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Selections from ARCC LIGHT
the ARCC Newsletter 
edited by James E. Biechler, Ph.D.

A Question of Rights
The Vatican and Women:  Simple Injustice

By  James E. Biechler

“I have just read ARCC’s Charter of  the Rights of Catholics in the Church and note that your No. 26:  ‘All Catholic women have an equal right with men to the resources and the exercise of all the powers of the Church’ is now out of date.  The Vatican has made it clear that the ordination of women to the priesthood is prohibited by God.  You had better revise your charter accordingly.”
—A.E.S., Kansas City, KS

You’ve got the “out of date” part right, but it’s not ARCC that is out of date.  It’s the Vatican establishment.  And, more importantly, the Vatican’s position isn’t just out of date.  It isn’t just!  And if it is not just, it is, by that fact, untrue.  Justice cannot conflict with truth.  Both Justice and Truth are attributes of God and must agree with each other.

It would be natural for you to counter with the argument that what I have said is mere assertion, my own opinion, and therefore of little persuasive worth.  But if you have been following some of the discussion of “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” the Vatican document asserting that the church cannot ordain women, you will have to agree that there is some very impressive theological, historical and scriptural evidence not only against the Vatican position but in favor of the ordination of women.  Historical studies, such as those of theologian Gary Macy, have shown that there are many references to the “ordination” of episcopae and presbyterae (female bishops and female priests) in documents from the earliest years of the church.  There is no doubt that these ordained women functioned as church leaders and did preside over the liturgy.  The assertion by some that this was not “real” ordination or that such practice does not provide valid theological guidance for today’s church is just that, mere assertion.  If the early church, closer as it was to the leadership of the apostles and evangelists, was not aware that the ordination of women was prohibited by divine revelation, how and where does today’s Vatican authority find its absolute certainty that God does not permit women to be ordained?  The more one thinks about it, the more absurd it appears.  If God prohibits women from becoming priests why is that prohibition so poorly attested to by our early Christian forebears?  And if the divine prohibition of the ordination of women is so absolute and irreversible, why do we not understand the rationale for such prohibition?  None of the other divine commands are so mysteriously lacking in intelligibility. 

Because God is just, the church must measure its ordinances in strict conformity with justice.  Only if it is incontrovertibly clear that divine justice demands a course of action may we, mere humans, assert that course as binding upon us.  In view of the worldwide discussion among Catholics—theologians, historians, bishops, lay people—many in favor of the ordination of women, it can hardly be asserted that there is anything like a consensus fidelium—a moral agreement among Catholics—that God has absolutely prohibited that women can ever preside at the Eucharist.  The opposite is true.  Most Catholics have no problem accepting the Eucharistic presidency of women in their parishes.

ARCC’s position concerns the rights of Catholics.  To us it is self-evident that deliberately to withhold a sacrament from someone properly prepared and disposed to receive it is a grave injustice.  And to deprive the Catholic faithful of the ministry of talented, pastoral ministers when these are certainly available and anxious to serve the church, is also a grave injustice.  Yes.  We believe that Catholics have a right to receive the sacraments.  Surprise, surprise!  Women have the same rights as men.  Please do not counter with the party-line retort that no one has a right to ordination.  But the answer is:  of course they do.  Any baptized person has a right to receive all of the sacraments for which they are prepared and are properly disposed to receive.  We cannot imagine Jesus taking any other position.

But the situation in today’s church denies women their right to receive all seven sacraments.  Denial of rights constitutes injustice.  Who is responsible for this injustice?  Who are the perpetrators of this evil?  Hardly serious questions.  The answers are not only obvious, the very perpetrators defend their assertion with the cloak of divine revelation, adding the smell of blasphemy to their position.  The injustice we are speaking of is now being perpetrated by the Vatican establishment with the silent acquiescence of many of the world’s bishops.  The latter are, sad to say, silent abettors in what has now become a kind of conspiracy.  Qui tacet, approbat (one who keeps silent gives approval).  Who can conclude otherwise?  On this subject the Vatican lacks credibility and gives scandal to the world.


Dr. Biechler, an emeritus professor of religion, is a member of ARCC's board of directors. He also holds a licentiate in canon law and is a longtime member of the Canon Law Society of America. 

E-mail Comments to Dr. Biechler

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Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 23 April 2001
Last updated 23 April 2001
Copyright © 2001 Ingrid H. Shafer
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