I have been following the ordeal of Father Roy Bourgeois who participated in the ordination ceremony of a woman priest in the United States back in 2008. In case you don’t know, Father Roy is a 73-year-old peace activist Catholic priest who belongs to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers for about four decades. He entered the seminary of Maryknoll after four years of military service receiving a Purple Heart for his duty in Vietnam. He was ordained in1972.
In August, 2008, he gave the homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska at a Unitarian church in Lexington, Kentucky for which he got a notice of possible excommunication by the Vatican. He was excommunicated latae sententiae meaning instant sentence for certain actions.
In March last year, Maryknoll asked him to recant his support of women’s ordination or face expulsion from the order. He did not recant and explained that his actions were a matter of conscience and rights of a priest. This month, Maryknoll took a vote to expel him but the results are not yet reported.
Why are women not allowed to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood?
Here is a very recent answer from a monsignor speaking on behalf of a Canadian archbishop, “On the question of the ordination of women, expert scholarship and the writings of the early Church Fathers clearly show that while women exercised a vital and irreplaceable role in the early Church, they were never ordained to the ministerial priesthood or episcopacy. This decision by the Church stems from the decision of Our Lord himself in his choice of the Twelve.”
That is a stock answer I have heard before from the hierarchy and lay people who oppose the ordination of women. Put in that context, who would question the wisdom of our Lord in whatever he decided to do. As a Christian, I wouldn’t. But allow me to look a bit closer at the Church’s decision if indeed it stems from the Lord’s choice of disciples.
The Twelve were white, unschooled Jewish men, some of whom were married. Why did the Church allow non-white, non-Jewish and often learned men into the priesthood? If the decision stemmed from the Lord’s choice, then the Church should have allowed married men too. (Earlier, married men may be ordained to priesthood. Until the twelfth century, priests, bishops and 39 popes were married. Movements for celibacy started because of inheritance problems and celibacy was imposed following the Second Lateran Council in 1139. Not quite in accord with the Lord!)
I suppose when the first black was ordained a Catholic priest, an argument was placed that there were no blacks among the Lord’s disciples. Similarly, there were no Italians, Americans, Canadians or Filipinos among the Twelve. How did the Church overcome the argument?
The Lord’s choice of the twelve was based more on their beliefs and faith. That they were all white Jewish men speaks more of the times than prejudice. Two thousand years ago in Palestine, long before the Dark Ages, a non-Jew was either a black slave or a stranger from other lands. I suppose none of these would be good in the Lord’s mind to spread the word or to lead believers in the Holy Land. And women were treated as chattel. Indeed, Paul had time and again warned that women should not speak or lead men (see for example 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35).
This cultural and social prejudice against women goes deep. In olden times, women were considered inferior to men physically (because they are smaller in size), intellectually and emotionally (might is right). This is the same prejudice that has kept women from leading a nation or becoming a leader in her chosen field of endeavour. But we have gone a long way from that or we would not have seen the emergence of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of U. K., Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan or President Cory Aquino of the Philippines.
I like to think that every priest is called upon by the Holy Spirit to pursue a religious life, to become a priest and to serve the Lord. In my curiosity, I have asked some friendly priests how this comes about. I have been told that sometimes it happens in the quiet of the church or in his own bedroom when he is praying as a young man. Or it may happen in a dream. Naturally, similar things could have happened to young girls. A prime example would be St. Therese of Lisieux.
It is time that the Church considers the ordination of women to Catholic priesthood more seriously. The argument that the Lord did not have women disciples is a red herring, convenient and dismissive but misleading and not conducive to solving an increasingly pestering problem of our Church in the twenty first century.