My ‘column colleague’ in The Mayo News, Kevin Hegarty, has his head above the parapet again, a territory he knows well as a priest. In 1994, he was removed from the prestigious position of editor of the Catholic magazine, Intercom, for commissioning articles that were, according to some bishops, ‘bad for morale.’ They included compulsory celibacy, women priests and clerical sexual abuse. Yet later, Bishop Brendan Comiskey resigned (2002) over his failure to deal effectively with clerical sexual abuse complaints.
Now, Kevin, along with eleven colleagues, has called for dialogue, and women to be treated as equals in the Catholic Church, up to and including ordination. Their ‘letter’ was posted on the Association of Catholic Priests website. The media arm of the Catholic Bishops attributed the call, wrongly, to the ACP. They were gently reminded to check the story and correct the record.
The twelve men wrote: “In the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their Baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision making, and from ordained ministry. In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the Church. Pope Benedict reaffirmed, and even strengthened this teaching, by insisting that it was definitive and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view. Pope Francis has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible…
It is also necessary to remember that women form the bulk of the congregation at Sunday Mass and have been more active in the life of the local churches than many men, mirroring the fidelity of the women who followed Jesus to the end, to his death on Calvary…”
Sr Ruth Fox, OSB, has done extensive research on the exclusion of women from church readings. “A careful analysis of the lectionary (Biblical readings used at daily Mass) reveals that a disproportionate number of passages about the women of the Bible have been omitted. Women’s books, women’s experiences and women’s accomplishments have been largely overlooked in the assigned scripture readings that are being proclaimed in our churches on Sundays and weekdays.”
Sr Ruth claims that some of the significant biblical passages about women are omitted altogether, are relegated to weekdays, where only a small number of churchgoers will hear them, or are designated as optional.
Two brave midwives, Shiphrah and Puah in Exodus 1:8-22 (Monday Week 15 Year 1) are on the ‘cutting room floor’ because verses 14-22 are skipped. We lose the story of these women who risk their lives by defying the pharaoh in order to uphold God’s law of life. While Gideon, Jotham and Jephthah from the Book of Judges make it onto the sacred pages, Deborah, a prophet and judge of Israel and recognised as a mother of Israel, is not even a note in the margin.
Huldah the prophet (2Kings 22) is excised from weekday readings while Esther and Judith also lose out. For the record, Jesus had women disciples. Women were active in the early church, up to and including deacons.
Deaconess Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) got the short straw in last Saturday’s reading – excluded. ‘Grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice’ gets the chop from 2 Timothy 1:1-12, (Wednesday Week 9 Year 11). The most beautiful feminine prayer – the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56) – is never read on a Sunday!
It was women who stood at the Cross of Jesus and Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection. In the US lectionary her story is confined to a weekday reading while John’s race to the tomb with Peter is read every Easter Sunday! The Common of Saints is another study altogether!
It seems strange the Hebrew word for the ‘God’s presence’ is feminine, ‘Shekinah.’ The twelve priests started their call for dialogue with Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Heads often roll on the parapet – the cost of standing up.