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Réécrire les évangiles: l’argument du Cardinal Ladaria contre l’ordination des Femmes

On vous pardonnerait de penser que diriger la Congrégation pour la Doctrine de la Foi (CDF) exige une connaissance approfondie de la théologie. Et pourtant, cela ne semble pas être le cas actuellement. Dans une interview récente, le chef de la CDF, l’archevêque Luis Ladaria SJ, a fait une série d’affirmations qui sont sans fondement ou carrément erronées. “Le Christ a voulu conférer ce sacrement aux douze apôtres, tous des hommes, qui à leur tour l’ont transmis à d’autres hommes”, a déclaré le jésuite espagnol.

Il serait difficile d’intégrer davantage d’affirmations erronées dans une phrase si courte. Jésus a-t-il “ordonné” les Douze? Il ne l’a pas fait. Les Douze ont-ils «ordonné» des successeurs? Ils ne l’ont pas été. Les Douze étaient-ils le modèle original d’un ministère institutionnellement ordonné? Encore une fois, ils ne l’étaient pas.

Au lieu de cela, le Nouveau Testament (NT) témoigne d’une variété de fonctions, de ministères et d’arrangements institutionnels (prédicateurs itinérants, enseignants et apôtres, diacres, [conseils d’anciens], patrons de maison, etc.), dont beaucoup sinon tous étaient ouverts aux femmes à remplir (y compris celui de “diacre” et d'”apôtre”!).

Enfin, Ladaria saute sur l’hypothèse tacite et erronée que les Douze étaient le modèle original et exclusif du ministère «ordonné» à la conclusion tout aussi erronée que leur «masculinité» était essentielle à la «substance» même dudit ministère. Encore une fois, c’est tout à fait sans fondement: Ladaria aurait tout aussi bien pu argumenter que seuls les hommes juifs circoncis pouvaient être ordonnés ministres.

Ce que des déclarations similaires du Vatican passent sous silence c’est que le NT mentionne de nombreuses femmes comme d’éminentes disciples (Marie-Madeleine étant peut-être la première) et des ministres importantes dans l’église primitive. À la fin de sa lettre aux Romains, Paul salue un certain nombre de femmes, qu’il désigne par un titre: Junia, une «apôtre exceptionnelle» (!); Priscilla, une «collaboratrice dans le Christ» (un terme que Paul utilise comme synonyme de «apôtre»), ainsi que Marie, Tryphène, Tryphose et Persis, de qui on a dit qu’elles «ont travaillé très dur dans le Seigneur”.

Quelques lignes plus tôt, Paul accueille Phébée, une «diacre»; et en 1 Tim, 3-11, il y a même une liste d’exigences de traits de caractère pour les femmes diacres (parfois incorrectement traduit comme “épouses d’ [hommes] diacres”). Comme nous le savons d’ailleurs dans le NT, les «diacres» remplissaient des fonctions importantes et de haut niveau telles que la prédication, l’enseignement, ainsi que la distribution d’aumônes et de nourriture pendant les repas communs.

“Il n’y a ni Juif ni Gentil, ni esclave ni libre, ni mâle ni femelle, car vous êtes tous un en Jésus-Christ” (Ga 3, 28): c’est l’un des passages les plus profonds et les plus révolutionnaires de Paul et il est extrêmement regrettable que 2000 ans plus tard il soit encore contredit dans la pratique au sein de l’Église catholique, en raison d’une position idéologique fondée sur d’anciens préjugés misogynes, contraires à la preuve du NT et sourde au message libérateur de Jésus.”

Traduit par le “Réseau Femmes et Ministères”, Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/femmesministeres/

Re-writing the Gospels: Cardinal Ladaria’s Argument against Ordaining Women

You would be forgiven for thinking that leading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) requires a thorough knowledge of theology. And yet that does not appear to be currently the case. In a recent interview, the head of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ, made a series of affirmations that are either groundless or outright mistaken. “Christ wanted to confer this sacrament [i.e. Holy Order] to the Twelve apostles, all men, who in turn passed it on to other men,” the Spanish Jesuit stated.

It would be hard to pack more mistaken affirmations in such a short sentence. Did Jesus “ordain” the Twelve? He didn’t. Did the Twelve “ordain” successors? They didn’t. Were the Twelve the original model for an institutional ordained ministry? Again, they were not.

Instead, the New Testament (NT) witnesses to a variety of functions, ministries, and institutional arrangements (itinerant preachers, teachers, and apostles; deacons; [councils of] elders; house patrons; etc.) are mentioned, many if not all of which were open to women to fill (including “deacon” and “apostle”!).

Finally, Ladaria jumps from the tacit, erroneous assumption that the Twelve were the original and exclusive model of “ordained” ministry to the equally mistaken conclusion that their “maleness” was essential to the very “substance” of said ministry. Again, this is entirely baseless: Ladaria might as well have argued that only circumcised Jewish men can be ordained ministers.

What similar statements from the Vatican routinely pass under silence is that the NT mentions many women as prominent disciples (Mary Magdalene being perhaps the foremost) and important ministers in the primitive church. At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul greets a number of women, some of whom he designates by title: Junia, an “outstanding apostle” (!); Priscilla, a “co-worker in Christ” (a term Paul uses as a synonym of “apostle”), as well as Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, all of whom are said to “have worked very hard in the Lord.”

Few lines earlier Paul greets Phoebe, a “deacon”; and 1 Tim 3:11 even has a list of character requirements for women deacons (at times mistakenly translated as “[male] deacons’ wives”). As we know from elsewhere in the NT, “deacons” fulfilled important and high-profile functions such as preaching, teaching, as well as distributing alms and food during the common meals.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28): this is one of Paul’s most profound and revolutionary passages, and it is immensely regrettable that 2,000 years on it is still contradicted in practice within the Catholic Church, due to an ideological position based on ancient misogynistic prejudices, contrary to the NT evidence and deaf to Jesus’ liberating message.

When the Magisterium Ignores Theology

In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favour of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favour of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions.

As is well known, this was ignored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka CDF), which promulgated few months later the infamous document “Inter Insigniores – On the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood,” arguing that “the Church” (sic: they are referring to the episcopal hierarchy, i.e. themselves), cannot ordain women to the priesthood.

People may not know it, but something similar – indeed even worse – happened with regard to the question of women deacons. That is, the original study commissioned to the International Theological Commission by Paul VI on the subject was suppressed, and never officially published. No surprise there: the evidence that women deacons were indeed ordained – and in a way understood to be identical to that of their male counterparts – for more than a thousand years is both abundant and incontrovertible. But successive Popes have apparently found that very difficult to accept.

Interestingly, most observers believe that the suppressed study was later published as an article in Orientalia Christiana Periodica in 1974 by Cipriano Vagaggini. Vagaggini was then member of the International Theological Commission to which Paul VI had commissioned the study, and while no radical, that article makes it clear that he was a conscientious scholar: the amount of evidence assessed in it is truly remarkable. Its conclusion was that the ordination of women deacons for more than a thousand years was as sacramental as that of their male colleagues. Below I quote one of the final paragraphs of the study:

If one accepts what has been said thus far, one must also acknowledge the following conclusion: theologically, in virtue of the use of the Byzantine Church, it appears that women can receive diaconal ordination, which, by nature and dignity, is equated to the ordination of the deacons, and not simply to that of the subdeacons or lectors, and much less, to use the terminology of today, to that of some lesser ministry constituted by what today one would call a simple benediction.

A similar dismissal of uncomfortable theological findings had happened before, with regard to the Humanae Vitae affair on contraception: the Pope first established his own commission of experts, the famed “Pontifical Commission on Birth Control,” only to completely disregard its findings on the basis that they would have required them to admit that their predecessors had been wrong.

So it is important to notice that what’s happened repeatedly since Vatican II: namely, that while the principle was accepted in theory that doctrinal statements need to be based on the relevant (exegetical, theological, etc) evidence/expertise, such a principle has in fact been disregarded whenever the findings run counter to ingrained beliefs and opinions of the hierarchy – and the more so when such findings would threaten the current power-structure of the church, as the admission of women to the ordained ministry would do.

But as Father Thomas Reese SJ has been fond of repeating, any multinational in which the CEOs routinely ignore, or are in no speaking terms with, the R&D department is doomed to perform very poorly indeed. QED.

Pope Francis and Lutheran woman archbishop Ante Jackelen embrace

The Prohibition Against Ordaining Women: On Not Inventing Doctrine

While flying home to Rome on Tuesday 1st November, Pope Francis re-affirmed the Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women. He noted the matter was clearly decided under Pope John Paul II, who rejected the idea of women priests in 1994. The Vatican says this teaching is an infallible element of Catholic tradition because it has been taught by the so-called “ordinary and universal magisterium.” This refers to the constant teaching of the bishops (including the Pope) throughout the history of Christianity. Such a constant teaching, according to the Second Vatican Council (“Lumen Gentium – Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” §25), is a mark of infallibility.

However, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis does not fulfil the criteria for being an expression of such an “ordinary and universal magisterium.” Moreover, as theologian Nicholas Lash noted, by claiming that it is indeed such an expression and that the discussion is over, it has been “a scandalous abuse of power.” It is worth recalling in this connection two fine articles explaining the points above:

• Nicholas Lash, “On Not Inventing Doctrine,” The Tablet, 2 December 1995, p. 1544;

• Peter Burns, S.J., “Was The Teaching Infallible?”, BASIC Newsletter, Supplement Feb. 1997, pp. 1-12 (both links open on our website www.womenpriests.org).

Now, the papacy and the CDF have always responded to criticism of the ban on women by pointing out that Jesus only chose men as members of the Twelve. But the Twelve 1) were a group distinct from, and smaller than, the larger group of “apostles”; 2) their primary distinctive function was merely symbolic, i.e. their number evoked the twelve founding tribes of the people of Israel, so as to underline that Jesus was effectively founding a “new Israel”, i.e. the entire community of his disciples, men and women; 3) crucially, they cannot be regarded as the original church ministers, and so as a model for all future such ministers, for two key reasons: 4) they were not replaced after their death (with the exception of Judas Iscariot, as a one-off), and so did not have successors; 5) they did not seem to have had any official position in the earliest church (James the brother of the Lord, rather than Peter, was clearly head of the nascent Jerusalem church, according to the Acts of the Apostles).

In summary, the Twelve’s function was primarily symbolic, as representatives of the new Israel (i.e. the entire community of the church), and not of a supposedly male-only, patriarchal clerical caste. Last but not least, the group of the “apostles” was a larger group than the Twelve alone, and it included women: a certain Junia is explicitly mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:1 as “outstanding among the apostles.” Interestingly, the name Junia had long been changed by translators to its masculine form, “Junias”, because it was deemed impossible that Paul had called a woman “apostle.” But New Testament scholars have now re-established definitely the feminine gender of the name, and so the marvellous evidence of a prominent female leader of the nascent church has been restored.

Most of what’s in the paragraph above is explained at length in the rather wonkish but wonderfully written famous response by renowned New Testament scholar Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, entitled simply “The Twelve” (link opens the full text on our website www.womenpriests.org).
Finally, consider this: “All who are baptised in Christ, have put on Christ. There is no longer any discrimination between Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Thus every baptised woman shares fully in Christ’s priesthood, kingship and prophetic mission. Baptism implies a fundamental openness to all the sacraments, including the ordained ministry. More in our FAQs on infallibility on this page on our website www.womenpriests.org.

Conclusion: there are no valid arguments against the ministerial ordination of women, and many truly Catholic arguments in favour!

Contraception and Gender Equality in the Catholic Church

"A wife must have 10 or 12 children and her husband should decide how many. If we gave women a choice, they'd never have children and that would be a sin." Afghan elder interviewed by The Guardian, 4 Nov 2015.
“A wife must have 10 or 12 children and her husband should decide how many. If we gave women a choice, they’d never have children and that would be a sin.” Afghan elder interviewed by The Guardian, 4 Nov 2015.

The UN-hosted launch of our Catholic Scholars’ Statement on the Ethics of Using Contraceptives was a success: it generated a lot of publicity for the Wijngaards Institute, and has put us firmly on the map.

Why the attention to the issue of contraceptives, given the Institute’s research has long focused primarily on the issue of women’s ordination? There are several reasons, many of which have to do with the fact that the papal prohibition to use contraceptives affects disproportionately Catholic women in the developing world, and to an extent which is far from trivial. Those reason will be the object of another blog entry.

Here I want to concentrate on the link between the magisterial arguments on issues to do with sexual ethics – including those behind the absolute prohibition against “artificial” contraceptives – and those to do with the exclusion of women from ordination.

Indeed, both set of arguments are related as different expressions of the same patriarchal and misogynistic streak, an essential part of which has to do with fear of/contempt for women’s sexuality, and the desire to control and confine it. This desire for control may not always be made as explicit as in the quote from the Afghan elder highlighted in the image above, but it is there.

There is arguably a link between a mistaken understanding of the purpose of human sexuality – and specifically women’s sexuality – and a mistaken notion of women’s primary role in church and society.

The papal teaching on sexuality can be summarised in one core belief: that human sexuality is first and foremost for procreation. For women, this translates into an insistence that, because of their nature, their primary vocation is motherhood. Women are excluded from the priesthood, but this is somewhat justified because they have motherhood as their own exclusive privilege and distinctive task.

According to the book of Genesis (2:24), the purpose of sex and marriage is first and foremost companionship and love. As bible scholars have long noticed, procreation is mentioned only after the “companionship/love” purpose of marriage and sexual union; moreover, it is presented as a blessing, rather than as a command: a difference which is subtle but absolutely crucial. It entails that companionship and love, as the primary purposes of marriage and sexual union, are good independently of whether or not the couple are intentionally “open to procreation” every time they make love. Yet, the latter is precisely the axiom at the heart of the current papal prohibition of using “artificial” contraceptives for family planning.

Now, the emphasis on being “open to procreation” has consequences for the role of women in the Catholic Church. In his 1988 encyclical “Mulieris Dignitatem – On the Dignity and Vocation of Women,” Pope John Paul II wrote that “Motherhood involves a special communication with the mystery of life [which] gives rise to an attitude towards human beings […] which profoundly marks the woman’s personality” (par. 18).

Some years later, in his 1995 Letter to Women, John Paul II further observed that in being “mothers, sisters, and co-workers in the apostolate,” women provide that “help” which “according to the Book of Genesis, [they] are called to give to men” (par. 10), although he also stressed that such help must be “mutual” (par. 7).

In other words, women’s distinctive capacity for nurturing and self-giving finds a prominent expression in being “helpers” to men, “companions” in marriage, and “mothers” – biologically, and/or spiritually, by their distinctive capacity for self-giving.

How is this linked to the arguments against the ordination of women? In theory, the primary argument to exclude women from ordained ministry is of a different kind than the one used to ban “artificial” contraceptives for family planning. The prohibition of ordaining women is justified on the basis that women cannot represent Jesus’ biological maleness; in contrast, the central tenet of the absolute prohibition against “artificial” contraceptives for family planning is that each and every act of sexual intercourse must always be open to procreation.

However, both prohibitions are reinforced by a common belief, namely the papal ideal of womanhood as centred around “motherhood” (although, as noted, non-biological “spiritual” motherhood is also praised). This ideal undergirds both prohibitions: women, the Vatican rhetoric goes, are best employed in roles where their distinctive capacity for “motherhood” and self-giving – both biological and spiritual – can shine the most. Somehow, that would both exclude the ordained ministry, and suggest that their most “natural” and befitting role is as (wives and) mothers.

Conversely, if sex need not always be for procreation, then it is not only the prohibition on using “artificial” contraceptives that falls. Rather, that principle will make it more difficult to emphasise women’s biological capacity for giving birth as the primary vocation they should strive for. In turn, that will make it much more difficult to argue that the preeminence and beauty of such a primary vocation excludes women from being ordained.

Thus the bans on contraceptives and on women priests respectively are linked, in their own perverse way. They are both part of papal teaching’s integrated if ultimately incorrect understanding of women’s nature and role in the church and society. Challenging any aspect of this grand vision will fasten the reform of such a misconception. And you can rest assured that the Wijngaards Institute will continue to do so.