Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Second Best Argument against the Ordination of Women

Yesterday, I went to a meeting for new ministers of the Word in my local church. I arrived a little bit early (I am chronically punctual) and I was alone in the sacristy with the deacon, who was the one running us through exactly what we are supposed to do. I felt slightly awkward while we waited for the others to arrive, as I don't know him very well.

We fell to talking about Pope Francis, naturally enough. At one point, the deacon wondered aloud whether the new Pope was going to "do anything about women in the Church" (or something like that). I didn't feel like getting into a debate, so I made some non-commital noise. He then said, "It's not good to be seen to alienate fifty per cent of the population". Then another new minister of the Word arrived, and the brief exchange was over.

Now, the deacon didn't actually say he was in favour of the ordination of women, but that was the impression I got. I also get the impression that quite a lot of practicing Catholics, and even of clerics, would agree with him.

It's difficult for a man to argue against this, because it seems as though you are simply siding with the boys. (Of course, a woman opposing female ordination would face the stigma of being an "Uncle Tom", or perhaps an "Aunt Tammy", but I think she would have more credibility at the same time.)

The best argument against the ordination of women is the one put so concisely by Pope John Paul II in 1994: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Such a ruling should be inarguable for those who consider themselves faithful Catholics. Unfortunately, it is not (although perhaps many of them are not aware of it). Also, many Catholics hold themselves free to dissent from magisterial teachings, and many people who are not Catholics criticize the Church for its refusal to ordain women.

So I think that the second best argument against the ordination of women is simply this: the massive loss of credibility the Church would suffer, not only amongst traditional and conservative Catholics, but amongst everybody, even its most liberal and "progressive" critics.

The most cursory glance at Church history shows us an apostolic succession composed exlusively of men. If this were to change, who would not feel in their heart that the Church was simply not the same institution?

I would argue that the Catholic Church enjoys a de facto acceptance as being the authoritative voice of Christianity, even amongst those who would vociferously dispute this. In horror movies, it is always a Catholic priest who comes face to face with the demonic, not a Methodist minister or a Presbyterian elder. When the Pope makes a statement about life on other planets or ouija boards, it is seized upon by the media in a way that pronouncements by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Patriarch of Constantinople are not. Spiritual biographies and books of prayer by Catholic monks and nuns seem to be accorded a respect that is not given to spiritual writers outside the Catholic Church.

People feel that the Church is different. At the risk of sounding infuriatingly condescending, I think that even the Church's liberal critics would feel a vague sense of loss and disorientation if it conceded to their demands. I think the world doesn't really want the Church it says it wants. It only respects a Church that will say "no" to it.

I am reminded of a scene from The Office (the American version), one of my favourite TV shows. The receptionist Erin-- who is an orphan with an unsettled childhood-- takes the manager, Michael Scott, to task for not liking her boyfriend (quotation courtesy of The website):

Erin: Why don't you like him?
Michael: What is there to like? He's just, he's a weird little skeevy guy with no waist, why do you care whether we like him or not?
Erin: I care if you like him.
Michael: Why? I'm not your father. [Erin looks sad] All right.
Erin: Okay...
Michael: Go to your room.
Erin: What? [confused]
Michael: Go to your room young lady!
Erin: [slowly getting it] Uhm, I'm not going to my room.
Michael: You listen to me. You listen good. You are are not, to see that boy, anymore.
Erin: You listen to me. You are not to tell me what to do.
Michael: As long as you are living under this roof you are going to do what I say.
Erin: I hate your roof!
Michael: Oh do not raise your voice to me!
Erin: I'll raise it how I want! I'll raise the roof!
Michael: Gahh, I will pull this car over!
Erin: I hate it! I hate your car!

Of course, the comedy of the scene is that Erin is loving every second of her long-delayed outburst against a father figure.

Deep down, I think we are all like Erin.

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