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.