Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ordination at sea--or on the river

The Washington Post has a big story today about the next batch of women to be ordained on a boat, this time shoving off from Pittsburgh. Continuing a movement that began in Germany in 2002, another 12 women will be ordained, eight to priesthood, four to diaconate. They join five female bishops and 40 other female priests and deacons who have been ordained on boats in rivers. One local bishop, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, told one of the women in a letter that the service will be a "mockery" and that he fears for the "salvation of [her] soul." Talk about a guilt trip.

The more interesting piece of the story is that the Post sought comment not only from academics like Lisa Cahill of Boston College (pro: "There is a transfer of loyalty, and I think it [women's ordination] will happen at the grass-roots level first.") and Kevin Irwin of Catholic University (con: "Rome has spoken, so why keep going back to this?"--what an argument!) but to bloggers, which the Post characterizes as primarily conservative. (Where are my public relations people?!)

One more well-known blogger, Rocco Palmo (the Post says he's 23) of Whispers in the Loggia, had this to say: "I think this movement is dying out. Women's ordination groups are made up of older women. The younger generation doesn't see this as an issue. They know the place of the church is to serve and not tinker with these kinds of things." Rocco just took a tumble in my estimation--his fawning over the appointment of Donald Wuerl to Washington didn't help--but what does that quote even mean? Since when are "service" and justice for women unrelated? With 70 percent of Catholics supporting women's ordination, I hardly think the movement is "dying out." Plus I think it incredibly rich that a 23-year-old could so easily dismiss this cadre of "older women." Most are in their 50s--ancient indeed!!!

Of course, no one consulted CatholictotheLeft (sigh), which agrees with pro-women's-ordination Phyllis Zagano, also quoted in the Post story, when she says, "One is not ordained to priesthood and then sent out into thin air." Indeed, if one is ordained, one is ordained for service in a local church, that is, chosen for service to a specific group of God's people in a specific place. Last I checked, there were no local churches floating on rivers, although if global warming keeps up, the "barque of Peter" may indeed have to invest in floating sanctuaries.

At the same time, the Roman powers-that-be have themselves to blame for making this possible: They have perpetuated an outdated theology of orders rooted in "ontological change" passed from bishop to ordinand and have tied apostolic succession to bishops rather than the whole people of God. I find it hard to criticize these women for turning this theology against the patriarchal establishment. All they had to do was find a bishop or two willing to give them the "whammy," and, !Shazam!, we have women priests. And the patriarch's arguments against orders for women, quite frankly, have been thoroughly discredited on both historical and theological grounds.

The real problem, of course, is with our theology of ministry. Between Roman intransigence and the widespread belief that we can't be Catholic without "priesthood," we have gotten nowhere in renewing our understanding of ordained ministry.

Try this one one for size: There is no theological reason why a layperson, duly appointed by the assembly, cannot preside at eucharist. If you wish to deny that statement, you in effect argue that the church never celebrated eucharist until around the 4th century, when "priesthood" became more institutionalized, having been adopted from the Roman state religion in the grand takeover under Constantine.

Still and all, I always come back to Richard McBrien's basic comment on the question of orders, which goes something like: If Jesus came back today and we started all over, do you think we'd end up with the system we have today?

Criticize the ordained women all you want, but if their ecclesial disobedience provokes some real discussion about ministry and leadership in our church, then bully for them.


At 10:04 PM, Blogger Heidi said...

Surprise, surprise, Rocco Palmo is from Philadelphia, home of a thriving local church. According to my in-laws, it's deader than a doornail there.


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