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Ordination, Equality, and Natural Law Print E-mail
By James Flynn   
Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Catholic and secular press have been making much over the case of the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has incurred an excommunication for participating in the simulated “ordination” of women. He is now in the early stages of being removed from his religious order, and from priestly life and ministry.  In some circles, of course, he is being hailed as a hero, an activist for civil rights and women's equality.

But Father Bourgeois is no such thing.  About women’s ordination, he is simply wrong. His error is a common one in our American culture, and in the broader postmodern culture of positivism in which we live today.  Father Bourgeois and his supporters have confused equality in dignity with equality in function.

This runs counter to sheer common sense. For instance, it seems fun to be a mother –difficult, sure, but more important than any other job in the human community.  The pressure is relentless, the hours are long, and the pay stinks.  But the benefits are tremendous.  A child, whether scared, hurting, or delighted runs to his mother before anyone else.  Moms and kids share rituals, and intimacies, and jokes that Dad doesn't get to be a part of.  Plus, every so often, a young man – no longer a child – will tattoo “Mom” on his bicep, an honor Dad never shares.

Yes, motherhood is a noble vocation, and, it seems to me, a deeply rewarding one. But God made me a man, and so, no matter what I become in my life, no matter how hard I work at it, I won't ever be a mother. And, I'm okay with that.

To become a mother is inconsistent with the very nature of my being.  God made me with certain capacities, and possibilities, and potentialities, and all of them combined cannot add up to motherhood.

Likewise, the Church believes, holds, and maintains, that my wife, and all other women, cannot be ordained priests for the simple reason that the priest represents Christ, a man, and the Church has no authority to ordain women.  Christ Himself, in choosing his apostles, did not do so either.

God made my wife, talented though she is, with certain capacities and potentialities, and none of them involve ordination.  This is no slight against my wife – the Blessed Mother, the greatest saint in human history, was not ordained to ministry either.


            Bourgeois Left and womenpriests

All this forms the basic shape of Catholic doctrine about the priesthood, and, for the Church, the inability to ordain a woman is as evident, and unchangeable, as my inability to become a mother.  Neither situation reflects a defect in our character, or an oppressive assertion of one person over the other. They simply reflect the way things are.

Natural law defines the distinction between genders in the functions of parenthood, even on a biological level.  Divine law, through the Magisterium of the Church, defines, by gender, and by many other factors, distinctions in ministerial roles and functions.

Natural and divine law, said St. Thomas Aquinas, reflect the “imprint of divine light on our very being.”  Law, in other words, whether divine or natural, teaches us, shapes us, and molds us in the image of the Trinity.

That Christians are called to distinct kinds of Christian service, some ordained, some not, reflects that we are made for community – the natural and supernatural community of the Church, and ultimately, participation in the divine community of the Blessed Trinity.

The Trinity itself is composed of three persons, who are distinct though equal in dignity. The second person of the Trinity, the Son, became incarnate.  That Christ's role in the economy of salvation can be distinguished from the Father's, or the Spirit's, does not make him more or less divine.  It means, simply, that the Trinity is three distinct persons, sharing one divine nature.

In contemporary American culture, we seem to dislike distinctions that involve different functions, as if they were some sort of sin against the dogmas of democracy. Thus, a man, we think, can become a “mother.”  Two men, or two women, can become “husband and wife.”  Marriage can be permanent or temporary. Gender can be selected from an ever-expanding menu of options.  We live in a world of self-definition, which rejects natural law, and ultimately, rejects authentic human equality.

Natural law and divine law give us a deep sense of what is just.  Through them and common sense, we recognize that men and women are not the same and cannot always do the same things or serve the same functions.  This doesn't make law unjust.  In fact, law emphasizes that man is made for an eternity in the love of community.   We mirror this community when each of us fulfills the unique role intended specifically for in the Church and the world.

No amount of advocacy or agitation can change divine precepts.  Ultimately, divine precepts can only change us.  May the mercy of God, expressed through his divine law, change the hearts of Father Bourgeois, his supporters, and our woefully confused country about the true meaning of “equality.”

 
 
James Flynn is a canon lawyer who lives and works in Denver, Colorado.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by Grump, August 14, 2011
Memo to Father Roy: The Protestants would love to have you, especially the Episcopalians -- the 'chic' religion of the day.
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written by Martinkus, August 14, 2011
Thank you, Dr. Flynn. May I add that the inability of the Church to ordain women has been an explicitly infallible teaching of the Magisterium since the 1995 "Responsum ad Propositum Dubium concerning the Teaching Contained in 'Ordinatio Sacerdotalis'" and reaffirmed in the 1998 "Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the 'Professio Fidei'"?
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written by Scott W., August 14, 2011
"Memo to Father Roy: The Protestants would love to have you, especially the Episcopalians -- the 'chic' religion of the day."

Indeed. The Church either has the authority to teach in Christ's name or it doesn't. You can't have it both ways. Saying on the one hand the Church is right about the Trinity and the Sacraments, but wrong about who can receive one particular Sacrament. Of course no one expects dissidents to leave the Church for a denomination that ordains women, because we know and they know that would be a hollow victory and a failure to make every atom of the universe leftist-progressive.
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written by Ken Aubrey, August 14, 2011
I know one thing about Catholic's if it was not for the women in the Church it would not be able to function.

Most of these women reflect the sprit of the Holy Mother and love God so much that they are happy to serve in any way they can to futher the Kingdom.

Thank God for these wonderful women in many ways they are as important to the Church as our Priests.
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written by Morrie, August 14, 2011
How many years after 1995's "Responsum ad Propositum Dubium concerning the Teaching Contained in 'Ordinatio Sacerdotalis'" will certain Protestants state that the Catholic Church invented that doctrine at that time.
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written by Diane, August 14, 2011
nice article but to put it more simply...men and women are not interchangeable....this is an undeniable fact that we need to refer to for these arguements....easier to understand.
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written by jay, August 15, 2011
Rolando, sounds like someone needs to pick up a history book. The earliest christians had 7 sacraments just as we do, and no wymynpriests or wymynbishops.
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written by Dental Floss Tycoon, August 15, 2011
Ken, you are aboslutely right! The Church would not be able to function were it not for the women who serve it therein.
But just like each of us have our own role and vocation, so too these women have a calling to serve ... just not in the priesthood.

If the Church deems that it is a male's natural role to be priest, just like Mary, these women are called to respond with their own "Fiat;" "Let it be with me according to your word."

I often visit the classrooms of the 5 schools connected to our parish, to answer questions about the Catholic faith. Almost every time, one child will ask, "Why can't women be priests?"
I often ask them back, "Would you expect that a man could become a nun and serve in a nun's role?"
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written by Richard A, August 15, 2011
Dental Floss Tycoon,

You might want to find a better example. Functionally, I don't see much difference between celibate brothers and nuns. This is not to disparage the Church's teaching; simply to point out that whatever it means to "serve in a nun's role" could also include men. Or, has historically included men.

Do the Eastern Churches experience this kind of pressure to change the doctrine of orders? Western intellectualism is so iconoclastic, I guess it's not hard to see why many of our compatriots just don't "get" male orders.
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written by duaneo, August 15, 2011
While I have no problem with the Church's teaching regarding the ordination of women, I do not accept that it is a valid theological or logical argument that Christ was a man, therefore priests have to be men. Nor does the fact that under the natural law there are differences between men and women offer any insight, because the question is, what differences disqualify women? The fact is that this has been the Church's tradition and teaching throught its history. If you want to be a Catholic you accept that fact. If you don't, go elswhere. It is not helpful, however, to suggest that theology and natural law necessarily validate the tradition and teaching in the sense that they lead to only one inexorable conclusion.
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written by JD, August 15, 2011
duaneo-
the piece is an argument by analogy designed to highlight the idea that equality in dignity or essence is not the same equality in function. It wasn't intended as a syllogistic proof against the ordination of women. Nor does it argue Christ's being a man is solely the theological justification for our doctrine. Divine revelation, you are correct, is justification, since this is not a matter of speculative theology.

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