Last evening about seventy-five people gathered in the Benton Chapel on the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville to hear Gary Macy speak on “A Higher Calling for Women: Historical Perspectives in the Catholic Church.”
Macy is the John Nobili, S.J. Professor of Theology in the Religious Studies Department of Santa Clara University, California. He is also the author of The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination (Oxford University Press, 2007). He is also a layman.
Macy began with the wry comment that history is the liberation from the tyranny of the present. He then went on to argue that there is no question that historically women were ordained. He reviewed some of his ten years of research on this topic for the crowd last evening. At the same time he said that from a theological perspective there is disagreement about what “ordination” means in regard to women. As a historian he would leave this argument to the theologians.
In his talk last evening Macy pointed out that about the time of the crusades in the eleventh and twelfth centuries there began a great wave of anti-women rhetoric and activity which until that time found numerous examples of commissioning rites for women, instances of women’s ordination, and abbesses possessing almost episcopal power which included some of the insignia of the bishop’s office.
By the eleventh century canonists were arguing that the ordination of women was not an ordination but only a blessing. By the end of the twelfth century Macy stated that most canonists agreed that women cannot receive ordination. Even if a woman was ordained it would not be valid.
An interesting part of the evening occurred when Macy stated that he was full of hope for the Roman Catholic Church saying that the present time could bring about as much change as what took place during that rise of intolerance in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He said that no change would come from the bishops or the pope. Today leadership is coming from the laity who are doing eighty percent of the work in the church. And of that eighty percent, eighty percent are women. He suggested that maybe it is time to tell the bishop: “You make your own phone call.”
Macy also said that the number of priests today is about the same as the number in 1967 and that the number of Catholics in that time has since doubled. He suggested that there may not be priests to witness your wedding or baptize your children. The Holy Spirit will have to do something different. Macy suggested that She is already at work especially among the laity.
Our local bishop here in Nashville forbad any information about this presentation being placed in any Sunday bulletins in the diocese. So the intolerance goes on. Except this was organized by a group of laity and took place on a university campus where at least there still can be freedom of inquiry.
We all know the roman catholic bishops never ever protested George Bush’s war or the fact that he signed death warrants one hundred and fifty-four times while governor of Texas.
Now the bishops are trying to protect Fortress Catholica with letters from themselves protesting President Obama’s commencement address and honorary degree at Notre Dame because of the president’s pro choice stance.
Have the catholic bishops or has any one catholic bishop ever had a discussion with the president before they started this letter releasing campaign? I doubt it. It is not their style. In the absence of any kind of dialogue in the face of what is basically a pastoral issue they condemn from afar. It is rather cowardly.
What I have heard the president say is that he would like to reduce the number of abortions. He would like to provide support for young mothers so that they don’t need to get abortions. Is there not enough middle ground here for the bishops to begin to engage in some kind of dialogue? Not for them it seems.
No, the bishops are going to continue to mix religion and politics forgetting that in this country there is freedom of religious expression and a wall that separates religion and government. It seems the bishops are forfeiting any voice they could have in effecting legislation that might, just might reduce the number of abortions because of their grandstanding. The bishops act like ecclesiastical policemen and certainly not like pastors. I long for the days when there will be pastoral bishops again!