.
Those of us like Rougeux refuse to accept the latter. She is courageously claiming a role that the church once allowed and she is keeping the question alive in the face of an unprecedented move to quash any discussion of it.
Women's position in the Catholic Church will never be fully realized, and our gifts will never be fully used and appreciated, until we take our place alongside men in the fullness of belonging and participation.
I used to believe that I would live to see it; I still do accept with all my heart that it is coming.