Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Priest Suggests Women Deacons -- Great Idea -- So Forget It

Over at his Deacon's Bench blog, Greg Kandra links to a Chicago Sun-Times article about a Cook County priest, Fr. Bill Tkachuk, who is asking the church to consider ordaining women as deacons:  specifically, as permanent deacons, rather than transitional deacons.  (In the modern Catholic church, permanent deacons carry on with their lay careers while ministering part-time to the needs of a parish; many of them are married, and, unlike transitional deacons, permanent deacons almost never become priests.)  I love what Fr. Tkachuk is proposing and consider him a courageous man simply for floating this idea.  If the Vatican were to willing to adopt (or even seriously examine) Fr. Tkachuk's suggestion, that move would, in and of itself, represent genuine progress in the church's acceptance of women's gifts in ordained ministry.  I certainly hope people talk about this idea; I hope it gets some real traction in the church.

Alas, here's why I strongly suspect it won't.  Imagine how a Catholic woman diaconate plays out in local parish life over its first five or ten years.  At first, some of the folks in the pews would be shocked and distressed to see women in clerical garb delivering homilies in a Catholic church.  (Others, like me, would be shocked yet happy.)  Eventually, the parish would come to depend on the woman deacon's gifts; they might well wonder why they didn't have full access to her gifts years earlier.

Then things begin to pick up a bit of speed.  Once folks see women serving the parish in a regular, recognizable role--a role that involves being able to administer several sacraments to the faithful (specifically, baptism and marriage; also, I'm guessing, the anointing of the sick)--many Catholics would wonder why the church was not willing to go that one extra step (a seemingly small yet crucial step) and ordain women as priests.  Why, they ask--why not ordain her?  And that's when the Vatican finds itself needing to speak up in defense of the boys-only rule.  The answer to the woman-exclusion rule, really, has a lot to do with genitalia.  That's not a very good reason, of course (actually, it's an awful reason), and the defenders of a male-only priesthood insist that the church's rejection of female priests actually has to do with deeper concepts of gender, rather than the body parts potential priests happened to have been born with.  Yet, in the end, physical anatomy is what chiefly differentiates a male candidate for priesthood and a hypothetical female candidate.  The criteria for ordination involve that factor (yep--body parts!) much more so than intelligence, compassion, skill in interpersonal relations, depth of spiritual life, or writing a bad-ass final paper in Theology 471.  Not saying the things listed above do not matter at all, but they do not matter as much to the church as the sex of the applicant matters.

Someday the church will get past that.  I used to think it would reach that point in my lifetime, but now that I'm in my forties and the hierarchy seems to grow more conservative and more misogynistic with every year, I'm not so sure.  Yet (in the immortal words of Sam Cooke), "a change is going to come."  Ordaining women as deacons would be a nice down payment on that change--which is exactly why (sadly) the Vatican will refuse to consider Fr. Tkachuk's proposal.

Just in case the pope stops by:  Go ahead, Benedict, prove me wrong.  If you do, I'll update this post and get you a really nice gift card for Christmas.  Nope, I'm not talking about one for groceries or gasoline.  Better stuff than that.  All you need to do is sign your name.  The document can be something really simple--something along the lines of "No more discrimination against women...or at least not quite as much."  Heck, you can even issue it in Latin if you like.  Go on now.  You know you want to.

(Hat tip to The Deacon's Bench.)


gpiner said...

I think men who want women to become priests(priestesses) have a "mommy problem". Perhaps there mothers ignored them or their mothers were the dominant force in the house. You should get treatment for this mental disorder.


Steve said...

Ha! You started me laughing, man! A desire for equality equals a mental disorder. Sheesh. I hope you try stand up at some point!

All pop psychology aside, the church is missing out on valuable gifts that the Holy Spirit has planted in many of our sisters, spouses, and yes, mothers. The good news is that God is still working in the church, and at some point (perhaps decades from now), the church will get around to denouncing its own sexist rejection of women in ordained ministry.

gpiner said...

Ok, I apologize for the mental disorder comment, it was over the top.
If I may quote from John Paul II Apostolic Letter on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone.
(Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, May 30 1994).

"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."
I point out the last sentence that is the final decision on this issue, and is required to believed by all Catholics.
"Therefore , since it does not belong to matters freely open to dispute, it always requires the full and unconditional assent of the faithful, and to teach to the contrary is equivalent to leading consciences into error."

Tread lightly my friend.


nitpicker said...

One of the greatest problems the Catholic Church has today is those people who call themselves Catholic but reject the dogmas and other teachings of the Church. Those people interject their contemporary political views into the Church and ignore that they are, in facts, heretics, much like the others who have tried to change what the Magisterium has taught--fundamentally unchanged--for 2,000 years. Jesus Christ established the Church and said that not even "the gates of Hell" would prevail against it", but the politics of the moment dominate the thinking of many today and they seek to change the Church's fundamental teachings that have existed since Christ and will exist long after the contemporary political climate has become different and focuses on some other idea rather than trying to change Christ's clear mandates.
Liberal politics is relativistic and has no basis for judging truth from fiction; the Catholic Church, in contrast is based on truth itself in the person of Jesus who said "I am the way, the truth and the life and no man will achieve the Father except through me".

Steve said...

Nitpicker, there are indeed folks in the church who have a "love it or leave it" attitude, neglecting the fact that one can love the church and yet thoughtfully criticize its shortcomings. (If you believe it has no shortcomings, that it cannot have any shortcomings, then you fail to acknowledge that it is an earthly institution run by human beings, no matter how essential Christ's charge to the church was and is.)

I am indeed a cafeteria Catholic; I make no bones about that. (By the way, the people who claim to be Catholic yet despise immigrants, or who get enthused about people being executed, or who defend torture, are also cafeteria Catholics. I'll take my version of cafeteria Catholicism over theirs any day.) I reject the premise that one is a heretic for thinking critically about one's faith and responding honestly to one's conscience. God gave each of us those gifts. Yes, we have a duty to form our consciences with care. But many, many liberal/progressive Catholics do just that (as do many, many conservative Catholics).

You've quoted Christ's statement about how "the gates of hell shall not prevail" against the church. In that line, I hear Christ calling the church to holiness--rather than guaranteeing that God will rubber-stamp whatever church hierarchy for the next few thousand years choose to do. Sexism is a sin. Many people who act in a sexist manner initially do so out of good intentions, but sexism is itself sinful. I have faith that the Holy Spirit will eventually help the church to free itself from this sin. "The gates of hell" (evil) shall not, in the long run, prevail within the church. I believe that.

There is much that I love about the church, and like other Catholic progressives (Cardinal Berardin, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Fr. Mychal Judge, Fr. Dan Berrigan, to name only a few), I refuse to be exiled. This is Christ's church; the church does not belong to the pope or the curia...or to me. Christ has invited in a whole host of people. I'm one of those folks. You are too. As for myself, I'm not ready quite yet to scram.

Peace to you.

nitpicker said...

It is interesting that you conflate your political ideas with the teachings of the Magisterium. The term "Cafeteria Catholic" is actually a misnomer. It is a euphemism for "heretic", one who does not accept the dogmas of the Church. The dogmas you rail against are not "shortcomings". Shortcomings are the sins of individuals, such as the homosexual priests, the Bishop's conference funding organizations that promote abortion, etc. Both of those are contrary to the Magisterium.
What you list as shortcomings are in fact politics.

You talk about "forming your conscience" and apparently do not know what the Church teaches about that. In fact, here again, you are not "forming your conscience" as much as you are interjecting your personal political ideas.

The Catholic Church is demanding; the first 20 or so popes were martyred. The "love it or leave it" comment is not exact but it is a fact; if you do not believe in the basic teachings of the Church you have excommunicated yourself and by taking communion you have condemned yourself even more because you are out of communion with the Church. You, of course, do not believe that and are much closer to the protestant idea of "once saved, always saved" which is directly condemned in the Bible itself.

Steve said...

Nitpicker, not to be too picky, but what you term the "Protestant" idea of "once saved, always saved" is more of an evangelical concept, rather than a mainstream Protestant idea.

For what it's worth, I don't actually subscribe to the "once saved" idea." Salvation is the most conplex mystery I can think of; to my mind, it has everything to do with God's generosity, and God's generosity is so vast and different from the human version that it is impossible for any of us to comprehend FULLY in this life. We can see glimmers of it, catch a whiff of it, but God's mercy is (I'm convinced) both more complex and more simple than any of us can fathom. Quite the paradox, that.

Rather than buying the "once saved" idea, I tend to view salvation in covenantal terms. God seeks an ongoing relationship--yes, even a friendship, strange though that may sound--with his daughters and sons. God wants us to know and experience his presence in our lives, and in this world, in all sorts of different ways.

I would guess that you see that relationship being rooted primarily in the teachings of the church. (Forgive me, please, if I'm mistaken on that point.) As for me, the sacramental life of the Catholic church plays an important part in how I experience Christ's love, no doubt about it. Yet I do not believe that God's love for me, or my access to it, is short-circuited when I happen to disagree with church teachings on various issues, or even question the way the church organizes itself. Nor do I believe that questioning the church is enough to get one sent to hell. I do not believe that Christ's mercy is limited by what the church decrees. Ultimately, I see the church (lowercase church and capital letter Church) as a group of people trying to journey with Christ, walk with Christ--rather than a lockstep system of regulations and unquestioning respect for rigid human power structures.

You and I disagree on some fundamental points, clearly. I have every reason to assume, however, that you're a good person. a devoted Catholic Christian, and I wish you well in your walk with God. Peace to you.