Monday, October 4, 2010

Holy and Courageous Women

During his September 9, 2010 papal address, Pope Benedict asked the Holy Spirit to, “raise up wise, holy and courageous women” like St. Hildegard of Bingen to help address issues like clergy abuse.  That same week we also learned clergy abuse and absence of accountability in Belgium linked directly to at least 13 abuse victims’ suicides.  

However, the pope clarified in his address that he believes “holy and courageous” women do not, “subvert the very nature of the church" by actually challenging wrongs.  Rather, he thinks “courageous” women defend the hierarchical culture that enabled abuses.  Isn’t one definition of insanity to repeat the same actions but expect different results?

First, please be aware that Hildegard of Bingen actually defied church hierarchy.  So, why did the pope use her as an example of being docile?

Second, what's intrinsically courageous about being docile?  Please name me one prophet that didn't speak sharply against injustice.  Great church reformers such as Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena were none too popular in their day.  Pope Gregory XI probably wasn't thinking, "now there's a nice docile gal" when St. Catherine told him to haul his holy carcass from Avignon, France back to Rome.

But more importantly, what does the pope think today’s Catholics seek that would “subvert” the church’s “very nature”?

Catholics want accountability, especially for bishops who withhold information about or move pedophile priests.  The church’s “very nature” insists upon accountability.  Hence, we have the sacrament of reconciliation.

Catholics want culture changed to stop enabling power and child abusers.  Enablement occurs when people accept rather than challenge alternate realities forged of lies, manipulation and denial.  Truth prevents enablement of abusers and often arises from questioning. Thus, Canon law expresses the laity’s duty to question the church.  The church’s nature stands upon truth and questioning.

Catholics want gender equality, an aspect of human dignity.  Rendering human dignity is part of the church’s nature.    

Most Catholics want female ordinations.  The last statistic I saw was just under 80% of Catholics support female ordinations.  Some do believe this would subvert the church’s nature but their beliefs are based upon easily questionable reasons.  Let us be holy and courageous enough to question and explore these inconsistencies:
§  Some say Jesus only appointed male apostles, despite him directly sending (the definition of “apostle”) Mary Magdalene with news of his resurrection, the most important news in Christian history. 
§  Others declare they have authority to put words in Jesus’ mouth by inferring he absolutely wanted only male apostles despite him never stating this.  However, they then say they lack the authority to take out the very words they placed in his mouth. 
§  Others ignore New Testament female apostles or discount their apostleship because there is no record of them receiving “laying on of hands”.  Yet, no initial male apostles experienced this either. 
§  Others think if Jesus wanted female apostles, he would have apointed his mother as one. Since he didn't, they infer he must not have wanted any women...ever.  This reasoning assumes Jesus would abandon his pattern choosing weak (Peter, Thomas, Judas) and despised (Matthew, Paul) men as apostles by selecting the most virtuous woman in the world as an apostle.
§  Others say that a person must see the presence of Jesus in a priest and that it would be impossible for anyone to see this in a woman.  Yet the church teaches that men and women bear the image of Christ. I also don't understand how someone who doesn't know me can tell me who reminds me of Jesus.  I know a lot of women who remind me more of Jesus than several clergy I've encountered.
§  Some say male Jesus mystically married the female church so male priests must continue mystical union with the female church to retain male and female presence in the union.  Yet, the all-male Magisterium constitutes the official voice of the female church. Thus, it sort of seems like the all-male clergy marries the all-male Magisterium.

Let us be “holy and courageous” enough to question or reject practices that enable abuse, avoid accountability or treat women unjustly.  In this way we will emulate St. Hildegard and support the church’s “very nature”.


  1. Um. No. The original twelve may not have had hands layed on them, but there was that little thing of Pentacost. The Holy Spirit ordains, not quite Jesus! The Holy Spirit however is sent by Christ, and thus Christ, via the holy spirit only ordained the Twelve (Men!).

  2. My conclusion, is that woman must stand up and defend the Church, from foes within such as Pedophiles and out such as hostile governments. All men are called to this sacred duty too.

    Unfortunately, woman simply cannot be ordained.

  3. Spin the clock back 30-40 years and you’d be living in a time in our history when the word pedophilia was still relatively unknown to the general population and homosexuals were not coming of the closet. The patterns of pedophiles being repeat offenders were not known and reports or accusations of these activities seem unimaginable and difficult believe. Today the public is passing judgment on the church while looking at the past through the eyes of the present. Priest are sinners much like everyone else, they suffer from crisis of faith, addictions, depression and sexual desires like any other human. Pedophilia and the priesthood are not connected, gym teachers are actually the most likely candidate to be a pedophile; but gym teachers and public schools don’t have as much money as the Catholic church don’t make as good of a news story. I don’t defend the priests, but I do defend the church, their decisions were not made with today’s information and they lived in a time when a solemn promise meant something.
    If you believe your own words then I challenge you to question everything you hear. Take homosexuality for example, aside from their word there is zero evidence to support the claim that they are born homosexual and there is ample evidence that homosexuality is a psychological problem stemming from childhood issues with their father, perhaps it’s an alternate reality forged in lies. You may read of a double washing of the sperm, but that is a theory created on no evidence.
    Today our society bombards us with notions that we are entitled to everything. The notion that I can’t have everything I want has become unacceptable. Women are not men and men are not women, as a man I’ll never know what it’s like to be pregnant or enjoy shopping. Why is so difficult to concede that God has plan for men and another for women, and that being a priest falls in the camp of a male. An objective read of the Bible accounting for the context of each reference to the 12 and the women that traveled with them is more than adequate to illustrate that the women were treat differently, not badly just differently.
    I suggest you consider that millions of Christians read a passage in their Bible while lying in bed at night and think they’ve found some kind of miraculous insight that nobody has ever considered. The integrity of the Church’s teachings shouldn’t be challenged lightly. The fact is that Catholic Church interprets the Bible in the context of the time it was written and in the language the words were written. They preach the combined thought and knowledge of nearly 2000 years of study. When you study the intricacy of the Bible and the insights from past Catholic theologians, you find the most beautiful and convincing story of God, which has been prophesied and unfolding since Adam and Eve. You’ll see things like Mary the mother of God is the Arc of the Covenant… the arc held the Ten Commandments and was the law in God’s covenant with Moses and the Israelites and Mary became the Arc of the new covenant while carrying Jesus. You’ll find connections to the Mass in Revelations, prophecies in Isaiah, connections to Adam and Jesus, Mary and Eve, and the Kingdom promised to David in the Catholic Church.

  4. Yes, there was that little thing of Pentecost ...and one of the apostles there was not selected by Jesus...Matthias. If the apostles were not yet "ordained" because Pentecost had not happened when they selected Matthias, then you are saying his apostleship is not legitimate because he was selected by non-ordained apostels and not by Jesus.

    Also, the passage in Acts 2 says "they were all there"....who are the "they"? It does not specify. We know that at least 12 apostles were there. Were there others in the "they"?

    Some doctrine site this passage as meaning all present believers received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, not just the apostles.

    Further confusing the matter, on one hand the church teaches that Holy Orders was instituted at the Last Supper (pre-Pentecost). At other times, the church teaches holy orders was in the selection of the original 12. It seems to be a moving target relativistically applied depending upon what one is trying to "prove".

    Now, we also have this tricky issue of our friend St. Paul...who declared himself an apostle and only received laying on of hands from a disciple (not an apostle) for healing (not for commissioning). He hadn't even been baptized yet! He broke just about every "apostle" rule out there. He claimed his authority by being selected by Jesus.

  5. Regarding the second anonymous comment that states, "Unfortunately woman simply cannot be ordained." Upon what is this based other than a papal pronouncement?

    Peter was charged that all things were to be held loosed or bound based upon his decision. This was passed down through the Chair of Peter. I did not see a disclaimer that it applied to all things except ordaining women.

    Those in the chair of Peter made a rule by inferring Jesus' intention and they do not wish to rescind it. That doesn't mean they can't. All it would take is another pronouncement saying, "after further review and a few centuries of deliberation, we infer a different intention from Jesus".

    Regarding defending against pedophiles, this is a sacred duty that the faithful have been trying to do for some time and feeling like they're not getting a lot of cooperation from the church hierarchy. The structure of Canon law that grants many sweeping powers to pastors makes it difficult to hold pastors accountable for many things, including child abuse.

    If we keep in mind that Jesus selected some very flawed men as the initial apostles, and fashioned Canon law regarding pastors' rights with the assumption that these men are flawed (because they all are), it might help. Right now it's structured almost assuming pastors are not flawed humans.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "hostile" government. I think a government that prosecutes pedophiles is a good thing (not hostile to the church). It can work with us and help us. As Pope Benedict said in his 1st encyclical, secular governments are neither intrinsically bad or good...but they can be either depending upon how the government is implemented.

  6. Oh, also regarding the first anonymous comment...John Paul II in at least one of his encyclicals (Mulieris Dignitatem) cites John 20:19-23 as when the apostles received the Holy Spirit.... (versus exclusively Pentecost)

    "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
    Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."" (John 20:19-23)

    Please note that the "disciples" NOT "apostles" are actually who were present at this point with the commissioning for the sacrament of reconciliation. And, please note that Thomas (an apostle) was NOT present according to John's gospel. Correlating Luke's rendition of this event, the two on the road to Emmaus joined "the eleven and those with them", clearly indicating more than the apostles being present.

    Church tradition fully accepts female disciples. Thus, likely there were women in the group of disciples. Yet, John Paul II used this very passage as a point of apostolic exclusivity in receiving a commissioning by the Holy Spirit, though it clearly was disciples who were there. (Luke 24:33-35)

    Also, with your supposition that "ordination" took place at Pentecost, you introduce some problematic items. First, you introduce a new state of apostleship, the unordained apostle. This would be the state of apostles from the time of being apointed by Jesus and being "ordained" at Pentecost. Second, the great commissioning took place BEFORE you would have them commissioned before they are ordained.

    Also, you seem to assume that the Holy Spirit was somehow absent at Jesus' resurrection encounter with Mary Magdalene when he sent her. How was the Holy Spirit present when Jesus selected the twelve but not when he selected Mary? Since as a trinitarian body the Father, Son and Spirit are united, is it possible for Jesus to select Mary without the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Are you saying this was happenstance...sort of like if the village idiot stumbled by, he would have been sent instead?

    Furthermore, there are multiple female apostles indicated in the NT, especially female deacons. Somehow in the last several centuries, the church has been discrediting those apostles. Why? I'll tell you. Because they say there is no record of them receiving a laying on of hands. Well, there are a lot of apostles in the early church where we have no record of "laying on of hands". Why do we take on faith that the male apostles mentioned in the NT without indication of laying on of hands did receive this (making them "valid") but the female ones did not?

  7. My apologies to the anonymous person who commented in a lengthy run-on paragraph. The spam filter for this site flagged your comment as spam and placed in a folder. I didn't realize that this was something that I should check.

    Due to comment size restrictions, I will respond in two posted comments.

    You raise many points, many of which are not substantiated in facts. That's o.k. when expressing an opinion. However, you challenge me to check facts so I must ask you to do likewise. Some of your points are refuteable by facts.

    First, the child abuse in the Church is not exclusively molestation of male children. Please read the report on the Irish church or the John Jay report on the abuse in the U.S. church. In the U.S. 19% of the molestations were of female children. Thus, facts do not support your suppositions around sexual orientation.

    Second, sexual abuse is an act of violence not sexual expression. Thus, it is difficult to tie it to any sexual orientation.

    Third, there are many diffent studies around homosexuality that arrive at different "conclusions". I am not an expert on the topic but that seems to be a tangential topic so seems inappropriate to discuss here.

    Fourth,you say that there are no facts to support claims about homosexuality yet you assert statements about women that have no scientific support either. For example, I don't like to shop. I'll never know what it's like to enjoy that either. There is no scientific support for claims church leaders make about who women "should" be that tie to the XX chromosome pairing. They are based upon conjecture, supposition, dated stereotypes and are easily refutable by my own and other women's experiences, thus rendering much of it highly questionable if not invalid.

  8. Continuing my response to the lengthy anonymous comment...

    I agree with you that the priests' actions are not defendable. I do not believe the actions of the bishops are either. Their actions that I find least defendable are their actions in present day. If one realizes decades later one has committed a grave sin long ago, the first step to reconcile is to humbly admit it. Then humbly profess sorrow, and humbly seek forgiveness as well as to work to reinstate trust. Arrogantly dismissing people's pain as a "topic of yesterday" has driven away thousands from the church.

    Also as a point to ponder, in my diocese a priest in 2005 (after the revised norms in the country for dealing with suspected abuse) was reported by a staff member for his extensive hours spent viewing child porn on his computer. He was put on administrative leave as the Vatican decided if this was grave enough to remove him from his pastoral and priestly offices. It must have been a very difficult decision because after 22 months, they still had made no decision! The guy died after 22 months which is how this was resolved. By the way, the whistleblower was fired.

    I too believe in defending the church. The church is the people of God. I do not defend the church's bishops or priests who committed, denied, enabled or fail to make amends for what has occurred. I believe the church needs to be defended from their actions or failure to act.

    Yes, I am very familiar with scripture study. I have a master degree in theology. I also had a scripture scholar (the late Fr. Lawrence Boadt, author of the book "Reading the Old Testament", publisher of Paulist Press, holder of a licentiate in sacred theology) review my manuscript. He sent me three letters praising and validating my work from a scholarly and theological standpoint.

    The document to which you allude is Divino Afflante Spiritu written by written by Pope Pius XII in 1943. This says we must read sacred scripture in the context from which it was written. Dei Verbum also states that scripture is a living entity, God speaking to us all the time through scripture. I consult numerous historical documents, church doctrine, and biblical commentaries including the Jerome Commentary (considered the authority of biblical commentary in the church).

    If you had identified yourself, I would be happy to show you my personal theology library and discuss my research methods. However, it seems all the critical comments on this blog thus far are by people who wish to remain anonymous while those in support sign their names.

    Finally, I wish you could have heard the homily I heard at morning Mass today. The priest spoke of how we need to be vigilant to not cause scandal that drives people from Christ. On a DAILY basis, I meet people who have left the church because of the actions of priests but more importantly of the bishops. In contrast, I've had several lapsed and active Catholics tell me my exploration of questions brings them healing and deeper into their faith. To date, I've had no person tell me they abandoned their faith due to my questions. If you learn of anyone who personally feels less connected to Christ due to my writings, please send them to me and I will gladly speak to them.


  9. You are amazing to me! kristy page... not anonymous! I love your insite, honesty, devotion to your church, family, job, convictions, beliefs and many many other qualities I have witnessed first hand! Keep up the good work! May we all have the audacity to question, research, and continue to be the faithful servant that I know you are!