A theologian has denounced “the patriarchal and priestly worldview in which churchmen have been educated to feel doubly superior” to women.
– All-male clergy “unconsciously hinders any possibility of reform”
Earlier this month, Colombian theologian Isabel Corpas de Posada presented her new book, ¿Ordenación de mujeres? Un aporte al debate desde la eclesiología del Vaticano II y la teología feminista latinoamericana (“Ordination of women? A contribution to the debate from the ecclesiology of Vatican II and Latin American feminist theology”).
As Corpas herself explains in a summary of her work – available for free, in Spanish, on Amazon – the book is an attempt to push back against “the weight in the ecclesiastical world of the patriarchal and priestly worldview in which churchmen have been formed to feel doubly superior because they are men and because they have received the sacra potestas [‘sacred power’]”.
That worldview is something which the theologian admits “worries” her.
Because the all-male clergy “represent[s] the hierarchical structure and mentality proper to the patriarchal tradition that has conditioned the practices and doctrines of Christianity throughout its history, they put forward arguments to convince women that they do not need to be ordained”, Corpas decries.
The Colombian theologian – who is part of both the Colombian Association of Women Theologians and the Amerindia Latin American liberation theology network – also deplores that churchmen – by their very presence and perpetuation of a caste apart in the Church – “unconsciously hinder any possibility of reform in what should be Ecclesia semper reformanda“, a Church always in need of reform.
– “Jesus did not ordain priests. And in the first communities of believers – normative for the Church of all times – there were none either”
At 331 pages long and with an updated bibliography on the subject of the ordination of women, Corpas’ new book is an invaluable reference for Spanish-speaking Catholics and theologians.
In the work, the theologian seeks to explain the reasons why she is against the priesthood both for women and for men.
As she puts it, “simply because Jesus did not ordain priests. And because in the first communities of believers – normative for the Church of all times – there were no priests”.
However, given the reality of the clergy-centred Church today Corpas is also interested in asking the question:
“If the New Testament records the presence of women committed to spreading the gospel – such as “our sister Phoebe, diakonos in the church of Cenchreae” [Rom. 16:1-2] – how and why were women marginalised from Church organisation and do they still remain so?”
Answering her own question, Corpas writes first of all that “to show the continuity between the Old and the New Testament, in the third century the cultural institutions of Judaism were transposed to the ecclesial community, with the consequent priesthood of the leaders [and] ignoring the break of the first communities of [Christian] believers with Old Testament religious mediations”.
“The process towards priestly ministry coincided with the passage [of Christianity] from the private space of domestic communities to the public space of official religion and from the Church understood as a community to the Church understood as a kyriarchal organisation, and women, who had spoken in the private sphere, had to remain silent when [Christianity] became a public religion”, Corpas denounces.
She adds furthermore that “priestly ministry contributed to [women’s] exclusion, given that worship implied prohibitions that marginalised them from sacred spaces”.
“Nevertheless, there were women deacons and deaconesses ordained by the ecclesial authority that entrusted them with this ministry”, Corpas stresses.
– “Very example of Jesus” at stake in reform of theology of ordained ministry
In her new book, Corpas goes on to trace how the historically- and socio-culturally-conditioned sexism the early Church took on when Christianity became an official religion solidified into doctrine in the Middle Ages.
That was under the influence of the impedimentum sexus of St. Thomas Aquinas, who argued that “the state of subjection of women makes them unfit” to receive the sacrament of Orders and to act in persona Christi.
Only with the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was the door finally opened “to a new way of understanding and exercising ecclesial ministry by overcoming priestly exclusivism”, Corpas writes.
How is it then that women continue to be excluded from ordained ministry?
According to the Colombian theologian, it’s because churchmen today continue to argue from pre-conciliar positions such as those espoused by St. Thomas, all the while “ignoring the ecclesiological lines drawn by Vatican II and the subsequent re-interpretation of the ecclesial ministry”.
Urging a return, then, to the reforming essence of Vatican II, Corpas warns that “what is at stake is the dilemma between the fear of losing power on the part of those who hold in the Church the power received in the sacrament of Holy Orders and the proposal and the very example of Jesus: ‘Whoever among you would be great must serve others’ (Mt 20:26-28)”.