From ............. National Catholic Reporter

December 8, 1995

page 7

By Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister


The U S. bishops have released another statement from Rome relative to the pope's May 1994 "definitive" statement on the non ordination of women— variously called a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or a statement from the pope, depending on who's talking.

The new document from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger says the initial papal statement, published as "definitive," was really "infallible." It says the infallibility of the position rests on the fact that the non-ordination of women is part of "the written word of God." It says that this means that the position is part of the "deposit of faith," to be held, in other words, with the same kind of assent we give to the traditionally held belief in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The bishops asked everyone to read this recent letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to reflect on it, to pray about it. So I did. I read it repeatedly. And I prayed. And I reflected. And I found myself reflecting about things that were a lot more troublesome than ordination. It began to occur to me as I read the Ratzinger document that maybe we should quit concentrating on the ordination question for a while and ask some other questions, like:

Has there been a palace coup and someone forgot to tell us about it?

Is the pope's name John Paul II or Joseph Ratzinger? And if there hasn't been a coup, the questions get even stickier. Can an office of the Vatican declare a papal statement infallible? And can they do it ex post facto? Any time they want to? Maybe hundreds of years rather than months after it was written? Why is it that when bishops all over the world ask for this issue to be discussed, they are simply ignored. When, on the other hand, one of the Vatican congregations addresses the issue unilaterally — even defines its undefined terms — without consultation from the world's body of bishops, let alone the people of God, the subject is happily opened in order to be closed. And without a bishop in sight. Have we come to the point where the bishops of the church are even more ignored than the women of the church?

And what about the relationship of this question to other theological issues of the church? What about the question of whether or not Jesus became flesh or Jesus became male? What about the nature and purpose of the incarnation, in other words? And what about the nature of baptism? It is, in this statement, obviously assumed to be different for women than it is for men for the simple reason that it has different effects for each. Baptized males qualify to be channels of grace; baptized females do not. How do they know that? Where is that "written"? And what about the theology of creation, for now at least still assumed to be "in the image of God" for both male and female?

How is it that a woman can image God but not Jesus?

The questions were getting really serious, so I read the document again and things simply got more tangled.

I began to think of all the teachings that have never been declared infallible, the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, for instance, or the structure of the Mass or the number of sacraments, a subject debated for years and, ohe would think, a pretty serious question since sacraments have something to do with salvation, they tell us. Worse than that, I began to reflect all the other things the church taught in definitive ways. The church taught that American Indians were not full human beings and published a bull to that effect, in fact. The church taught that blacks were not fit for ordination. The church taught that the lnquisition was a good way to spread the faith. The church taught that Galileo was wrong.

I couldn't help it: I hegan to reflect on the infallibility of infallibility. I wondered, if infallibility is so clearly a part of the Petrine office, why it took us 1870 years to discover it and why most of the bishops of the church resisted its declaration even then. And why it has been used so few times.

I began to wonder where the notion of priesthood, rather than discipleship, was as clearly "the written word of God" as the new letter says is the situation where the non-ordination of women is concerned?

I began to wonder if we were talking scripture but keeping the system.

I even began to wonder why this was released in the United States but there is no sign of it yet in England and Ireland and Australia and New Zealand. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops' document rushes on, of course, to tell us how much the church loves women.

And that is clearly true. The bishops love women as long as they're invisible. The bishops love women as long as they're silent.

And the bishops love women as long as the church controls them.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to reflect on all those things. I am now more convinced than ever that this subject is not closed, in fact, has not even been opened. It has only been suppressed. The problem with suppression is that what it may seem to solve at first glance, it channels into more dangerous situations. Water pent up by a boulder gains power and becomes a river in the sand next to it.

There lies the real problem. Women's Eucharists may well begin to break out all over now, just as communion in the hand became common when people realized that what was at issue was authority and not the nature of eucharistic devotion, just as universal language did when people realized that male pronouns were not of the essence of God's message to humankind No, the suppression of the Spirit solves nothing. The Spirit will blow where it wills. The suppression of honest and credible questions simply diminishes the ongoing search for God in life, damages the church, dispirits the people of God, depresses churchgoing fathers who know their girl children to be as fully human as themselves, and drains the church of more and more women every day, who generation after generation from now on will warn their daughters against such a place.

"Where there's life, there's hope," the proverb says. But I realized after reading this document that just the opposite is true. Where there's hope, there's life. And where there is no hope, life dies.

I prayed over this document on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time, the gospel for which is astoundingly clear: "This temple will fall." Jesus says ominously: "Not a stone will stand upon a stone." Maybe asking us to reflect on the document and to pray over the document was a mistake.

Enclosed box - "Have we come to the point where the bishops

of the church are even more ignored than the women of the church?"