Amidst the discussion on democracy and the Church’s governance structure, an inevitable topic is women’s ordination.
Critics argue that we cannot talk about equality, participation, and emancipation if women are not allowed to be clerics. They emphasise that the arguments that baptism guarantees fundamental equality of all the faithful and that synodality enables participation and guarantees emancipation seem insufficient because the Church does not just exclude women’s ordination; it punishes anyone who attempts to do so.
Canon 1379 §3 states: “Both a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order, incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished by dismissal from the clerical state”.
One, therefore, wonders if equality in the Church means exclusion from authority and leadership roles for women, who are even more than men in the total population of Catholics. How does one justify equality without inclusiveness? What is the Church’s business in celebrating International Women’s Day (8 March) if it structurally discriminates against women?
Christ established the priesthood together with the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Critics argue that there were women at the Last Supper. The gospel of Luke says that among the disciples of Jesus were women who assisted Jesus and the disciples in the ministry and provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3).
No doubt, this support included providing food. However, irrespective of this support group available to help, Jesus restricted the Last Supper to the twelve men. First, he sent Peter and John to go and prepare the Passover meal at the house of a man who he led to meet the disciples at the city entrance (Luke 22: 8-13). Next, he was at supper with only the twelve (Matt 26:20, Mark 14:17, Luke 22:14).
Yet, we cannot argue that Jesus acted based on the patriarchal spirit of the times wherein women were marginalised and suppressed. Jesus read in his manifesto that he came to liberate the oppressed (Luke 4: 18), and he vigorously defended the rights of women. First, Jesus chose to be born of a woman. Second, he defended the sinful woman who anointed his feet at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:37-50). Third, he fought against the unjust condemnation of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11). Fourth, Jesus first revealed his resurrected body to a woman (John 20:11-17).
Fifth, unlike what was usual for a man at that time, Jesus regularly addressed women in public. For instance, when Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman, his disciples who had just returned from buying food “marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, ‘What do you wish?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’” (John 4:27). Jesus spoke publicly with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-10), the widow of Nain (Luke 7:12-13), the woman who had haemorrhage (Luke 8:48), the woman who spoke to him from the crowd (Luke 11:27-28), the woman who had the spirit of infirmity for eighteen years (Luke 13:11-13), the women of Jerusalem who spoke to him on the route to the cross (Luke 23:27-31).
Exclusion of women from the priesthood is the decision of Christ, and it is only him that knows why he willed it that way. As I have explained in the past, the Church is the body of Christ and Christ is the source of authority. Therefore, not even the pope can change an explicitly established divine ordinance.
The priesthood is a privilege, a vocation, and not a right (Mark 5:18-19, Luke 9:57-62). Hence, equality at baptism does not automatically grant one the right to be a priest. Clericalism is the abuse of clerical privilege and even Christ condemns it (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 9: 49-50; 51-55).
Hence, Pope John Paul II rightly affirmed: “I declare 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” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4).
However, canon 1008 §3 states: “Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity”. Hence, since deacons do not act in the person of Christ, various popes have allowed for a study on the possibility of female deacons. There is a commission set up by Pope Francis still studying the theme.
So far, their reports have been inconclusive. The International Theological Commission had already concluded in their 2002 study that women deacons in the early Church did not have a liturgical or sacramental function as male deacons. More so, the study maintains that “even in the fourth century the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns”.
To promote inclusiveness within the limits of Christ’s will, Pope Francis is appointing women to positions that do not explicitly require the priestly character. A French nun, Nathalie Becquart, is the current under-secretary of the synod of bishops and she would have a deliberative vote at the synod in Rome in 2023.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾