I used to advocate for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church—but never because I thought we needed more supermodels on the vestment runway. 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.
I want to think these women—several of whom claim to have been raised to the episcopate, all of whom seem to be married and mothers and grandmothers—are sincere in their belief that they have been called to ministry. They look, designer vestments aside, like they’d be good people to talk to, to pray with, to take a turn on a soup line with. That they have excommunicated themselves and those who make up their congregations in an attempt to strike some blow for women’s rights is both an abomination and a deep sadness. That the NYT readership has been led to believe that they are the future of Catholicism is one more OhDearGod moment in the dance of the Church and the MSM.
Photographer Levitt concludes her slideshow with this artist’s statement:
I photographed priests and bishops of the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement to alter my own deep-seated perception of priests as male. I tried to capture their devotion and conviction and pay tribute to their efforts to reform the Church.
To which I say, Your deep-seated perception was telling you something. These women are not reformers; they may be devoted and convinced, but they are also excommunicate and heretical, wannabes in dress-up clothes. Sad, sad, sad.
Levitt goes deeper in the Opinion piece to which the slideshow is an accompaniment:
I grew up as a Catholic, although I don’t practice now. The first time I saw a female Roman Catholic priest on the church altar, dressed in traditional robes, performing the Eucharist and all of the rituals that I grew up with, I was amazed at how deeply it affected me emotionally. It had simply never occurred to me that a woman could preside over the church.
It occurred to many of us, and affected us as profoundly. But even before my reversion, I knew the truth: Christ’s plan for his Church was never intended to be “Add women and stir.” Do I believe women are incapable of exercising baptismal (which is not the same as ordained) priesthood? Hell, no! Do I wish more women and men felt comfortable exercising the full range of their God-given gifts within the Church’s human-made structure? You bet. Do I think the Church still needs reformation (will always need reformation) on this and so many other fronts? Damn straight. Do I wish these women could have made their peace with the Church and worked for that reform from within? With all my heart.
Do I condemn them? No. Because there but for the grace of God go I, in my silk scarf and Mexican silver crucifix.