RC line on women put under scrutiny
This article was in the Church Times, by Madeleine Davies 3 Jul 2015
THE "cork in the bottle" - the papal ban on the discussion of the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church - must be removed, an audience at Cambridge heard this week.
The subject had been given insufficient theological attention, they heard, and Roman Catholic women were "angry and despairing". The event was convened to mark the 175th anniversary of the Roman Catholic journal, The Tablet, and was co-sponsored by the Church Times.
The discussion, "From Mary Magdalene to women bishops", was led by a panel comprising Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge University, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, and Janet Soskice, Professor of Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University.
The venue was Cripps Court, part of Magdalene College, where Lord Williams is Master, and Professor Duffy is a Fellow.
Much of the evening was spent discussing the attitude of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to the ordination of women. While neither of the two Roman Catholic panellists expressed a view on women's ordination, both were critical of the restraints on pursuing the question.
Professor Duffy suggested that the document produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1976 - Inter Insigniores: Declaration on the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood - later used as "a cork on all discussion" of the matter - did not settle things.
This and other related documents "claim more than they are entitled to claim"; and he found the absence of further exploration of this question "deeply disturbing".
The nature of the declaration by Pope John Paul II in 1994 that the Church could not ordain women and that "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful," had a status several steps down from an encyclical, he said. And such a pronouncement was not inspired but judicial, i.e. not the result of divine revelation but a judgement of the evidence that had been assembled.
In Professor Duffy's view, this evidence was weakened by the lack of any supporting theological debate from classical times.
The subject would come up for discussion again, he predicted, in the next two pontificates. "It does not seem to me that the Roman Catholic Church has closed the door on this question."
Professor Soskice said that women's hopes for more involvement in the life of the Roman Catholic Church had not been met, because offices were "so closely tied to Holy Orders". They were denied opportunities to preach and teach, and there were restrictions on who could function as a theologian in RC faculties.
Many women were "angry and despairing", she said. "There are Irish women in their seventies who have always done the right thing. . . Now they are very angry, and not at Catholicism per se, but that things have changed so little."
She was aware of other women Fellows who were no longer observant Roman Catholics because they found "the Church stifled them", although they were "full of praise for the nuns who educated them".
The "particular experience" of women - for example, as mothers of gay children - needed to be "folded into the Church".
Professor Soskice confessed to being "alarmed by the Christology" behind many of the arguments dominant in her Church. If an elderly, disabled, clean-shaven Asian man could resemble Christ, then why not a woman?
"The wound caused by this Christology must be addressed," she said. The cork referred to by Professor Duffy had been "a licence in certain quarters for real misogyny".
But she emphasised that she was "proud to be a Catholic woman" and pointed to the Church's work as the largest provider of health care in the world, and its work with women ("the poorest of the poor").
Lord Williams explained what had led him to change his mind on the issue of women's ordination 35 years ago, namely, the recognition that "the ordained minister represents the wholeness of the baptised community. . .
"The risk in affirming the theology of Inter Insigniores is coming to the position where you say that the relation of a baptised woman to Christ is different from the position of the baptised man to Christ."
He cited the vision of ministry described in the 1981 Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).
To those Roman Catholics who accused Anglicans of shifting the goalposts, he was tempted to reply: "What has changed the goalposts is the idea that who can be ordained is a first-order theological question."
Professor Duffy contended that one argument against the ordination of women was the understanding in both Churches "that the priesthood of ordained ministers is the priesthood of the whole Church. . . The decision of the Church of England to go ahead was to strike a blow at [this idea]."
Lord Williams responded that this was a "real question" that some Anglicans felt "very acutely". But "if the price of maintaining that relationship is tacitly accepting a theology we do not believe to be true . . . that is quite a high price to pay. . . I do feel that quite strongly."