This weekend, Pope Francis encouraged women to take an active role in the Catholic Church, using their spiritual and natural gifts in their role as laity to provide leadership. This led the Associated Press to remark that the Church has a “glass ceiling” for ordination …. of course:
Pope Francis on Saturday lauded women for their sensitivity toward the society’s weak and “gifts” like intuition, insisting they take on greater responsibilities in the Catholic church, as well as in professional and public spheres.
Francis was full of praise about female talent and untapped potential in a speech at the Vatican to an Italian women’s group. But the pope gave no sign that the Vatican glass ceiling against ordaining women for the priesthood might see some cracks during his papacy.
First, the “glass ceiling” metaphor refers to blocking access to promotions for women in business. There is no “glass ceiling” in the priesthood for women because Catholic doctrine limits the priesthood to men. That’s a barrier to entry, not a “glass ceiling.” This is bad writing, not to mention silly nonsense.
This doctrine is very accessible in the Catholic Catechism (paragraphs 1577-8 in particular) and canon law, both freely available to the public. The role of priest (and therefore bishop, cardinal, and Pope) is reserved to men because Christ himself chose only men for those roles — even though women, including His own mother, took active roles in other ways to build the early Church. Women who wish to consecrate their lives to service are encouraged to enter religious orders, which women do control, with ultimate (temporal) authority remaining with the Pope.
Certainly, some people disagree with this doctrine and want the doctrine to change with the times. Any expectation that Francis will deliver that kind of change is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the pontiff. Doctrines are eternal truths, not fashions to be changed on a whim. The Pope has no more room to change doctrine on this point than he does on abortion. This isn’t a practice, such as celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite, which can be changed — but only if the Pope and the bishops come to a consensus that it should. Doctrine does not change, and the Church has always stressed this position on ordination is doctrine.
Nevertheless, the AP thinks that Francis will face some sort of test on this point:
The Vatican has cracked down swiftly and severely on any women who defy the ban by being ordained priests, trying to discourage female ordination movements that have some support in the U.S. and western Europe.
Seven women who said they were ordained as priests in a ceremony on the Danube River were excommunicated by the Vatican a few weeks later during the papacy of John Paul II, who, like Francis, often praised women for their talents and what he called special “charisma.” And during the papacy of Benedict XVI, the predecessor of Francis, the Vatican defrocked a priest who had supported women’s ordination and had participated in a 2008 ceremony of female ordination.
Since Francis has stressed mercy as a dominant characteristic of his pontificate, any more female ordinations would present a highly-watched occasion to see how he would handle such a grave violation of church teaching.
The AP has quite a research department, eh? First, Francis has already shown himself to be entirely consistent on enforcing obedience to doctrine, as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious discovered last April, less than a month after Francis took over. The news service also missed the story of former priest Greg Reynolds, who found himself excommunicated over his insistence on ordaining women as priests the month after that in an order direct from the Vatican. I guess these incident weren’t “highly-watched” enough to draw the AP’s attention.
Pope Francis has made mercy and love the hallmarks of his pontificate, but that’s quite a bit different than saying “anything goes.” Mercy comes after contrition and penance, and all will be welcome to the Church — but the Church as it is and has been for two thousand years. Perhaps this comes as a shock to the AP, but the Pope is still — and will always be — Catholic.
Update: I forgot to post the hat-tip, so here goes:
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) January 28, 2014