I never thought that the fight for women priests in the Catholic Church was my fight. I never wanted to become a priest, so it seemed a bit remote to me.
But in writing my book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope, I met women who did feel a calling, and who mourned their inability to follow it. I began to understand why the ban on the ordination of women to the priesthood represented a personal loss for many women.
Of course, I should have realized far sooner how refusing to ordain women priests is a terrible and undeserved blow to gender equality. There is no reason women should not serve as priests. By any objective measure, we are the equal to men in our ability to preach, to teach, and to preside at Mass.
All women should be insulted by Pope Francis's recent cavalier dismissal of the possibility of the church ever changing its position on women's ordination. The question came up after the Pope celebrated the Protestant Reformation in Sweden with the country's Lutheran prelates, including the woman who is primate of the Church of Sweden.
If you're going to make excuses for refusing to allow ordination of women you might want to invent something more plausible, with a little more intellectual heft, than the old saw about Christ choosing only men to be His apostles. It was, as Maureen Fiedler bluntly put it, and has always been, "a dumb argument."
The fact that the apostles were male isn't surprising, given the Jewish culture and the role of women in that era. As a Catholic feminist wryly asked, "All the apostles were Jews. Should all priests be Jews?"
A number of the apostles were married. And yet the church has had no problem enforcing a celibacy rule on priests. So the argument isn't even consistent.
There's also a history of women playing active leadership roles in the early church. But really, even if that were not the case, society evolves, and the role of women has greatly expanded over the centuries. If the rest of society clung to the same position as the Catholic Church, women could never become surgeons, teachers, astronauts, physicians, or architects, or even earn the right to vote or own property.
The Pope also relies on the fact that he can't change policy because Pope John Paul II closed the door on women priests. Funny, that didn't prevent Pope John XXIII from reversing course on the church's relationship with other Christian religions.
Not so long ago, indeed, within my lifetime, the children of mixed marriages, generally one spouse Catholic and the other Protestant, were told that the non-Catholic parent would go to hell without conversion.That message was sent to my own cousins. Catholics were not allowed to worship with others of different faiths, or even attend non-Catholic weddings. Vatican II changed all that, urging tolerance, respect, and collaboration among Christians of various denominations.
The church does change its mind, thank goodness. I highly recommend Fiedler's book, Rome Has Spoken, documenting those changes over the centuries. And it certainly could change its position on women's ordination.
The other, more subtle, argument one hears about Pope Francis's reluctance to admit women to the priesthood goes something like this. Pope Francis is concerned about rampant "clericalism" in the church, with priests elevating themselves above people and its highest-ranking prelates prone to "spiritual Alzheimer's" indifference to human suffering, joylessness, and hypocrisy, among other things.
So the inference is that since power corrupts, the Pope wants to inoculate women from corruption. As he said to an interviewer in 2013 responding to rumors of a laywoman being named as a cardinal, "Woman should be valued, not 'clericalized.'" We delicate flowers of the church should not be exposed to the seamy underbelly of real power.
I don't believe that any Catholic reformer believes that the ordination of women to the priesthood would radically change the top-down nature of the church, something that must change.
But what's the best reinforcement for clericalism, and the concentration of power? Doing what Pope Francis just did, saying his hands are tied because of the decisions made by the guy who used to be in charge.