Every time the Catholic Church takes one step forward, it seems to take one giant step back.
This week, after a heady, youth-driven swing through Brazil, Pope Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, made a major leap forward by giving a slight nod to gay priests. In a news conference aboard the papal plane, Francis said homosexual Catholics “shouldn’t be marginalized … If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”
This was by no means an official go-ahead or a change in official doctrine, but at least it’s a crack in a door in a more or less closed institution.
Unfortunately, His Holiness’s following statements about women were rigid and clear. There would not be female priests, he decreed: “That door is closed.” It was the first time Francis has spoken about publicly on women in the priesthood, and it sent the Vatican right back into the dark ages again. He allowed that women have a special mission in the Church as "first witnesses" of Christ's resurrection. But as for becoming priests, forget it.
The decision is "definitive," Pope Francis said. Cryptically, he added that he would like women to have more leadership roles in administrative and pastoral activities.
Pastoral activities? Does this mean wiping the chalice or arranging flowers on the altar?
The pope is an intelligent man and realizes that time marches on. He says the Church has a long way to go in developing a real strategy that integrates women—but clearly he is baffled as to how to do it.
"It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas," he said. "Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests," just like "Mary is more important than the apostles."
OK, all good. He’s thinking about it. But the punishment for those non-traditionalists who want to go ahead and have a female religious leader is fairly wrathful. Women attempting to be priests—or those why try to ordain them—already face automatic excommunication.
A 2010 decree took it a step further: they will be stricken with a “crime against sacraments.”
According to The Telegraph, the rules issued by the Vatican under the previous pontiff put attempts at ordaining women among the “most serious crimes” alongside pedophilia. Such violations will be handled by investigators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), considered the successor to the Inquisition.”
For real? The successor to the Inquisition?
True, religious institutions are the last bastion of sexism, but there is some movement elsewhere. Judaism has some female rabbis. Protestant denominations have begun ordaining women, which should put some pressure on the Church. In Britain, there are plans for the first women bishops to be ordained in the Anglican Church as soon as 2014. (This step is not without controversy—it has caused a deep rift between traditional Church of England members and reformers.)
According to the Telegraph, the idea of women joining the Anglican Church pushed many devoted worshipers back to Rome—a place they had not loyally followed since the 16th century. “A group of 70 disgruntled clergy met with a Catholic bishop on Saturday to discuss plans to defect to the Roman Catholic Church and hundreds are said to be poised for an exodus to Rome.”
It’s hard for the Catholic Church to accept change. When the mass was no longer said in Latin, loyalists went into mourning for years. But the decision to exclude women from the higher echelons sends a fundamental message of injustice. This goes directly against the basic doctrines of the Catholic Church, the teachings of Jesus Christ (which were all about justice and fairness) and the gospels.
After all, are women any less pious than men? Was St. Therese any less holy than St. Peter? If the pope is not judging gay priests, than why such rigid judgment based on gender?
Nothing makes sense in the Catholic Church, and I say this as a veteran of 16 years of Catholic schooling.
Even as a small child, I wondered why the Dominican nuns who educated me were subservient to the Jesuit priests who educated my brothers. Why did the priests wear the cool robes, read the gospel, and get to drink wine? my curious 8-year-old self once asked a nun.
There was no answer. I got whacked as a result.