Controversy in Tasmania!

Archbishop Porteous was installed as the 11th Archbishop of Tasmania last night and already he is meeting opposition. It is hard to know why a question on whether it was appropriate to use middle aged women as altar servers came up in an ABC interview, but it did, and Archbishop Porteous responded in a perfectly reasonable manner. That lead to this response:

But Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner is suggesting the Archbishop’s position on women as alter [sic] servers may not comply with the Act.

Robin Banks says there is an exception to the Act that allows religious institutions to discriminate based on gender but it may not apply in this case.

“There’s a defence that says a religious institution can discriminate on the basis of gender if it’s required by the doctrines of the religion,” Ms Banks said.

“It gets down to the question of is it consistent with the doctrines of the religion to exclude people on the basis of gender. If it’s not then the exception wouldn’t apply.”

In the full video report, even the Premier of Tasmania weighs in with her opinion! And another women says that the Archbishop is new to Tasmania and will take some time to get used to the way they do things there.

Well, it might be that they will take some time to get used to the way Archbishop Porteous intends to do things. I was listening to Archbishop Porteous speak on Cradio a few days ago about his appointment to Hobart. He candidly admitted that one of the difficulties he would have to face early on is the shortage of priests in Tasmania. The belief that preserving altar service as a role for boys and young men works positively towards increasing vocations is widespread among many Catholic priests and bishops, and anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest that they are correct in this belief. In other words, this is step one in Archbishop Porteous’s plan for increasing vocations to the priesthood in the Tasmanian diocese.

It seems ludicrous that State powers should interfere – or even threaten to interfere – in this important project.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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82 Responses to Controversy in Tasmania!

  1. Tony says:

    The belief that preserving altar service as a role for boys and young men works positively towards increasing vocations …

    But, from a discrimination POV (especially in terms of an ‘exception to the Act’) is that a doctrine? Given that you, yourself, characterise it as a ‘belief’ and that other dios in Australia allow females to serve, it seems that the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner would have a case.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, according to the finer points of the law as it stands you may very well be right. But this is a warning to us about how intrusive the state could yet become in matters of church life.

      We’re talking here about a ritual function with in the Catholic liturgy. That any arm of the State should think it has the right to reach into the conduct of the catholic mass should be a concern to us all.

      As far as the question of “doctrine” goes, the report that the ACBC doesn’t actually have an official position on this question is not quite correct. The official position is that only boys and young men should serve as altar servers, but that the local ordinary (and in fact also parish priest if the local ordinary has not forbidden it) has the right to admit young girls if they wish to do so. I know of nowhere else in Australia (well at least I haven’t experienced it) where middle-aged women take the role of altar servers.

      Then there is the perfectly valid question (raised by at least one person on Twitter), as to whether or not having women in the role of server to the priest is in fact not a stereotyped role. Surely, if we’re talking about taking positive action towards advancing the role of women in the church, we should be wanting to open up mature leadership roles, not roles that are by definition servile and juvenile.

      • Tony says:

        Well it seems to me that the quoted text is not articulating a ‘finer point’, but an important principle, David. We may not agree with it but it’s no ‘finer point’.

        We’re also talking about discrimination against women, David. Where that happens in a public space, ritual or no ritual, it is potentially the concern of the state. In this case, getting back to the principle, it is not a ‘doctrine’.

        I must admit I didn’t approach this from the point of view of ‘middle aged women’ but as a pure gender issue. It seems to me that the problem from the POV of the state’s legitimate administration of the law, is that it adds another level of discrimination: age.

        Your last point is so strange, David. In principle anti discrimination laws are there to encourage, with some exceptions, the roles of women and men to be equal. In this context, the ‘job’ should not exclude anyone on the grounds of gender or age.

        Secondly, in terms of church ‘culture’, service is a ‘high office’!

        • Peregrinus says:

          I think David has a point. Whatever we may think about the church selecting altar servers on the basis of age or gender, or about the church’s motivation for doing so, the notion of the state regulating the conduct of, or participation in, a religious liturgy does seem to be difficult to reconcile with the notion of the separation of church and state.

          The Commonwealth Constitution prohibits “any law . . . for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”, and I think if the Tas Anti-Discrimination Commissioner were to take proceedings here (which, realistically, is wildly unlikely to happen) they would end up in the High Court. And odds are the High Court would go through the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, and the Tasmanian Act, for a short cut.

          • Schütz says:

            Good point, Perry.

            Actually all this makes me wonder how Archbishop Porteous was set up for this controversy. Was there somebody already aware of his position on this who wanted to get it into the headlines? I mean, as I said before, the Archbishop’s position is not particularly radical. In fact it is fairly standard. He doesn’t ban girls from being altar servers.

            So given that legal action in this area always was unlikely, why even raise the issue in the first place and give it such prominence on the Archbishop’s first day in office?

            • Tony says:

              Fair points, Pere, and as you both say, action is pretty unlikely.

              On the broader issue, can you explain the principal as you articulate — ‘preserving altar service as a role for boys and young men works positively towards increasing vocations’ — squares with, ‘He doesn’t ban girls from being altar servers’?

              I can see a logic — not that I agree with it on so many levels! — in only allowing boys and young men but, having not banned young girls (apparently), why ban older ones? Would it be reasonable to ban older men?

            • Tony says:

              mmm … nobody wanting to take up my questions?

              What about this one: is a belief a good enough reason to make altar serving a (young?) male-only domain?

              What about a belief that there are real benefits in having (young?) women on the altar?

            • Joshua says:

              I suppose, Tony, that it is really much the same as WO – to misquote you:

              “What about this one: is a belief a good enough reason to make priesthood a (young?) male-only domain?

              “What about a belief that there are real benefits in having (young?) women as priests?”

              Now, we won’t want to get side-tracked here…

              Obviously, current Church rulings – brought in about twenty years ago, I think – say that female servers may be permitted.

              The “real benefits” obviously include actually obtaining persons to act as servers – which, given the ever-dropping numbers at Mass (particularly of the young), is no small feat, at least in my experience in OF Masses in Tasmania.

              Ideally, of course, all servers and readers would be instituted acolytes and lectors – who would ipso facto be males – since it is clearly better to have persons instituted to fulfil such ministries, else why would such ministries exist?

              I suppose it is a bit like EMHC: ideally, every parish would have enough priests and deacons that there would be no need to have laity distribute communion, but, given that there aren’t, parishioners are called upon, and given demographics, (older) women are often the majority, even the sum total, of all the EMHC in the parish.

              Problems only arise when, instead of seeing female servers and lay EMHC’s as “the best we can do in the circumstances”, both become “rights to exercise authority, rights we must exercise” – from service they become perquisites of power.

              This can be seen perhaps better in the case of EMHC’s feeling aggrieved and unhappy when, given visits of priests (even including the bishop) to the parish, at Mass there are sufficient persons in holy orders – the ordinary ministers of holy communion – to distribute communion, and the EMHC’s are not needed. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding to whinge and whine and complain that “I can’t give out the host or chalice because all these priests and deacons are here”, rather than to be perfectly content that, since there are enough, there is no need for an extraordinary ministry to be exercised.

              In my own case, when I serve at my ordinary parish Mass on Sundays, I act as EMHC, but would rather not have to do so, if only (say) we had a permanent deacon; and when I M.C. Tasmania’s one and only Latin Mass each month, I am glad that the priest distributes communion, and I can gratefully kneel to receive, and then accompany him to hold the communion plate, rather than have to myself handle the Sacred Species.

            • Tony says:

              We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church. (source)

              Seems a whole lot more hopeful and positive than ‘we’ll use them if we have to’.

            • Schütz says:

              And in fact, it seems to be that Pope Francis was talking about what I mentioned in the post above, namely that rather than mucking about with roles for women that are by definition servile and juvenile, we should be looking for opportunities for both lay women and lay men to serve in offices of leadership in the Church.

            • Joshua says:

              With respect, I doubt Pope Francis was speaking about female servers!

            • Tony says:

              Oh puleeese, David!

              You’re drawing that bow to breaking point!

            • Joshua says:

              Dear Tony,

              If you’d been at that otherwise devout and heavenward-uplifting Mass of Installation, and seen that “middle-aged lady” faffing about, you would have been completely unsurprised by His Grace’s comments of the next day: I was there, and I know what I saw, and I recall too one of the other bishops at the reception afterwards openly laughing at the ludicrous inappropriateness of those antics: several other friends of mine who were also there confirm this opinion.

              His Grace certainly wishes to help encourage more vocations to the priesthood here – and God knows we need them, my dear parish priest is 80 and we fear when we lose him our parish will close for lack of any replacement – and thus his decision is primarily oriented toward doing so; but, secondarily, I would strongly suspect, considering the disedifying display he and all the clergy and people witnessed on the very night of his official welcome as the new Archbishop, he wanted to send a strong signal to at least one too-pushy person that her services were no longer required.

              The said person is known to be controlling and overbearing, and – whatever of her gender – I for one am glad that, barring accidents, she won’t be playing quite so forward and froward a part any more.

          • Felix Alexander says:

            The clause you’re referring to Pere quite specifically says the “Commonwealth” can’t make any law etc. I think there’s no reason to suppose it would automatically extend that to the states. There’s a lot of precedent in our tradition for parliamentary involvement in religious practice—and precedent of interpreting this clause differently from its American cousin—so you can’t just assume they’d go with religious freedom.

            However, it would serve no-one’s interests to have a binding interpretation of this clause, so I assume it won’t get there; and if it does, the High Court will dismiss it on some finer point of law without addressing the issue.

            • Joshua says:

              You must remember the Constitution of Tasmania (section 46) – alone of the State constitutions, if I recall correctly – specifically protects religious liberty:

              “Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.”

            • Felix Alexander says:

              Rather, I must learn for the first time. Thanks for the information. However, anyone interested in equality for women throughout all aspects of society will naturally argue that public order and morality demand equality of women in the public life of the church.

              (Also, excuse me while I shudder at the thought that a non-citizen has no guarantee of freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion in Tasmania. Whoever thought those last words were necessary? They sound like they’re trying to steal your hearts and minds off you, and give them to the government.)

  2. Joshua says:

    If you had been there in the Cathedral (as I was) and saw the painful faffing about and bossy prissiness of the jumped-up mistress of ceremonies, you would well understand the directive given by His Grace.

    As for the predictable wails from the sanctimonious secularists, it is obvious that they mount this attack on specious grounds – it is abhorrent and opposed to our true rights and liberties for the state to dare interfere in divine worship. I warrant that the liberal Catholic elite naturally turned to their fellow travellers for assistance: Judas, too, has successors.

    If the smug and mediocre folk think that they will bend the new Archbishop to their will and their ways, then they are sadly deluded.

    The deeper question is indeed about the narrow way in which freedom of religion has been circumscribed: it is not at all a matter of pleading for toleration in special circumstances of what the state is pleased to otherwise outlaw, but it is our undoubted right under natural law, to say nothing of divine law.

    As Brandis has pointed out – and, thank God, as the new Government will now begin to reverse – there has been a prioritizing of some rights, including pretended ones, over others, in what is the reverse of the true order. One sees the same thing in the USA, given certain acts of the Obama regime.

    Whatever of an unpopular Premier, sustained in office with the support of the virulently anti-Catholic and anti-life Greens (legislative proposals emanating from this unhappy grouping include decriminalizing abortion, criminalizing pro-life witness, legalizing euthanasia and unnatural unions), and secularist bureaucrats, I would turn instead to the Constitution of Tasmania, section 46:

    “Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.”

    Free practice of religion includes the right ordering of divine worship, under the direction of the archbishop, high priest of the archdiocese; and “public order” does not extend to interference in the same.

    What an insult for such enemies of the Gospel to speak against it! “And all iniquity shall stop her mouth” (Ps 107:42).

    • Tony says:

      As I read your post, Joshua, an image something like this came to mind:

      “Jumped up mistress” – Bam!
      “sanctimonious secularists” – Slap!
      “liberal Catholic elite” – Smack!
      “Judas, too, has successors” -Biff!
      “natural law … divine law” – Take that!
      ” … thank God, as the new Government …” – Ping!
      ” … the Obama regime” – Cut!
      ” … virulently anti-Catholic and anti-life Greens …” – Bang!
      ” … enemies of the Gospel …” – Kapow!

      I think you’ve just about covered everything. What a vent!

      • Joshua says:

        Thanks, Tony!

        Things Catholic in Tasmania are, shall we say, in need of repristination. The appointment and now the installation of Archbishop Porteous are an answer to many prayers – just today a work colleague confided in me how relieved he is by the new leadership we have at last.

        The Mass and reception afterwards were wonderfully uplifting, and I caught up with many old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for years. So to hear the very next day of all this mean-spirited grumbling really upset me: and when I rang a friend in Hobart, he turned out to be absolutely seething with anger at all this contretemps (I forbear to give details, understandably).

        This violent swing in emotions from consolation to tribulation may explain my venting.

        Thanks again for your good humour!

        • Tony says:

          I’m glad you were amused, Joshua.

          But I am left wondering how much of your vent was a serious argument. For example, your opening salvo:

          … the painful faffing about and bossy prissiness of the jumped-up mistress of ceremonies, you would well understand the directive given by His Grace.

          On the surface this seems very uncharitable. More importantly perhaps, if you think it is a basis for making a decision that excludes all older women from serving, then it wouldn’t be particularly flattering to +Porteous.

          A much more charitable and, I’d suggest, realistic appraisal of the role of older women in the church would recognise that many parishes would fold without them. They are the ones, often for decades at a time, who get on with ‘getting on’, often behind the scenes.

          But, assuming there’s truth behind your particular assessment, you make an argument for excluding anyone who parades themselves as ‘faffing about and bossy prissiness of the jumped-up …’ rather than older women in general.

          It may be that the subject of your ire deserves her ‘whacks’ (as Peter says) –Lord knows parishes have them (and women don’t have the monopoly)! — but it may be that she stepped in where no male could be bothered with such servile, repetitive stuff. Maybe they’re content to sit in the pews quietly spitting chips?

          • Joshua says:

            You wrote:

            A much more charitable and, I’d suggest, realistic appraisal of the role of older women in the church would recognise that many parishes would fold without them. They are the ones, often for decades at a time, who get on with ‘getting on’, often behind the scenes.

            Quite right! I know a woman who assisted at the Cathedral precisely because no bloke would step up and help out. She didn’t like to, but felt she really ought do so.

            This raises the big question of why fewer men than women go to church, and why fewer of those men get involved…

            You go on:

            But, assuming there’s truth behind your particular assessment, you make an argument for excluding anyone who parades themselves as ‘faffing about and bossy prissiness of the jumped-up …’ rather than older women in general.

            Again, you are absolutely correct. An M.C. should be invisible rather than hogging the limelight.

            You then say:

            It may be that the subject of your ire deserves her ‘whacks’ (as Peter says) –Lord knows parishes have them (and women don’t have the monopoly)! — but it may be that she stepped in where no male could be bothered with such servile, repetitive stuff. Maybe they’re content to sit in the pews quietly spitting chips?

            Again, you have nailed it perfectly.

            No disagreement from me!

    • Peter says:

      Well said Joshua!
      Any opportunity to whack these oxygen thieves should be grabbed with both hands.

  3. Joshua says:

    (This comment is for no other reason than that I forgot to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box when commenting earlier!)

  4. Stephen K says:

    An interesting discussion. Here’s my take on some of the themes. Firstly, we seem to have here one of those emotional flash points – how dare the secular government tell a religious body who it can have conduct, or have access to, ceremonial/liturgical roles! Secondly, we need to take a step back and consider just what is or isn’t at stake here.
    The question of female altar servers and acolytes is not a question of doctrine. The only relevant doctrine is that the Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination upon women. This lack of authority is the only prescribed item of belief. (By way of digression, permit me to note that it is curious that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis frames the restriction not in terms that women cannot be priests but in terms that they are barred from ordination. Some might argue that in practical terms this is one and the same thing, because if they are not ordained, then they cannot be priests; but I think it is equally arguable that all Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was daring to say was that the official Church would not ever ordain women, from tradition (and possibly hoping we would read more into it). Thus, if a woman were ordained by a Catholic bishop, it is highly arguable that though it would be illicit, it would be valid. But back to the main topic!)

    Since it is not held necessary as a matter of faith that females cannot serve any other role within the sanctuary, then unless someone thinks that it ought to be, and adopts the idea as their own personal dogma, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the passion with which the very idea that women should be permitted to serve during the Liturgy is rejected must be based simply on a kind of sex discrimination and personal preference. The purpose of anti-discrimination laws is precisely to promote the eradication of unfair treatment and dealings and access on irrelevant grounds, namely sex in this case.

    I think we need to face and own up to what we really think if we exclude women from altar serving where it is not a matter of doctrine or faith. “We like the way things are” – “it’s always been done a certain way and ceremonial tradition is sacred” – “we don’t like how women look in liturgical robes” – “we want more boys and men to start as servers and acolytes so they will get the taste for being a priest” etc. Whichever way you look at it, most of these don’t hold water. I say “most” because Archbishop Julian Porteous expressed the last and it is based on the notion and expectation that some familiarity and intimacy with the liturgy leads to knowledge and insight and can open up ideas of vocation. I think it’s probably true to some degree, as many whoever entertained the idea and went to the seminary or religious orders might agree.

    I don’t think the Archbishop was set up. I think this is the sort of idea or thing he will say from time to time. You should expect Archbishop Porteous to express very straight up-and-down Church ideas and propositions with no traces of, or tendency to, eccentric brilliance or originality. He has had a long career conforming to the official lines, which is to say, conservative and the roots of that could be seen at school: he was – and always has been – a ‘good boy’, a ‘model boy’. At school, he was always near the top of his class – 3rd in 1st year (62), 3rd in 2nd year (63) 2nd in 3rd year (64), 3rd in 4th year (65), History Dux and Public Speaking Prize (66). I can’t remember but I’m pretty sure he was School Captain (67); religiously involved – ADC Guild member (63), debating team leader and Prefect, of course. He takes his vocation seriously, he’ll be diligent, uncontroversial, without charisma but without any traces of narcissism. He should suit most conservatives and offend few people except those who make it a habit of being offended!

    • Schütz says:

      Good grief, Stephen – did you go to school with him??

      For myself, the last reason for having male altar servers, which as you point out is the reason the bishop gave, should be acceptable (the others are not). The Archbishop is facing a crisis situation with regard to numbers of priests in his diocese, and this is one decisive step he is taking in an attempt to turn that situation around.

    • Joshua says:

      A good dispassionate summary.

      I think, however, you omit reference to the utter innovation that is female altar serving: as is well known, it was only a ruling, based on Canon Law, not on liturgical law or custom, that permitted female altar servers, issued during the reign of Bl John Paul II. Many, many have argued that this was a most untraditional and unfortunate ruling; it certainly does not apply to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

      Basically, the entire tradition viewed service at the altar as an approach to holy orders (hence the minor orders were sacramentals related to and in a sense derived from the sacrament of holy orders), and as such, not appertaining to the female genius. Altar boys were not tonsured, but that was a permitted derogation from the old rule, and it was understood that they took the place of clerics – hence the Italian “clericetto” (I may have the spelling wrong), little cleric – and interestingly enough the Eastern Orthodox do the same.

      When Paul VI changed the minor orders into the ministries of acolyte and lector – which are still reserved to men, just hardly ever conferred except on seminarians, since they must be received before ordination – a new theology was spoken of, whereby such were called “lay ministries” derived from and related to the sacrament of baptism.

      Again, this was a questionable innovation and a change from the age-old customs of East and West. (I think of my friends at the Russian Catholic parish, one of whom was ordained to the subdiaconate, which they retain – just as do such groups as the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter and others using the liturgical books of 1962.)

      If indeed ministry at the altar is not in a sense derived from and oriented towards holy orders (reserved to men, since Christ ordained no women, and the Church believes herself bound to follow his example and none other, thus making WO ultra vires – excuse the pun), then the question of female servers arises. Then, as we have now seen, the increasingly totalitarian state begins to pretend to its superior power to interfere and order all things…

      Legal positivism inside the Church thus leads to its secular brother becoming involved. According to the apostolic tradition, female service at the altar is an aberration unbefitting the male priesthood. The only reference to such antics I can recall is to one of the early Popes rebuking those in Gaul for permitting women to assist at the altar: it was reprobated as an abuse and condemned.

      Furthermore, piety has seen the service of “innocent children” as somehow suited to the holiness of the mysteries. Unfortunately, wickedness and the scandals we now know about these days makes reference to this sound suspect and a cover for sin.

      But what confused symbolism is there in having girls, let alone “middle-aged women”, assisting at the altar? Is it not often understood as pointing toward the priesthood as something sooner or later to be conceded to such? I recall my feminist aunt drawing this conclusion when she (an anthroposophist-cum-Buddhist) came to Mass with my family one Christmas, and saw a female altar server.

      There is a parallel here with the annual contretemps over whose feet may be washed on Holy Thursday – is it illustrative of our common baptism, or of holy orders? If the former, yes to female feet; if the latter – as it was always understood until the liturgical reforms – then no to them. Hence the tension: it is ultimately a question of to which sacrament the matter relates, as it were.

      It is most unfortunate that the sense of tradition as a seamless organic whole has been lost: instead, it appears that even lookers-on from outside regard Catholicism as a religion with some remaining doctrines, yes, but whose externals can be and have been altered by fiat in an incredibly positivistic sense. It is a perverse misreading of the spirit of Catholicism, but one that the liturgical and other reforms of the past half-century has engendered.

      • Stephen K says:

        Joshua, if I may, I’d like to reply to two of your points: the notion of legal positivism and the idea of seamless Catholic Tradition.

        Really, I don’t think you, or, perhaps more correctly, most traditionalists (and maybe bloggers of most stripes) can complain about legal positivism because it is indulged in by so many so often. How many times do we trot out that x is so because y said z! Most people resort to it: namedropping theologians, popes or councils. The Church reeks of legal positivism and has done so for centuries, i.e. what is said makes what is. The appeal to authority is pure legal positivism, even the authority of scripture in the literal or narrow sense.

        Now I am several (bad) things you are probably not, so I don’t propose what I am going to propose with any sense or purpose of moral diktat but let me suggest that there is a dimension of religious faith that simply does not need to know or have recourse to rules or laws or teachings, but something that operates through the mysterious workings of reflection and individual in-spiration, when reading the Psalms, perhaps, yes, even quietly absorbing the Mass….or whatever. There, only there, will you be free of the legal positivism that burdens and oppresses and undermines the spiritual and religious life.

        And what is this seamless organic whole that you call Catholic Tradition? It is certainly not reducible to a simple formula of doing what has been done for a few hundred years: surely ‘Catholicism’ is not simply repetition, or uniformity, or conformity! May I suggest that in dismissing the changes of the last half-century as non- or anti- Catholic, one inadvertently confines and reduces ‘Catholic-ness’ to encrusted forms of the previous half-century.

        We both know that anything organic is not so much seamless but quietly but purposefully changing. I would like to suggest that the ‘truer’ Catholic-ness lies in always “framing-in-the-big-picture”. Once Catholic-ness is confined to particular forms it ceases, by definition, to be catholic or Catholic, though it may be Roman (or……). What some traditionalists see simply as chaos and reduction, others can see as purifying, liberating, disencumbering. Size is not everything! It is the inability or the reluctance to admit that things may not be the way we think they ought to be or have been in the past that, on the contrary, may be profoundly un-Catholic.

        I’ll leave my response there. I’d be interested in yours, as always.

        • Schütz says:

          I don’t think you can equate the exercise of magisterial authority with legal positivism, Stephen. If the authority is real, and if the promise of the grace of ordinary and extraordinary infallibility is also real, then so is the reality it teaches. Of course, if both premises are false, so is the conclusion. But that’s why I am a Catholic – I believe both premises to be true.

          • Joshua says:

            As Aquinas states, the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments – except in the matter of divine revelation, when, owing to the Authority vouching for it, it is instead the strongest of all.

            • Schütz says:

              I really find it flattering when it turns out that an idea I had all on my own was had by somebody else of great intelligence before me. The fact that in this case it was Aquinas is 10 times as flattering.

          • Stephen K says:

            I think I can, David. The notion of magisterial authority is founded on the notion that what it says will be so. That you believe that something is so because of your belief in that magisterial authority (the authorial source of truth or rights) is an implicit acceptance that what is said (by that authority) is so. If Pope Francis and his succesor and another council modify anything you currently hold, I bet you will follow, otherwise you will effectively adopt the Lefebvrist position in qualifying your faith by one expression of that authority rather than the latest). Your first premise that the magisterial authority of the Church is real is an assumption in faith, and it is the faith in that assumption that leads you to invest it, or accept that it is invested with, infallibility. But it all boils down, practically, to you accepting what it teaches because… teaches.

            By the way, I do not say that making assumptions in faith is not reasonable; we all make them, of one kind or another. But at root, it’s a kind of legal positivism if it is grounded in what is taught or enacted by an authority rather than on other principles.

            • Schütz says:

              Yeah, fair enough. What Aquinas said.

              Interesting though, that I didn’t have the same faith in, say for instance, the teachings of the Lutheran church of Australia. The Lutheran Church of Australia did not claim divine authority for its teachings, it only claimed that its teachings were derived from scripture. And that scripture was the divinely inspired inherent. There was of course no way of being certain that their interpretation of Scripture was “correct”.

              So for some reason I found the Catholic claim more convincing. At least if their claim is true, everything they teach is certain. If their claim is false, their teachings have no certainty at all.

            • Joshua says:

              Interesting, David – don’t Lutherans think that “He who hears you, hears Me” apply to their own pastors? Is that not what the Magisterium is, the guarantee that the faith is rightly transmitted viva voce, under the inspiration of the Spirit guiding ever into all truth, and suggesting what words to speak? Why do not Lutherans think of their preaching in that way?

            • Schütz says:

              In fact, that verse is indeed cited by many Lutheran pastors who have a high view of the ministry. And it was certainly Luther’s view too – especially and explicitly in the confessional! But it seems to be in the order of the “predigtampt” – that is, the preaching office, or the pastoral office, and less so in the area of teaching authority. I remember it being cited back in 2000 during the debates on the ordination of women, but there was a general disease about applying the text to the corporate body of the pastorate.

        • Joshua says:

          Stephen, you are of course profoundly correct in saying:

          …that there is a dimension of religious faith that simply does not need to know or have recourse to rules or laws or teachings, but something that operates through the mysterious workings of reflection and individual in-spiration, when reading the Psalms, perhaps, yes, even quietly absorbing the Mass….or whatever. There, only there, will you be free of the legal positivism that burdens and oppresses and undermines the spiritual and religious life.

          To become rule-bound and hide-bound is to fall back into Pharisaism and into the keeping of the law against which St Paul warned us: “for freedom Christ has set us free… do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1)

          As Aquinas notes at the outset, what we can say of God is far less than what God is: “Be still and know that I am God” is wisdom indeed.

          We can rightly speak of what has been revealed, but always respect the mystery that is far grander than anything we can grasp.

          One fault of the sort of neo-scholastic manualism that had developed prior to Vatican II is that it encouraged the mistaken belief that faith was but a series of dry, intellectual propositions – whereas of course faith is wholehearted commitment to God through Christ in His Spirit; the various doctrines and dogmas are true, but far from the whole of divinity.

          • Joshua says:

            P.S. Here reference to Meister Eckhardt, a Dominican mystic, would be relevant. (On his deathbed, some of his teachings were condemned, but I understand that those condemnations were later retracted; and in any case, he protested that of course he sided with the Church in all he sought to teach, and his teachings are to be understood in a Catholic matrix.) The same could be said of the mystic apothegms of Angelus Silesius, the “Cherubimic Wanderer” and convert from Lutheranism.

      • Schütz says:

        In other words, this is not a matter completely unrelated to the Church’s doctrine?

    • Peregrinus says:

      “. . . permit me to note that it is curious that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis frames the restriction not in terms that women cannot be priests but in terms that they are barred from ordination.”

      I’d go even further. OS does not say that women are barred from ordination; it says that the church is barred from ordaining them. In other words, it’s not expressed as a limitation of what women can be, but as a limitation of what the church can do.

      I think that’s very important, and I think that as a church we probably haven’t begun to unpack the implications of that teaching. But I think it’s significant in the present context; we [i]cannot[/i] think that because OS teaches that the church is unable to ordain women that it is unable to commission women or girls as altar servers because, quite plainly, the church does commission them as such.

      The argument advanced against this practice, it seems to me, is essentially pragmatic; commissioning as an altar server provides a mechanism through which boys and young men may be supported and encouraged in being open to the possibility of a vocation to priestly life. The unstated minor premise, though, is that if girls and young women are similarly commissioned, the mechanism become less effective for boys and young men.

      I’ll admit I’m a bit uneasy about this. Whatever it is that attracts young men to the priesthood, it should [i]not[/i] be that it is a male preserve. Pretty much the last thing we want is men who are attracted to the priestly life because it enable them to set themselves apart from women, and to do something that women do not do.

      The priestly life has many dimensions, and a young man contemplating a vocation will be encouraged not just to serve on the altar but to pray, to read scripture, and to live an intentionally apostolic life in a variety of ways, not just on his own but in common with others. Nobody suggests that if we encourage young women to pray, read scripture, etc we thereby weaken our support for young men considering a priestly vocation. And I’m puzzled at the suggestion that, if a boy serving at the altar has a girl beside him also serving, our support for his putative priestly vocation is thereby diminished. How does that work, exactly?

  5. A fascinating discussion, which I only intrude upon to correct two things David has said.
    David, apropos your words “The Lutheran Church of Australia did not claim divine authority for its teachings, it only claimed that its teachings were derived from scripture”, I must protest that you are misrepresenting the position of the Lutheran Church of Australia. For us to say a doctrine is derived from Holy Scripture is tantamount to saying that it has divine authority, since Scripture is God’s Word written, which is the “formal principle”, to use scholastic language, of the Lutheran Reformation (the “material principle” being justification ‘propter Christum per fidem’). If you don’t understand the basis of my objection, I must ask who taught you Dogmatics?
    Secondly, ‘preaching office’ in German is ‘predigtamt’, not ‘predigtampt’.
    Now, someone pass the port bottle please.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks, Pastor. You’ll see by the time of my reply, that it was extremely late at night. Was also after a full day of teaching. But I’ve been unwell for just about a week too. All of this is by way of excuse of misspelling “predigtamt”.

      As for my other comments about the authority of teachings derived from scripture, what I meant was they did not claim infallibility for their particular interpretation of Scripture. Lutherans are always open to the possibility that any given interpretation of Scripture at which they have arrived may yet be “re–normed” by another good hard look at Scripture. Ultimately only scripture itself is infallible.

      And I think I will stay off the port bottle till later in the day. A glass of whisky could also have been responsible for my dodgy German. (Btw, do you think I am right on that point about the Luke passage applying to the predigtamt and not any sense of teaching magisterium?)

      • You’re forgiven! I hope you are beginning to feel better. As a port lover you might find brandy, armagnac or cognac more to your taste than whisky?

        As to the Luke passage applying to the ministerium/magisterium I would say that was the understanding at the time of the Reformation and especially in the period of orthodoxy when the Lutheran doctrinal edifice was strengthened, although the “acids of modernity” later weakened it. But even in the LCA we see a remnant of this position in that no doctrinal matter is meant to go to synod without advice – meaning authoritative advice – from the pastorate gathered in conference. That constitutional requirement was unhappily subverted at the 2000 synod, as you will well recall. Historically also seminary faculties played a major role in formulating responses to doctrinal questions, a practice which has been subverted in the LCA by the introduction of the CTICR, an innovation we borrowed from the LCMS. There is a paper by Eric Gritsch, if I recall correctly, from the L-RC Dialogues, that deals with the question of how Lutherans understand infallibility and authority from the historical perspective – I will try and dig it up.

        As to not claiming infallibility for our teachings I see now what you mean -yes, infallibility resides in scripture and not the church, although we would certainly want to say that the church is indefectible – Matt 16:18. Since we believe scripture is the living and active Word of God (Heb 4:12) and also clear in what it teaches (Ps 19:8) and sufficient for the purposes God intends it to fulfill in regard to teaching the way of salvation (2 Tim 3:16), one should not interpret our reticence to see infallibility residing in the church as meaning the church is somehow deficient in authority.
        Also, practically speaking, the Book of Concord acts as a virtual magisterial authority by virtue of being a true and correct interpretation of scripture, so it shouldn’t be thought that “everything is up for grabs”. As you will recall, the authority of Scripture and the Confessions are the two unchangeable articles in the LCA Constitution.

        • Joshua says:

          Dear Pastor, of course the Canon of Scripture is closed; but is the Book of Concord’s contents also completed and unchangeable? That is, for the sake of argument, could, say, Henderson’s Refutation of Schütz’s Apology for Romanism be one day solemnly added to the Book of Concord by the Evangelical Churches, as a profound and true interpretation of Scripture against heretical depravity?

  6. John Nolan says:

    Sex equality legislation is fundamentally about rights, in particular employment rights, and even then discrimination on the grounds of sex is not necessarily illegal (for example certain roles in the armed forces). There is no ‘right’ for any lay person to serve at the altar; that they are permitted to do so is explicitly ‘ex temporanea deputatione’.

    The permission for female servers is an example of an abuse which was retrospectively legitimized (Communion in the hand is in the same category). There have been suggestions that it might be rescinded, but lobbying from certain national Episcopal Conferences has so far prevented this. The permission itself is one of the most grudging ever issued, and as it stands is still discriminatory in that:
    1. Boys and men are the preferred option.
    2. It does not apply to the Extraordinary Form. Bi-ritual parishes tend not to have female servers.
    3. A bishop can decide not to have female servers in his diocese.
    4. Even in a diocese where female servers are permitted, no priest is obliged to have them at any Mass he celebrates.

    Regarding Stephen’s earlier comment, if the Church has ‘no authority whatsoever’ to confer priestly ordination on women, it is not ‘highly arguable’ that the small number of self-styled ‘womenpriests’ are validly, if illicitly, ordained. Some of them make this claim, but they are deluding themselves. They are excommunicated Catholic laywomen, nothing more and nothing less.

    • Schütz says:

      I think the confusion here is over the English words authority and power. Stephen posed the question along the lines of: although the church might not have the authority to ordain women, does this mean that it is impossible for women to be validly and actually ordained as priests?

      In the new Testament there are also two words for authority and power. One of them is “dynamis”. As in dynamite, it means power in the sense of “ability”. The other word is “exousia”. This word also means “power”, but with the sense of authority. Latin translates it as “potestas”. I’m not quite sure if I have my etymology right, but it seems to me that the word “exousia” comes from the notion of acting out of one’s essence or reality. In other words, authority to act is grounded in objective reality rather than, to pick up the term used earlier, legal positivism.

      The upshot is that if no one has the “exousia” to ordain women, women cannot become priests.

      • Stephen K says:

        David, your etymology sounds correct but root notions are not determinative of contextual usage. Incidentally, I can readily locate various examples of dunamis (e.g. at Luke 22:69; John 9:33) but for exousia I have relied on Liddell & Scott who tell me that the plural use of it in the New Testament means “the authorities”, not some kind of “power from essence”. Perhaps you can comment further on that and point me to some examples.

        But in any case your proposition that the Church does not have the essence that can act as a source of the power to ordain women does not deliver a knock-out blow. It is simply a restatement of a position. The point of contention is precisely what the essence of the Church is, and what kind of Church would it be that did not have power to ordain half the human race. My own view is that as a community of faith and love and to the extent that is is, the Church has all the ousia it needs……for just about anything.

        We probably need to probe more deeply into all the various aspects of this to make sure we know what we are proposing or relying on when we try to articulate our various positions.

        • Schütz says:

          Well, no, the Church does not have the exousia to change anything that is by dominical institution or command – that is really the issue that is behind the prohibition of the ordination of women. In just the same way, the Church cannot change the elements which The Lord himself decreed by his “Do this” as constitutional to the Sacrament of the Altar, namely wheat bread and grape wine. Nor does the Church have the authority to baptise with anything other than water, or to anoint with anything other than olive oil, etc. etc. An adult male human being is the constitutive “stuff” of a valid sacramental ordination by dominical institution. Not even “all authority in heaven and on earth” can change that!

        • Stephen K says:

          No, David, I’m afraid you’ve missed my point, or else we are talking at cross-purposes. When I say the Church has all the essence it needs to ordain women I am clearly using the term ‘Church’ differently from you. You identify the Church, roughly speaking, with the particular superstructure we see reported in the press in the large, and reinforced in myriad photos of popes and bishops in mitres in the small, where particular people have particular customary jobs to do, in what Joshua has referred to as a “divinely constituted hierarchy”.

          On the contrary, I identify the Church as a seething galaxy of atomic (personal) interactions and responses (good and bad) to the idea and understanding of the Gospel (aka kerygma) and Jesus’ radical call to a kingdom of love of God and neighbour. The Church of which I speak is thus of an essence in which men and women can equally manifest and channel grace, love, forgiveness, mercy, incarnating all that is good as well as all the sweaty nature they bring to the equation. This Church transcends vestments, buildings, documents and men in special garments; it shifts, waxes and wanes with every individual and collective act of good and evil of the people who make it up. How can one possibly say, of such a Church, that its essence does not empower or enable a sacerdotal or sacramental ministry for women as well as for men?

          You see and think of the Church as a juridical institution whose very forms are divinely commanded; I see and think of the Church as a multi-faceted manifestation of energy whose forms are not divinely commanded but have evolved or been retained by cultural and historical forces and preferences. What you call the essence of the Church is, when all boiled down, simply the reflection of a tradition that interprets itself as never wrong and never able to change itself, because that’s the way Jesus wanted it. What I call the essence of the Church is something that cannot be confined to particular and familiar patterns and modes.

          Whew! No wonder we don’t agree! Never mind, thank you for engaging in discussion. It’s always illuminating, and I mean that sincerely.

          • Joshua says:

            While I daresay you go a bit beyond stuffy old me, do you not here refer at least in some manner to the charismatic Church – not meaning those persons involved the “charismatic renewal” of recent decades, but those moved by the Spirit down all of history, moved to do surprising and novel things: St Hildegard of Bingen, Prophetess of the Rhine, given (though a woman) a Papal mandate to preach sermons upbraiding the clergy for their crimes, delivered fearlessly to priests and bishops; or St Dominic, establishing a new and strange form of apostolic life; or any of the saints, known and unknown, who have passed through this life, leaving behind some particular blessing; even dear old Chesterton.

            If you ever have the chance (hopefully you have had it already), do look at the beautiful stained glass in the chapel at Corpus Christi College, Carlton (the Melbourne seminary): it depicts the moment before Pentecost, with the Holy Ghost still coming down from heaven, His flames of inspiration almost but not quite touching the heads of the disciples – and on one side can be seen (amongst other apostles) Peter with the keys, representing the hierarchical Church, the Petrine principle; while on the other is Holy Mary (with St John at her feet), representing the Marian principle, the charismatic Church.

            Which is the true Church? Both. Neither makes sense without the other. The Body of Christ is the Church, moved by the Spirit; certain minor parts of the Body are as it were the organs of hierarchical communion within the Body, tasked with representing and sacramentally re-presenting Christ in His mysteries to the whole.

            By the way, do you think my reference to Eckhardt, etc. also answers somewhat to this?

            Best wishes.

          • Stephen K says:

            Joshua, you’re not stuffy! You have your preferences and your experience and thinking, like I do. I respect your right to them and their validity. In fact I understand them even though I disagree with different ones. We’re having a cordial and fruitful exchange, and hopefully giving fellow readers something to think about!

            I understand your Pentecostal dichotomy: I had never heard the binary aspects of the Church expressed that way before, or of the charismatic Marian church, but I see clearly what you are saying. Of course, I do not imagine that the Church is a mental thing without some visible form, which historically has taken the shape of an hierarchical church with all that that implies; but simply say that much of our discourse about faith, morals, theology etc finds itself confined to this dimension or seeing it as primary. Though I would have, up till your post, not described my characterisation as Marian or charismatic, I guess I am really trying to express something very akin to what you have alluded to.

            I must confess to not having read anything of Meister Eckhardt. His idea or expressions of the Godhead in each of us however are concepts that at first flush do not appear to me alien or un-useful. I’m not sure I’m personally mystic but mystical language seems to me to get closer to the reality of God or experience than all this dogmatic stuff and canon law. I love the Psalms, I encourage their reading as a great earth, as well as a conduit to the presence of God, and, though my posts might convey a different impression, I am attracted to the contemplation of the Ineffable. Music, for me, is a language of prayer. I find that Art and Poetry are encrypters of the Divine. I am attracted to the underlying detachment, the disencumbering that one finds in Buddhism and the apophaticism of the Eastern tradition. It can be found in the West, too, I know. I use words for a living but find where religion is concerned they can be the very devil. So, yes, your reference to Eckhardt does go some considerable way, I would say, to what you were saying about the Pentecostal charism in the Church.

            • Joshua says:

              Ahhh, the Psalms! Now how lovely would it be for us all to pray and read and sing them together… just as no doubt a hymn-singing evening with Herr Schütz (plus drinks) would be most spiritually uplifting.

          • Schütz says:

            Well, My dear friend, your ecclesiology definitely seems foreign to mine. However I do not believe that you have accurately identified my own ecclesiology. It is certainly not correct to say that I would reduce the Church to an “juridical institution”. I think it is more customary to call the church a community or a communion of saints. In any case, a combox is perhaps not the place to elaborate a full ecclesiology. Suffice it to say that you are probably quite correct: your use of the word “church” is different my use of the word “church”.

  7. Stephen K says:

    It is interesting that having female servers is referred to – in John’s words – as an “abuse”. It probably means in this context “an improper usage”. ‘Improper’ could mean simply “incorrect” or “inaccurate” or “irregular” – in other words, not reflective of or in accordance with a current rule. Where the rule has changed, does one agree that, in this sense, it would then become “proper” usage? Is it similar to the myriad situations where other rules have been changed, from the Pian reform of the Divine office, to the 1955 Holy Week restructure to vernacular usage? It seems so, at first glance, to me.

    But when one uses this term, does one perhaps mean something else? ‘Improper’ can also mean “unsuitable” or “inappropriate” or else “unbecoming”, “unseemly”, “indecorous”. There’s a sliding scale here of sorts, even without descending into the particular and moralistic meanings the OED also gives of “violation” or “defilement”. What is intended here? And if the term stands for any of these other meanings, does one have a sound basis for it? What would make it, despite being permitted or widely used or both, “unsuitable”? “inappropriate”? “unbecoming”? (What does that mean, here?) or “indecorous”? And, God willing not, does anyone here think so far as that female servers “defile” the liturgy?

    John has also suggested that the permission to allow female servers is grudging. Is a grudging permission less a permission? Is it less right or good? Is it demonstration of error in the permission? What do readers think, here?

    I would suggest one’s attitude to female servers is not separate from one’s attitude to religious and liturgical changes generally. On the one hand, if one, in his or her heart of hearts, does not think any changes (from…….) should ever have been made, one is hardly likely to embrace the concept of female servers. (One does have the problem, of course, of deciding which particular stage of religious and liturgical development will stand for the benchmark.)

    On the other hand, one might accept female servers either on the basis that, and to the extent that, it is a permitted usage, or because, either in the alternative or in addition, it serves a utilitarian purpose. A third option might be to accept them, ironically rather like one’s traditionalist counterpart only in reverse, because it reflects a better anthropological and sociological paradigm.

    It’s clear we’re not all going to agree. I think that Christianity in general – and Catholicism in the particular – are, as Joshua has alluded to, organic, but even more, fundamentally evolutionary like everything else: they will keep re-generating and re-inventing themselves, according to the forward impulses in all life forms, on different levels and their power is in the spiritual vitality that can be manifest in each individual’s life and living. Others think that they resemble more a Hope Diamond that must not and cannot be chipped away or re-shaped. I guess a lot depends on our hermeneutic foundation with respect to the nature of reality and religious experience.

    • Schütz says:

      I think perhaps it was John’s attitude that was grudging.

      It would be far more accurate to say that the permission given in this circumstance (allowing young girls as well as young boys to be altar servers), as well as permission to receive Communion in the hand, are both “pastoral concessions”. In other words if a bishop, in his merciful care for his flock, determines that it would actually be of pastoral benefit for the universal norms to be altered, then, given that the salvation of souls is the highest goal of the church, he is free to do so in these cases. Of course this in no sense abrogates the right of the Bishop, on his pastoral judgement, to uphold the universal norms.

      It seems to me that in this case Bishop Porteous is making a pastoral judgement, and deciding that for the sake of future vocations the universal norm regarding altar servers will be upheld in his diocese. It is his right, and his right alone, to make this call.

      • John Nolan says:

        “It is his right, and his right alone, to make this call”. Not exactly. Even if a Bishop thinks it is of enormous ‘pastoral’ benefit to have females in the sanctuary, he may not oblige any of his priests to accept them, and any attempt to pressurize them would be clearly illicit.

        • Schütz says:

          Yes, that is correct. It is interesting that the default position which no one has to justify is the traditional position of male only altar servers. If a bishop decides to allow it in his diocese, a priest can decide not to allow it in his parish. If a bishop decides not to allow it in his diocese, no priest in that diocese is allowed to institute them in his parish. What this means needs some thinking through. Compared to say, the use of the Extraordinary Form, which no bishop may lawfully prohibit any priest from celebrating (nb. the Pope still can, as we have recently seen).

  8. Louise says:

    Well, I’m very happy about the Archbishop’s first call. Good job! It will be very interesting to see what happens next. I wish I were back home!

  9. Louise says:

    I don’t like women on the sanctuary and I think there are good reasons for keeping it solely for men. I assume that it has never before happened in the Church’s history, but even if it had, the basic point about trying to attract more young men to the priesthood is a good one and should not be overlooked.

    • Stephen K says:

      I’d be very interested to know why you don’t like women in the sanctuary, Louise, and what you think are the very good reasons why the sanctuary should be kept solely for men. I hope you would be happy to share your thoughts at greater length. So far, I haven’t encountered what I think is a very good reason and I’m iinterested as to what other reasons there might be, other than personal habit or familiarity.

      • Joshua says:

        I can’t answer for Louise, but I will observe what I have seen: if you want to turn boys and young men off serving at the altar, allow girls and women to do so. This may be politically incorrect to say, but it is true, I’ve seen it.

        Now, males may, from serving at the altar, find their calling to priestly service; females cannot. The need for priests is ever greater: anything that can encourage vocations is most necessary, and anything that will discourage them is much to be avoided.

        On an amusing note, I recall the comments of the mother of a friend of mine: she was raised very High Church Anglican, and, when young, secretly wished she could serve at “Mass” – since she couldn’t, she contented herself with watching the boy servers with eagle eye, “And when they made mistakes, I was glad!” She – having left the Anglicans when they came to permit women’s ordination to what they think is the priesthood – is of course no friend nowadays to any female service at the altar.

        • Louise says:

          1. It’s not necessary to have women on the sanctuary. Why *should* we be there?

          2. I think we need to do what we can to make “Church” more appealing to boys and men. Women are naturally more inclined to religion, whereas men need the extra help. And we need good priests.

          These are enough, imo.

  10. Joshua says:

    This reminds me of a seminarian I once knew… I forget if he spent two years or more in the seminary (he’s now happily married), but I do recall that he was instituted as a lector. After leaving the seminary, he customarily went to Mass at the Cathedral in Melbourne; he contended that, as he was an instituted lector, and the lay people who were the usual readers at Mass were not, he therefore had a prior right to be the reader at Mass. This may seem a harmless folly – except that he went to the extent of protesting outside the Cathedral with a placard, and appealed for redress through the ecclesiastical courts. I understand there is a website detailing his case (I have never myself searched for it). The ruling went against him: something about the distinction between munus and officium, meaning that, while he was indeed an instituted lector, that didn’t entitle him to read at Mass; he had to be appointed to do so by legitimate authority, and not demand to do so.

  11. Joshua says:

    I think what my somewhat elliptical comment is meant to convey is that service in the sanctuary (and for that matter the right of a priest to stand at the altar) is not merely a matter of having the qualification to do so, but of being licensed to do so, for what of a more technical term, by higher authority.

    Consider the unhappy ex-priest Mr Greg Reynolds: he has not – I think – been excommunicated solely or even largely because of his pro-women’s-ordination and pro-the-moral-licitness-of-homosexual-relationships stances, but because, despite having been removed from active ministry and told not to celebrate Masses, he has continued to do so, acting with contumacious disobedience to the local Ordinary by setting himself up as priest for a rebellious sect, raising altar against altar (against which crime of schism St Ignatius of Antioch wrote so long ago, in the first age of the Church). He also, not to the amusement of the Vatican, one imagines, but to the horror of believers, gave communion to a dog: which is of course a sacrilege.

    In both cases, the person concerned (though of course I understand that my old acquaintance has nothing of the sort of sin attached to his protests and complaint that Reynolds has) has thought to arrogate to themselves a right which is not his own, but is a privilege conferred by hierarchical authority.

    Hierarchy: unpopular word!

    Yet the fact remains that the Church – whatever persons may fondly imagine – is constituted as a sacred hierarchy. Are there cruel abuses of hierarchy? – of course: just look to the absolute shameful mess that is the scourge of not merely the commission of sexual crimes by those supposedly sworn to celibate chastity, but the negligence, and even connivance, of legitimate authority concerning those who have carried out such unspeakable wickedness.

    But abusus non tollit usus: the Church is not a democracy, but a hierarchy, one instituted by One more than Man – for He is God as well as Man – and deriving its sacred power from Him, power to be exercised on His behalf, in His name, under the inspiration of His Spirit, and by Whom its exercise is judged, to the eternal blessing or condemnation of those to whom it has been confided down the centuries.

    All power comes from above (Rom ) and in the matter of service at the altar, the hierarchical Church has wisely appointed ranks of ministers, and in very recent times has permitted female servers. In comparison to the two millennia of ecclesiastical history, the last two decades or so are but a blink of an eye, an experiment and an innovation upon which no verdict can yet be drawn.

    Someone spoke dismissively of the previous dispensation, whereby only males served, as a matter of some hundreds of years – but in truth, with only some very rare exceptions (I mentioned a rebuke to Gaulish bishops of the service of females at the altar, a service stigmatized and reprobated; I recall somewhere that St Athanasius mentions a female psalm-singer, whose psalter was damaged in a riot; and I believe Byzantine abbesses are permitted to enter within the iconostasis), this is not some passing restriction, but – in imitation of and by derivation from the Apostolic tradition that ordination is restricted to men – it is instead the settled and immemorial rule, from which one part of the Universal Church has very recently deviated by fiat.

    I think that the older opinion – which held sway until Paul VI – whereby the minor orders were seen as sacramentals related to holy orders, and thus clearly restricted to males, makes more sense than seeing service of the sacred mysteries as somehow pertaining to the baptismal priesthood of the faithful, since, if so, why should not all at Mass serve at the altar – when instead we see a clear and constant division of liturgical duties within the congregation, whereby certain minor parts of the mystical Body fulfil certain roles more closely related to the ministerial priesthood, and other parts do not.

    Recall that the priest is the sacramental icon of Christ the Priest, the one Liturgist and everlasting Priest and true Hierarch; those who assist him are related, more or less closely, to his ministry, whether as deacons (who possess the true sacramental likeness to Christos Diaconos, He Who Is amongst us as One Who serves) or as lesser ministers, not possessing sacramental identification with Christ the Head (in persona Christi capitis), but some greater or lesser degree of association with Him by liturgical prayer or concession of the Church (e.g. a Russian Catholic subdeacon – my friend Justin – or a Roman Rite lector – myself – or a child who has been allowed to act as an altar server).

    But of course the congregation do not “represent” or act as icons of the Church: they are the Church. Those ordained, appointed, instituted or allowed to serve by the hierarchy act in some sense on behalf of Christ, so as to represent and make manifest His one and sole ministry to His beloved Spouse, Sancta Mater Ecclesia.

    The sacred hierarchy is composed of men, by Divine dispensation that previous ages accepted without any question, but our benighted age finds strange, even objectionable.

    It is thus fitting – though too easily seen as odd, even wrong, by worldlings today – to have servers at the altar to be males.

    • Joshua says:

      Sorry, I meant to reference Romans 13:1.

    • Tony says:

      Consider the unhappy ex-priest Mr Greg Reynolds: he has not – I think …

      There in lies the rub. You think. You don’t know because there is no open process. No accusation, no defence, no appeal.

      I watched a news item about this — I think it was on the ABC — and the spokesperson for the church didn’t really know what was going on. He looked quite uncomfortable and, like you Joshua, expressed what he ‘thought’ was the problem. Apparently the move came from ‘above’ +Hart.

      I make no judgement about Reynold’s guilt or innocent, but this process is a medieval farce.

      • Joshua says:

        Don’t be misled by the leftist, secularist, uncomprehending coverage of religion, especially when the hated Catholic Church is concerned, by the ABC.

        I saw that self-serving piece of propaganda and the only thing Reynolds didn’t do was burst into tears as he whined about not knowing why he’d been so cruelly treated.

        Quite frankly, if I went mad and set up my own church and pretended to say Mass and called other Catholics to join me – and they did – then I would be guilty of simulating the sacraments and of the sin of schism: for which I hope I, or any other person doing something so destructive, would be quickly excommunicated.

        His offence is patent to all: you just can’t do that, even if you’re a real priest (and in his case, one suspended from active ministry) – and as for giving communion to a dog! The only “surprise” is that this has taken so long.

        He mentioned that even pedophile priests aren’t excommunicated: but they – if they haven’t entirely given up their belief – are most wretchedly sinful Catholics, who still have a chance of repentance, a chance for absolution, so that, whatever just punishment they receive in this world (hopefully, a severe and lasting one), they may be saved from hellfire and damnation, which are all too real prospects for them. In his own case, the excommunicate Reynolds must first abjure his follies and abandon his continued perseverance in illicit celebration of the sacraments, before the excommunication can be lifted – else he can go to confession all he likes and he would remain cut off, since he has placed an obstacle in the path of forgiveness.

      • Joshua says:

        And never use “medieval” as a pejorative: the Middle Ages were the Ages of Faith, when such giants as Aquinas and Bonaventure walked the earth. It is terrible anti-Catholic prejudice to speak dismissively of those times: their technology and hygiene were not as advanced as today, but people then were just as clever and just as good as we are – we are no better, and in many ways worse, given how few now believe in God. And which century was the blackest and most murderous and evil? – was it not the 20th century just past, during which Hitler caused the deaths of 50 million, Stalin perhaps more, and Mao more than both, to say nothing of all the petty monsters such as Pol Pot: atheists and amoral criminals, every one. Give me the Middle Ages (with modern plumbing) any day.

        • Tony says:

          I didn’t use ‘medieval’ as a pejorative, Joshua, I used ‘medieval farce’.

          Some fine technical explanations here, but quite irrelevant to my point.

          Most people in the ‘leftist, secularist, uncomprehending’ world of … say … Melbourne take for granted a system of justice dispensing justice. They see that even the most heinous of crimes have a right to this process. It’s not perfect, but the accused get to face their accuser in a court where they can defend themselves. Their innocence is assumed and the burden of proof is on the accuser. Most of the time they have a path of appeal.

          With few exceptions, this process is open to other citizens. The whole process is overseen, although arms-length from, a democratically elected government.

          It has come to be seen as a way of dispensing justice that has the best chance of being fair.

          This is the context that the church operates in in this country. No amount of ‘leftist, secularist, uncomprehending coverage of religion’ deflection makes that not so.

          To compare this form of justice with the church’s you’d have to go back in time or, if it was contemporary, refer to some dictatorship or oppressive government.

          Again, it may be that justice has been done, but it clearly has not been seen to be done.

          Does this matter? Sure it does on many levels. The church’s role as promoting justice is compromised.

          Just imagine, for example, if +Porteous is taken to court over the ‘controversy’ at the top of this string? OK, we’ve decided that this is highly unlikely but I use it to make a point. The church, in seeking to support +Porteous, cries fowl. Those seeking to support the action just have to point to the church’s process and say, in effect, ‘who are you to complain?’.

          More realistically the church works in countries and jurisdictions where processes of justice are inadequate or corrupt. How can it represent a view for a more just society when it’s own systems are so poor?

          The church has lost so much moral standing in the community because of the way it has dealt with the abuse issue, this sort of thing just adds another nail in that coffin.

  12. John Nolan says:

    I’m with Joshua on this. Excommunication is not so much a penalty as the formal proclamation of a pre-existing condition; the excommunicate has separated himself from the communion of the faithful if by word, deed or example he spreads division and confusion among the faithful, and in the case of a cleric his fellow clergy and the faithful at large need to be cognizant of this. The Church does not throw anyone out; her sanctions are more medicinal than punitive, and reconciliation is always available and easily achieved.

    Tony’s point about ecclesiastical discipline being an open process is both irrelevant and inappropriate with regard to the process itself. That said, the prospect of some notorious dissidents being hauled before a tribunal of Inquisitors attired in full pontificals, followed by an impressive auto-de-fe in St Peter’s Square, would make for interesting television.

    On the question of female servers, the number of comments on this thread shows that the issue is a contentious one, and such contention could have been avoided had he status quo been maintained. In England and Wales no bishop has forbidden their employment, although many parishes (including all those I frequent) don’t allow them. Where they are used, I think it is inappropriate for them to wear clerical choir dress (cassock and cotta).

    The Anglican Church started with female servers and then progressed to deaconesses, then women deacons, then women priests, and now women bishops.

    • Tony says:

      The Anglican Church started with female servers and then progressed to deaconesses, then women deacons, then women priests, and now women bishops.

      Two points:

      1. This is a slippery-slope argument.
      2. Porteous apparently has no objection to young females on the altar.

  13. Joshua says:

    My parish priest today gave me a photocopy of a fax that Archbishop Porteous sent to his priests on the 19th of September. I think it answers many questions arising. I assume that it is OK for me to quote from it, since he writes therein that “I hope this… can serve as the basis for answering any questions that may be put to you”:

    “…concerning the ABC News last evening[, t]here were a number of inaccuracies and false assumptions… I am aware that the news report may have unsettled some… parishioners so I wish to clarify the situation and provide some clear information to you.

    “1. Firstly, I fully support the role of female altar servers…
    “2. Secondly, women were involved in the reading[s at Mass]…
    “3. In the interview with the ABC, I sought to explain that secondary school students fulfilling the role of senior servers can be a valuable way of attracting young men to the priesthood. I said that I wanted to encourage young men to serve in the liturgy with me at the Cathedral.
    “4. A further point that may be helpful… is that the Church has promoted the role of Acolyte as the appropriate role for adults on the altar… This ministry… is, according to the current discipline of the Church, open only to men.

    “I would like to affirm the role of altar server as one which is entirely appropriate to boys and girls and I do not discourage secondary school young women continuing in service at the altar in parishes and at school liturgies where this is accepted.

    “My desire to promote the role of senior server at the liturgies with the Archbishop is only intended for the main Sunday morning Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral.”

    [To save time typing I’ve picked out the important bits.]

    So, it appears all this fuss was really a media beat-up. I suppose that now the election is over and done with they must be questing about for yet more mayhem!

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