Translating Papal Statements: A Final Attempt to Understand

Translating Papal Statements: A Final Attempt to Understand October 1, 2015

Editor’s Note: Our resident former Catholic has a final say on the Pope and Women.  It’s important to note that this was written before the news came out that Francis secretly met with Kentucky County Clerk, Kim Davis, during his Washington visit.  I don’t know how this new bit of information fits in with Catherine’s analysis of the Pope’s (and the Church’s) view of women, but am interested to hear what readers think.


By Catherine Dunphy

I’ve written a lot about Francis’ first trip to the US.  I haven’t paid this much attention to what a Pope was saying in very long time. After this post, I’ll surely be all “Poped out” – but there’s a little more I want to say.

Francis did an excellent job making people feel good about the Church, from his off-the-cuff statements to the supposedly spontaneous adoration of a small Catholic girl who couldn’t contain herself in the presence of her spiritual leader.

Despite pushback from Republicans, much of what the Pope said went without criticism, as he masterfully engaged in subjective theological allegory to communicate. An example of this would be his statements about God as love. One of Francis’ comments that seemed to slip by unnoticed related specifically to women in the church.

Mary Magdalene and Jesus

I perked up when I read the Religion News Service article, In Philly: Pope Francis exhorts women to stick with the faith.

“Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations (of the past) and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions,” Francis told a congregation made up mainly of bishops, priests and nuns.

“This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted,” the pope said, referring to church teachings on the final authority of the all-male priesthood. “Rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the church.

“In a particular way, it means [emphasis added] valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”

I couldn’t restrain myself from tweeting back:

‪@RNS‪ Why? When the church sees us as 2nd class citizens policing our bodies while using us to indoctrinate the next generation.

Since that tweet I have thought a lot about the Pope’s appeal — mostly that my assessment is right. The Church needs women. It has needed us from the beginning and most likely if it were not for the dedicated early women “followers of the way” the church would not be nearly as successful as it has become.

Saint Helena with the Cross

That said, the key difference between women in the early church and women today is the addition of the institution of an all male oligarchy. (Explaining this in detail would require another post – or several.)

So what exactly did Francis mean in his comments quoted above?

Basically, the Church is concerned about its sustainability, but is not concerned that Francis and the Vatican will overturn the rulings of two previous Popes on the subject of women’s ordination to the priesthood – John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem (1988) and Paul VI in Inter Insigniores (1976).

Let me explain:

Mulieris Dignitatem is important because the Church sees it as its final position on the ordination of women to the priesthood. It closes the door that was left slightly ajar by the Church’s conflict with the rise of feminism. As outlined by Paul VI in 1969:

“The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women. A few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: This innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unacceptable in the Church.7”

Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen

Regarding the Church’s final word in 1988, John Paul II states:

The calling of woman into existence at man’s side as “a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18) in the “unity of the two”, provides the visible world of creatures with particular conditions so that “the love of God may be poured into the hearts” of the beings created in his image. When the author of the Letter to the Ephesians calls Christ “the Bridegroom” and the Church “the Bride”, he indirectly confirms through this analogy the truth about woman as bride. The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return. Unless we refer to this order and primacy we cannot give a complete and adequate answer to the question about women’s dignity and vocation.

When we say that the woman is the one who receives love in order to love in return, this refers not only or above all to the specific spousal relationship of marriage. It means something more universal, based on the very fact of her being a woman within all the interpersonal relationships which, in the most varied ways, shape society and structure the interaction between all persons – men and women. In this broad and diversified context, a woman represents a particular value by the fact that she is a human person, and, at the same time, this particular person, by the fact of her femininity.

Get it? It is the order of creation – Adam being created before Eve – that justifies women’s status as “other” in the Church.  Based on this reasoning, I ask you now to indulge this crude analogy of mine:

In the eyes of Catholicism it would easier to transmogrify a banana into an apple than a woman into a priest. Basically the “condition” of womanhood and femininity is not conducive to the priesthood.

Keeping all of this in mind, Francis wants women to “stick with the faith.”

My question to you is — Why the hell should they?

**Editor’s Question** Why the hell would they?


catherinedunphy2 - Version 2Bio: Catherine Dunphy – A humanist, atheist and former Roman Catholic chaplain, Catherine is a member of the Clergy Project and former Executive Director, she is author of From Apostle to Apostate – the Story of the Clergy Project, published by Pitchstone Press in July, 2015.

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