Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Ewe's Papal Audience in Rome

Despite publishing my letter to Pope Francis requesting a private “theology of women” discussion with him, and despite subsequently sending him the same letter directly to his Vatican address as well as via the U.S. Papal Nuncio, I not only did not have a private papal audience while in Rome, I didn’t even receive the courtesy of an acknowledgement that he or the Nuncio received my letter. 

In the packets I mailed Francis and the Papal Nuncio I included a copy of my unpublished book manuscript for which this blog is named, “Questions from a Ewe to her Shepherds.”  True to the title, it contains a lot of well-researched questions about women in the church.  Since Francis professes a desire to strengthen the “theology of women” I assumed he would appreciate receiving this work about women – which, by the way, a few noted theologians have already read, praised and encouraged me to publish.  

Receipt of that multi-year labor of love also went unacknowledged.  Thus, it is difficult not to question Francis’ sincerity when he says he feels women are asking deep questions that deserve answers.

Anyway, though I did not have a private papal audience, the tour operator did get us swell seats for the general Wednesday papal audience.  So, I was able to watch the iconic Francis glide within a few feet of me twice as his pope-mobile passed. 

During that papal audience Francis spoke about forgiveness and quoted from John 20:21-23 where Jesus says, “'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’.”   Francis then said that through the Sacrament of Reconciliation priests - today’s apostles - continue the work forgiving sins that Jesus entrusted to the first Apostles as mentioned in that reading from John 20:21-23.

Now, I know Frank is a busy guy and might not have had time in the last two months to read either my blog or an 82-page (150-page if double-spaced) book manuscript.  But, I would like to think he at least had time to read the sentences immediately preceding and following the ones he quoted from John’s gospel. 

John 20:19-20 says this: "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."  

Yes, my dear friends, if Francis had taken the time to read the two verses preceding the ones he used, he might not have erred and attributed the commissioning Jesus gave to the disciples about forgiveness as something reserved only for Apostles.  He would have realized that Jesus' burst of holy absolution air landed on the disciples, not the Apostles.  "So what?" you might ask.  Why should we care who was present for the forgiveness flurry that day? 

Let’s take a moment for a quick review of the difference between “disciple” and “apostle.”  A “disciple” was any follower of Jesus and included oodles of women.  However the word “apostle” means “one who is sent” and the church considers only the twelve men named in one gospel passage as “the Apostles.”  The church hierarchy restricts ordination only to men because of belief that today’s clergy via ordination continue the apostles’ work.  And, since it believes Jesus only had male apostles, only males are ordained.   

Consequently, the hierarchy gets very picky about the differences between “apostles” (i.e. something only men can be) versus “disciples” (something men or women can be)…unless the gospels’ wording inconveniently doesn’t support marginalizing women.  In those cases, where the gospels say “disciple” the hierarchy mentally substitutes “apostle” and carries on in its merry marginalizing ways.  But, please don’t be so foolish as to think where scripture says “apostle” just anyone is permitted to substitute “disciple.”  I am learning that this kind of moral relativism dishonestly representing the gospels is reserved only for men with pointy hats.

Let’s also pause for a quick sanity check.  Most of the male apostles abandoned Jesus during his Passion but a group of devoted female disciples walked his entire Passion with him.  Furthermore, it was to women disciples that the resurrected Jesus first appeared on Easter morning.  Thus, I think it’s very, very, very likely that women were some of the disciples in the locked room that first Easter evening.  So why don't women administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

O.K., we looked at the sentences preceding the ones Francis quoted.  We readily see that he erred by saying that Jesus commissioned apostles when in fact scripture clearly indicates he interacted with disciples which could be women.  But this is not just an errant statement.  In fact, Francis broke the 8th Commandment – intentionally or unintentionally, he bore false witness against the gospel. 

Now, let’s quickly recall the sentence which followed those Francis quoted.  John 20:24 says, “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.”  Hmmm, one of the Apostles wasn’t even there.  Yet, most likely, women were.

I mentioned these passages to the monsignor who was our group’s spiritual director and he seemed to think my concern was about Thomas being a full-fledged apostle.  This gospel passage from John is considered a key one in establishing "ordination" of the Apostles - though Jesus ordained precisely zero people.  If Thomas wasn't there, how could he be "ordained?"  Thus the monsignor responded, “I think Thomas received the Holy Spirit in abstentia.”

Riddle me this, Batman: How does the Holy Spirit pour out its gifts to Thomas in abstentia but somehow floats past the women disciples likely present in the locked room?  Had they sprayed themselves with Holy Spirit repellent preventing it from resting upon them?  I sent that very question (absent the part about Holy Spirit repellent) to the monsignor and he responded that it was a good question.  However, reading Section 104 of Francis’ recently released Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” we learn that Francis probably doesn’t think it’s a good question. 

In Section 104 Francis talks about the church having “profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded” regarding women.  My question certainly might seem to qualify as both profound and challenging.  But perhaps years of inhaling incense alters one’s brain because in his very next sentence, Francis contradicts himself and helps us understand that he has no intention of addressing profound challenging questions like mine.   He adamantly states that any question associated with the all-male priesthood is off-limits, "The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion...".   Thus, questions like mine are not “lightly evaded”; they are overtly, painfully, unjustly, and inhumanly evaded with greater distance of avoidance than must be respected for a physical restraining order. 

In the stratification of evasive tactics, these questions require a lot more effort than "light" evasion, but, mind you, they will be evaded.  It's just going to take more effort to evade them than other topics the hierarchy wishes to avoid.  For example, the hierarchy must make-up stories to discredit the very apparent depictions of early Christian women leading worship services such as appear in the Roman catacombs and other similar archaeological evidence.  Making-up alternate realities and histories takes no small amount of effort - hence ignoring them cannot be done with everyday "light" evasion tactics like sipping a diet cola.  One needs full-octane, classic-Coke strength robustness in those evasive efforts. 

Francis’ entire Section 104 is filled with unfounded and sometimes insulting statements about women and ministry.  Yet Francis fences as “unquestionable” all his pious sexist statements and unfounded assumptions because to question them would be to tamper with that already shaky foundation justifying the all-male priesthood.  Indeed, most of the profound questions women have will lead very quickly to questioning the unstable foundation forming the hierarchy’s justification for barring women from the priesthood. 

It’s starting to seem like the only “profound questions” asked by women Francis is willing to address are the ones he’s asking not the ones women are actually asking.  It’s kind of like trying to repair a sinking ship without talking to the crew or restricting the crew from talking about the huge hole in the ship’s hull.  What are the chances of fixing a ship when such restrictions apply?

When the hierarchy sacrifices correct reading of scripture to preserve papal utterances does the organization have any authority?  What is our responsibility when we see this trade-off between truth and protecting clerical culture and traditions?

Rest assured Francis, regardless of the volume of verbal or printed papal prattlings refusing to discuss women’s true concerns, I and many other faithful will continue to illuminate inconsistencies and incorrect scripture usages that marginalize women.  We will continue to question in search of truth.  We will continue to ask as Jesus did, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (MT 15:3) 

Take it from a real mother, “Because I said so” is almost never an effective parenting technique and its efficacy diminishes if not disappears the more your children mature.

Here is the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium Section 104:
Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.  It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”.  The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”.   Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.   Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.


  1. Thank you for continuing your mission of challenging us/the Church to think critically.
    Peace friend.

  2. Perhaps he read it and couldn't deal with it?

  3. Kathleen SchatzbergNovember 29, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    Bowing to you, Ewe. Thank you for speaking the truth. You always make me wish I could write as well as you do!

  4. although I admire your perseverance, I find it fascinating that you continue to persevere and do not actually seek out a different and more self affirming outlet for your spirituality than the catholic church. as I am also a dispossessed (happily so) catholic, I am neither as stalwart or optimistic as you seem to be that the church hierarchy will change in my lifetime; so, I chose to move on to more affirming and less aggravating pastures (pun intended!)

  5. Dear Anonymous, Ewe's perseverance is fascinating indeed! It reminds me of a certain well-known Jew's perseverance some 2000 years ago. That lonesome Jew ultimately chose not to 'move on' anywhere, but sticked with what he believed in. Fascinating! And I am glad he did! Regards, Francina.