Sister Theresa was not the first voice in the Catholic Church to suggest that discrimination against women was at odds with the church’s core mission. More than a decade before, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council released a document called “Gaudium et Spes,” or “Joy and Hope” — two gifts now in short supply among the Catholics I know. It said, in part: “With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”
In barring women from the priesthood, then, what Sister Theresa called the “very system” of the Catholic Church is adhering to a rule, a mere custom, that is contrary to God’s intent. It is this grave moral error, far more than priestly celibacy or Catholic sexual repression, that provides the implicit rationale for abusive priests and, more insidious still, for the men who excuse and protect them.