Sunday, April 10, 2011

Open letter to Rev. Roy Bourgeois, MM

Dear Fr. Bourgeois,

Like many other Catholics, I’ve read your letter to Rev. Edward Dougherty, the Superior General of your order. While I don’t doubt your sincerity, I do call into question your intellectual honesty as a priest of the Catholic Church.

Let’s step through the reasons you give that the Church should rescind its insistence on a male priesthood:

“(1) As Catholics, we believe that we were created in the image and likeness of God and that men and women are equal before God. Excluding women from the priesthood implies that men are superior to women.” 

Unfortunately, your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premise. Men can’t bear children; it doesn’t follow from that fact that men are inferior to women.

“(2) Catholic priests say that the call to be a priest is a gift and comes from God. How can we, as men, say: ‘Our call from God is authentic, but your call, as women, is not’? … I believe our Creator who is the Source of life and called forth the sun and stars is certainly capable of calling women to be priests.” 

Had God wanted women in the priesthood, there would have been women in the priesthood from the beginning; Jesus would have selected women as well as men to be apostles, and would have made it plain that women were to be included. There’s no way you can explain the omission that wouldn’t call Jesus, the Holy Spirit or Scripture into question; once you do any one of those things, you separate yourself from Catholic beliefs.

Furthermore, you of all people know that not all men who believe they’re called to be priests are actually ordained. If the Church can discern that a man isn’t called to a particular vocation, how can the Church not have that ability and right to do so for a woman?

"(3) We are told that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only men as apostles. As we know, Jesus did not ordain anyone. Jesus also chose a woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the first witness to His resurrection, which is at the core of our faith. Mary Magdalene became known as 'the apostle to the apostles.'"

As we know, Jesus said to the Twelve, “You did not choose me, but I have chosen you” (Jn 15:16); the argument about Jesus not ordaining is misleading to say the least. So is the remark about St. Mary Magdalene: although the term “apostle to the apostles” has been used to celebrate her, she was not, in fact, an apostle in the sense that Ss. Peter, Paul and John were.

“(4) A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Vatican’s top Scripture scholars, concluded that there is no valid case to be made against the ordination of women from the Scriptures. In the Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian and other Christian churches, God’s call of women to the priesthood is affirmed and women are ordained. Why not in the Catholic church?” 

As to the first part, since 1971, the Pontifical Biblical Commission has been a consultative body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; in 1976 in the declaration Inter Insignores, the CDF disputed that conclusion, maintaining the masculine character of the priesthood. 

As to the second part, this is what’s known as a bandwagon fallacy; I can only respond, “If all the other churches jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” I think you might find it instructive to reflect on the fact that these churches not only ordain women but practicing homosexuals and perform gay marriages—and they’re collapsing; by contrast, the Catholic churches and institutions which teach and emphasize orthodoxy and tradition are growing.

“(5) The Holy Scriptures remind us in Galatians 3:28, ‘There is neither male nor female. In Christ Jesus you are one.’ Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World states: ‘Every type of discrimination … based on sex. .. is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.’” 

As to the first part, St. Paul also wrote, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says” (1 Cor 14:33-34). Sorry, you don’t get to engage in “special pleading” by cherry-picking Scripture. As to the second, since being a priest is not a civil or political right, the passage from the Pastoral Constitution isn’t relevant. The discrimination isn't based on sex but on the structure of the Church as given to it by Christ.

*     *     *

These arguments are bad enough. What really takes the cake is your invocation of the “primacy of conscience”. I quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition:

A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin” (Gaudium et Spes §16). In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct (CCC 1790-1792).

In 1994, Ven. John Paul II issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which affirmed the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church in ruling that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” Roma locuta est; causa finita est. After this, there can be no more debate or "faithful disagreement" … only prideful rebelliousness.

Scripture tells us that Christ would endow His Church with the Holy Spirit, which would “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26), and would “guide you into all the truth” (16:13). “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). Saint Paul called the Church “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

To reject the Church’s teaching is to call into question the promises made by Christ to His Church, to deny the infallibility of its teaching magisterium, and to deny its guidance by the Holy Spirit not just today but throughout its 2,000-year history. There’s a name for people who reject the authoritative teaching of the Pope and the bishops of the Catholic Church: Protestant.

If you must insist on the primacy of your conscience, then follow your conscience to the Anglican or Lutheran church. If, however, you insist on being accounted a Catholic in good faith, then learn to “think with the Church” and set your ego aside.

At the very least, remember that another way to say “primacy of conscience” is Non serviam.

Faithfully in Christ,
Anthony S. Layne