The Equality of Women, and the question of Ordination.

The Equality of Women, and the question of Ordination.
Pope John Paul, followed by Pope Benedict, put the issue of womens’ ordination off the agenda, formally declaring that it cannot even be discussed. During Pope Benedict’s time an effort was made to make this into an infallible teaching.
I have no doubt that the issue of women’s place in the Catholic Church is going to be an increasingly defining question for the Church, and potentially the greatest obstacle to the Church fulfilling its mission of promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason I regard the teaching of John Paul and Benedict on this matter to be a real tragedy, in that it has created an obstacle that will be very hard to overcome.
I, and others, have tried to get around the problem by talking about equality, while staying away from the contentious ‘ordination’ question. And I know that many women would have serious questions about women accepting priesthood under the present understanding of ministry in the Church.
But the current Synod has clearly highlighted the fact that equality is impossible without ordination. Nobody is allowed to vote at the Synod unless they are ordained priests, and the same is true for all positions of significance and decision making in the Church.
So the question of the ordination of women has to be faced, and openly discussed if the Church is to be relevant in the future. We need to begin to challenge the wall that has been built around this discussion. Lay people are discussing it freely, and opinion polls indicate that the great majority of people see no good reason why women cannot partake fully in the Church’s ministry. But priests are nervous and afraid to take a public stand in favour of open discussion, – and with good reason.
I believe it is time to begin to dismantle this wall. I know the ACP do not consider they can adopt this position, and I understand why. What I am looking for is a group of priests, still active in ministry, who would be willing to put their names to a statement calling for open discussion within the Church on the equality of women, including all aspects of ministry. I know it is easy for me to take this stand, since I have nothing to lose at this point. But if we got enough names, maybe a dozen or so, it would be very difficult for the authorities to suspend everybody. There would be strength in numbers. And it would send an enormously positive signal to women right around the world.
If there are priests out there who would be willing to be involved, please contact me ( or 087 6814699). I promise complete confidentiality until such time as we would be ready to go public. In the meantime I would circulate a draft statement for your consideration.
Tony Flannery

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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Fr John J Shea OSA is right in both his open letters to USCCB and the Synod members(see ‘Speak freely, boldly and without fear’), but Tony Flannery is even more right. I thought the ACP was founded to be “prophetic rather than just safe”, according to its 2011 AGM. More tellingly, its recent soul-searching meeting (9th September) committed the ACP to developing its work “beyond being a voice of reform, to becoming an agent of reform and modelling the kind of church it seeks to bring about…” What is the point of having 1,000+ members in a Reform Association – possibly 30% of Ireland’s priests – if their sheer numbers are not making it an agent of reform as well as protecting its more courageous members from being “picked off”, sidelined or silenced? Not even ISIS-style executioners could decapitate all 1,000 ACP members simultaneously if they’d only get off their knees.
    True, Abraham failed to find 50 or even 10 just men when he needed them – but Tony’s only looking for a dozen or so serving and reform-minded priests, willing to read the signs of the times and to start breaking down the wall that has been built around any discussion of the ordination of women. I’m sure more than a dozen such priests will be needed for the fray, not just in Ireland but from the ranks of the Catholic Priests’ reform movements elsewhere.
    Two balanced sentences from Brendan Hoban’s “marking out of the field” at Portlaoise five years ago are still relevant to any qualms about ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ – whether John Paul II’s “Never! Never! Never!” stance, Benedict’s attempt to retrofit it with the clutch of infallibility, or Francis’s fall-back position of ‘Ipse dixit’: “Sure Pope Saint John Paul II of Blessed memory said we’re not to meddle with it, so let’s not even go there.” Unfortunately, many ACP members seem to fall back on Brendan’s first sentence while convinced that his second sentence is not really for themselves but maybe for the “Leadership”:
    “6.i. This Association accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church and will work within the parameters of the law of the Church in contributing a voice for priests.
    “6.ii. However we do not accept that doctrine is not open to development or that debates raging in the Church and in society in reference to Catholic teaching should be ignored or closed down.” [The FURROW, Nov 2010, p.606]
    Those two sentences may have adumbrated rather than addressed head-on the ACP’s position on women’s equality in the Church and society. The first sentence is a basis for an association of Catholic priests. The second is a basis for an association of REFORMING Catholic priests, more prophetic than merely safe, moving beyond contributing a voice for reform to becoming an agent of reform. From talking the talk however inspiringly to walking the walk.
    Sentence 6.i may, unintentionally, have given a green light for the vehicle known as ACP-Lite, allowing some laid back passengers to interpret the ambiguous phrase “contributing a voice for priests” to mean that the Leadership provides the voice while the others go along for the ride, and the insurance. Perhaps the 2015 AGM is the time for all 1,000 ACP members to seriously address Brendan’s Sentence 6.ii as the baseline for the Association’s second Lustrum, 2015-2020.
    If not, how will Tony find 50 or a dozen serving priests to push forward the case argued by himself, John J Shea, and the various movements for equality for all and priesting for all with a vocation?
    But may it be that Fr John J Shea’s best sentence (below) refers to large swathes of the ACP just as much as it does to swathes of prelates in the Synod this week, or to swathes of the Conference of Irish Catholic Bishops who seem to have omitted from last week’s agenda their Kilmore colleague’s very modest proposals re married priests, ‘viri probati’ and women in the permanent diaconate ?
    “Could not another perfectly logical interpretation of that event be that a number of patriarchal men – then and now – were and are dead set against women having any authority over them?”
    As long as Popes, CDF and their tame theologians keep rubbing this problem with the old ontological relic, it’ll probably continue throughout more papacies or papal visits than most of us are likely to see.

  2. Dairne Mc Henry says:

    Tony, I admire your courage. I hope and pray that enough others will be willing to join you.

  3. Soline(Vatinel) Humbert says:

    I do pray that Tony’s appeal falls on open ears and into many hearts and minds.It would be a real prophetic sign of hope,a ray of light helping to dispel further some of the dark fog of fear which still reigns in our church,blocking truth and love.
    May we all be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and respond with courage and generosity. Now is the time!

  4. Gabrielle Cassidy says:

    I join with others in hoping that this initiative will gain momentum and be successful.
    As a female working at times in Business, Accounting, Banking, I am and have been aware of equality or inequality.
    Women’s involvement in all areas of the Church is not an equality issue. It is much more than that. It is about our common Baptism, about the call from God to each one of us, regardless of our colour, race or gender. For we are all one in Christ.

  5. Tom Finnigan says:

    Tony’s appeal is to be mightily encouraged and yet I can’t help on wondering why it has to be priest-centred. Why can’t non ordained members of God’s people add their names? Why do I get that nauseous feeling that in our church it is still Father who knows best?
    This is the ACP web site, so my point might seem naive. But dear Fathers, we are one church. Can’t we protest against injustice together rather than in castes?
    Tom Finnigan

  6. Soline(Vatinel) Humbert says:

    “Authority has spoken,I have to obey.”
    “Everybody else toes the party line.Why should I risk my neck?”
    “Another Pope will surely change this policy,meanwhile I better comply…”
    “It is better for the people entrusted to me that I keep my job”
    In his address at the Women’s Ordination Worldwide First International Conference(Dublin 2001)John Wijngaards had some observations which are very relevant to Tony’s appeal. In particular, in the section on overcoming organisational control, he addresses the issue of integrity and of the oath of loyalty.
    “Pastoral leaders should be encouraged to speak out.
    In recent years a number of bishops, religious superiors, parish priests and theologians have spoken out. They deserve our full support and their statements should be widely publicised to encourage others to do the same.
    In this context it is useful to remind all concerned that Church functionaries who have sworn the ‘oath of loyalty’ are not bound by the oath as to parts which go against their conscience. Bishops, for instance, who have promised not to promote the ordination of women as a condition of their admission to the episcopacy, are able to change their position once they realise that the ban against women priests is based on faulty evidence. Bishops know from their study of moral theology that a promise, even if made under oath, ceases to oblige if (a) a substantial error affected their knowledge regarding the object of the promise, or (b) if an error affected the purpose of the promise (e.g. what is good for the Church), or (c) if the promise was made under fear, or (d) if the object of the promise has become impossible or harmful. The promise ceases ab intrinseco, as Thomas Aquinas taught: “Whatever would have been an impediment to the making of a promise if it had been present, also lifts the obligation from a promise that has been made.”
    The full text is available at

  7. Maureen Mulvaney says:

    Well done,Tony! I too would like to join in wishing you every blessing on your mission. I’m sure you will have no trouble in getting many more than 12 to join you on this important issue, one which is long over-due in our church. Yes, Tony at #5 above you have made a very good point, after all we are all in this together to bring about equality for all.

  8. Soline(Vatinel) Humbert says:

    Pope Francis recently denied that the exclusion of women from ordination to the priesthood had anything to do with them not having the capacity for it.
    However,if women indeed do have the capacity to be ordained to the priesthood,isn’t it a very strange and capricious God who would give women the capacity while forbidding them to be/do what they have the capacity for?This is not the God of Jesus.
    When they block women’s ordination, the church authorities are acting like the servant of the parable of the talents who buries his talent in the ground out of fear.
    However some of us women refuse to be buried alive with our vocations,no matter how big the stone rolled in front of our church graves. Ordinatio Sacerdatolis (“the door is closed”) may continue to be treated as if it was carved in stone, but we know,as the women disciples did that first Easter morning that God can and does roll away the stones that block life,no matter how heavily guarded!

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