Saturday, October 2, 2010

Questions from a Ewe

I have been encouraged to start a blog on the topic of the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church.  I'm new to blogging so let's see how this goes.  This is meant to foster positive dialogue through posing and exploring questions.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, please be aware that Canon Law says it is not only a right but a duty to question the church.  Furthermore, Canon Law also provides an over-riding power to the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful).  By this, Canon Law says that if the sensus fidelium (collective of the faithful) reject a law, it is not valid.

Consider this a labor of love for the Body of Christ, the universal church.  However, God made me with a sense of humor and slightly sarcastic bent.  Thus, you will see this woven into the fabric of my posts.  It does not make my posts any less a labor of love.

O.K.  Let me get started on my first blog entry.

According to Archbishop Wuerl, Chair of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops Doctrine of Faith Committee, women account for 80% of lay ministry in the Catholic Church (reference Catholic News Service article dated July 16, 2010).  Despite women performing such a high percentage of the work, women have an inverse proportion of the church's voice, especially in official church bodies. 

Actually, to say women have an inverse proportion of the church's official voice overstates women's voice by implying they have one.  Official voting bodies such as councils of bishops or the college of cardinals are reserved for the ordained.  Thus women are excluded from official voting bodies. 

The official teaching authority of the church is the Magisterium, composed of bishops, archbishops, cardinals and the pope - all men.

The thing I find curious is that the church refers to itself as female, mother and virgin.  (Mulieris Dignitatem, Lumen Gentium)  How is it that this female entity has only male voices?

Church teaching speaks of the equality of men and women and the importance of both.  Why is one gender important enough to have an official voice and the other not?

I begin with this question of voice because I tried to pose my questions from this ewe to the shepherds of the church and received a few responses but precisely ZERO answers.  I posed my questions via an approximately 150 page unpublished manuscript entitled, "Questions from a Ewe to Her Shepherds".  I sent it to the pope as well as some cardinals, archbishops and bishops.  One batch I sent on the feast of Pentecost in 2009, the other on the Feast of All Saints Day, 2009.  After about a year of waiting, I'm interpreting their thunderous silence in the answer department to mean I should not be expecting an answer anytime soon.

In sharing my manuscript with others, I find many men and women who have questions similar to mine.  Also many people said they found growth, healing or comfort in reading my manuscript's exploration of questions.  Several people, including a few noted theologians, have encouraged me to seek publication.  However, since I assembled my questions in the manuscript as a sincere effort to hear the church's answers or challenge the church to explore these areas, I'm pursuing a public domain approach first.  I guess if the document is meant to be published, it will happen.  But, right now my energies are best spent doing things other than constructing book proposals or hounding publishers and agents.


  1. Thanks Louise, I can post anonymous, but I don't know what URL is...I live next to your mom.

  2. Louise, could you indicate where Canon Law "provides an over-riding power to the sensus fidelium" and "says that if the sensus fidelium (collective of the faithful) reject a law, it is not valid"?

  3. Look in Canon Law Title III “Customs”.

  4. "Can. 23 Only that custom introduced by a community of the faithful and approved by the legislator according to the norm of the following canons has the force of law."

    Is that it?

    Canons 23-28 seem to me to be about customs becoming laws, not about laws being well-received by the faithful.

  5. My apologies for delay responding. Last evening I had to email my bishop and some local clergy in search of sacramental care for a relative who was in ICU and has not received pastoral care since hospital admission 4 days ago. I mention that because I see you also responded to my comments in PrayTell blog about the liturgy. There seemed to be a theoretical supposition made by some that one can both do good liturgy and good works and that equal balance exists between the two. Where I live, there is pointed imbalance of focus on worship versus works. This is not the first time I have had to seek pastoral care for a seriously ill hospitalized family member. And yet in MT 25 Jesus suggests caring for the sick is a minimum requirement for entrance to heaven without mentioning likewise for worship.

    Anyway, Title II pertains to laws versus customs. As noted in the commentary of the 1983 Code (I have the Wilson & Lafleur edition) it says regarding Canon 28 that there is "equal standing of law and custom in canon law". Canon 27 says that "Custom is the best interpreter of laws". The notes for this explain that the lives of the faithful as pertains to Church laws have a "status of a critereon for interpretation." Canon 26 provides for custom to operate which is contrary to law. So the people's customs have the power to overturn law. Thus, people can reject a law by their custom of not accepting it.

    Also Canon 1752 states, "keeping in mind the salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law." The notes for this indicate "nothing is more appropriate that to remember that canonical equity - the spirit of the Gospel in dealing with particular subjective situations - can and should be applied in harmony with the supreme law of the Church, which is the salvation of souls." So, the gospel trumps all Canon law. And the gospel is about the good news of salvation, loving and caring for each other as we follow Jesus. Thus, this would suggest that any law that conflicts with the gospel is invalid.

    Canon 212 discusses the balance between obedience and questioning (dissenting as many like to call it).

    This thread of balancing forces is very present in Canon Law. It is not the same as a U.S. Constitution's democratic checks and balances. However, Canon Law derived from Church teachings such as Lumen Gentium does not set forth ordained clergy as dictators. There is an important deference given to the Spirit's presence revealed through the throngs of the faithful as a balancing factor to the Spirit's presence in clergy. Would it not be heretical to suggest otherwise as it would deny the Spirit we obtain through baptism and affirm during confirmation. It would somehow nullify the Spirit's powers to say the Spirit within each person is a degraded Spirit. I believe God is quite powerful in this regard and gives us the gift of the Spirit speaking from many places to prevent any human person or organization from becoming enrapt in their own thoughts.

  6. By the way, it was an extremely conservative orthodox priest who familiarized me with these sections of Canon Law. He even provided me with examples of laws that have been promulgated and ignored. He had several examples since his master degree is in systematic theology (the evolution of theology and the church). It was he who helped me more profoundly appreciate the "Church as pilgrim people" concept. We - the Church - the people of God - continue to change and adapt. Immutability of the Church is far from true.

    Wish I could remember more of his examples to share with you but one pertained to the conflict of science and theology around the whole Galileo matter. It was considered a "natural law" that the Earth was the center of the universe. Yet that was not true and over time the sensus fidelium's rejection of what the hierarchy had declared "truth" prevailed.

    There is a bullying sector in the church right now that screams "dissenter" as though it is a dirty word. But over time, many who were once called "dissenters" later were called "saints". That is because their sensus fidei (personal sense of faith, i.e. conscience rather than collective sense of the faithful) even had directive and corrective power upon the body of Christ, the Church to which they belonged. This is important to keep in mind so that quests for the security of "absolutes" don't deny the all-powerful aspect of God. Remaining static presents the danger of replacing God with Tradition or Law as the center of the universe.

    Sorry to offer such a lengthy response but one more thought. As I read books on church history or papal history, I see the power of the Spirit speaking strongly through non-ordained or non-bishops in eras when the bishops and popes festered with corruption. These people were criticized and ostracized by the hierarchy of their day but over time were called "reformers". Many are now recognized as saints.

    Thus, the Church needs dissent. It needs questions. They might not be fun to contemplate or answer. And those who ask often receive a prophet's welcome. But, we need them to ensure the Church complies with God's will rather than supplants it.