Saturday, October 19, 2019


There was a time when reading this book would have been a reserved sin, reserved to the bishop, the Nuncio, or even the Pope himself.

And, what's worse, it's written by a WOMAN. Salem isn't in it.

The Inquisition (CDF) silenced Tony Flannery for, inter alia, questioning the official version of how the current celibate male priesthood came about. This book, which carefully and convincingly documents the case against the current teaching is, unlike Tony's book, stocked by Veritas, effectively the Catholic Church's book repository.

God be with the days when I was a reader for Veritas. I wonder have they read this book at all. It would certainly bring blushes, if not tears, to the cheeks of a clerical male celibate reader.

The occasion was Sharon giving a talk on her book to We Are Church - Ireland in the Mercy International Centre on 14/10/2019. I have done a post on the book itself and I will be concentrating here on Sharon's talk and some supplementary thoughts of my own on the subject.

In recent years, with women increasingly asserting their rights to equality with men, attention has turned to the ban on their ordination to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

In my day, the thought wouldn't have occurred to anyone to even wonder about this. Jesus was a man, more or less; the priests were men; that was the natural order of things. I still feel it odd when confronted by female Anglican priests, and as for their female bishops.

Well, the women's movement apart, it became increasingly clear that the clerical reaction to the longstanding abuse scandal, right up the line, was not unrelated to an all male clergy. The priority was to protect the institution over the interest of victims. In the face of pressure to ordain women, the reaction is the same - protect the institution, in this case the all male clergy.

Here they think they're on firm ground as it is obvious from the New Testament that Christ ordained an all male clergy, the apostles, and, anyway if the Eucharist is to have any meaning the Real Presence has to be invoked by a man, etc. etc.

But how strong is the case? Did Jesus at any stage explicitly exclude women from ministry; and what was ministry anyway?

Pope John Paul II laid down infallibly and for all time that women could never be ordained and the matter was not for discussion, ever. Serious stuff and clear as a bell.

So, Sharon, in her innocence, bless her, wondered why it subsequently became necessary for the Vatican to upgrade the sin of ordaining women to the same level as child abuse. She rightly sensed that there was more to this than meets the eye. The church was loosing the battle on this one and the response was a bigger stick.

This provoked her into examining the case from scratch. She trawled the New Testament for women. She read all the arguments including papal pronouncements. And she read all the women's writings, including the prodigious works of Mary T Malone.

She set out both her journey and her conclusions in her book. So now you have an irrefutable case which shows that there is no religious impediment of any sort to the ordination of women. In fact, the non-inclusion of women down the ages has been a serious sin of omission. I would venture to say so serious that its remission should be reserved to the Lord him/herself.

How could this appalling situation have persisted down the ages and why, even in modern times, have the faithful been so slow to question it?

Well, Sharon brings us another discovery. Even priestly formation does not include apologetics.

I have a vague recollection of a school book called Cronin's Apologetics, but no clear recollection of what was in it. On mature reflection that was probably where we learned to defy reason and prove the existence of a just, merciful and caring God.

Sharon reminds us that apologetics is about questioning and reasoning and how to make a case. My recollection of the religion class in school was that it was the only one where you were given the answers before you understood, never mind asked, the question. God made the world! Who made the world? QED

On the church's grudging concessions on the status of women, Sharon makes the point that, while they have "rehabilitated" Mary Magdalene, they have not faced up to the implications of this, namely, the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The role played by the Virgin Birth in this is interesting. Sharon points out that this effectively deprives Mary of her sexuality. This sets her apart from all other women and clearly makes it all the easier for a male only clergy to deal with her.

I remember way back Des Fennell pointing out that statues of Mary were breastless. The church was not living in the real world.

I have lived with the Virgin Birth for seven decades and have been much entertained by the church's explanations of why it was necessary. Once I had discovered the story of Leda and the Swan, however, things got a bit confusing and when the gender of the Holy Ghost got called into question the whole thing went beyond me.

While I'm at it, I must confess that, all these years, I have had an oversimplified understanding of the Virgin Birth.

I was thinking only of the conception end of the process where Jesus was conceived outside the sexual act, at least as far as human involvement was concerned. Now I learn that, on his first trip outside, Jesus passed through Mary's hymen without rupturing it. Mary ever-virgin, see?

Well, that made me think of a short story I once read called Le Passe Muraille, the man who walked through walls, until, at a critical moment this ability deserted him and he got permanently stuck in a wall. The dangers of virgin childbirth.

Sharon also touched on another of my favourites, Limbo, an etherial land discovered to be populated by unbaptised babies. It eventually got a bit more complicated than that and I have vented on it here.

There was a fairly lively Q&A which questioned whether the church was reformable at all and whether Pope Francis had done enough at this stage to ensure that the direction in which he has been taking the church would not be reversed after his departure.

On the first question, the feeling was that there was a future for the church but it would be a very different church. If this had to come about via schism, so be it. If people felt there was no hope of reform, what were they doing here in the first place?

Colm Holmes made the point that We Are Church has spent years writing letters and holding meetings and the effect had not been great. Following some sensible advice they are changing tack somewhat and adopting an outreach approach forming different communities in the wider population.

On the second question, there was a feeling that, particularly following Pope Francis's recent naming of a new crop of cardinals, he had done enough for there to be a good chance of his work continuing after his departure.

I welcomed the current questioning of the church's traditional teachings, of which Sharon's book is a shining example. Picking up on Sharon's comment on the lack of apologetics etc. I offered the story of the Jockey and the Sheik as an indication of past inadequacies in this area.

Finally, Sharon was presented with a picture of a mixed gender Last Supper.

You can see a video of the full talk here
and a post on the WAC Facebook page here.

WAC talks previously blogged
Tina Beattie
Terrifying The Church
Where Are You Really From?
Saint Josepha Says Mass
Ecclesia Semper Reformanda


  1. Couldn't resist it:

    When Jesus came out of the womb
    There was nary a sound of a boom
    The hymen held fast
    As through it he passed
    And confounded all those in the room

  2. I said, in the post above:

    "I still feel it odd when confronted by female Anglican priests, and as for their female bishops."

    Thinking back over this, I realise that it underlines the importance of role models and of the need to break through barriers of perception, however modestly at first.

    The Roman Catholic Church has managed to keep women out of the priesthood by keeping them out of the priesthood. As long as the idea can be kept strange, that's half the battle.

    The same was true in relation to race. Fifty years ago could you have envisaged the black babies having any part in running the country.

    The image of those to be excluded has to be demonised or disparaged in some way. It keeps them apart.

    While role models, however oddly perceived initially, gradually bring about acceptance by being perceived as normal as the examples multiply.

    I suppose what I'm saying in this context is that we need more exposure for those women who have been ordained, whether, for example, in the Anglican Church or in the Roman Catholic Church, even if the theological validity of the latter is currently fairly widely disputed.