A Belgian Jesuit is calling for women deacons and cardinals, saying that “it is vital that the world not always be seen through male eyes”.
– “I personally have evolved quite a bit” on women’s ordination
Priest Charles Delhez, a sociologist and family ministry expert, wrote an honest and heartfelt article in La Croix June 2 explaining how he has been moving on the issue of the ordination of women.
The motive for the priest’s reflection was the candidacy of French feminist theologian Anne Soupa to the archbishopric of Lyon – a nomination that as of late Thursday evening had attracted almost 6,000 signatures in support.
Soupa – a 73-year-old biblical scholar, journalist and writer – says she is running to be Archbishop of Lyon to combat the “abuses of all kinds” in the Church today, including the “sacralisation of the priest” and the “spirit of division”.
In his reflection in La Croix, Delhez praised Soupa for her “original move” to be the next Lyon archbishop and for “honest struggle” against the sexism embedded in Catholicism, and said her candidacy was “a perfect opportunity to make people think again about the place of women in the Church”.
“Regarding women’s ordination, I personally have evolved quite a bit. Indeed, it is rare that one side possesses truth and the other side is completely wrong”, the Jesuit wrote.
– Veto might be mere “human tradition” out of line with Jesus’ “breakthrough” on gender equality
Though Delhez said he has “always had a rather feminist leaning, desiring to see power – understood in terms of responsibility – shared equally in Church and society”, he admitted that he has in the past been “more reticent” on women’s ordination, since the Church’s sacramental system “is not a matter of power”, but of “symbolism”.
Jesus and Paul and indeed certain other biblical figures and authors may have been firm believers in the equality of men and women, the Jesuit explained, but the Church has received from tradition “that there are intrinsic differences between male and female, and not only at the cultural level”.
It is from that conviction – and from the historical “contigency” that Jesus was male – that the Church derives its principle that only men can be priests, Delhez explained, before countering that traditional teaching with arguments from the “other side” of the “equation”.
The advancement of the equality of women in wider society, the evils of the clericalism of an exclusively-male priesthood, and the incomprehension of many modern people in the face of the Church’s veto on female priests would all seem to argue in favour of revising the question of women’s ordination, Delhez observed.
Not only were “great theologians” such as Karl Rahner and Jean Daniélou proponents of women priests, but “Sacred Scripture does not lead to any firm conclusions” on the issue, Delhez wrote.
On top of that, there is the growing suspicion that the ban on women priests might not just be mere “human tradition” that has fallen out or never was in line “with the breakthrough that was begun by Jesus”, the Jesuit concluded his argument.
– “Excluding women from ordination today is like having a tiny pebble in one’s shoe”
Delhez said that any possible future commitment on the part of the Church to remedy the injustices it has perpetrated against women could include as a “first step” the “reinstatement of deaconesses and the choice of women cardinals”.
As part of the reforms of inbuilt gender inequality structures, the Jesuit added, the Church could also give authority to both laywomen and laymen to carry out the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
“Should we not loosen the sacramental vise that has become a quasi-monopoly of priests and men (except for marriage and baptism)?”, Delhez asked in that respect.
Though he warned that future overhauls of the Church’s ministry will eventually have to deal with the possibly “outdated” figure of the priest – whether male or female – in favour of energising the “vitality” of more “responsible” and “mature” all-lay communities – Delhez wrote that “excluding women from ordination today is like having a tiny pebble in one’s shoe”.
“Is it still acceptable?”, he asked, before pointing to the fact that of the 700 people who hold institutional responsibilities in the Belgian Church, 55% are women.
“That is already good progress! But we need to go further…”, Delhez concluded.