Mother Pelican

(Source: Luis T. Gutiérrez*, Mother Pelican Journal)

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the infamous 1994 apostolic letter by Pope St. John Paul II on “reserving priestly ordination to men alone,” was a brutal abuse of religious authority.

Climaxing 2000 years of ecclesiastical marginalization of women as inferior to men, it implies that apostolic succession is contingent on masculinity by absurdly arguing that such is the plan Christ had for the Church when he chose twelve male apostles to represent the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.

While undoubtedly well-intentioned for some reason that is hard to fathom, this act of pontifical fundamentalism has eroded the credibility of the Catholic Church at a time when clerical sexual abuse can no longer be hidden and the patriarchal age is coming to an end.

By fostering the patriarchal mindset of male domination and female subordination, it contradicts the Golden Rule and the basic principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability.

This article is a critique of this fiasco and an appeal for the Vatican to stop resorting to clever abstractions, executive orders, and fake news to evade facing reality. Contrary to what the papal letter implies, the Christian faith is not intrinsically patriarchal.

Change is difficult, cultural change is more difficult, and religious change is exceedingly difficult, because religious beliefs mark the concrete totality of the human person, body and soul, objectively and subjectively; even more so when religion and sexual identity are conflated, because psychosomatic gender belongs deeper in the structure of the personal subject than any other human attribute, including race, ethnicity, and nationality.

We are currently living a globalized change of era in which all dimensions of human life need reexamination in response to critical social and ecological issues that are unavoidable.

It is time to face natural realities as they are, because nature has a way of resisting artificial ideologies when they become poisonous for the entire community of creation.

According to the dictionary, a paradox is “a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.”

Thus religious patriarchy is a paradox: it starts with apparently sound but false premises about human nature and gender relations, and leads to a conclusion of domination/subordination that contradicts the fundamental biblical revelation that God is Love and the wide consensus about the Golden Rule being a sign of wisdom as well as a sign of authentic religious faith.

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is also paradoxical, and in a very harmful way. By claiming that the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Covenant remains normative under the New Covenant, it renders the redemption utterly inoperative in gender relations.

It contradicts Galatians 3:28 and its relevance to gender relations. It contradicts the Golden Rule and its relevance to gender relations. It contradicts the Theology of the Body, which establishes that man and woman are relationally complementary in consubstantial unity and, in marriage, become a communio personarum, a communion of persons, not a hierarchy of persons.

What about a communion of churches, rather than a hierarchy of churches? In Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, one intent (see section 1) is clearly to denounce the Anglican Communion for ordaining women to the priesthood and the episcopate, and having the audacity to do so without permission from Rome.

So the only version of apostolic succession that is valid is the exclusively male Roman version. And this paradoxical “teaching” is “definitive” because the Pope says so. No wonder that so many people, especially young people, are turning around and walking away with fingers in their ears.

Given the paralysis that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis has induced with regard to the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, and given the nefarious repercussions for gender relations and social/ecological justice, it is necessary to expose the absurdity of this tragic mistake.

Summarizing from Religious Patriarchy in the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

  • The dogmatic definition of priestly ordination as a sacrament (Council of Trent, 1563) does not mention maleness or masculinity as a requirement for apostolic succession.
  • The Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis (Pius XII, 1947) about “what is required for validity in conferring of Sacred Orders” does not mention a maleness or masculinity requirement for ordination. About different rites of ordination, it states: “If it was at one time necessary even for validity by the will and command of the Church, everyone knows that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she herself has established.”
  • The 1976 statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insigniores, is a literalist interpretation of the 12 male apostles chosen by Jesus under the Old Law to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel. After the resurrection and the ascension, the Church elected Matthias to replace Judas, and has since elected all successors to the apostles. Why is it that Matthias was chosen by the Church to be an apostle, and not Mary Magdalene? Because the witness of Mary Magdalene, or any other woman, was considered worthless. After the resurrection, under the New Law, the Church is given full authority to mediate all vocations. By the power of the keys, the Church can ordain women at any time, without waiting for the Lord to return and give permission. It doesn’t make sense to say that the Church is not authorized to ordain women.
  • In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1577 is a doctrinal rationalization of Canon 1024. It reiterates the argument of Inter Insigniores and thereby elevates the pre-Easter choice of the 12 male apostles to a patriarchal post-Easter doctrine (but not a dogma!). Thankfully, #1598 recognizes that the male-only priesthood is a choice made by the Church (first sentence) and who can make the choice (second sentence). Since the choice is made by the Church, and not by Christ personally, what about allowing the Risen Lord to call women, and see what happens? Canon 1024 is, in effect, an artificial contraceptive (if not an outright abortifacient!) of female vocations to the sacramental priesthood.
  • Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (John Paul II, 1994) is a pontifical “executive order” to stop further discussion on women priests and bishops. The letter is addressed to the bishops, not to the entire Church. It does not say it is a dogmatic definition, so it is not infallible as either extraordinary teaching (Pope ex cathedra) or ordinary teaching (the Pope and the bishops, together, have never taught infallibly that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood). It is entirely written in past and present tense; not a single verb is conjugated in future tense, so it says nothing about what the Church can or cannot decide to do in the future. Therefore, it is “definitive” for the past and the present, but cannot possibly be “definitive” for the future, and the Church is free to reopen the discussion pursuant to discerning the will of Christ going forward.
  • The 1995 statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responsum ad Propositum Dubium, is pontifical “fake news” dubiously elevating the male-only priesthood to infallible teaching. It is hard to understand how Ordinatio Sacerdotalis can be made to be infallible, retroactively, by invoking a doctrine (Lumen Gentium, section 25) that was never infallibly proclaimed. It defies logic, plain and simple.
  • The door is provisionally closed, but not dogmatically locked. Pope Francis has written that “the reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion…” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013, #104). Again, the pope writes in present tense, not in future tense. He says that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood in order to preserve the analogical image of Christ as sacrificial bridegroom and the Church as bride. Thankfully, the ludicrous argument about the pre-Easter 12 male apostles is not repeated. However, a rigidly patriarchal reading of the bridegroom-bride analogy (Ephesians 5:22-33) effectively reduces the mysterium magnum to a benign patriarchal covenant. In reality, the Christ-Church nuptial covenant is a great mystery; and the Church is metaphorically a woman, but it is more than a woman with a male head. The continued conflation of patriarchal gender ideology with the truth revealed in Christ Jesus is a cultural tragedy that is becoming a doctrinal travesty, a doctrinal cover-up that is perceived by the sensus fidelium and significantly erodes the credibility of the institutional church, with disgraceful pastoral consequences that extend to nefarious social/ecological repercussions.
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary’s unique vocation as Mother of God radically transcends all choices made by the Church for apostolic succession after the resurrection, so it is absurd to assume that women cannot be apostles under the New Law just because Mary was not chosen to be an apostle under the Old Law. If an unbaptized woman was chosen by God to become Mother of the Eucharist, why is it that the church cannot ordain baptized women to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist? The exclusively male priesthood is not about the will of Christ. It is about patriarchal sexism, a cultural disorder, not intrinsic to the deposit of faith.

Should the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law, restricted to males, still be normative for the sacramental priesthood of the New Law? With all due respect for the popes, past and present, they are trying to defend what is no longer defensible.

See this Summary Points for Meditation on the Ordination of Women. All human beings, male and female, share one and the same human nature in the same flesh.

For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes.

The priesthood of the New Law is ministerial, not patriarchal. The spiritual presence of the Virgin Mary in the Christian community is not a sacramentally suitable substitute for the presence of Christ in the priest when acting in persona Christi.

For this reason, as the patriarchal age comes to a close, it is time to start ordaining women to the priesthood and the episcopate, for the glory of God and the good of souls; and for integral human development and an integral ecology.

The paradox of religious patriarchy and the Golden Rule is even more vexing when we realize that the obsolete, inadequate patriarchal anthropology of gender role stereotypes has been thoroughly superseded by the more adequate anthropology of the Theology of the Body.

Yet in his apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, 2 February 2020, section 101, Pope Francis reiterates that “Jesus Christ appears as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one Priest.”

So cultural inertia still prevails over reason and reality. The sacramental reality is that the priestly “figure of a man” can become the priestly “figure of a human” as soon as patriarchal gender ideology is discarded and the priest becomes a figure of the Word who became flesh, i.e., became a human being in a human body, which is ontologically much more fundamental than becoming a man or a woman (cf. Theology of the Body, 8).

Patriarchy is the oldest form of violence (Genesis 3:16). It is the oldest global pandemic, and the most harmful for humanity and the human habitat.

Patriarchal sexism is as bad as racism, or even worse, because gender belongs deeper in the psychosomatic constitution of the human person.

The social and ecological repercussions are pervasive, because male domination of female extends from family relations to impact all human institutions and the human habitat.

It is time for a cultural revolution in gender relations. A renewal of human relations, and therefore a renewal of relations between humanity and the human habitat, is contingent on dismantling patriarchy in religion and society.

Dismantling patriarchy may not be sufficient for integral human development and an integral human ecology, but it is absolutely necessary.

It is paradoxical that religious patriarchy, and religious sexism, have coexisted for so long with the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule. But, actually, the Christian tradition is a living tradition, a “work in progress,” not simply a repetition of the past.

Some Christian churches are already including women in roles of official ministerial authority.

Lamentably, the Catholic and Orthodox churches are still trying to defend what is no longer defensible.

The Church has apologized for the atrocities of the crusades and the inquisition, its tacit support of slavery and racism until the 19th century, and more recently the cover-up of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

But institutional, structural sexism is even more sinful, because gender belongs deeper in the psychosomatic constitution of the human person, and therefore hurts people more deeply in their personhood.

The Christian faith is not sexist and is not intrinsically patriarchal.

It is time for the Pope to apologize for the patriarchal sexism that has excluded women from apostolic succession during twenty centuries.

It is time for church authorities to liberate church doctrines and practices from patriarchal gender ideology, and start ordaining women to the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopate.

Else, the church mission of evangelization is compromised, and the church becomes complicit in social and ecological injustice.

If the Virgin Mary is the Mother of the Eucharist, then women can and should be ordained to consecrate the bread and the wine for the glory of Christ and the good of the entire community of creation, including integral human development and an integral ecology.

*Luis T. Gutiérrez is the owner and editor of the Mother Pelican Journal.

More on Novena on gender justice in the Church:

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Nun takes charge of German bishop’s office: “The Church as a whole would benefit if there were more women in leadership positions”

On women deacons, US expert says Pope waiting for more forceful demand to come from faithful

Renowned German Benedictine and Pope ‘guru’ claims “there are no theological reasons against the priesthood of women”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.