The recent news that a priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne has been proclaiming his belief in the validity of the ordination of women from the pulpit has created a bit of a stir here in the Antipodes. Not quite as big a stir as could be imagined, however, as both the priest concerned and the powers that be in the Archdiocese appear to be handling the situation without unnecessary hoohah in the media.
I recently had a conversation with a woman religious, who objected to John Paul II’s ruling (continued under the present pontificate) that the Church’s rejection of the validity of the ordination of women is not open to debate. “We should be able to discuss it”, she opined. Well, yes, by all means, let us “discuss” the Church’s teaching, but not in such a way that the matter would be “considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis).
Truth be told, we discussed the issue of the ordination of women at the Theology at the Pub Q&A session the other night. We discussed it in order to explain why the Venerable Pope John Paul II absolutely ruled out the possibility. Father Reynolds, on the other hand, not only “discussed” the issue, but publically proclaimed from the pulpit that he was
”convinced in my heart that it is God’s will that we should have women priests … I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to share my position publicly, and yet very reluctantly.”
Somewhat embarrasingly, according to Barney’s report,
“He conceded that as ”an insignificant little parish priest” he lacked the profound theological training to contradict papal teaching, ”but some things you just know in your heart, in the core of your being”.
The reasons include these three: Christ’s example of choosing only men as apostles (the argument from Scripture); the Church’s constant practice of choosing only men, in imitation of the Lord (the argument from tradition); and the consistent teaching that this pattern is “in accordance with God’s plan for His Church” (the witness of the Magisterium).
She distinguishes these “fundamental reasons” from the various theological “explanations” given by theologians. Anyone, even “an insignificant little parish priest” should be able to understand the “fundamental reasons” if not the more taxing “theological explanations”.
In any account, I mention all this because of a recent email from Dr William Tighe (a man who, rather than run a blog, runs an email discussion list encompassing an amazing number of significant persons across the ecumenical landscape today), drawing my attention to two blog posts:
These both concern the discussion of the ordination of women among theologically conservative Lutherans, in particular, the SELKD (a German Lutheran Synod separate from the ELKD), the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (currently headed by my one time colleague and friend, Rev. Dr. Matt Harrison), the Lutheran Church of Japan, and the Lutheran Church of Australia. All of these bodies are – or have been – in communion with one another. Yet they are in different particular situations. Both SELK and LCMS have “opposite numbers”, ie, the ELKD and ELCA respectively, which DO ordain women. What distinguishes them from their mirror images is that they do not ordain women. Thus, if anyone in LCMS or SELKD were to decide that they were “pro-WO”, the logical thing would be for them to switch to the “dark side”! However, this seems to be less the case in the SELKD than it is in the LCMS. In LCMS, support for the ordination of women is regarded in much the same sense as it is in my own communion, ie. as a grave heresy. But it appears that there is significant support for WO in SELKD.
On the other hand, the Lutheran Church of Australia also gets a mention. The LCA has no “twin”/”mirror”/”opposite number”, and yet the situation seems to be very much that of SELKD: the motion to ordain women as pastors comes up again, and again, and again at General Synod, but never reaches the required magic proportion of +66% in favour. This is an important issue for me, as the 2000 Synod debate on this matter acted as a catalyst for my conversion to the Roman Communion.
The posts to which Dr Tighe has directed us above indicate two very different approaches to the question of the ordination of women in the democratically structured Lutheran Churches. The first is the position of the LCMS: The ordination of women is forbidden by God’s Word and any suggestion to the contrary is heresy. This used to be the position of the Lutheran Church of Australia, as expressed in their “Thesis of Agreement” uniting the two Lutheran Synods in this country in the year that I was born, 1966:
Though women prophets were used by the Spirit of God in the Old as well as in the New Testament. 1 Cor. 14:34,35 and I Tim. 2:11-14 prohibit a woman from being called into the office of the public ministry for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. This apostolic rule is binding on all Christendom; hereby her rights as a member of the spiritual priesthood are in no wise impaired.
Ironically, it is just this resolution that was tested by the 2000 Synod, and again at the 2006 Synod. A pattern has emerged of the issue being discussed at “every other” General Synod of the LCA. How long will the issue be discussed? Until the vote finally is in favour by a majority of %67? OR: will the LCA ever have the gumption to reaffirm their 1966 statement that the Scriptures “prohibit a woman from being alled into the office of the pubic ministry”, and to declare any statement to the contrary as “heresy”?
It gives me no pleasure to watch what is happening among my beloved Lutheran brothers and sisters on this matter. However, it is an indication to us in the Catholic Church of the wisdom of Pope John Paul II in prohibiting any discussion of the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood as if such a thing was or ever could be possible.