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Debate Over Ordaining Women in the Catholic Church Heats Up

August 25, 2009

roybEach Sunday, the Congregational Church of Weston (in Weston, Massachusetts) hosts a Catholic congregation called “Spirit of Life.” “Spirit of Life” is led by Jean Marchant, a woman who was unofficially ordained as a Catholic priest four years ago. I say “unofficially” because, in 1994, the Pope formally stated that the Catholic Church cannot ordain women.

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe traveled to “Spirit of Life” to talk to Marchant and Father Roy Bourgeouis, a former priest who was excommunicated from the church after participating in the ceremonies where women were ordained.

From the Boston Globe:

In an interview yesterday, Bourgeois, 70, a Louisiana native, said he has stopped wearing a clerical collar and celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments out of respect for the church’s view that he has been excommunicated.

But, he also said at one point, simply, “I am a priest.’’

He said he is confident his position on women priests is the correct one.

“If anyone should be excommunicated, it is the patriarchy involved in this discrimination,’’ he said. “But I don’t believe in excommunication – no one has a monopoly on the truth.’’

Despite the slight implicit sexism in the fact that Bourgeois is quoted repeatedly in the article while Marchant is not quoted once, the article highlights an important issue. Now that other churches are currently debating the inclusion of LGBT clergy, it seems like a logical progression for the Catholic Church to consider ordaining women for the first time. Though religious doctrine may be thousands of years old, practices and traditions are constantly evolving and changing, across all faiths. So why not this one?

Some supporters of female priests say that the Church is on its way to amending its traditional stance. From the Boston Globe:

Roberta Robinson, 60, of West Roxbury, said she now worships at an “ecumenical Catholic congregation’’ – a group not recognized by Rome – and that she came to the event “to support the movement.’’

She said she believes the Catholic Church will change its position on women’s ordination, saying, “it has to, or it will fall.’’

The sentiment is logical — as society progresses, so must social institutions. As more Catholics become accustomed to the idea of ordaining women, the Church will need to adjust itself to accommodate its followers, if it wants to keep those followers. But, in reality, it might not be so simple. According to a recent New York Times article, young people who are just now becoming nuns and priests, though more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, are more interested in upholding traditions than the generation before them. While the priests and nuns who were ordained in the 1960s frequently rejected traditional clothing, pursued degrees in higher education, and generally worked to modernize the Church, those in training today prefer to wear habits and observe traditional prayer rituals. If the statistics referenced in the article are accurate, I don’t think that bodes well for a shift in the acceptance of female ordination any time soon.

What are your thoughts? How long do you think it will be before we see officially ordained female Catholic priests?

  1. clockwatcher23 permalink
    August 25, 2009 2:57 pm

    Oh, what a wonderful question, although there’s no hope for it while this pope is alive. He agrees with John Paul II that we aren’t even going to have the CONVERSATION. It’s not even a discussion point, so a lot of Nothing is bound to happen.

    And as you indicated, most younger priests are even more conservative than the older priests, so the next few popes will probably be on the same page as this one. The Church appears to be trying to kill itself slowly.

  2. Erik permalink
    August 25, 2009 3:07 pm

    I guess I don’t understand why these women care so much about being ‘officially’ ordained? I mean, clearly they disagree with the Pope’s ideology (problematic also because of the Papal Infallibility nonsense), so why are they trying so hard to stay within the sanctioned institution? I know its not exactly how Catholicism ‘works’, but can’t they all just be like ‘Fuck the Pope. I’m a priest if I say I am. I’ll be my own fuckin’ pope! Take that bitches!’

    I mean, this sorta seems like Obama trying to Glenn Beck’s blessing on health reform. The Pope believes all sorts of crazy shit (lest we forget that whole ‘condoms are spreading AIDS in Africa’ thing…). In fact, the Pope officially recognizing women as priests would almost be worse for women. Who wants to be on the same political/ideological side as the Pope?

    Admittedly, I don’t really get religion to begin with. So maybe this is all just Greek to me. But considering all the issues women face in today’s world, getting officially recognized by one whacko in a crazy hat seems to be rather…eh…to me.

    No? Any Catholics here that can weigh in?

    • Emily permalink*
      August 25, 2009 3:26 pm

      As much as I’m laughing out loud in my office because “I mean, this sorta seems like Obama trying to get Glenn Beck’s blessing on health reform” is hilarious, I do have to say that Erik has a point.

      I cannot call myself Catholic, however: I was confirmed Catholic (by force, not choice) but now I do not associate myself with any religion (except maybe in my college years when I secretly wanted to be Jewish…hence NYU. Jk, umm, not really…). I don’t understand the personal choice why a woman would want to represent Catholicism in becoming a priest because generally the religion is, err,anti-woman and stuck in the middle ages.

      But, in saying that, I think that religion should be inclusive, not exclusive. And while I wouldn’t personally want to become a priest because of my feminist convictions, if a woman wants to become a Catholic priest, she should be allowed to do so.

    • August 25, 2009 3:28 pm

      Well, I’m an ex-Catholic (never confirmed), but I’ll start by saying that Papal Infallibility is actually a complicated and contested subject. I don’t think anyone still believes that the Pope is always infallible. He must be speaking ex cathedra, and that is rarely officially invoked.

      Obviously I can’t speak for everyone involved here, but what women who want to be ordained in the Church are looking for isn’t so much papal approval as being able to play their role in an institution and culture that they think of as their own. (It’s not so much like looking for Glenn Beck’s approval as it is like staying in the country of your birth and working for reform.)

      From the outside looking in, when you see just the official hierarchies and doctrines, the Catholic Church looks like a uniform institution; this is to the advantage of the Vatican, and certain individuals work hard to maintain this appearance. The reality is (and has pretty much always been) a lot messier and more complicated, as it usually is when you’re talking about an organization this old and this big.

      Does that help?

      • Carrie permalink
        August 25, 2009 3:55 pm

        Obviously I can’t speak for everyone involved here, but what women who want to be ordained in the Church are looking for isn’t so much papal approval as being able to play their role in an institution and culture that they think of as their own.

        I agree 100%, Elizabeth. I’m not Catholic (which is why I was hesitant to insert too many of my own opinions in the original post, because it’s ultimately not my place to say), but I was raised in a traditional Jewish household, and throughout my life I’ve known and spoken with many Jewish women who are much more religious and traditional than I am. And what you’re saying holds true in that context as well — women who belong to religions that have traditionally excluded women often want to be accepted in positions of power so that they can play a role in the institution that they admire. It may not speak to our own specific experiences, but I think you’re right that that’s where it’s coming from.

  3. August 25, 2009 3:16 pm

    An interesting connection to this is the apostolic visitation of American nuns. This is basically an investigation only carried out when the Vatican believes there is something terribly wrong with a group or institution. Part of the reason for this “visitation” is that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has expressed support for the ordination of women.

    Right now, the Catholic Church is going backwards, even overturning many of the reforms of Vatican II.

  4. Erik permalink
    August 25, 2009 3:42 pm

    ekswitaj –

    Yeah, I get what you’re saying – and I certainly don’t disagree. I guess I just can’t get over the mental road block of “you are religious by choice. If you don’t agree with the tenants of your religion, find a new one or start your own.” I mean, this is protestant Christianity’s whole m.o. You know, that Luther guy and the knife in the door with the angry.

    This is hyperbole – but why would one, say, want to be a scientologist if they didn’t believe they were filled with thetans, or whatever? I mean, that is the doctrine of the church, no?

    The second some earlier thoughts of Emily, the Catholic Church is oppressive in a whole grip of ways. Fighting for acceptance in an organization that believes everyone else is going to burn in hell (or hang out in purg, whatever), and that they alone have a handle on Truth is, or so it seems to me, rather antithetical to the cause of equality for women.

    • August 25, 2009 5:37 pm

      I definitely see what you’re saying, but it’s worth remembering that Catholic Church doctrine isn’t set in stone and has actually changed a lot since Luther set off the Reformation. It is a living, changing thing. Indeed, the specific example you mention is one area in which progress has been made with Vatican II making clear that not all non-Catholics go to Hell.

  5. kurukurushoujo permalink
    August 26, 2009 5:47 am

    What are your thoughts? How long do you think it will be before we see officially ordained female Catholic priests?

    As long as there are Catholics who support traditionalist views the church will not change its dogma. There are enough people out there who find solace in following outdated social rules and conventions because it gives their life meaning and purpose and there are enough oppressed people in this world for the Catholic church to bring their message to and make into believers. Therefore it will take a long time before the Catholic church reaches the point of being forced to adapt to progressive opinions.
    There is the added difficulty of women being barred from priesthood as dogma which I already mentioned in the first sentence- dogmas are truths that cannot be questioned in general. As far as I know there is a distinction between dogmas that are deemed to be true at all times and dogmas that are open to reinterpretation but you won’t be surprised to hear that the dogma of male-only priesthood is considered eternally true while the dogma of celibacy for example is open for reinterpretation (which is curious and obviously self-serving). Imho, dogmas only serve to uphold certain conventions found to be advantageous by the Catholic church and although I’m unclear on what has to be done to make a dogma considered “objectively true” into one considered “subjectively true” we first need a pope who is open to woman as priests to begin to change the state of the dogma and the current one definitely is too conservative, not too mention dangerously regressive (Re-introduced praying for the conversion of Jewish people etc etc).
    But before a progressive pope can be elected it is imperative that his cardinal electors are also open to progressive ideas and that makes it even more complicated.

  6. roger permalink
    November 20, 2009 1:31 pm

    i totally disagreed that women should be priest because woman are know to be unclean at times.e.g during her the bible from old till new their was no women being priest,prophet so the church will stick by the traditions of the bible not to ordained woman ,i love to see woman be one but i agree with the holy father not to ordain woman.theirs plenty space the church has provided for woman e.g convent,marriage,laywoman .so ladies fit your self in. lol


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