I am writing again to you and to the other members of the Council of Cardinals to ask you to discuss at your next meeting a core issue of structural reform in the church—ecclesia semper reformanda—an issue that continues to disrespect every aspect of our identity and mission: the decision to see women as not worthy of ordination to the priesthood.
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 extraor- dinary: he asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” On the one hand, this exhortation is incredibly shocking, that he would have to ask his fellow bishops—grown men and the church’s teachers—to speak honestly with each other. On the other hand, given the atmosphere of the Vatican where honest dialogue can have such negative consequences, his exhortation was not only necessary but even a modest sign of hope in our not-very-relational church.
If you believe that the ordination of women to the priesthood is vital for the integrity, mutuality, and viability of our church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you find there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that is prejudi- cial against women or that precludes their ordination to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you know that the actual history of ordination—of women as well as men—needs to be acknowledged and carefully understood by you and all the bishops, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you know 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 either through a “complementarity” lens or in light of precious “theological symbolism” is not pertinent to women’s ordination, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you believe the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, put an end to dialogue on the ordination of women just when it could have been open, intelligent, and fruitful, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you think the theological explanation stated 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 you think the “ordinary infallible teaching” of the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, should be seen in light of other “ordinary infallible teach- ing” down through the centuries, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you know that the church’s opposition to the ordination of women is understood—inside and outside the church—as affirming women’s inferiority and as justifying domestic violence and other atrocities against women, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you understand why so many of the adult faithful are leaving the church in droves over the injustice of women barred from priesthood—if you see that a “patriarchal Jesus” is a colossal contradiction—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If the church’s current practice seriously undermines our God’s relational Three-in-Oneness—if a huge patriarchal plank is 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 you want our church to walk proudly on two feet instead of imitating patriarchal culture and hobbling around on one and if you know that our church will never be fully in the likeness of Jesus until women are fully in that likeness, please—honoring the human and the divine— have the courage to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
Cardinal Maradiaga, is injustice to women to forever cripple the Christian message? Like early reformanda, can you and your fellow bishops see and hear and name what Pope Francis is not able to see and hear and name?
John J. Shea, O.S.A.