As I write I dream of what a church that recognised the gifts of all its faithful and honoured all – men, women, well-off and marginalised – would look like. A recent statement from the Vatican has reiterated its sanction against ordaining women – as Bishop Peter Cullinane has pointed out ( Dominion Post July 24) not deemed to be morally wrong, as is sex abuse, but simply not acceptable.
Many thinking Catholics are passionate about the church and have faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We hope for the day when power is not tied to ordination.
A National Catholic Reporter editorial in July 2010 said that the hierarchy, not the church, was imploding. Benedict XVI set out in 2010 ‘to sharpen the teaching of the world’s largest Christian denomination, to do battle with secularism and relativism, and to convince the world, Catholic and otherwise, that Christianity authentically lived is more about possibilities and new freedom than about “thou shalt nots” and other restrictions’ ( ncronline.org/news/vatican/hierarchy-deeply-damaged-within).
But with the lingering effects of the sex abuse scandal in the United States and its explosion in Europe, and the diminishment of the Episcopal see, the writer suggests that we could be seeing a slow-motion depiction of an implosion ‘where a seemingly invulnerable structure falls in upon itself, laid waste by some well-placed explosives’. But the implosion applies not to the church so much as to the hierarchical layer of the culture of clericalism (promoting a distinct clerical identity, symbolised by priestly dress, which sets priests as a class apart from lay Catholics).
The sex abuse crisis is ‘of the clerical culture, of authority and ecclesiology … the awful symptom of much deeper problems’.
The NCR writer says the answers may be within the church’s recent history.
‘The great questions of this age – and its demands for accountability and transparency – were anticipated … during Vatican II, in the mid-1960s’ (see ).
‘There was reason – perhaps the Spirit responds when so many openly seek its guidance – why the texts of that council’s documents were different from any before, why those texts are filled with notions of dialogue, of acceptance, of restraint in judgment and punishment, of the new description of church as the people of God.
‘Perhaps those at the council anticipated that the hierarchy of the future would have to structure itself, lead and see the world differently.’
The NCR suggests there is ‘little evidence of the imagination, the creativity, the spirit, necessary to repair or rethink the structure.’
That may be so in the US but here there is much more collegiality among bishops, priests and lay people, and women are encouraged to take leadership roles where possible. But if the Vatican were to recognise the gift of leadership in its women adherents, it need look no further for a model than Mary Magdalene, whose feast day occurs on July 22.
She, who put Jesus at the centre of her life as the church encourages us to do, shines from the gospels as the ‘apostle to the apostles’ – the one commissioned to spread the good news. The wider church must recognise that there are many lay men and women who do likewise – unordained, but leaders just the same.