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Including women in the Catholic Church



Phyllis Zagano’s latest book Women: Icons of Christ is a must read for all who desire equality for women in our world and an inclusive practice of Catholic faith. The critical issue Zagano presents in this book is that ordaining women to the deaconate is a not a new or forbidden act in Catholic history but rather a return to a practice that endured for hundreds of years.

Women: Icons of Christ cover

Zagano is Senior Research Associate in Residence and Adjunct Professor of Religion at Hofstra University, New York. Her scholarship on women and the deaconate is well-known and she is a respected contributor to international forums.

From the new testament onwards Zagano shows that women were active members of the evolving Christian community, consistent with the culture and custom of the time, they were ordained in the same way as their male counterparts by the laying on of hands and calling the Holy Spirit. They ministered to people through baptism, teaching catechism, providing altar service, spiritual direction, confession, and anointing the sick until the twelfth century.

With her usual rigorous scholarship Zagano cites literary, historical and epigraphical evidence that indicate the presence of women in the deaconate. She identifies how the clerical culture of the Catholic church developed from Christ’s time on, revealing how the appalling vilification of women increased to the extent that the clerical culture had snuffed out women’s voices and leadership in sacramental ministry by the twelfth century. Women deacons in western Christianity were barred from even entering the sanctuary and handling sacred vessels.

This clerical culture, which Pope Francis calls ‘a cancer in our midst’, continues to destroy our church’s ability to bring Christ’s message of love and justice to our world. It impacts destructively on all women but particularly on women and children in countries whose governments have poor human rights records that do not recognise women’s equality.

Zagano’s opening question is ‘Who can be an icon of Christ?’ She states that ‘Beneath every objection to restoring women to the ordained diaconate is the suggestion that women cannot image Christ. Of course, women do not, cannot "image" the human male Jesus exactly. But the extraordinary fact of the Incarnation is that Jesus, God, became human. Women are human. And all humans are made in the image and likeness of God.’


'Women: Icons of Christ is a compact, though sometimes dense, resource that offers a wealth of excellent information and knowledge to all working in Church reform.'


The question haunts her. She notes that ‘documents of the Second Vatican Council teach that all good people who are part of the Church, all good people caught within the net the world calls Christianity, all these good people relying on the exquisite promise of Christ’s resurrection are the Body of Christ. It would stand to reason, then, that "all good people" means precisely that. "All good people" means all good men and women.’

Our church leaders’ refusal to acknowledge women’s equality and share ministry with women is transparently misogynistic and not Christ like. To the world it looks like misogyny and hypocrisy that obstructs the Church’s message and mission for good in the world. Even when initiatives for reform arise and commissions are established their recommendations are rejected. A pattern of rejection and resistance to change has developed.

In the 1960’s, Pope Paul VI, rejected the first Commission’s report and presented Humanae Vitae in 1968; in April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission consulted on the possibility of women’s priesthood stated that ‘scripture alone does not exclude women from ordination’. This was disregarded and in 1994 Pope John Paul II issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis banning the discussion of the issue on church premises.

Then in 2016 the first commission on the role of women deacons in the early church, on which Zagano represented the USA, was disregarded. Let’s hope and pray the new commission has more success. Last year at the Amazonian Synod, the issue of married priests and deacons was rejected despite a two thirds majority vote in its favour. Even in the last weeks, misogyny has raised its ugly head in the title of the Pope’s most recent exhortation Fratelli Tutti (Brothers all). First thought to be a mistake, when concerns were expressed and suggestions made to add sorelli’ or sisters to the title. The request was refused. All these actions reflect our leadership’s fear of losing the support of their colleagues who wish to maintain power and distrust and dislike women. This all impacts negatively on women’s lives.

Fr. Frank Brennan SJ in his homily when Fratelli Tutti was released, which coincided with the delivery of Australia’s national budget, pointed to the fact that the ABC’s panel to comment on the social justice aspects of the national budget, happened to choose all prominent women who offered rigorous and competent critiques on national television. In contrast, to the Catholic Church that was not prepared to acknowledge women, who represent more than half the church, in the title of its last exhortation.

Women: Icons of Christ is a compact, though sometimes dense, resource that offers a wealth of excellent information and knowledge to all working in Church reform. While Zagano writes of the experience of Catholicism in US, there is so much in this book that is relevant to us in Australia. Following the horror of the child abuse and the recommendations of the National Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse of Children which emphasised the issue of women’s participation, the Catholic community is preparing for a Plenary Council, due to be held in Adelaide in October 2021. This Plenary Council is the first such Council since 1937 in Australia. It seeks to look at reforms that will make our church relevant to our times. Preparatory consultations have indicated that women’s participation in decision making and ministry is the governance issue most reflected in the consultations and thousands of submissions.

Restoring ordination of women to the deaconate would immediately start to change this clerical culture and move towards full equality for women and all.

Zagano states that restoring women to the deaconate ‘is a legal not doctrinal issue and that minor changes to appropriate canons will allow the Church to provide for its pastoral needs. Without doubt, the needs of the Church universal must be addressed, but in a manner so that individual local churches are able make their own decisions based on their own needs.’

Committed Catholics in Australia would agree. Zagano notes that Pope Benedict XVI modified five canons of the 1983 Code of Canon Law including two regarding ordination Canons 1008 and 1009 to make clear that the diaconate and priesthood are separate and distinct orders. The point she makes here is that if canon law has been changed before it can be changed again. In the case of the deaconate it can happen very simply by adding ‘women’ to Canon 1024. So many women and men yearn for and would welcome being ministered to by women. Our world rejects pious religiosity and is crying out for a Catholic ecclesiology to guide us to live life in Christ’s message of social justice and love.

Zagano’s new book Women: Icons of Christ presents new hope for an inclusive church. Importantly, if the church is unable to treat people equally, the church will not realise its enormous potential for our world. Restoring women to ordination in the deaconate would be a substantial step towards equality for all in our church.




Marilyn Hatton is a member of Catholics Speak Out, Concerned Catholics and convener of the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. She has represented Australia at international forums concerned with full equality for all and an inclusive Catholic church. Marilyn has held professional public sector positions concerned with national policy and programs to improve the status of women.

Women: Icons of Christ will launch at the Women as Church conference running 27 October to 29 October 2020.

Topic tags: Marilyn Hatton, women in church, catholic, Women: Icons of Christ, Phyllis Zagano, plenary council



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Existing comments

Marilyn you are preaching to the converted, however, given the recent abolition of the OPW by Coleridge, and Commensoli's snub of Sr Joan Chittister one year ago, I fear that like John - echoing the words of Isaiah, you are a voice crying in the wilderness. What could easily be made straight will remain a lofty hierarchical tableau where the enclave will, as usual, pull their mitres deep over their ears and thump their crooks hard on the church floors like gavels so they dont have to listen. "But the (Melbourne) archdiocese has been silent ever since, fueling anger that it was seeking to suppress the views of a nun who had repeatedly called for the empowerment of women and laypeople in the church." SMH July 28 2019. Farrah Tomazin. Though this church reeks with the fetid stench of child abuse, pedophilia, clericalism, financial incest, bribery, scandal, corruption, male dominated politics, and finger pointing holier than thou condescension, it prefers the smell of incense and male testosterone to the clean salt air of the winds of change.

Francis Armstrong | 26 October 2020  

More amazing than the completeness of the case for the ordination of women is the fact that it has to be made at all. Thankfully, there is emerging within Catholicism a stream of grassroots and community organisation where women and men have equal standing, including liturgically. The sense of the faith of the faithful is in play.

Kevin Liston | 26 October 2020  

Thanks, Marilyn pretty simple really. As you say, “ Our church leaders’ refusal to acknowledge women’s equality and share ministry with women is transparently misogynistic and not Christ like.”

Peter Johnstone | 27 October 2020  

Religious women and good Lay people in our community are active participants in the lives of a broad cross section of people , be those folk be refugees, single people living alone, disadvantaged, sick ,old, bereaved. They teach, educate, inspire, nurse, counsel, care, are musicians , artists , cooks , confidants.They provide assistance in liturgies, social events, count sacrificial offerings, They give spiritual direction, visit the sick, lead groups in prayer. They generally support the community in good times and during crisis. They are the life blood of the Christian message. With their broad links to a wide community they take Christ in the casserole dish, the good book to read, the regular phone calls and visits. and more.They are the life blood of our church.They know their people. The poem today by Wally Swist says: “It is up to us as to what to do with whatever amount of the measure of our lives we have yet to use.”..........to propel our aspirations. In the light of those words, may I pray, state for the sake of our church , that is ourselves, children , grandchildren , friends and neighbours that local churches can see fit to restore women to the deaconate as a beginning to a more inclusive approach to ordination. Then we can have the diverse Ordained spiritual ministry many of us crave. Thanks Wally , your inspiration gave vent to my announcing my aspirations and Marilyn thanks for speaking out for us.. In the words of Helen Reddy please“Roar”.( wearing slippers not boots of course)

Celia | 27 October 2020  

The Corporate Church as distinct from the Church of the Faithful, will be dragged, figuratively, "kicking and screaming" to the realization that women make up more than half the congregations of our parishes .Despite the horrifying scandals that have rocked the Church in recent times, many brave and dedicated women have remained in the service of the laity and parishes. Marilyn, I recognize your pain and that of your sisters in Christ. My own experience; I am a married man, in dealing with the Church bureaucrats at various levels over some three decades prior to my retirement have led me to a realization that some clerics fear losing their identity , status, power, prestige and authority . Some priests and hierarchy believe that through their Ordination they have a special link or unique communication with the mind of God. We call it Clericalism but it goes much wider than that. A lot of priests, some quite young, but most elderly, resist and resent the Ordination of Married Deacons. I think they fear that it is a foot in the door to the future ordination of married men (and maybe at some future time, women) to the Priesthood and heaven forbid, like the Anglican Church now allows, ordination as Bishops. I have been an Acolyte for over 35 years . I have sensed increased opposition in recent times to the Installation of men, married and single, as Acolytes. Indeed some Bishops and Archbishops have now ceased the admission to the ministry of Acolyte of suitable men (and as Special Ministers of the Altar, women). These examples are retrograde steps. To my mind they indicate the development of a 'fortress mentality' within the Church. Whatever the Australian Church discerns in the up coming Plenary Council, the Vatican with its clique of reactionary officials, will overrule and dismiss, as usual using 'tradition' or orthodoxy as reasons any attempt at reform. Marilyn, as you showed by the two examples you mentioned , Pope Francis can change Cannon Law to reflect the present reality facing the Church , in particular a catastrophic collapse in vocations and Church attendance .It was not and never has been fixed in stone. Gavin A. O'Brien. M.A.(Theology)

Gavin O'Brien | 27 October 2020  

Beneath every objection to restoring women to the ordained diaconate is the suggestion that women cannot image Christ…. As in the natural order of things, it is natural to rebel against injustice and if the conflict is not re-solved, in time, can lead (Push) one into anger, wrath, malice, manipulation etc. Hence, we have the Sibyls of this world, and mankind fears her power. With the ‘Fall’, equality (love, true sharing, and companionship) was lost. Jesus teaches (desires) a healing equality in all things, from those who love Him and this equality is manifest in Unity of Purpose (to act as one)… “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”…. The crowd thirsts for life, the living Word of God, Jesus will not permit favouritism (Preferentiality), before our Father in heaven, and demonstrates this to us, in a most convincing manner, those who worship in Spirit and Truth (hear Gods Will and do it) are all equal and cannot be divided by any human (Worldly) standards, based either on GENDER or family ties… “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”… Our spiritual Fraternity cries out to equality, for acceptance (To act) in Unity of Purpose (Not to be ruled over). Those who dwell on the Tree of Life (True vine), are sustained by the sap of Love/Truth (Holy Spirit) and bear fruit, in Unity of Purpose, the Will of God is singular and gender conveys no privilege. The branches, flowers (those who worship in Spirit and Truth) send forth their scent (Holy Spirit) from their essence, 'The sacrificial image of Christ’ and bear fruit. Please consider continuing this via the link kevin your brother In Christ. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/05/08/the-subtle-lie-women-must-be-powerful-but-not-fruitful/#comment-143765

Kevin Walters | 27 October 2020  

It was just a matter of time, I suppose, before "inclusivity" joined "equality", "social justice", "clericalism" and "misogyny" in the chorus for women's ordination to the diaconate and priesthood in the Catholic Church. As some evidently "roar" to the beat of Helen Reddy's self-affirming "I am Woman" and bang the "inclusivity" drum, how is it that conspicuously missing from the impressively broad and varied ministries, services and roles women already perform in the Church are the part and place of the mothers of priests - whose lifetimes of love, practical care and prayer for their sons, like the dedicated contributions of Catholic mothers generally to their families' wellbeing and growth, go unrecognised and unmentioned - indeed, effectively excluded - as necessary, meaningful, valued participation in the Church and in society in the clamour for women's ordination? An oversight that speaks volumes more than any tired '90s feminist anthem - especially one that mimics the self-assertiveness and thoroughgoing secularity of Frank Sinatra's 1960s':"I did it My Way." And does not repeated discounting of and opposition to the reiterated rulings of a succession of Popes on the reservation of the ordained priesthood to males - a decisively ecclesiological matter - make questionable, at least for Catholics, its representativeness of the "sensus fidei" lately invoked to justify the demand for women's ordination, the end-point of ordaining women to the deaconate?

John RD | 27 October 2020  

Thank you, Marilyn, for your ongoing promotion of the role of women in the church, both in regard to the acceptance of women into the ministry where they would provide a valuable yet different contribution to the type of pastoral ministry we have grown up with, but even more importantly to even being recognised as numerically more than half the membership of the People of God. When one looks at the real being of Christ to the real life of the world, all those often untitled and broad range of ministries they provide in hospitals, schools, visiting the sick, parishes, down to the most menial of tasks, the majority of this group are the majority of all Catholics, women. Two final comments, one relatively minor and one major. Prior to communion at our parish masses when the seven Special Ministers of the Eucharist come up to the sanctuary, regularly six or seven are women. More importantly, even without women in the ordained ministry, had they been part of the management of the church at the diocesan level, it is absolutely impossible to imagine that the cover-up and horrific clerical sex-abuse of children could have been allowed to continue.

Brian McKittrick | 27 October 2020  

Francis A. While there is no doubt that there is a current of corruption (poetically expressed by you above) running through the Church's male ministry and administration, replacing the male with the female may not be the solution. The recent reports of corporate and administrative corruption in the secular world of today are dominated by the fair sex who seem to be equally as good or better at it as the blokes. Perhaps what is needed is an abandonment of corporate practice, restitution of a life of prayer and service in the ministry, booting out the mafia and getting rid of Italy, South America and Ireland as Catholic signature countries.

john frawley | 27 October 2020  

I started this comment before I read the other comments, but I’m going to make my point anyway. What happened to the Office for the Participation of Women? It wasn’t particularly active or well-known in my archdiocese (and I do blame the then Archbishop for this. He didn’t like it and in his Church, like all others, everything depends on the bishop’s good will. I wasn’t surprised when the Bishops decided to close it down as a cost-cutting measure. I can’t help feeling the irony of the situation where the secondary victims - as well as the first -of the Bishops’ acts and omissions re clerical child abuse are the people who had absolutely no power or even influence over those bishops. ‘Sorry, ladies, you’ll need to clear your desks. These blasted reparations are so expensive”! Deacons? Why would any of us want a place in the ordained hierarchy?

Joan Seymour | 28 October 2020  

If God is the union of practical and moral reason, it cannot have been an accident, or an insignificant purpose, that Christ is Son and God three. At the moment of seeing Satan fall like lightning from heaven, Christ was male, and God three, because, by a priori principle which, in hypothesis, precedes even God, those conditions had to be. Why so is a mystery. Yahweh and Allah are unitarian. Not so mysterious is the reasoning that qualities do not disperse from the Original unless legislated. Soul is legislatively shared with humans only. It was not as if soul seeped out of God but didn’t seep far enough to soak into plants and non-human animals. Absolution and consecration, similarly, as functions inseparable from the possession of soul, are legislatively shared, obviously so with male humans, and hypothesised by Hatton, but not (yet) by Zagano, with women also. Soul is also possessed by laity. The slide of argument is towards whether God has legislatively shared absolution and consecration with laity too. Hatton is standing on Zagano’s shoulders peering towards a promised land which Zagano, as yet, does not admit. Who is standing on Hatton’s shoulders?

roy chen yee | 28 October 2020  

Crikey, Roy! I didn't realise the soul was so complicated.

john frawley | 28 October 2020  

Joan Seymour, Men “have always been so afraid that some mere woman might penetrate their sanctums of discussion that they don’t even permit women in their clubhouses,” Adams once said, “much less allow them to attend any meetings for discussions that might be mutually helpful.” This was on the NY explorers club who excluded women until 1981. March 2020 from National Geographic Magazine. How is it any different in this church? To answer your question though, women are necessary in the deaconate to curb the excesses of clerics who believe that they are immune from civil law and that they can hide behind Canon Law to largely do as they please -especially to children. Australia is a signatory to the UNDHR and the Holy See is a member yet they absolutely discriminate in respect of recognition of equal human rights. Beccui No 2 in the Vatican Bank, recently paid witnesses and informers to testify against Pell because they are enemies. Now that he's been sacked Pell wants his job back. The Vatican is a hotbed of intrigue but only Holy Orders give you the right to have a voice. Hence the necessity to restore ordination of women to the Deaconate.

Francis Armstrong | 29 October 2020  

Francis Armstrong: Is Dan Brown at the top of your reading list? And what of the sobering caveat on assumed feminine virtue and competence contained in john frawley's observation (28/10)? If the two sexes are equal in anything other than their creaturehood and claim on God's love, surely equality's got to include their historically demonstrated propensity for defection from it? The Genesis account, which forms the basis of the Church's exegesis and teaching on Eden and the Fall, attributes evil's origin in our world to the sin of our first parents and their co-operation with Satan - not Adam only, not Eve only, but both of them. No doubt men can behave badly - history, contrary to illusions of Promethean-idealised humanism - would say at times atrociously so. But, as fair-minded women recognise, they don't have a monopoly on our world's sinning and the crimes it gives rise to; and their gender of itself does not automatically ensure justice, or even mercy, in the exercise of any position they may hold. We all need God's grace for assistance in that.

John RD | 29 October 2020  

john frawley: Like you, I found myself having to spend more time than usual over Roy's (29/10) contribution, but as usual, found the exercise worthwhile as I took it slowly, step by step. The following is what Roy's words relay to me - and I welcome Roy to set the record straight if I'm not reading him aright: (1) God is un-originate and originating Being. (2) This Being is Triune: three persons, one God - a revealed mystery and truth received in faith by the human species capable of receiving it, in virtue of its created likeness to God, from God's self-disclosure in the incarnate person of the Son, the second person of this divine Triunity.(3) The Son has the authority to represent and the power to implement the Father's will in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. (4) The Son "always does what he sees the Father doing", unified in purpose and efficacy by the Spirit.(5) The Son hands on no less than his and his Father's very authority to Peter and the Apostles: he who hears them on matters of faith and morals hears Christ. (6) Peter's and the Apostles' successors adjudicate on what is revealed by Christ and what is not, on behalf of Christ. (7) Remaining true and faithful in teaching and mission requires, on the part of all Christ's community of the faithful, acceptance of the "depositum fidei" as conveyed by the distinctive Christ-called and appointed authorities, who may consult the faithful on matters of teaching but cannot relinquish their Christ-received authority to other teaching structures or authorities. (8) The Gospel is given: its substance interpreted and organically developed, adapted and applied in the course of history. The Gospel does not require or permit invention, least of all to reduce itself to political ideology. (9)The gendered terminology of Christ's personal revelation of Father and Son is not merely an historical accident or dispensable contingency conditioned by societal convention - because of the unique "Abba" appellation and the Son's ontological entitlement to it evident in the prayer, preaching, teaching and ministry of Christ himself, on whose prayer, preaching, teaching and ministry the ordained priesthood of the Catholic Church is based.

John RD | 29 October 2020  

A keen observation of the distinction between the reviewer's and the author's positions at this stage, Roy (29/10). And an equally astute and important concluding question.

John RD | 30 October 2020  

Francis Armstrong: “….women are necessary in the deaconate to curb the excesses of clerics….” The sanctuary is the actual and symbolic heart of the Church. Even if clerics did not run riot, a conversation would have had to have occurred about ultimate and relative justice in distributing its offices between ‘male and female, he made them’, from altar servers on. And the conversation would have had to have included a search of why nuns were, or came to be, not more visible in the processes of spiritual nourishment of the parish-based lay in their home sanctuaries.

roy chen yee | 30 October 2020  

Dan Brown at the top of a reading list? Ha-ha

AO | 30 October 2020  

Thanks very much, John RD, for further drawing out the principles. Meritocratic equalitarianism and the Whig reading of history that change only goes in one direction because the people today are the wisest of all preceding generations, may plausibly result in calls for a congregational type system where lay worthies of a parish, after attaining a scrolled paper from some institute, will put themselves down on a timetable to hear confession and run something like a mass. Of course, a scintilla of good sense will mean that nobody will want to confess to a work or social colleague even under supposed anonymity, resulting in the lay worthy having to absolve through the third rite and consecrating for pew-dwellers who go home feeling warm and fuzzy for being cleansed of sins they didn’t need to detail. The problem for a schismatic isn’t opening the gate a little; it’s the discipline to maintain it opened at just a little when the earlier schismatic has no moral authority to say ‘No’ to a later, greater schismatic.

roy chen yee | 31 October 2020  

Yes, Roy (1/9) - such a simulacrum would be a ghost at its own wake.

John RD | 31 October 2020  

Women are not « necessary ... to curb the excesses of clerics who believe they are immune from civil law » (Francis Armstrong, 29/10). They are necessary for the innate and developed gifts they bring to this, and any, ministry in their own right. Clerics are entirely responsible for their own behaviour.

Bernadette Brouwers | 01 November 2020  

Marilyn Hatton lays her cards honestly on the table. She and many other women in the Catholic Church are looking forward to the ordination of women as priests. This is a very polarising issue and those on each side of the debate are absolutely sure they are right. Whilst I can see the points both are making, I can't see is the argument coming to a conclusion satisfactory to all. It seems to be a debate about power and who wields it. I am not sure the ordination of women, which I have witnessed in provinces of the Anglican Communion, will solve the perceived problems of the Catholic Church. It may just add to the out of touch clerical elite. The issue, to me, is not about the clergy, but genuinely empowering the laity, which I think is one of the points Gavin O' Brien was making.

Edward Fido | 02 November 2020  

RD, all that utter nonsense about the Garden of Eden and the fall and the propensity of women to sin (implicit in your argument that successive popes cant be wrong in their horror of equality for the fair sex), well, hate to ask this, but is there a polite word for my scepticism? Despite my dismay at Roy's uncanny aptitude to complicate the simplest ideas, your analysis of his reasoning is tangled and turgid. And while we're at it, Dr Frawley's view that women cant be trusted is just more of the same arcane elitist male nonsense. But maybe we are headed in the right direction. There are 300,000 fewer priests and nuns than 40 years ago. The ratio of women in the Vatican is 5.5%. Little wonder that there is only one cleric in goal in Italy for abuse. "ROME — Nine priests and brothers of a Catholic group recently shut down by the Vatican are under investigation by Italian authorities for allegedly sexually abusing two brothers, officials and news reports said Wednesday. Prato Bishop Giovanni Nerbini confirmed that Prato criminal prosecutors had opened an investigation after he reported the case to police against members of the Disciples of the Annunciation community. He pledged the Church’s cooperation with the investigation." Crux Jan 2020. Should we ask whether child abuse, a singularly male dominated failing, has become a virtue in Rome?

Francis Armstrong | 02 November 2020  

Francis Armstrong: 1. “….all that utter nonsense about the Garden of Eden and the fall….” We work with what we’re given. What we were given is that Genesis is inspired by the Holy Spirit. What that means is that while men may have authored the words, the publisher of the document was the Holy Spirit. No publisher, no book. No Genesis, no Bible. No Bible, no Authority and no Church as we know it. 2. “the propensity of women to sin….” Actually, that’s a compliment to women (in a way). A propensity is the creative opening of the mind to the possibility of the action before the action itself. It was an angel that first had propensity. The woman, before she met the angel, independently had this propensity. She was already analysing the potentialities of the fruit before she was tempted. Lastly, the dumb sex, I suppose, it was a man who took the wife’s word for it. Or you could look at it this way. Women are more likely to see the good in others than men and the sales-oriented angel, giving male testosterone a wide berth, knew this.

roy chen yee | 03 November 2020  

" . . . that utter nonsense about the Garden of Eden and the fall" is not a statement that suggests to me "scepticism" is the appropriate word, Francis, so much as prejudice. In asserting it, you dismiss the millennia-long efforts of highly faithful and educated scripture scholars - not only Christian ones - and systematic theologians to help their contemporaries and ours better understand Genesis and its applications.

John RD | 03 November 2020  

Edward Fido | 03 “I am not sure the ordination of women, which I have witnessed in provinces of the Anglican Communion, will solve the perceived problems of the Catholic Church”.. No, they will not, as they mimic the current model of an institutionalized priesthood. As an aside, women were not given the vote in France until 1946, Mexico 1958. If to-day you said women should not have the vote, people would look at you incredulously, and think you were a dinosaur.. “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” .. This prayer for unity can only be accomplished in humility and the type of humility we need to see is in all of us coming out from our hiding places, from within the bushes, so to say, to a place where we are prepared together, to openly embrace humility. I believe that the Shepherd leader for a new invigorated church will be a humble/honest one, with the capacity to discern and direct the potential in others, leading them also to become Shepherds, who together hold each other responsible for their individual and combined actions, underpinned by ‘total honesty’. The serving of the Truth in all situations would be the binding mortar holding these new emerging structures together. The essence of Love is Truth, we all fall short in the actions of Love, but no man or woman can excuse dishonesty before their brothers and sisters, who would serve the Truth, for to do so would be an attempt to destroy the mortar (Humility) of that unity. An extract from one of my posts given via the link below… “I have seen this vulnerability in many women during my in my lifetime, born out of love of family and friends/colleagues etc. And I believe that this venerability/humility, the disarming manifestation of love, is what Christianity needs to convey more than ever at this moment in time” kevin your brother In Christ. https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2017/07/longing-for-the-sun-of-justice/#comment-89827

Kevin Walters | 04 November 2020  

Eve and Adam are dead. And their story was to teach us to not be like them. He made me do it? She made me do it? It is their fault? It is childish to blame others. Life is about taking responsibilities. Once all the men in religious orders, including Archbishops and Bishops, have taken full responsibility for the lack of authentic care for others, as Jesus proclaimed is a 'must', and for those who, (not all but several), are instead sleeping in very comfortable beds, eating fine food prepared by chefs, and wearing huge gold crucifixes on thick golden chains, (even if these are symbols of their love for Christ - they like everybody have a heart and a body to keep immaculate to seek to love Christ with - why would they need any other proof to themselves or others that they love Christ?) instead of selling these and giving the money to the poor, as Jesus also said. Once they wake up and feel ashamed of the comfortable material life, they have cocooned themselves in. Once they have taken off all that is not Christ. As John tells us: “Jesus rose from supper and took off his outer garments” (John 13:4). He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. Once All are servants, disciples, as Jesus intended, they be. Once all structures of internal, external and worldly power have crumbled within the walls of the institutional church. Structures that must start within the minds and hearts of the clergy. Structures women cannot fix. Once all this happens, women will no longer desire to have power in the Catholic church. A power born from the desire 'to fix all that is wrong within the institutional church'. The church, then, will be as Jesus intended it to be: A church based on the eight blessings of the beatitudes, the seven sacraments. And the institution and celebration of the Eucharist for all people. An image to meditate upon: Peter felt unworthy to die like Christ, so he insisted on being crucified upside-down. He was the disciple who said. 'You know I love you', not once, but three times to Jesus. Remember? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_of_Saint_Peter_(Caravaggio)#/media/File:Crucifixion_of_Saint_Peter-Caravaggio_(c.1600).jpg

AO | 07 November 2020  

I believe women are already priests in the purest, earliest Christian understanding of the term before clericalism and the Roman takeover. Many of the dedicated and battle-weary old nuns I've had the privilege to meet have truly "presided over a sacrifice" - which is the role of a priest. Male priests may preside over the official rites and rituals, but these radical women are truly "living" the sacrifice on he cross and drinking from the sacred cup in their everyday ministries. It may be that the institutional priesthood has morphed into role of privilege, power and prestige - and I can't see any of the deeply spiritual women I'm referring to aspiring to that way of life. We can't just talk about the role of the women in the church - we need to also talk about what the deeper role of the priesthood is and whether we need to go back to grassroots Christian spirituality and let go of some of the trappings of this prestigious gentlemen's club.

AURELIUS | 07 November 2020  

Aurelius, If there were, as you believe, women priests in the early Church, it's one of history's best kept secrets - and one that I doubt could've been suppressed even by what you call "this prestigious gentlemen's club" - an injustice, I might add, on many priests who live and work in conditions quite contrary to what your choice of words here conjures up. Further, any re-definition of "priest" for the Catholic Church would need to be weighed against scripture and tradition - a tradition which includes the laying on of hands by a bishop.

John RD | 09 November 2020  

It is interesting that Phyllis Zagano uses the analogy about women being 'icons of Christ'. To me among the most powerful icons in the Eastern Church are those of the Theotokos where Jesus is encompassed in the protecting love of Mary. Orthodox Christians and Eastern Rite Catholics regard icons as 'windows into Heaven'. The current debate on the place of women in the Church, from both sides, seems to me essentially sterile in that Love, real love as evinced by the love of the Virgin Mary in agreeing to bear Christ, is entirely absent. The adult Jesus came from a supportive family. Both Mary and Joseph received real divine revelation about what to do in probably the most amazing and baffling situation in human history. Their noncooperation would have been disastrous for humanity as a whole. The Church is, supposedly, a family. I am not sure that, in these parlous times, we are behaving as one. We seem to indulge in endless talkfests and endless argument, which get us nowhere. Grace seems to have gone missing somewhere along the way. We urgently need it to return. Otherwise we will continue to go round in endless circles.

Edward Fido | 13 November 2020  

Perhaps there is a prior question to be asked first. Should any movement purporting to follow the Galilean Jesus have priests at all? Then, of course, leadership/service roles should be open to both people, regardless of gender.

Michael Clanchy | 13 November 2020  

Michael Clanchy: A prior question, I should think: From where do we have reliable knowledge of "the Galilean Jesus?"

John RD | 15 November 2020  

Grace, the free self-giving of God expressed in creation, providence and redemption, as Edward Fido insists, is indeed a mystery that surpasses verbal adequacy. It is the source of faith and responsiveness to God expressed in faith. However, Christian faith, based on the historical revelation of God in history, necessarily engages its recipients in the task of words, pre-eminently in God's definitive self-expression in the person of Christ. Far from exempting the believer from the task of wording this "mysterium tremens et fascinans", Christ commissioned his Church to a ministry of word and action, exemplified in the characteristics of the sacraments which induct and sustain believers in sharing and living in union with God, deepening the mystery of their baptismal immersion and growth in the life of Christ and his communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The discrete historical dimensions of God's self-giving manifest among us are explored and articulated in theology's various disciplines: revelation, scripture, tradition, creation, fall, redemption, Mary and the saints, living in the Way of Christ and stewardship high among them. AS all of these are interconnected, comprising a "symphonia", they invite an systematic application of reason illuminated by faith for their articulation. This is an essential part of being faithful to Christ and spreading the Gospel: a commission of the pilgrim Church in and from which, by Christ's authorising, theology proceeds. Since the task of making Christ known and loved is entrusted to the believing community that bears his name, theology is accountable to its ecclesial context; and the authoritative forum for the evaluation of its representativeness is the Church's magisterium. The importance of true doctrine - Newman's "dogmatic principle" - and its implications for living, or pastoral application, cannot be understated, let alone dismissed. Further, while theological opinions expressed in these columns have of themselves no official status, their worth, such as it may be, is discernible by the extent to which they reflect in substance the Church's held teaching, which is not only informed by scripture and tradition but is also more conversant with secular intellectual movements than it seems some ES contributors, unfortunately, would care to acknowledge.

John RD | 16 November 2020  

I take on board your post of 17 November 2020, John RD. Good Theology should reflect Real Truth. Some people find Theology a bit arid on its own and look to a gradual revelation of the path they should take in literature which embodies genuine, illuminated, lived experience. I would put forward St John Henry Newman's 'The Pillar of the Cloud' as a superb example of this. Newman was no intellectual slouch, nor was he in any way heterodox. I would say he cooperated with real Grace throughout his life and was led to the Truth by it. I hesitate to use the word 'mystic' about him as I am not sure, being the English gentleman he was, he would like it, but I think he, like Dante, was led along that path. God can illuminate people in any way He choses, even when, like Newman, they feel they are 'far from home'. In fact, feeling one is 'far from home' can, with Almighty God's Grace, lead one there. Neither Newman nor Dante would deny the Church, it's Teachings or its Sacraments as effective means of Grace. It's just, through their illuminated insight, they saw everything working as a whole to the ultimate good. That to me is a sign they had Grace.

Edward Fido | 17 November 2020  

It's edifying to see your strong appreciation of Newman who personifies the Catholic understanding of the relationship between faith and reason, and who I find so relevant to many of the issues raised in our time and in "Eureka Street", Edward.

John RD | 18 November 2020  

One of the great things about St John Henry Newman, John RD, was that he came from a time and place where Catholicism was not quite 'respectable', even seen as 'disloyal' by the Establishment into which he was born, but he, through Grace, was enabled not to allow that to block him. Like St Paul, he had a life changing experience which could be termed mystical, but, like Paul, he remained grounded. These days there are many people in the world claiming profound, supposedly 'mystical' experiences which have no grounding, either in religion or reality. One of the realities the Catholic Church needs to take on board as a whole these days is that many people, both inside and outside, like Newman initially was, have similar experiences to him. They need to be mentored as he was, that is with great care and sensitivity. The Church needs modern day Dominic Barberis. This is a time of great spiritual ferment, as was the time of the Oxford Movement. It needs to be seized and acted upon.

Edward Fido | 19 November 2020  

The influence of the Passionist priest, Dominic Barberi, not only on Newman and his companions but also on the regeneration of the Catholic faith among the poor in England draws this assessment from the exacting Jesuit historian James Brodrick: "The second spring did not begin when Newman was converted nor when the hierarchy was restored. It began on a bleak October day of 1841, when a little Italian priest in comical attire shuffled down a ship's gangway at Folkestone." Barberi's pastoral outreach and preaching were not confined to Littlemore parish in Oxford where, in 1845, he received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church, but also made remarkable impact in the industrial cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, As Edward Fido suggests, the power, under God's grace, of one.

John RD | 24 November 2020  

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