The People Speak Out

Local voices connecting globally

This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.  (Pope Francis)

Canon Law 212 calls upon the laity to speak up:

2 - The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. - According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Women in the Church articles

Clyde Christofferson says:

On 17 May 2016 at 08:59, Clyde Christofferson wrote:
These are good thoughts, honestly expressing the frustration many of us feel.
I recall my first encounter with the abysmal state of theological support for opposing the ordination of women. It was a transcript of a lecture given by Avery Cardinal Dulles in 1996. I had assumed that if anyone would be able to make a case for gender discrimination in the priesthood it would be Avery Dulles.
I was disappointed. In some sense it was a pleasant disappointment. There really is nothing to the theology. Its history, not theology, tracing back to those apostles who were male. The conclusion: “… the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”
“God’s plan”? Pure idolatry. These are the plans of men.
It is easy to ridicule the vacuum that passes for argument in support of continuing to exclude women from the ordained ministry. Yet the proponents of this position appear to be quite stiff necked.

This is always a red flag to me. If I am so frustrated that I am reduced to calling an advocate on the other side “stiff necked” and “ridiculous” I know I have not understood his position and have no clue about how — to use the language of Pope Francis — to “accompany” and “encounter Christ” in such a person.
Here’s what I think. It’s not the logic of the opposition that is the problem. The logic is very thin, as a reading of the article by Avery Dulles will confirm. Something else is going on, something quite simple. They (e.g. Paul VI, JPII, Benedict XVI) are not following St. Augustine’s advice about “God’s book of nature”, because they don’t see the connection — which has only become evident in the last fifty years — between the cosmic journey and the human journey. They are both about the connection between cognition and reality.

Francis sees it. In #36 of Amoris Laetitia he cautions against “excessive idealization”, especially when abstractions are not coupled with trust in God’s grace. Physicists understand that their theories are idealizations of reality, not to be confused with reality itself. Francis understands that if you lean too hard on an idealization, it breaks, it no longer works for its pastoral purpose (see Gaillardetz, “The Pastoral Orientation of Doctrine” in Going Into The Streets: The Welcoming Church of Pope Francis, Paulist Press 2016).

In one sense, the pastoral focus of Francis is a brilliant reprieve from a “changeless truth” approach to Church teaching. In another sense, the pastoral focus delays the inevitable: a recognition that religious conceptualizations of reality are quite similar to physical conceptualizations of reality. In both cases conceptualizations say as much or more about the limits of human cognition than they do about reality.

It is in the nature of our journey toward union with a loving God that our conceptual frameworks improve with time. In physics, continuity during the changes brought about by these improvements is provided by observational evidence. Old evidence remains the same; new evidence is explained by the improvements. In theology, continuity is provided by giving precedence to the highest principles in the “hierarchy of truths”, namely love of God and neighbor.

In the past, change in the Church has been rationalized as no real change at all. When the word wizards are finished, what was thought to be a change turns out to be consistent with what has been taught before. In physics this would be called a reductionist approach; there is a similar concept in a theological context (see Lonergan, Insight, p. 257) but this has not changed the traditional approach to continuity.

That approach provides continuity, but breaks down with teachings such as those based on gender. For example, it is simply not true that “God made them male and female”. Our ancient ancestors thought it was true, and were acting in good faith in thinking so. But it turns out not to be true. Our LGBT colleagues know that it is not true, and our neighbors and friends in society are gradually coming to a more humane understanding, an understanding supported by modern genetics.

“God’s book of nature” — in light of what we now know about the cosmos and about the limitations of human cognition — provides a better approach to continuity: it is ordinary and natural for conceptual frameworks themselves to evolve, mature and be replaced by conceptual frameworks that better reflect experienced reality. Opening up the diaconate to women would be a good step forward. And it probably can be rationalized in the traditional manner. But at some point it is going to become clear that the old approach to continuity in Church teaching is broken (or has reached a Donnybrook, or a Rubicon, depending upon point of view).

God works through the soft whispers of the heart, patiently accepting whatever conceptual frameworks are available at the time. At the time of the Gospel message, there were Pharisees who advocated a reliance upon the law (Luke 11:46). Jesus, like Francis, saw that this reliance upon the law compromises cultivation of the soft whispers of the heart. This cultivation is very important, and leads to the reign of God. The reign of God is beyond the law. Matthew 5 contains a litany of exhortations not to settle for the requirements of the law but rather to continue listening to the Spirit speaking from the heart.
Ironically, the early Church Fathers took some of these exhortations — in particular those concerning marriage — and turned them into law, missing Christ’s point almost entirely. While this is reasonable and understandable given the times, we have ended up with the indissolubility of marriage as an “excessive idealization” written so deeply into stone that change is exceedingly difficult to rationalize.

The Church needs a more adequate theology of change. I do not discount the possibility that clever theologians will find a way toward the diaconate for women by retaining the traditional approach to continuity (“nothing has really changed”) that has been in use for centuries, but recent knowledge of God’s handiwork in creation gives the Church a simpler and more adequate way to achieve justice. And this path to justice would bring with it the full ordination of women, not just the diaconate.

At least there is joy in my heart from that possibility.

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