A female theologian has issued a strong ultimatum, insisting that “women must not continue to be silenced, made invisible and marginalised in the Catholic Church”.
– “Jesus was not a priest, nor did he ordain priests, nor were the apostles priests”
The exclusion of women from the sacrament of Holy Orders “doesn’t make theological sense” but instead boils down to “cultural and historical circumstances that have changed and to which it is to be hoped that as Ecclesia semper reformanda our Catholic Church will adapt”, Colombian theologian Isabel Corpas de Posada declared in an interview October 24.
The independent researcher – the author of a new book on the ordination of women from the twin points of view of the ecclesiology of Vatican II and Latin American feminist theology – criticised the “patriarchal and clerical” imaginary in which churchmen are formed and lamented the scarcely theological “arguments from authority… based on medieval theology” that they adduce to bar women from the priesthood.
As an example of those untheological appeals to authority that the Church uses to keep women from Holy Orders, Corpas de Posada singled out the argument of “apostolic succession”, according to which since Christ chose only men to be his apostles, the Church can likewise only choose men to be priests.
“But it turns out that Jesus was not a priest, nor did he ordain priests, nor were the apostles priests”, the Colombian theologian pointed out.
“On the contrary, the New Testament represents a break with the priestly mediation of the Old Testament by stating that the only mediator is Christ Jesus, to whom the letter to the Hebrews gives the title of the one priest”, she added.
Corpas de Posada explained that in contrast to the diaconal or service nature of the earliest Christian communities, “the priesthood slipped into the practices of the Church one or two centuries later and, therefore, does not correspond to the project of Jesus”.
That historical accident in the life of the Church was one that later medieval theology “converted into doctrine by fleshing out the theology of the sacrament of Holy Orders as a sacrament of the priesthood”, the academic deplored.
As a way out of that impasse, Corpas de Posada pointed to the intuition of the Second Vatican Council, which recovered the idea of baptism as a participation in the triple priestly, prophetic and royal mission of Christ and of the Church.
Vatican II also tied ordination to mission rather than the altar proper to the priesthood, the theologian explained.
– “Women will continue to be discriminated against” as long as “hierarchical, kyriarcal and priestly” Church persists
The significance of Corpas de Posada’s turn to Vatican II’s theology of ordination is that it provides a way out of the oft-repeated argument that to ordain women would be to “clericalise” them.
Moving away from understanding ordination “in a sacral and therefore priestly key” opens the door to understanding the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate not “as an exercise of a power received through the sacrament of Holy Orders” but instead a”as a service according to the example and proposal of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: ‘whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant’ [Matt 20:26]”, the theologian explained.
“In the present structures of the clerical Church – which is at the same time hierarchical, kyriarcal and priestly – women will continue to be discriminated against; they can only be duly recognised and take their rightful place in an inclusive and ministerial Church of communion”, Corpas de Posada added.
– On women’s equality, Church cannot afford to miss “train of history”
On the point of the construction of that truly inclusive Church, the theologian said the time is ripe to make the change.
Warning that it is a matter of justice that the Church “respond to the new presence of women in society and… formally recognise their participation in the Church, overcoming their traditional marginalisation due to likewise traditional social prejudices”, Corpas de Posada said “that can be no delay” on women’s ordination.
“It is urgent… as a way of overcoming the inequity that implies their exclusion”, she insisted, adding that it is also high time that churchmen pay attention to the message of radical inclusion that the Pope proposes in his new encyclical, Fratelli tutti (23, 67-69), and stop “clinging to an identity that separates them from others” (FT, 102).
As a way forward, then, the theologian urged Pope Francis to “make up for lost time” on women’s equality in the Church and make changes to Catholic practice and canon law similar to those that allowed for Masses in the vernacular with the priest facing the people after Vatican II.
“It is my hope that Pope Francis, who is so sensitive and so willing to renew the Church, can take some significant steps to respond to the present reality and also that the Catholic Church will not reflect the sad image of having missed the train of history”, Corpas de Posada reflected.