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If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

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Location: Rochester, New York, United States

I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at www.youtube.com/priestray and I have a Facebook page.

Friday, March 04, 2005

My Support of the Ordination of Women

On February 22, 2003, Denise Donato was ordained a Catholic priest by the Spiritus Christi community of Rochester, New York and Bishop Peter Hickman of the ECC (Ecumenical Catholic Communion). As a diocesan Roman Catholic, I was greatly honored to receive an invitation for participation in this event, whereby I was in the procession and engaged in the symbolic laying-on-of-hands.

I realized that by agreeing to participate in this ordination, I would perhaps be placing a wedge between the official Roman Catholic Church and the Spiritus Christi community. Yet, upon careful prayer and reflection, I felt, and still feel, that my participation was part of the inclusivity that was modeled by the disciples of the first century.

My decision to represent CORPUS (www.corpus.org) at Denise's ordination was based upon my commitment to the ideal of an inclusive priesthood. Our organization has come to symbolize more than the repatriation of married priests. While this is certainly one of our primary goals, we have also come to realize that we can't begin to talk about an inclusive priesthood, unless the ordination of women and the ordination of married men become options. In this context, I was thrilled to see that in a recent CORPUS survey, 100% of respondees answered YES to the ordination of women.

Critics (mostly bishops) were quick to state that the February 22, 2003 event was a schismatic act and that the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the ordination of women. It will be the purpose of this article to support the argument that Denise Donato's ordination was neither radical or heretical. It is rather in keeping with the ministerial inclusiveness demonstrated during the first century of our church.

To begin, it should be stated that as in the case of men, it is my hope that women who aspire to become priests go through a long period of discernment and study. I can testify to the fact that Denise Donato did both. She was one of my classmates at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry (formerly St. Bernard's Institute) and she was a remarkable student. In addition, Denise's work at Spiritus Christi has been exemplary. She has therefore demonstrated over the past two years that she is an outstanding priest.

Returning to the critics of the ordination of women, I would suggest to them that they consider a careful reflection on the Letters of Paul. There are clear indications from Paul that women were integral to the early development of the apostolic church. We can also find several references to 'deaconesses' in the early church. The ordained priesthood was a rather late development in comparison. So, if we use the "chicken and egg" analogy, and ask who came first - the deaconess or the priest - the answer is th deaconess. If we furthermore consider ordained priesthood in terms of qualifications, the earliest references to such qualities were evident in women who were committed not only to ministries of service, but in women who presided in early eucharistic gatherings in what were known as 'house churches.'

Whenever I am challenged concerning my support of women priests, I like to remind 'doubting Thomases' that Jesus could have chosen anyone to bring news of the Resurrection. The fact that he chose a woman is highly significant. This leads me to some comments I feel I need to make in reference to Mary Magdalene.

Tragically, there are still some insistent upon labeling Mary Magdalene as a sinner. It can be rightly argued that her sinful reputation was born out of a desire to repress any historical evidence of female leadership in the early church. We also know from contemporary biblical scholarship that Mary Magdalene was not the woman caught in adultery in Luke's Gospel, which was the belief for many centuries. I am rather inclined to believe, based on recent research by notable scholars, that Mary Magdalene was a teacher, preacher, and community leader. These days we would call someone with such attributes a priest or pastor. Since the formal priesthood did not come into existence for several decades after Mary's death (there were initially bishops, deacons and deaconesses), we can at least recognize her for the pivotal role she played in her community.

I recall an argument I had with a fundamentalist around two years ago at an on-line forum. He was steadfast in his belief that only the twelve Apostles sat with Jesus at the table, and that women were excluded for a reason. It seemed that whatever arguments I presented to the contrary, I only managed to raise his ire. In brief, I take the position that the premise that Jesus chose only twelve men as Apostles needs to be examined in light of first century literary and historical criticism (two of the many ways of interpreting Scripture). Yes, there were twelve male disciples. Yet, it is also the position (a position I support) of many biblical scholars that there were multitudes of women who both witnessed and ministered in Jesus' name. (These were the unnamed women who by design were left out of early literary accounts, but who are mentioned in extrabiblical texts.)

There are in fact 39 Gospels. The fact that there are four in our canon does not mean the other 35 should be discounted. The selection of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John was based on their similar narrative structure. Biblical scholars are now carefully studying the others on the basis of insights offered concerning first century life, and particularly the role of women. The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary are examples of texts that could lead to new discoveries.

As I participated in Denise Donato's ordination in 2003, a few members of the Roman Catholic community were not pleased. I would simply ask these individuals to spend as much time as I have with documents referencing the first century church. Denise is amongst the multitudes of women who have served, and who continue to faithfully serve Christ. Paul recognized how valuable women of his generation were, i.e., Lydia, Evodia, Syntyche, Phoebe (deaconess) & Prisca. (It is interesting to note that when Paul addresses Prisca and her husband Acquila, he addresses Prisca first, suggesting she may indeed have had a primary role in her community.)

In the final analysis, I think we need to be open to the will of the Holy Spirit. I am not pretending to know what this will is. Yet, I believe the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is making a huge mistake if it continues to stifle the gifts of women who are called to preside at the eucharistic table.

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