Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Women priests

the gospel reading today for Holy Communion from the RCL is John 6.30-35

(detail of icon from the Icon chapel in Glenstal)

While I was on retreat in Glenstal the topic of the ordination of women in the Catholic Church was raised with one of the community. Hardly surprising really - our group did include both women priests and lay readers. The monk's reaction was interesting. He had no objection to the idea, and thought there was quite a lot of support for the idea in certain circles, but believed it was unlikely to come about for a long while. And the reason why was not theological but social.

The Catholic Church can't do something in one part that wouldn't fly in another, was his reasoning. In many parts of the world the status of women is still so low that the idea of women in any position of authority simply wouldn't be countenanced. And so, since you can't have women priests in countries that are largely, say, Muslim, you can't have women priests anywhere in the Catholic Church.

It was an interesting point, one that I hadn't thought of before. No mention of tradition; no mention of theology; no mention even of ecumenical relations with the Eastern Church, although I know these are serious issues & I have no doubt he would see them as such. But the main stumbling block, as he saw it, was one that would, of course, remain even if the others were resolved - the purely practical need to be consistent across the whole of the Church.

It was one of the consequences of being such an integrated Church that hadn't occurred to me before. Things are, after all, a little different in Anglicanism. For example, there are many of the member churches within the Anglican Communion that do not ordain women and that doesn't stop them from being in communion with those that do. It simply means that in practice a woman priest can't go and minister in that part of the Communion. And yet women bishops were welcome at the Lambeth conference even when the CofE had no provision for a distaff episcopate. But that's is an approach that simply wouldn't work in the Catholic Church.

In an odd way though, I wonder does this mean that there is more hope for some form of closer relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church than many currently seem to think. Two of the big stumbling blocks currently are that Anglicanism (or some parts of it) ordains women, and Rome doesn't recognise Anglican orders. Issues in relation to orders seemed to have been largely resolved in ARCIC, even though it wasn't followed through on. Perhaps the ordination of women isn't the barrier that some see it as. After all, if the Anglican Communion can hobble along despite the differences of its members, perhaps that same sort of compromise can be reached between Rome and Canterbury.

It is, of course, the kind of situation that Anglicans, in general, would be comfortable with. We don't expect our constituent churches to agree on every point. The important question, is it the kind of 'rub along' solution that would be acceptable to the Catholic Church? Perhaps. The Holy Father surprised a lot of people in the way he reached out to a part of Anglicanism in the Ordinariates - which do, after all, contain certain concessions toward the Anglican way of doing things. Perhaps he may yet surprise us further. I would certainly like to hope so - and more than hope, but pray.

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