Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Equality of Women in the Catholic Church

I'm cross-posting this from this post at The Counsel of Trent since I cross-posted the orginal post here as well. It concerns the charge that the Catholic Church does not respect the equality of women in virtue of the fact that ordination is restricted to men.
I do think the charge falls flat, but sometimes you do have to address such a question to be polite and because some people have become persuaded that it is so or just absorbed it due to repetition in our culture. Here are a few quick tips:

First, as a dialectical point always ask people what their evidence is for their assertions or by what reasoning they get from the alleged evidence to the conclusion. What is it, for instance, that logically gets you from women not being able to be ordained to women being treated unequally? It's not at all obvious that there's any reasonable connection here. Also, ask them to define their terms. What do they mean by inequality here? Or do they think than inequality is always unfair? Is it unfair that the handicapped get closer parking places? It's certainly unequal in a very clear sense, but it doesn't seem unfair. So inequality is not necessarily unfair. But then even IF this is a case of inequality why should we think it is a case of the unfair kind of inequality?

People who make claims need to be willing to back them up. In most cases like this people are parroting what they keep hearing.

But apart from the dialectical points here are some other brief points.

The problem here *can't* concern authority. Consider the following proposition:

(A) If X has authority over Y then X and Y are unequal.

Every Catholic is dogmatically bound to deny (A). The reason is that in the Holy Trinity the Father has authority over the Son and the Son has authority over the Spirit, but all are perfectly co-equal.

Here is something always to point out: Who is the most exalted non-divine human in all of existence? Mary. God asked her permission to be born and she has been made the Queen of Heaven. There are also lots of female Saints and Doctors of the Church who are of much greater authority, ultimately, than Priests and even Bishops at any given time.

This leads to a question you should always ask in such circumstances. Say "You know who Mother Theresa is, right?" They'll say "Of course," of course. Now ask them if they know who her parish Priest was, or who her Bishop or arch-Bishop was. The fact is, that in the Catholic Church your status is ultimately determined not by who has authority over whom, but who leads the most Christ-like life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So why don't you kindly explain why women can't be ordained, without breaking into any song and dance about tradition a la Fiddler on the Roof?

I don't dispute the notion that women are indeed honored by the Church, but please explain why women are not ordained and are locked out of decision-making at the highest levels.

Is there really an answer besides something like "a group of men decided it should be that way"?

Thursday, April 12, 2007 2:18:00 AM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I will be happy to address that question when you kindly--and I do mean kindly--tell me what you think ordination *is*. The ontological issue determines the epistemological approach. People are quick to ask why X can't do Y: a bit too quick, for they race past the question of what Y really is in the first place.

I do want to note in passing, though, that it is simply false that women are "locked out of decision-making at the highest levels". The Pope's of my lifetime and those of my parents at any rate never made a decision without consulting Mary. Also, women religious (i.e. nuns) and other female scholars form parts of the theological committees that advise the Pope. And devoted women across the world influence the decisions of the Pope by their prayers.

You might say "well that's not what I'm talking about"? I answer, A. then you need to be more clear about what you *are* talking about, and B. perhaps you *should* be talking about this, because in the Catholic tradition the influence of the Saints--Earth-bound and heavenly alike--is of much more fundamental importance than the actions of any prelate of Pope.

What's true is that the office of Bishop can only be held by a man. But a Bishop is just a special case of a priest, which brings us back to your conception of the priesthood.

I can, finally, offer a *pragmatic* reason for the priesthood to be reserved to men: if it wasn't men would get off scott-free. Men are lazy. If it wasn't the case than men *had* to fulfill the office of priest then they'd probably just let the women do it like they do with anything else they don't really want to do. So it could be that the only way to get men to do anything regarding the priesthood is to make them do everything regarding the priesthood. It remains true, though, that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

Monday, April 16, 2007 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll back up and try to make this really easy for you, so you won't be able to avoid the question again.

Why can't women be ordained priests and offer the sacrifice of the Mass?

Is that easy enough for you? Do I need to be any more specific?

Women are not ordained priests and cannot be elevated to the position of Cardinal. Since I need to be very specific for you, I'll remind you that the College of Cardinals elects the Pope. How many females cast ballots when Benedict was elected? Again, to be very specific for you, I'm not talking about spiritual guidance and prayerful suppport. Maybe you could answer that question rather than telling me what I should be thinking about. I'll remind you that YOU began this topic on YOUR blog. Why don't you want to discuss it? Maybe this is a "preach to the choir" blog and you're not looking for comment. That's fine, simply let everyone know the what's going on up front.

Also, your "pragmatic reason" is nothing more than a silly opinion. I guess you don't feel like you have to answer. Again, why have a blog?

Monday, April 16, 2007 1:49:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

There are pleeeeenty of blogs out there with upset people yelling at one antother. This just isn't one of them.

Have a nice day.

Monday, April 16, 2007 2:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was nothing disrespectful in my original post here. You came back with sarcasm and avoided the question, which you again failed to answer.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh here, but I can't imagine that you don't understand the question. If that is the case, I apologize. Again, why post opinions in a forum like this if you are too afraid to answer polite questions?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 8:17:00 AM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

When I *see* a polite question on this topic I'll be sure to address it.

I am a logician by trade. I discuss things in proper order. A discussion of why X can or can't Y cannot proceed logically until we agree on the nature of X and Y.

We would be speaking at cross-purposes if we discussed why X can or can't Y if we disagreed about the very nature of X and Y.

If the people ranting at one another about evolution and public schools took some time to reflect on the nature of the theories in question, the nature of a scientific theory in general, and the nature of education, specifically public education, then we'd all be spared a lot of vitriol.

I am a logician by trade. I discuss things in their proper order.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 8:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your initial post you stated:

"It concerns the charge that the Catholic Church does not respect the equality of women in virtue of the fact that ordination is restricted to men."

You went on to state your OPINION that (to paraphrase) that not being ordained doesn't mean women are treated unequally.

I came back with the following question:

"Why can't women be ordained priests and offer the sacrifice of the Mass?" after your intial deflection.

While I may not be a trained "logician" English is my first language and I don't understand why you cannot answer that question. Okay, to break this down to "are you smarter than a 5th grader level", what IS a priest? (Does that make you feel better?) Are you going to give me the "a priest is a man" line, and women can't be men?

It seems to me that you're hiding behind your "logician" status to avoid admitting that you can't answer the question. Heck, if you answer was "1000+ years of tradition" it would make sense.

There is nothing unclear about my question.

I'll try one last time. Women cannot be ordained priests by the Catholic Church...why not?

While the Church is not bound to the laws of the land, your "separate but equal" argument is about as good as your "men are too lazy" point.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 1:30:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I gave you a pre-condition for addressing your question. I explained why I thought the pre-condition was warranted. I asked you to please be nice, explaining that this is not a rant-blog.

You have not met the pre-condition. You have not rebutted the reasons for the pre-condition. And, frankly, you're just not very nice. If some people who happened to be or pretend to be Catholics hurt or upset you, then I'm truly (truly) sorry for that. But this is simply not a venting forum.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 1:39:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Actually, one more thing. Since you are right here in Rochester, why don't we get together for tea, at The Spot or Boulder or wherever.

I sense a lot of pain and frustration behind your comments and would be happy to let you vent to me personally. Just not going to let it happen on the blog, that's all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 1:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll take a stab:

Can we define ordination as the sacrament by which a person is enabled to act in persona christi?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 3:58:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I think that's a great start. It is of the utmost importance that ordination to Holy Orders is indeed a sacrament, indeed a sacrament to act in persona Christi in certain regards. Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n.4, ex S. Aug. "De Catechizandis rudibus").

Each Sacrament came from the "immediate institution" of Christ and each has a proper matter and form. Jesus exclusively chose men for the role of presbyter. He didn't say why he did this and we can only speculate. It is in large part this which causes the Church to see itself as unable to ordain women. It is convenient to quote the the opening lines of this fine article by Michael Novak. ("Women, Ordination, and Angels,"

When Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, visited Pope John Paul II in May 1992, the two church leaders discussed the probable future ordination of women priests in the Anglican Church. That, the Pope said, "touched on the very nature of the sacrament of holy orders." A Vatican spokesman said later that "the Catholic Church, for fundamental theological reasons, does not believe it has the right to authorize such ordination."

It's not because of any kind of perceived defect in women (indeed, I have suggested it is because of a defect in men). Since Ordination is a Sacrament and Sacraments come immediately from Christ, Ordination comes immediately from Christ. And Christ only ordained men even though there were women of equal talent at hand. Do deviate from His example would require more knowledge than what the Church can reasonably claim to have. The message from the Vatican makes clear that the Church simply does not have the authority to change the practice even if the Pope and all Bishops wanted to.

Note that this reason is consistent with thinking the rest of the evidence supports the ordination of women. Without near certainty that it's authorized the risk of violating the nature of the sacrament as Christ intended it is too great. Compare: On other evidence it sure seems to me that we could take this shortcut and save a lot of time, but getting lost here in the mountains would be disastrous, so it's just to big a risk. I need to stick to the path I know. This type of ortho-practical conservatism is a consequence of a standard form of rationality. The only assumptions are that 1. we lack complete certainty that we are right about the issue, and 2. that the consequences of being wrong are very bad. I think those two conditions are satisfied in this subject.

I highly recommend the Novak article. He's pretty sensitive to the prima facie case for womens' ordination (as am I). In the end, however, I'm just not certain and (and the Church also takes itself to lack requisite certainty) so must take the path *more* traveled for safety sake. I love to wander far from the path (just look at my personal blog and album), but doctrine is not a place to play.

Novak mentions an essay by C.S. Lewis called "Priestesses in the Church?" which is available here-- here-- It is very short and worth the read.

Finally, there is a debate on the subject in First Things here:
called "Ordaining Women: Two Views," by Jennifer Ferrara and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson. I'm not thrilled with the anti-womens' ordination piece and I think the pro piece raises many good points. However, I think they fall far short of certainty and so do not provide adequate support to take the risk of contradicting Christ's intentions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 2:37:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I'd like to reiterate two things. I am more than happy to let you vent at me in person. I'm very serious about this, it won't bother me at all. But, no, I simply *won't* publish those kind of comments here. This is an educational forum and ad hominem comments are not helpful.

Friday, April 20, 2007 10:39:00 AM  

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