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Women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church: nothing to discuss?

by
31 July 2015

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From Mr Robert Ian Williams

Sir, — I was amazed, if not entirely surprised, that Professor Eamon Duffy (Features, 24 July) left out the most crucial and important part of the quotation he takes from Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32)”.

For believing and thinking Roman Catholics, the Pope is more than just a custodian of Catholic tradition. He is the confirmer of the brethren, a divine commission given personally to St Peter the Apostle, and recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Our Blessed Lord, being God, could see how Satan would sift the Church with divisions. The Catholic Church is not a Church of two integrities, and there has to be the same voice of him who spoke with authority.

This confirmatory authority, which is the promise of infallibility found in embryo in the aforementioned text (“unfailing faith” are the actual words) is clearly invoked in the Pope’s letter.

Therefore, any idea that this can be reversed at some future date is pure fantasy. The matter is settled and closed for all time.

 

ROBERT IAN WILLIAMS
Y Garreg Lwyd
Whitchurch Road
Bangor Is Y Coed LL13 0BB

 

 

From Katharine Salmon

Sir, — As a member of the UK-based Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO) campaign group, I was delighted to read Professor Eamon Duffy’s excellent article, which followed the event at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Professor Duffy is quite correct in his assertion that the question of women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church has yet to be discussed at the hierarchical level, and has not been “tried and found wanting”. Despite the difficulties in discussion at Vatican level, Catholic Women’s Ordination has been discussing the question of women’s ordination with members of our own UKhierarchy for more than 20 years, and we have sent delegates to Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW).

WOW is about to hold its third international conference in Philadelphia in September, and we have contacted Pope Francis to ask for discussion on this issue when he also comes to Philadelphia. We keep knocking on the door, and believe that at some stage, when pastoral necessity demands it, the door will open.

Yet a majorpart of our remit in CWO is also reform and renewalof the Catholic Church so that women and men can minister as equals to build up the body of Christ. We are delighted to see the Bishop of Stepney calling on the two newly consecrated women bishops to “be a little bit dangerous” (News, 24 July), as we feel that that is part of our mission, too.

May I just offer a small correction to your caption to the photo of Women’s Ordination Worldwide: it is not a US-based group, though they are the biggest contingent in the Catholic Women’s Ordination movement. I can see one British face and one Canadian in your photo.

 

KATHARINE SALMON
Member of CWO and one of the current UK delegates to WOW
22 Greystones Road
Sheffield S11 7BN

 

 

From the Revd Sister Teresa CSA

Sir, — As I have understood it, the Roman Catholic argument against women priests has had two main elements: (1) that women are incapable of receiving Holy Orders; and (2) that, because Jesus was male, a priest must be male. Although (2) concerns the priesthood only, (1) primarily involves the diaconate, and must be reconsidered.

Although opponents of the ordination of women such as St Jerome constantly belittled so-called “deaconesses”, and Jerome translated “Phoebe deacon” as “Phoebe minister”, scholarship now has shown that women definitely were ordained to the diaconate. See the research of Eisen, Osiek, and Macy (and my own not yet published work that draws all of it together).

Women deacons existed in the Church in the East (e.g., Olympias, Irene Chrysosbalantou) and West (Radegund), and continued whenever a Bishop availed himself of Canon XV of Chalcedon. They were subsumed by the ordained abbesses of old-style or foundation canonesses regular, who, like abbots, had episcopal jurisdiction.

Although hidden, owing to the Ottomans, they continued also among the Armenians and Marionites. St Elizabeth Febdova and St Nectarius attempted to restore them, and the Greek Church has recently decided to ordain some nuns. It is time to look again at the question of women deacons.

Although they cannot solve the whole problem of the lack of priests for the eucharist, they can provide a great deal of official authorised pastoral ministry (e.g. baptisms, funerals, nursing-home ministry, chaplaincies, and maybe even Benediction), which would enable the remaining priests to be more specialised and cover more parishes.

 

TERESA CSA
St Andrew’s House
16 Tavistock Crescent
London W11 1AP

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