Friday, 16 July 2010

An Appeal to Pope Benedict XVI

Statue of Mary found in the Abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome
The image presents Mary as the Abbot of the monastery. She wears the robe of a Cistercian monk, but she also carries the paraphernalia of a bishop. The Episcopal sedilia, the crozier, the ring and even the keys of the Kingdom. (Taken from the website

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, 7th July, during which he spoke about the legacy of medieval Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus. Here is part of what he said:

The People of God therefore precede theologians and this is all thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the "teacher that goes first" and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology. May theologians always be ready to listen to this source of faith and retain the humility and simplicity of children!
Far be it from me to demand a hearing from the Holy Father, but let me indulge a little fantasy. The Tablet is currently running a column in which prominent Catholics are asked to record what they would say to the Pope if they had a private audience. If I were to meet the Pope today, here is what I might say:

Your Holiness,

I know that the press is often guilty of distortion when it comes to reporting on the Roman Catholic Church. There is a significant level of anti-Catholicism in British society which also infects the British media. That is why I have spent some time this morning trying to track down exactly what the Vatican is now saying in its latest directive on the treatment of abusive priests, which was reported in today's Daily Mail under the heading 'Vatican labels the ordination of women a "grave crime" to be dealt with in the same way as sex abuse'. Surely, I thought, this cannot be true. Finally, I settled on the Associated Press account, which reports a press briefing by Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor. He told reporters that

including the two canonical crimes, sex abuse and ordination of women, in the same document was not equating them but was done to just codify the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals that the congregation deals with.

For example, in addition to sex abuse, the document also includes crimes against the sacraments including desecrating the Eucharist, violating the seal of the confessional and for the first time, apostasy, heresy and schism. Attempting to ordain a woman violates the sacrament of holy orders and was therefore included, Scicluna said.

"They are grave, but on different levels," he said.
Your Holiness, I like to believe that you have been badly briefed, that you still do not understand the real nature of the crisis facing the Church, and that some of these statements are issued without your full knowledge or consent. This may be naive on my part, but I would urge you to shrug off your minders and find a way to listen to the voices of many thousands of ordinary Catholics when you visit Britain in September. If you are serious when you say that 'the People of God is the "teacher that goes first"', then in the name of God listen to the people and what they are trying to say to you.
First, you might discover that the greatest sense of outrage is not against abusive priests - shameful though that abuse has been - but against senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, bishops and cardinals alike, who have been engaged in a systematic process of deception, corruption and dissimulation, allowing for the proliferation of abuse by individuals whom they were capable of stopping. The real problem is not the sins of individual priests, but the structures of sin which have infected the institutions and governance of the Church. We do not want you to impose ever more punitive restrictions and condemnations on abusive priests, unless you are also willing to acknowledge and repent of the sins that go to the highest levels of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and to take accompanying action by way of a thorough-going overhaul of the Church's institutions and structures to initiate a new era of transparency, democratic participation, accountability and inclusivity - including the full inclusion of women in the sacramental, doctrinal and institutional life of the Church. This brings me to my second point.
If you opened your ears and your heart to the women of the British Catholic Church during your visit, you would hear many, many stories of women who love the Church, who have struggled to remain loyal, but who have finally been exhausted and defeated and have quietly left or gone elsewhere - many to the Church of England. Far from seeing the ordination of women as a grave crime and a violation of holy orders, you might find many welcome this as a great sacramental act of fulfilment in recognition of the dignity of all humans made in the image of God, and able to stand in the person of Christ who took human flesh (not male flesh) for the sake of all humans. The ordination of women is for some of us a significant doctrinal development, representing a coming of age in the sacramental life of the Church within the Anglican communion, and fully capable of being coherently supported within the Catholic theological and sacramental tradition.
To equate the 'grave crime' of priestly sexual abuse with the 'grave crime' of the ordination of women suggests a profound contempt for the sacramental significance of the female body, and it also means that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of Anglican priests and bishops now stand accused by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of a crime equal in gravity to priestly sexual abuse. This of course may be arbitrary insofar as the Roman Catholic Church doesn't recognize Anglican orders anyway, but it does highlight just how ludicrous it is to try to equate the two. Sexual abuse violates the body of another human being in the most profound way, and it does not depend on codes of canon law to make it wrong. It is wrong in communities and societies which are not bound by canon law, and its objective wrong does not depend on whether the abusive adult is a Catholic priest, an Anglican priest or indeed any other adult. Holy orders are specific to one religious community's self-understanding, and the language of criminality is therefore entirely context-specific.If the curia is really saying that there is no objective moral difference between ordaining a woman and sexually abusing another human being, then we are indeed in the throes of a moral crisis of staggering immensity. I have been to Masses celebrated by Anglican women priests. I have often found them holy and beautiful occasions, more meaningful than so many Roman Catholic Masses I attend. Are you really asking me to believe that participating in these times of prayer and worship is the moral equivalent to standing by and watching a child being raped? I am outraged.

I received an e-mail today from a woman who laments that 'It’s becoming increasingly difficult to explain to others and even myself at times why, as an intelligent woman, I remain part of this hostile institution.' I share her feeling, but perhaps you are indifferent to our struggle. Perhaps you dream of a 'purer' Church - it seems our own archbishop shares your dream - in which people like us would simply disappear. Maybe by the People of God you don't mean those of us who struggle to attend Mass Sunday after Sunday despite a palpable sense of exclusion and marginalisation. Maybe you don't include those of us who try to speak up and defend the Church when she is unjustly accused, but who also feel called to criticise the hierarchy when we believe that grave errors are being perpetuated in our name, and in the name of the Chuch we love. Maybe, among the People of God, all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. Maybe the Church's shepherds would rather not wait until Judgement Day to separate the sheep from the goats, but would rather ask the goats to leave now, so that only the most docile sheep remain.

Today, I am ashamed to be Roman Catholic. It has become a Church blighted by ignorance, arrogance and the decadence of a dying regime mired in its own obsessive clinging to power. But I am not leaving for, along with Peter, I would have to ask, 'Lord, where else would we go?' The Church is and always has been more than the very great sum of her parts, and so much more than the sum of her leaders.


  1. Thank you, Tina. Eloquently expressed, this echoes my sentiments. I will never leave the Church because, as the Pope acknowledges, we are the Church and I am not deserting my own. I don't understand how the Pope can say those words (you quoted) and yet show a lack of understanding of the impact of his official statements. If he were a CEO he'd have resigned long ago. Wish I had a forum for doing something other than rage as I know that this Vatican pronouncement will not be addressed in my own parish church. I have sent an email to a priest and seminarian I know and await their responses with baited breath. Thanks again.

  2. Oh my god. I wept when I read this. This is EXACTLY how I feel; I couldn't have said it better. When I DO say it, it comes out far more angrily. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.

    I meant to write something more intelligent, but it's such a relief to see exactly what I feel in print, I'm at a loss for words.

    Bless you. xx

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. Despite being understandably angry you have managed to calm yourself enough to write an extremely intelligent and well argued article.

    If I had the chance to meet the Pope today I would ask him (in a polite way!) if it would be possible to tell me WHY it had been decided to label it as a grave crime. I can think of various practical reasons why male priests may be preferable. But labelling it as a grave crime just seems over the top.

    I know that there are all sorts of theological reasons quoted, the main one being that Jesus only appointed men (we think!). But times were different then - it was a patriarchal society but now women have equality to men.

    I always thought that the Catholic Church was just a bit old fashioned and that in fifty years we would see big changes such as women priests.

    To be honest I feel very confused today. I am definitely in need of spiritual guidance!

  4. I'm sorry, but Ordination is, by the nature of the Sacrament, reserved to men. This article is over emotive and does not approach the issue in a theological and reasoned way. There are two factors affecting a Sacrament - validity and licitness.

    The attempt to Ordain a woman is wrong because it would be illicit under Church law and would be an act of disobedience. The Ordination of priests without the correct authorisation exposes both the priest and the ordaining bishop to ecclesiatical censure. Both the bishop and the priest would not be able to exercise their faculties to say Mass and hear confessions. But it does not alter the validity of the Sacrament (ie whether it works or not).

    However, the trying to Ordain a woman would, not only be illicit, but also the Sacrament would be invalid - it wouldn't actually work. For a Sacrament to be valid, two things must be considered: the form of the Sacrament (the prayers, actions, person officiating &c), and the matter of the Sacrament (the thing to which/whom to Sacrament is being 'done'). So for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the form of the Sacrament is the saying of the words "This is my Body/This is my Blood" by a validly and licitly Ordained priest, and the matter of the Sacrament is the pure grape wine, and unleavened wheat bread. So for instance if a priest were to say all the correct things, but over a cup of Ribena and some cheese, the cheese naturally wouldn't become the Body of Christ. Likewise, if the priest didn't say the correct words of Institution over the species, they wouldn't become the Body and Blood of Christ.

    With this in mind, we turn to the Sacrament of Ordination. The form of the Sacrament is the laying on of hands by a validly ordained bishop who has the faculties to ordain. The matter of the Sacrament is a man. So very simply, if the matter is incorrect (ie a woman) then the Sacrament wouldn't work - the woman simply wouldn't be a priest (or of course, as should be the case in English, a priestess). To take an analogy - if you build a sandcastle with a castle-shaped bucket and some sand, you get a sandcastle. If you build a sandcastle with the same bucket, just with mud, although form of the result is one of a castle, it cannot possibly be a sandcastle, because it's not made of sand.

    That is the reason why woman cannot be ordained. You might well ask "Why can't we simply change what we mean by 'matter'?" To which one would reply "Can we change the Sacraments?" If we decided to say that it's fine to baptise with orange juice instead of water, would that still be Baptism? If we said we would annoint the Sick with melted chocolate instead of Holy Oils, would that be Extreme Unction? If we decided that the Mass could be celebrated with Ribena and cheese, would that be the Eucharist? Patently not.

    In attempting to diffuse some of your emotiveness, would you saying that stamping on the Blessed Sacrament, the Real Presence of God, was of a lesser, equal, or greater magnitude of sin that abusing a small, vulnerable child? Hard question, isn't it? For we have to consider Christ teaching that "Whatsoever you do to the smallest of these children of mine, you do to me."

    Maybe, just maybe, "They are grave, but on different levels," like the monsignor said?

  5. What would make you leave, if anything? And if nothing, what's the implication?

  6. In response to the second-last posting above, a blog is not the same as an academic essay. If you want to read my theological and reasoned arguments about why I take a different position from you on the ordination of women, they are quite widely available in my published books and journal articles. I am not ashamed that, as an academic theologian, I also sometimes feel a passionate sense of moral outrage. I don't mind if you interpret this as emotive.

    As you must know, there are persuasive arguments used by those against the ordination of women, and in my view more persuasive arguments used by those in favour. An informed conscience requires that we evaluate both and are able to defend our position and give reasons why. I have done this in numerous theological publications, and I have read all the arguments I can which might persuade me otherwise, since I don't lightly question the Church's teaching.

    As for your last question, I'm afraid it's not a hard question at all. It shocks me that you ask it. If you want a profound literary answer to your question, may I recommend Shusaku Endo's novel, Silence.

    In response to the last comment above, the answer isn't nothing, but I don't know the answer until it happens. I can't draw an arbitrary line in the sand and say 'this far and no further'. My resistance to leaving is not absolute, but I can't say in advance what kind of situation might persuade me that I have no option but to leave. It might be something dramatic, it might also be the kind of slow process of attrition that is currently driving so many away. If the latter, I'm not (quite) there yet.

  7. A superb letter Tina.

    I suspect you are being too charitable in your opinion of Benedict. I am sure he is well aware of his actions even though he fails to see he is, arguably, the greatest problem facing the Roman Church today.

  8. Tina, if you do not believe and profess all that the Church believes is true and revealed by God your are a Catholic in name only.

    You place yourself and your ideas above those of the Pope himself and thereby Christ Himself Who established the Church, since the Pope is the Successor of St Peter - remember, the guy with the Keys!

  9. To be quite honest through the eyes of a young Catholic, leaving all the theological issues to one side, it would be completely nonsensical to introduce women priests as the Anglican Communion has kindly gone ahead and been an experiment and has resulted in absolute schism with its own leader (Rowan Williams) pottering around looking like he's been robbed (cf. images and videos after the ballot for women bishops). My Anglo-Catholic friend says his parish is split in two and he is preparing himself to come to the Latin Church.

    I also realise that the strong feminist position you take on matters such as the ordination of women, just doesn't exist in younger women. I look at my theology class and the numerous women there and they are just not interested in what some seem to make a life's work of. They are concerned, as am I, about sound Catholic teaching and trying to ordain women just isn't sound to them. It'll be to many feminists horror perhaps that many of these young women in my class just want to be housewives and to look after the kids; they're not interested in a career at the expense of a family. In their eyes, the teaching of the Church (in its entirety) leads them to true freedom in Christ, as opposed to somehow seeing it as some sort of oppressive regime.

    Thank God for Pope Benedict XVI and how good it is to be a Catholic.

  10. Tina, you can always leave the Catholic Church. I feel you would you would be so much happier in the Anglican communion.

  11. But Tina - you've seldom agreed with what the Catholic Church teaches:- Why belong to such an institution that you clearly believe is so manifestly wrong on so many things? Abortion, women priests, contraception, homosexuality, etc, etc . . .

  12. "Today, I am ashamed to be Roman Catholic."

    But, Tina, to be a Roman Catholic is to believe and profess in its entirety the orthodox teachings of the Church - the Magisterium.

    The fullness of Catholic teaching does, as Catholic with Attitude says lead to true freedom.

  13. Thank you Tina - far from being emotive I find you admirably calm. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a priest - I couldn't even be an altar girl in those days and used to kneel in the front pew while my brothers served on the altar, saying the Latin responses with them. I was told I could be a nun but I didn't want to be a nun having already appreciated that they were in the second class compartment of the church. I did my bit on Church committees, reading at church, printing the parish newsletter but finally, when I saw people leaving the Church of England because of the issue of women priests, and being welcomed with open arms by the Catholic Church, I could no longer be a part of the man-made institution that seemed to have scant regard for Christ's teaching on love. The Catholic Church has a very selective attitude to love (for example loving and protecting paedophile priests more than the victims of their abuse)

    Years later, I saw a notice in a magazine - 'did you ever want to be a Minister?'. I screamed back YES and in 1998 became part of the first group of Interfaith Ministers and Spiritual Counsellors in the UK ( So now I create and conduct beautiful ceremonies (which is why I wanted to be a priest in the first place) for people who want to bring a sense of the Sacred to a special occasion (wedding, funeral, baby blessing) without having to sign up to a dogma they don't believe in.

    And I will be conducting my first service in Ireland (where I live) in the little Catholic chapel near the football field for the small community here with the blessing of the Parish Priest (who is 73 years of age) who not only offered the chapel, but is attending, and announcing it in the 3 parishes he serves here. How wonderful for me that my first service in Ireland will be in a Catholic chapel.

    So I don't only support the idea of women priests - I would be one now if I had had the chance. And I have no doubt at all that the church's stance will change - whether it is in 5 years, 10 years or 50 years. Why am I so sure? - because the church is crumbling and just won't survive otherwise. At one time people were trained to merely follow and not question. These days are long gone. Thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive people (of whom I count myself as one) are questioning and thinking and contemplating and praying and are slowly coming to the conclusion that not only are their leaders just not up to the job, but that they can have a connection with God and a direct experience of their own spirit/soul without needing a church or religion as an intermediary.

    The Catholic Church introduced me to Christ and for this I am profoundly grateful. But as with a dating agency - once you have established a relationship, the dating agency doesn't have a role any more.

    All I wanted to do was to serve and help people to experience the Divine Presence in their lives - and now I can. Hallelujah!

  14. Tina love,
    you're making a tit of yourself.
    If you don't like the Catholic Church's teaching, fine. Have the courage of your convictions and leave. Look on the bright side- you'll be maintaining a great tradition: Marcion; Nestorius; Arius; Pelagius; Luther; Cranmer; Calvin...
    You say that you are "ashamed to be RC". God forgive your arrogance - who appointed you to speak for anyone other than yourself?

  15. Tina,
    Your views will be shared by many in the Catholic Church: this must be recognised and the hierarchy needs to engage with this fact. By which I mean, a comprehensive programme of evangelisation and catechesis - we cannot afford another generation that feels it knows better than the Church.

    If you believe that Jesus gave the leadership of the church to Peter and his successors then you are bound to follow what they teach: is that not fair? Especially given the numerous theological and practical arguments that support the Holy Father's teaching....however that is all secondary to this - if the Holy Father teaches in line with Scripture and Sacred Tradition, he does so with authority. On the issue of women's ordination by the way he is teaching in line with Tradition and Scripture, as I am sure you know.

    You may not like it, but that is the Church you profess to belong to. At a time when the Church is being attacked on all sides, your comments and the continuing efforts to undermine the Pope from within the Church are deeply unhelpful. Moreovever I resent the implication that those who follow the teachings of the church are 'docile sheep': rather patronising and tragically outdated.

    You have also chosen to misread, or followed the line of many in misreading, the revisions to the graviora delicta. Putting a crime in a list with other crimes does not mean they are all the same - that is common sense. The ordination of women and child abuse are in a single administrative category that means they are both reserved to the juridical section of the CDF. Surely that is appropriate given the wide scope of the CDF's functions - dealing both with doctrine and discipline in the church?

    All in all a very common but misguided disappointing position you have adopted here. I do hope you will engage with our thoughts a little, though I imagine it is tempting to reject what has been said as the ravings of right-wing bloggers - I assure you I am neither right-wing nor a blogger, just someone seeking to 'sentire cum ecclesia'.

    With my prayers

  16. Tina

    I don't agree with anything you say, but out of interest how many Bishops do you think there are out there in E&W who would agree with you on women priests?

  17. My sense of worth as a woman has grown since becoming close to Our Lady. I didn't realise it was possible to have an actual relatiionship with her. I always saw her as a young girl on a pedestal, one that I would never reach. Since my son was injured, three years ago, I met her as the suffering Mother. Talk about empowerment! I advise any Catholic woman who is in need of clarity about her position in God's ( and therefore the Church's) eyes to simply ask Jesus to introduce you, on a more personal and close level, to His Mother (that's exactly what I did, kneeling down in the kitchen, one morning). I haven't looked back since. So much about my Catholic faith that confused me, just fell away.

  18. Tina, you have pleaed your view point very well, based on logical argument as well as emotional. From an islamci perspective, an Imam/priest for men only, is to be a man, for women to be a woman and for both to be a man. Though academics like Amina Wadood has lead prayer for men but it is not accepted by any school of thoght of islamic law/shariah.
    In Islamic tradition, faith is submission to the will of God almighty, and the will of God is recorded in the Divine scripture, which in Islam's case is Quran. It explicitly and unequivocally says all men and women will be rewarded for their deeds equally in hereafter but in affairs of this world, where men and women are combined, as a general rule men will lead. This is in no way considered a discremination based on gender, but both sexes have a defined role by God, not by men or women.

  19. A few thoughts.

    1. What seems to me to make the (attempted) ordination of women such a grave offence is that it represents an offence against the unity of the Church, and not just an offence against the sacrament of Orders.

    2. I don't think the question is correctly to be seen as one of different levels of gravity. The grounds that make the sexual abuse of minors by priests or religious a grave offence (the severity of the moral evil involved) is a different ground than the one that makes the (attempted) ordination of women a grave offence (the offence against the unity of the Church).

    3.I do think Pope Benedict knows exactly what he is doing, in this case as in others. In the light of the recent vote by the Church of England General Synod, a reaffirmation in a juridical form of Catholic teaching on women priests is actually very timely. And there are the likes of me who believe he is one of the greatest assets to the Church today, and not its major problem.

    4. There is a danger in moving in a certain sphere of Catholic life, taking the consensus of that particular sphere as being universally held in the Church, and not realising that there are other spheres of Catholic life out there that think differently, and what you think is universally held is far from being so held. The diversity of opinions expressed in the comments to this post indicate the need for dialogue in the interests of unity .....

  20. Tina,
    Thank you for this excellent essay. I am sorry so many of those who comment here fail to recognize prophetic words when they see them. It is also a great shame that the RC church can't get some basic things right. All of the energy the hierarchy spends ignoring the voices of abuse victims detracts from those areas where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached by the RC church - for example, in some of the ministries among the poorest of the poor all over the world. Sadly, many of your commenters seem to have forgotten all about the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and are more interested in making Aristotle and Aquinas their gods.

    Keep writing. And no, you are not "too emotive." That's just a code phrase for "your clear and convincing thoughts are scaring a man who has come to love being the oppressor."

    All the best from an Episcopal priest who is observing all of this with interest,


  21. Considering the Anglican communion accepts all the things you stand for, what ARE your reasons for remaining 'Catholic'?!

    Is it so you can seem more important?

  22. Thank you to all who have posted here. I don't read this as right wing vs left wing bloggers, but as an expression of diversity within the Church, and I accept that everyone who has commented feels as strongly as I do, even when we express very different points of view.

    My appeal to Pope Benedict was an appeal for him to listen to this diversity of voices, and I was careful on the question of women's ordination not to claim to speak for everybody.

    I'm not asking us to debate the doctrinal fundamentals of the Catholic faith. So in response to Patricia Phillips and Athanasius, here are the doctrines which I have never questioned or challenged:

    The Trinity
    The Incarnation
    The Sacraments
    The Real Presence
    The Marian dogmas (perpetual virginity, Immaculate Conception and Assumption)

    I gladly say the Nicene creed.

    If I refused to accept the Church's teachings on these, I would have to reconsider the question of whether or not I am a Catholic.

    In answer to Chris's suggestion that I might be happier in the Anglican communion, happiness is not for me a matter of comfort but of being where I feel called to be. Yes, I feel affection for the Anglican communion and yes, I long for the day when we too have women priests. I may be completely wrong in that longing, I may well have misunderstood and missed the point, I only ask for a space for this discussion to happen, without demonising and denouncing those who express this point of view. But I'm not an Anglican. The catholicity of the Catholic Church is important - it transcends cultures and nations - and that's also why I'm saddened by the narrowing down of what it means to be Catholic, and the drawing of ever tighter boundaries through the demand for unquestioning and unthinking obedience.

    I'm not alone in seeing the present creeping authoritarianism of the papacy as a new development in the Church (see, for example, Bishop Kevin Dowling's recent talk, published in The Tablet this week). The People of God are included within the magisterium - that's what Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges in the quote at the beginning of this blog, but where is our voice? I cannot think of a single occasion when a woman has been quoted in a papal document, for example.

    Joe, I appreciate that you give a more nuanced reading than I did, but sometimes our leaders need to be more mindful than they are of the common sense responses of ordinary people. The interpretation of canon law may allow for a distinction between the offence of ordaining women and the offence of sexual abuse, but both are included in the same category of 'grave crimes'. In other words, the category is common to both, even if the nature of the crimes is different. That's why I read it as an attempt to equate the two. My question about context remains: the grave crime of sexual abuse is not context-specific, the grave crime of attempting to ordain a woman is. Surely, we don't want Anglican bishops who ordain women to be arrested by the state, but that's what we expect for sexual abusers? (Or, most of us do. It's still not entirely clear that the Vatican fully endorses this position). So, does the category of 'grave crime' include every church that ordains women, or does it only refer to Roman Catholics? And if the latter, how can the same term be used to include a crime which would be recognised as such regardless of religious differences - i.e. that of sexual abuse? Isn't there a confusion here between canon law, moral law and criminal law? (Or am I simply a theologian of very little brain?)

  23. Hello, Tina. I am in favor of women's ordination, but it must happen in accord with basic church order (as it happened in the other Christian churches). Illegal ordinations rightly send a chill down the Catholic spine. One of the many toxic side effects is that doubt is cast on the validity of the ordinations themselves and of all sacraments celebrated by the ministers. Would you be confident that a Eucharist celebrated by Sinead O'Connor was valid? These illegal ordinations have probably put the cause of women priests back by decades.

  24. I don't see the relevance of the image. Abbots wear a mitre, carry a crozier and wear a ring, these are they symbols of an abbot.

    An abbess would also have a ring and a crozier.

    St. Bernard would place a statue of Our Lady in the place of the abbot at table and in choir.

  25. "Here are the doctrines which I have never questioned or challenged: The Trinity, The Incarnation, The Sacraments, The Real Presence
    The Marian dogmas (perpetual virginity, Immaculate Conception and Assumption)."

    I'm thinking of the way each of the dogmas relate to each other, and to other dogmas and doctrines not listed.

    It is a problem if one 'uses' these dogmas to further one's own position that is contrary to the Catholic Faith. If this so, in what sense does one accept the above listed dogmas according to the mind of the Church in regard to the dogmas themselves and the entire deposit of Faith?

    1. Would you take von Balthasar's suprafeminine Trinity to argue for women priestesses, as Gavin D'Costa has done? If so, in what sense does one accept the dogma of the Trinity as a Catholic? It seems that one can accepet these dogmas but not according to the Faith of the Church.

    2. I am aware that you take the doctrine of Coredemptrix to argue for women priestesses. This doctrine may be declared a dogma one day. Again, in what sense does one accept this doctrine as a Catholic according to the mind of the Church and in harmony with the rest of the Church's dogmas.

    The Anglicans pray the Nicene Creed but they have different understandings concerning several of the articles.

    I do not think the argument that Anglicans are doing something equally immoral to sexual abuse is valid, and I do not think that Pope Benedict or the CDF is making this point. The issue is not the validity of their orders, in this case, but the fact that the Anglicans are not under the jurisdiction of the CDF. As a Christian Community, in what sense are they harming Church unity within the Catholic Church itself? Yes ordaining women priestesses and bishop(esses?) makes ecumenism more difficult, but the CDF are not going to bother excommunicating and issuing penalties to Anglicans.

  26. I do not think you are not a Catholic. On the contrary, I think you a very good Catholic and hope you remain in the Church. You obviously have contributed much and have still much to contribute.

    But can I make a number of points:

    1. You say "I'm not alone in seeing the present creeping authoritarianism of the papacy as a new development in the Church"

    Do you not think if anything Pope Benedict XVI is "less authoritarian" than Pope John Paul II ? Were the changes wrought by Pope Paul VI done in a non-authoritarian manner ? Is not the authority of the Papacy in matters of doctrine, faith and morals one of the key defining charateristics of Roman Catholicism and has been for centuries ?

    2. You say "I cannot think of a single occasion when a woman has been quoted in a papal document, for example."

    If you do a google search on the Vatican website for "Therese of Lisieux" you will find very many references to quotations from her works in papal documents. Here are are just three picked at random:Catechism para 127; Paul VI Gaudete in Domino (On Christian Joy) (Apostolic Exhortation); John Paul II Apostolic Letter on the Centenary of the Pontifical Society of St Peter the Apostle

    You can do the same exercise with Theresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, St Bridget of Sweden, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and other woman theological writers.

    Admittedly the number of women quoted in Papal documents is not on the scale as men quoted. But it was only Pope Paul VI who declared the first woman Doctor of the Church and he and subsequent Popes have made efforts to push the teaching of woman writers into the Catholic mainstream.

    See in particular Pope John Paul II`s Apostolic Letter proclaiming St Bridget, St Catherine and St Teresa Benedicta Co Patronesses of Europe at

    3. The distinction between the offence of ordaining women and the offence of sexual abuse in the category of "grave crimes"

    It was certainly rather cackhanded from the PR point of view of the Vatican to announce the changes to the canon law as it did. But I do not see how despite the cackhandedness it can be argued that somehow the Vatican has attempted to equate the gravity of the two "offences" in Canon Law.

    There are surely gradations of seriousness of offences in the Canon Law Code as there are in the State criminal law and other types of jurisprudence. That is a well recognised concept.

    Crimes or offences have always been categorised by all legal systems. The actual punishment depends on the specific facts.

    It is also well recognised that something may be deemed to be a wrong from a Canon Law point of view but need not be wrong from the criminal law point of view (as in the State criminal law) Canon law also makes a distinction between something being wrong from a "criminal" or penal point of view and that of the civil. The distincton between the criminal law and the civil law is also understood.

    If a priest commits a consensual homosexual act with an adult parishioner as a result of something said/done in the confessional, that in canon law is a very serious offence.

    The Church will deal with the matter through its Canon Law and exact stringent penalties against the offender and rightly so. It is a "grave crime" in terms of Canon Law and also in terms of the Moral Law

    However it does not believe that the priest should be arrested or punished by the State and again rightly so. See Statement of the representative of the Holy See made the following Official Statement to the 63rd Annual General Assembly of the United Nations at

    The distinction between and the separation of Church and State has been praised and commended by the present Pope on more than one occasion.

  27. To finish off the last comment which I had to leave off for lack of space:

    4. "To equate the 'grave crime' of priestly sexual abuse with the 'grave crime' of the ordination of women suggests a profound contempt for the sacramental significance of the female body, and it also means that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of Anglican priests and bishops now stand accused by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of a crime equal in gravity to priestly sexual abuse"

    Again the two "offences" are not of the same gravity. They are different in kind as was explained at the Vatican Press conference. One relates to conduct, the other to faith. The consequences of each "offence" are entirely different. There is no "moral crisis of staggering immensity."

    As regards Anglicanism, by ordaining women priests and soon consecrating women bishops, the Anglican authorities are widening the separation between not only the Anglican Church and Roman Catholicism but also Anglicanism and the Orthodox Churches and other Christian denominations as well as those Anglicans who do not accept the consecration of women bishops. By increasing the scandal of a separated Christendom, are such Anglicans entirely without any fault ?

  28. Tina,
    What a load of old guff! Stop whining and be realistic. The Catholic Church will never 'ordain' women to the ministerial priesthood. This is impossible as Christ who is Head of the Church did not ordain women when he began the Church on Holy Thursday night.The Holy Spririt who guides the Church has consistently spoken through the Magisterium that there cannot be women priests - ever! If you do not beleieve the Church is guided through the Holy Spirit and that the same Spirit is speaking through the Magisterium why do you not go off and join the Anglican communion where all sorts of abominations - abortions recognised as a right, women priests and homosexual relations condoned - are not only possible but welcome? I am sure if you swam from the Tiber to the Thames a warm welcome awaits and perhaps ordination too?

  29. So, does the category of 'grave crime' include every church that ordains women, or does it only refer to Roman Catholics?

    It includes people subject to the Code of Canon Law - by virtue of belonging to the church.

    And if the latter, how can the same term be used to include a crime which would be recognised as such regardless of religious differences - i.e. that of sexual abuse?

    Because the code of canon law is only interested in the canonical aspects of it. The fact a matter covered by the code may also have consequences in the secular sphere, regardless of religion or lack thereof is irrelevant. (Similarly not everything considered by the church to be a sin is a canonical offence, though admittedly I find it difficult to think of a canonical offence which wouldn't be a sin). They are dealing with entirely different things. One of the criticisms of the way the church dealt with abuse was that it sought to keep the secular world out of it and deal with it in canon law. The proper course for canon law is to keep to its own sphere: internal regulation of the church. Determining how to deal with those who - in the Vatican's eyes - injure the unity of church by [purported] ordination of women is certainly part of its sphere. By way of analogy, I happen to be a lawyer. Some of the matters which are considered most serious in terms of breaches of our professional ethics - things which could get me struck off - are not crimes at all. Obviously some very serious crimes would have professional consequences (mainly crimes of dishonesty). Other crimes might well not have professional consequences at all - because they are considered irrelevant in the professional sphere. That wouldn't save me from being punished for them in court of course.

    And if the latter, how can the same term be used to include a crime which would be recognised as such regardless of religious differences - i.e. that of sexual abuse?

    Because whether it would be recognised as such is entirely irrelevant to the point in issue. Canon law is doing something entirely different. It is extremely important we remember it is not there to do the same job as secular law.

    Isn't there a confusion here between canon law, moral law and criminal law?

    No. Or rather, I think you are yourself introducing such when it is not there.

  30. The purported ordination of someone who is ineligible for ordination could have serious consequences, eg if someone mistakenly thought that they had received absolution for a grave sin. This is no small matter, and Pope Benedict is right to address this abuse.

  31. Tina
    Have you ever read this document? I strongly urge you and some of your commentors to read it and reflect on it:-

  32. Tina

    Have you ever sat down and read the Catechism of the Catholic Church from start to finish?. Be honest - have you?. Reading what you write it's difficult to believe you have.


  33. Dear Tina Beattie,

    I was struck by your comment:

    "The real problem is not the sins of individual priests, but the structures of sin which have infected the institutions and governance of the Church."

    How can structures sin?

    Which structures in the Church infect?

    It is the sins of lay Catholics, priests and Bishops that is the real problem.

    One last question: Do you accept Papal Infallibility, and if so, do you accept that in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis the Ven. John Paul issued an Infalliable statement to be held by all the faithful?


  34. Tina, thank you for your post.

    I would like to make a general comment regarding the tone with which many of these responses are appearing. Even if one disagrees with Tina's position, it would probably behoove all of us to assume the sincerity of her struggle, and to respond with kindness and charity as we debate. Go ahead and disagree and discuss, but let's not belittle and demean each other. What kind of witness is that to Christ? We are each other's fellow human beings, for God's sake.

  35. I know lots of Catholics who don't believe or live what the Church teaches (by that I mean Jesus) but shouldn't we all pray for God's guidance and be open to The Holy Spirit? I like to think ' what will I say to Jesus if I was to die now?'
    The Truth is always the Truth, it never changes.

  36. Wow, there are a lot of comments and responses here. I will not repeat what someone else has argued unnecessarily. Tina, I love your work and think you argue brilliantly. As a woman lay theologian in the Catholic Church you have given me inspiration to keep studying when times are hard, I am currently doing my DPhil in CST and love my work. Thank you. I do not always agree with your academic conclusions, but I really appreciate your passion and your courage. Amazing. I like that you have a more informal discussion of your views via the blogosphere too, very open and very dialogical - would that the Catholic hierarchy might have the know-how of the world to join you.

  37. You still don't seem to get it do you!. Only males can be ordained to the priesthood. It's been like that ever since apostolic times and can never be changed!. Get over it!!. Why not complain to the Eastern Orthodox as well as the Oriental Orthodox about ordaining women. You will get the same reply as mine. Sorry if the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Churches are not equal opportunity employers in your eyes. That is just the way it is, and will remain as so. So just get over it!!. Were not Protestants!.

  38. Thank you to all those of you who have posted comments here, and most particularly to those who have challenged and debated in a thoughtful and informed way. I've learned a great deal through this process, and if I were to write the blog again it would be quite different, thanks to some of your arguments and points of enlightenment. I've published every comment but one which I've received, and the one I rejected was just too obscene and misogynist to tolerate. (If the person who wrote it is reading this - shame on you).

    However, even bloggers should rest on a Sunday, and I'm going on holiday tomorrow, so I'm not publishing any more comments on this posting. By way of a thank you, an inadequate explanation, and a bit of late night self-indulgence, I'm publishing a piece I wrote last night as a new blog. Farewell for now.

  39. Dear Tina,

    please read my article on women and the Church:

    Your desire to have women serve in the Church is commendable - this is a good thing. May I affirm you in your desire to have women have a positive role in building the Kingdom of God. However, this isn't going to happen in the Catholic Priesthood. Ever.

    Pope Benedict does not have the authority to ordain women, just as Pope John Paul II said. (believe it or not). You can't start tampering with 2,000 year old traditions without disaster.

    I feel sorry for you when you write, "I am ashamed to be a Catholic." I would love to meet you one day to help you realise your great gifts in a way that would be able to serve the Church, rather than attack it.

  40. Ah, Tina Beattie! I was going to write to you! Tell me, do you remember an article you had published in the Tablet last year called "Deadlier sin of the male"?

  41. Dear Tina, What a wonderful piece! Thank you! It says so well what so many are thinking and feeling. Your blog was recommended to me by my friend Phil. I will return.

    One suggestion: If I were you I would block all 'anonymous' comments. People who do not have the courage to show their face have no right to have a voice.


  42. To Tina Beattie,

    What really puzzles me is why you call yourself a Catholic.

    I fail to understand why someone who is so opposed to the teachings of ther Church, and who holds the majesterium of the Church on such disdain, should want to call herself a Catholic.

    Why do you keep up this pretense, when it is clear to the world that you are so anti-catholic.

  43. I was so relieved to read Tina's first statement. I have been a practising Catholic all my life. I felt more in tune with the Catholic Church than any other. However I've always fel the danger of the Church following Paul rather than Jesus and taking the pattern of the Roman Empire and all its patriarchal assumptions. It was always the words of Jesus and his parables that helped me to live happily and well, to guide my children by some really wise insights. From Paul I find nothing but platitudes and ego.
    I am still unsure about women priests although I am coming more and more to the conclusion that they could be something very wonderful for the Church. I am shocked that we have married priest who have come over and been accepted as the priests because they disagree with their original Church on the ordination of women. Why can we so easily change the basic rule of celibacy but not open up the priesthood to women?
    What has really cut the taproot of my loyalty to the Catholic Church is the language of the Pope's edict and that he has been as vehement about the ordination of women priests as child abusers.
    Yesterday I made the very serious decision that I could no longer be part of the Catholic Church.
    I have been directed to the website of We Are (the) Church and want to read more about this organisation. They came across as enlightened, intelligent and sensitive as well as having the type of Charity that was shown by Christ.
    I no longer recognise Christ in the Roman institution. I hope it will change back to being more Christlike so that I might return.

  44. The Church is a mystery. A deep, profound and abiding mystery. As mysterious as love itself. At once human and divine the Church is as flawed, as fallen, as any human institution yet, at one and the same time, as redeemed, holy, and lifted on high as the Son of God Himself.

    Holy Mother Church. A mystery. We will never, in our short lives, resolve these issues. Instead we must reach out to each other in love; we must put our trust in God's good Grace, in Divine Providence, that She will gather us all up, that He will find a room for each of us within His house. Man or Woman, Priest or Lay, Gay or Straight, Child or Child Abuser, Abortionist or Abortion Victim. God loves each one even when we cannot find it in ourselves to do the same.

    And in these arguments, on topics which are so close to people's hearts, which matter because the people themselves matter, I see so little love.

  45. "I take a different position from you on the ordination of women"

    You can't. It is something to which the faithful are required to assent. Read "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis". You CANNOT take a "different position" and remain a Catholic. There is a word for the views you espouse - heresy.

  46. "Why can we so easily change the basic rule of celibacy but not open up the priesthood to women?"

    Because celibacy is merely a discipline, whereas ordaining a woman as a priest is an absolute theological impossibility owing to the Church's need to ensure that the sacraments are validly confected.

  47. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

    October 28, 1995

    Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

    Responsum: In the affirmative.

    This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

    The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

    Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

  48. Receiving from Church leaders, a nice, neat little package called 'Truth', easy-to-hear, comfortable to live with, and demanding nothing but submission, is not part of the Gospel I read. As for total submission to the Church's teaching, in a posture of complete unquestioning docility, I hear the dynamic anger of Jesus railing against the blindnesses He had to deal with in the leaders of the people of God of His time. We badly need that voice now, more than ever.
    I do not expect complete "answers", either from the Pope or from Tina Beattie. But Tina Beattie is in fact, entering the arena of reflection and dialogue which is essential to a LIVING Church, rather than the stultifying ossification of a hierarchy which wants the celibate/clerical stranglehold on the people of God to continue ad infinitum. The silence achieved by bondage has nothing in common with the Peace of Christ, and everything to do with Death. And in one important way, this Church is DYING because of old, celibate men linving far away in an ivory tower, who only hear about reality from (far too polite) specially chosen representatives from vetted and "acceptable' sources, who will never depart from the deferential posture which Rome will always call 'humility'. These men desperately need an encounter with the Christ of the Gospels, and the more they evade, and hide behind the absurd strictures of 'Canon Law', the more the wrath of God is piling up behind them.
    Although I am not involved in any way in any movement towards the Ordination of women, it seems to me that a much deeper and more urgent debate needs to take place first, and that is what IS Christian priesthood, and no, I don't want to hear some blind academic reel off another book-load of 'canonical gobble-de-gook', which most often bamboozles rather than enlightens.
    Jesus spoke simply, directly and with utter clarity. For that, RELIGIOUS PEOPLE had Him killed. Have courage Tina Beattie and all you others, DO NOT let them 'drive you out of the Synagogues'/ out of the Catholic Church. It's OUR Church too, and the Pharisees are still very much with us. If we want a debate, a debate we shall have. Our Church is SICK, and it needs the Doctor. Most especially those at the top.
    Mister Mack


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.