Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Woman Priest

The first service I ever attended that was presided by a woman cleric was in Westminster Abbey in 1996 where I attended a Midday Eucharist. The cleric preached on CS Lewis and she apparently was of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion. After the service, as is customary in the Anglican Church to greet the people as they leave the church, I spoke with the priest and found out that she did a literature MA on Lewis. And being a CS Lewis fan myself, what should have been a short chat became a long conversation.

The Church of England in Holy Synod, voted to ordain women to the priesthood only in 1992. The first women priests were ordained in 1994 so I presume that the Vicar I spoke with was among one of the first to be ordained. The Episcopal Church in the US voted to ordain women in 1976 and ordained its first female bishop in 1988. In 2006, the first Woman Primate of this Church was elected by synod.

In the Philippines, the Independent Church (Aglipayan) ordains women to the priesthood and also as bishops. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines also does. An Aglipayan I spoke with said that at first there was resistance to women priests but that is no longer the case. The Independent Church has a history of emphasizing liberation and equality,

The Catholic and Orthodox churches still do not allow women’s ordination. The Catholic Church has said that “it has no authority” to do so even if it wanted to. Pope John Paul II put an embargo on the discussion a position continued by his successor, Benedict XVI. Both Catholic and Orthodox churches greatly appeal to tradition. Women cannot be ordained since Christ called men to be his apostles and the Catholics have it even more defined, the sacramental nature of the priesthood is liked to the gender of the priest. Christ is a man and high priest and therefore a priest should a man.

On the externals there is really nothing that a man can do that a woman cannot. This is for all vocations, the externals of a religious ministry included. But the Catholic Church says that the fact that a priest is a man is linked to whether he can offer a valid Eucharistic sacrifice in the altar. The Catholic Church teaches that since Christ is a man, and all priestly authority flows from him, a priest must be a man.

The question is whether a person’s sexual state is necessary in functioning as a priest. Is sexual differentiation enough to warrant this state of affairs? What about the complement of a man and woman? Should we view the spiritual within the limits set by the biological?

St Paul says that when all are reconciled with Christ, man and woman is no more. This is an idea that must be reflected upon. Obviously Paul saw the destiny of man with God.   Does Paul have it right? Under this idea the arguments for and against the ordination of women are deeply inadequate. Yes, tradition must be accepted but can tradition evolve?

Women have been ordained in the past as deacons especially in the Eastern Church. But the order died out by the start of the medieval period. A what if is could women be ordained to the next level as priests, if the tradition did not die out? John Henry Cardinal Newman first posited the development of Christian doctrine (at first this celebrated Anglican convert to Catholicism was considered suspect). Would our understanding of priesthood more fully developed and balanced if the order of women deacons survived into the present?

This is the question that church leaders and laypeople should adequately address.

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