John J Shea has written to Pope Francis and to each member of the ‘council of cardinals’ to say that a theological explanationof the church’s practice of barring women from priestly ordination is still missing.
He asks “Is an intelligent view of gender able to surface in our church? Do women have sufficient ontological-theological status to join in the dialogue?
Can we do better than the literal, ‘finger and thumb,’ patriarchal theology that presently constricts our thinking? What about a deeper metaphorical and Trinitarian theology?
If, for example, it is not in his maleness that Jesus images the Father—if the Father is not biologically male—what is to be found in the nature of the imaging?
Is the core question: ‘Who and what is the Incarnation?’ ‘It is a mystery that both men and women are heir to’ might be one answer.”
Letter to Pope Francis
Dear Pope Francis,
I hope you are well. And I hope your staff lets you read this letter. I am praying for you. Your overall concern for injustice, for the poor, for the environment, and for some reform in the church is inspiring.
Enclosed again are two letters about the ordination of women: the first is sent to each member of the Council of Cardinals with whom you are soon meeting; the second is a letter for background that I mailed to all the ordinaries of the United States at the beginning of Lent in 2014.
When you first talked about the need for honest dialogue on the issues that we face as a church, it was heartening. You kept insisting: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” In fact, you said: “dialogue fearlessly.”
Yet, there is not nor has there been any dialogue—fearless, gender inclusive, or otherwise—on the ordination of women, arguably the most important issue in the church. As Supreme Pontiff can you call now for synodal dialogue and end the appalling silence of our church?
Can the church ever be whole if women are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Not to affirm the body-and-soul wholeness of women—leaving their integrity ignored, disparaged, and denied—is an injustice that stifles the Spirit and gives a lie to the Good News.
Pope Francis, as Pentecost approaches can we hope that ministry will finally be separated from patriarchal conceit? Can we hope that an intelligent view of gender will finally affect a comatose hierarchy?
Is time-honored and Vatican-championed misogyny—so blatantly disrespectful and so obviously immature—to corrupt with abandon all four traditional hallmarks of our church?
How long? How long? How long? How long? Sincerely,
John J. Shea, O.S.A.
Letter to the Council of Cardinals
Dear Cardinal Marx,
I am writing to you and to each of the members of the Council of Cardinals yet again to ask you to directly address in your next meeting the church’s continuing decision to see women as lacking the body-and- soul integrity to be ordained to the priesthood. This decision so needing reform—ecclesia semper reformanda—radically disfigures the church’s identity and seriously compromises its wonderful mission in the world.
Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done, the way he opened the Synod on the Family in 2014 was perhaps the most extraordinary. He asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” This exhortation is quite shocking: he had to ask his fellow bishops—grown men and the church’s teachers—to speak honestly to each other. Given a hierarchy so incredibly challenged by dialogue, however, his exhortation was not only necessary but also, at least at that time, a small sign of hope.
If women and men together in priesthood is vital for the future of our church—if leadership hopping around on one foot is at once lame and dismissive—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you know there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that prohibits the ordination of women to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you know from your own experience that any given woman is as religiously mature and able to provide pastoral care as any given man, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If seeing women and men through a complementarity lens or in light of precious patriarchal symbolism is not ad rem to women’s worthiness of ordination, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you find the 1994 letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:
1) was the fruit of doctrinal fiat and not dialogue;
2) was written directly in the face of—and arguably to cut off—serious scriptural-theological dialogue actually taking place; and
3) then mandated that no dialogue at all—let alone anything fearless or gender-inclusive—is allowed going forward, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you see that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is basically an historical interpretation of ordination rather than one that is seriously theological, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If the theological explanation actually put forth by the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s—that women cannot be ordained because they are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”—would be silly if it were it not so heretical, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If it beggars believe that women fully created in the image and likeness of God does not mean they are fully created in the image and likeness of God’s Son—if Jesus is thought to image a Father who is biologically male—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If our church is actually undermining the Three-in-Oneness of our God—if a huge patriarchal beam is wittingly stuck in the church’s eye, worshipping the Father as male, the Son as male, and the Holy Spirit as male—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If it is alarming that the adult faithful are leaving the church in droves because of women not worthy of priesthood—if you see that “a patriarchal Jesus” severs the roots of inclusion, respect, and trust in the church—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If it troubles you that banning women from ordination is taken—in the church and throughout the world—as affirming women’s inferiority and justifying domestic violence, infanticide, trafficking, and many other atrocities, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If bishops, theologians, and the faithful need to work in a synodal way under the aegis of a genderless Spirit to affirm the body-and-soul integrity of women and let our blind, demeaning, overbearing church find healing, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
Cardinal Marx, how does the dehumanization of women in the church affect you? Are women whole? Are they fully in the likeness of Jesus? Is this the time for a serious voice of reform to be heard? Like the reformation of inclusion in the infant church, can you and the other bishops see, hear, and name what Pope Francis cannot see, hear, and name? Will you speak freely? Will you dialogue boldly and without fear?
John J. Shea, O.S.A.