the female priesthood



“Pope Francis’ “no” to women’s priesthood: remnants of patriarchy?                                          

Lately, Pope Francis surprised theologians with an interview given to the Jesuit magazine America on November 22, saying a “no” to the priesthood of women. He used an unusual argument, taken from an ex-Jesuit theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar, very erudite but involved in a unique relationship with a Swiss doctor and mystic Adrienne von Speyer. From him the Pope takes a distinction that allowed him to deny the priesthood to women: the marian-principle and the petrine principle. Curious and unusual is this distinction made by Pope Francis. Mary would be the wife of the Church, while Peter is her leader. Note that saying “Mary as wife of the Church” is a metaphor and not a real definition like saying “the Church is the community of the faithful”. Is this rare metaphorical distinction not frequent in the tradition but warmed up by an erudite theologian, but seen as extravagant, correct and fair?*

It is worth underlining the following logic: without the Holy Spirit there would be no Mary. Without Mary there would be no Jesus. Without Jesus there would be no Peter, made the foremost of the Apostles. Without Peter there would be no successors, called Popes.

We have supported almost everything Pope Francis has written and taught. But at this point allow me to critically depart (for this is also the office of reasoned theology). I feel supported by the arguments of the best theologians of today, just to mention the greatest of them, my former professor in Munich, Karl Raher (+1980). The opinion of these theologians is practically unanimous that there is no doctrinal impediment that prevents women from accessing the priesthood, as other non-Catholic Christian churches have done. Only a masculinist view of the Christian faith and a certain interpretation of the gospels, contaminated by the patriarchal view, support the “no”.

The argument in favor of the priesthood for women is abundant and detailed, which I have done in my book Ecclesiogenesis from 1982/2021.

At certain points, the papal argument leads to a certain incongruity, such as: Mary can give birth to Jesus, her son, but she cannot represent him in the community. This even sounds offensive to the greatness of Mary, permanent bearer of the Spirit. Peter, who even betrayed Jesus and Jesus even called him “Satan” for not admitting that he suffered and died, can represent Jesus.

Who possesses greater excellence? Logically, it is Mary, upon whom the Holy Spirit came and established his permanent abode in her (“episkiásei soi”: Lc 1,35) to the point of raising her to the height of the Divine. Only to someone elevated to the height of the Divine (Mary) is it worth saying: "the Holy One generated (by you) will be called Son of God".

The function of Mary and Peter are of a completely different nature. Peter is not Jesus' father, while Mary is truly his biological mother. Only someone, still a hostage of secular patriarchy, can put them on the same level. Not without reason, the woman has never had, until today, her ecclesial citizenship recognized. The gospel was incarnated in the culture of the time, which understood the woman as a “but”, that is, “a deficient human being still on the way to her humanity”. Saint Thomas Aquinas says nothing else (later repeated by Freud?) and, deep down, that is what is in the minds of the highest ecclesiastical authorities, cardinals and popes. Women are less, because they are women, although women and men are equally in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1,28:XNUMX). Even more: the majority of the Church are women and, more, they are the mothers and sisters of all the rest, the men. Therefore, they have an unrivaled prominence.

The only one who escaped this reductionist vision was Pope Benedict XVI when he said in a radio interview in 2005: “I believe that women themselves, with their impulse and their strength, their superiority and their spiritual potential, will know how to create their own space. We must try to listen to God, so that we are not the ones who prevent them” (Benedict XVI, 5, VIII, 2006).

There are eminent reasons to support the convenience and even the need for women who want to access the priestly ministry. An eminent Dutch theologian and feminist, A.van Eyde, says: “The Church itself would be wounded in its organic body if it did not give place to women within its ecclesial institutions” (Die Frau im Kirchenamt, 1967, p. eleven).

The hierarchical Church cannot, given the advancement of awareness of gender equality, become a stronghold of conservatism and machismo. There is here a sterile conception, immobilized in the past, of the positivity of faith. This is not a container of dead water, but a source of living water, capable of reviving new initiatives due to changing mentalities and times. They, in their fine sensibility, capture the clear meaning of the signs of the times and express it with a language suitable for our days. Let's look at the main arguments.

First, it was a woman who witnessed the greatest fact of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, called for this reason the “apostle of the apostles”. Without the resurrection event there would be no Church.

They were the ones who followed Jesus and guaranteed him the material infrastructure of his mission.

They never betrayed Jesus, while their main one, Peter, betrayed him twice. After his crucifixion, overwhelmed, the apostles abandoned him and went to their homes, while they watched at the foot of the cross accompanying his agony.

It was they who took care, two days after his burial, of completing the sacred ritual of anointing the body with sacred oils.

Therefore, they would and do deserve an unparalleled centrality in the Christian community. And even today, the cultural patriarchy internalized in the minds of those who hold the leadership of the Church and also in society, keeps them subaltern. In the deep Amazon and other distant places, they are the ones who bring the faith, they do everything that a priest does, without, however, being able to celebrate the Eucharist, because they are not women ordained in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which only predominated from the second millennium onwards. ).

However, there are women, community leaders, aware of the maturity of their faith, who assume all the sacraments. They do not celebrate Mass (which is a liturgical and canonical concept), but the Lord's Supper as described in St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians. They do not do so in a spirit of breaking with the institution, but in a sense of service to the whole community, always in theological communion with the whole Church. The community, according to the Second Vatican Council, has the right to receive the Holy Eucharist which is denied them for the simple fact that there is no ordained and celibate priest.

Theologically it is important to emphasize, what is in practice totally forgotten, that there is only one priesthood in the Church, that of Christ. Those who come under the name of "priest" are but figurations and representatives of the one priesthood of Christ. It is He who baptizes, it is Christ who consecrates, it is He who confirms. The priest acts only "in persona Christi” “In the place of Christ” that is to say, it makes visible what happens invisibly. Its function cannot be reduced, as the official argument maintains, to the power to consecrate, an expression of the power of the clergy who have mastered all these functions. Such concentration of sacred power constituted clericalism, on so many occasions, strongly criticized by Pope Francis. In the case, however, concerning women's access to the priesthood, it has also fallen into traditional clericalism, better, forced, possibly, to maintain traditional practice so as not to create a true schism in the Church on the part of groups attached to tradition and more than anything else. to the privileges accumulated by clericalism.

The function of the ministerial priest, this became clear in post-conciliar theology, is not to accumulate all the services, but to coordinate them so that all serve the community. Because he presides over the community, he also presides over the Eucharist. But if the latter, without fault, is deprived of it, she herself can organize the celebration of the Lord's Supper. All services (which St. Paul calls “charisma”, of which there are many) can very well be exercised by women, as is shown in non-Roman Catholic churches and in base ecclesial communities.

Hence, it is understood that women, aware of their maturity in the faith, in the absence of the ordained minister, themselves assume this ministry, doing it in their own woman's style. They must not ask for permission from the ecclesiastical authority, because the latter, canonically, will say “no”. But they do it in perfect communion theological with the entire Church. And so it is plausible, just, and theologically sound for them to preside over the Lord's Supper.

Logically, the female priesthood it cannot be the reproduction of that male. It would be an aberration if that were the case. It must be a unique priesthood, with the woman's way of being with everything that denotes her femininity on the ontological, psychological, sociological and biological levels. It will not be the priest's substitute. But true sacramental representative of the invisible Christ who becomes visible through them.

It would be natural and logical if the Pope officially recognized what they already do in practice and thus would make the Church, really, of brothers and sisters, without exclusions and unjustifiable ontological hierarchizations. We can say without fear of being wrong: this division between ordained and non-ordained (priests and laity) is not in the tradition of the historical Jesus who wanted a community of equals and all power with mere service to the community and not as a social and even financial privilege.

Times will come when the Roman Catholic Church will fall into step with the feminist movement world and with the world itself, towards an integration of theanimus” and the “anima” (masculine and feminine) for the enrichment of humanity and the Christian community itself. The times are ripe for this leap in quality. All that is missing is the courage to take this necessary and inevitable step. But it will inevitably come.

*Leonardo Boff, ecologist, philosopher and writer, is a member of the International Commission of the Earth Charter. Author, among other books, of The search for the right measure: the ambitious fisherman and the enchanted fish (Vozes).



*Hans Urs von Balthazar, while I was publicly subjected to the “obsequious silence” in Rome, denounced me as someone who denied the divinity of Christ, which I never did. A theologian-journalist replied to him on the front page of a diary in Rome with these words: “Coward, you slanderously accuse someone who cannot defend himself because he is under obsequious silence”. His main work is The glory of the Lord r(in seven volumes on faith as aesthetics and contemplation). He was made Cardinal by Pope John Paul II, but died two days before, when he was about to go to Rome.

Leonardo Boff wrote Ecclesiogenesis: the Church born of the people by the Spirit of God, Voices 1984/2021.

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