A curious slideshow featured in yesterday’s New York Times Review section (H/T to Katrina Fernandez) makes me saddened and bemused enough to break off from the pilgrimage posts for a minute.
Entitled Women as Priests, the slideshow by photographer Judith Levitt profiles 10 women—all white, all of a certain age—who profess to be ordained Roman Catholic Womanpriests (or is it Womenpriest?). I say “profess to be” because of course they aren’t ordained Roman Catholic priests, in spite of the collective number of years they claim to have ministered as such. Levitt includes several text cards along with her photographic portraits, and she’s quite clear in stating that the Church does not ordain women, and that women who claim ordination have placed themselves out of communion with the Church. The overall tone, however, is that this is just a bit of silly unfairness that—once the Times’ intelligent readership has seen how lovely these women look in their ministerial robes—will be tossed aside as quickly as last year’s Hermes bag.
The fashion reference is no accident. This should really have run in the Style section. Perhaps it’s the artificiality of the poses, the dramatic lighting, but this looks less like a thoughtful questioning of women’s role in religion than it does like a fashion spread. It’s possible the women provided their own vestments and accessories, but the abundance of floaty rose-hued watered silk scarves doing duty as stoles, the crucifixes larger than most bishops’ pectorals and seemingly chosen from the same catalogs where one can find garden gargoyles and reproductions of the Bayeux tapestries, the ubiquitous and generic leatherbound Holy Bible the women finger (and Lord! is that a crozier cut from plywood with a Dremel?) all smack of costumes and props.And that’s why this makes me not angry (as Kat’s Facebook commenters are), but sad. The title of the slideshow is apt: Women AS Priests. These are not women who are priests, but women acting as priests, women dressing up as priests as they once dressed up in their mothers’ cocktail dresses or their fathers’ suits. I used to dress up in vestmenty stuff, too, once upon a time. But clothes don’t make the priest.
What part of the Church’s teaching on this issue do people not grasp? I mean, really. Could it be any more clear: I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. What part of “no authority whatsoever” has a loophole? Where is the wiggle room? Give it up. Ain’t gonna happen.
If it wants to play gender games, why doesn’t the Times focus its energies on something both radical and real—like, say, the outspoken pioneer women studying to become imams?