Statue of Mary found in the Abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome
The image presents Mary as the Abbot of the monastery. She wears the robe of a Cistercian monk, but she also carries the paraphernalia of a bishop. The Episcopal sedilia, the crozier, the ring and even the keys of the Kingdom. (Taken from the website womenpriests.org)
Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, 7th July, during which he spoke about the legacy of medieval Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus. Here is part of what he said:
The People of God therefore precede theologians and this is all thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the "teacher that goes first" and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology. May theologians always be ready to listen to this source of faith and retain the humility and simplicity of children!Far be it from me to demand a hearing from the Holy Father, but let me indulge a little fantasy. The Tablet is currently running a column in which prominent Catholics are asked to record what they would say to the Pope if they had a private audience. If I were to meet the Pope today, here is what I might say:
I know that the press is often guilty of distortion when it comes to reporting on the Roman Catholic Church. There is a significant level of anti-Catholicism in British society which also infects the British media. That is why I have spent some time this morning trying to track down exactly what the Vatican is now saying in its latest directive on the treatment of abusive priests, which was reported in today's Daily Mail under the heading 'Vatican labels the ordination of women a "grave crime" to be dealt with in the same way as sex abuse'. Surely, I thought, this cannot be true. Finally, I settled on the Associated Press account, which reports a press briefing by Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor. He told reporters that
including the two canonical crimes, sex abuse and ordination of women, in the same document was not equating them but was done to just codify the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals that the congregation deals with.Your Holiness, I like to believe that you have been badly briefed, that you still do not understand the real nature of the crisis facing the Church, and that some of these statements are issued without your full knowledge or consent. This may be naive on my part, but I would urge you to shrug off your minders and find a way to listen to the voices of many thousands of ordinary Catholics when you visit Britain in September. If you are serious when you say that 'the People of God is the "teacher that goes first"', then in the name of God listen to the people and what they are trying to say to you.
For example, in addition to sex abuse, the document also includes crimes against the sacraments including desecrating the Eucharist, violating the seal of the confessional and for the first time, apostasy, heresy and schism. Attempting to ordain a woman violates the sacrament of holy orders and was therefore included, Scicluna said.
"They are grave, but on different levels," he said.
First, you might discover that the greatest sense of outrage is not against abusive priests - shameful though that abuse has been - but against senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, bishops and cardinals alike, who have been engaged in a systematic process of deception, corruption and dissimulation, allowing for the proliferation of abuse by individuals whom they were capable of stopping. The real problem is not the sins of individual priests, but the structures of sin which have infected the institutions and governance of the Church. We do not want you to impose ever more punitive restrictions and condemnations on abusive priests, unless you are also willing to acknowledge and repent of the sins that go to the highest levels of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and to take accompanying action by way of a thorough-going overhaul of the Church's institutions and structures to initiate a new era of transparency, democratic participation, accountability and inclusivity - including the full inclusion of women in the sacramental, doctrinal and institutional life of the Church. This brings me to my second point.
If you opened your ears and your heart to the women of the British Catholic Church during your visit, you would hear many, many stories of women who love the Church, who have struggled to remain loyal, but who have finally been exhausted and defeated and have quietly left or gone elsewhere - many to the Church of England. Far from seeing the ordination of women as a grave crime and a violation of holy orders, you might find many welcome this as a great sacramental act of fulfilment in recognition of the dignity of all humans made in the image of God, and able to stand in the person of Christ who took human flesh (not male flesh) for the sake of all humans. The ordination of women is for some of us a significant doctrinal development, representing a coming of age in the sacramental life of the Church within the Anglican communion, and fully capable of being coherently supported within the Catholic theological and sacramental tradition.
To equate the 'grave crime' of priestly sexual abuse with the 'grave crime' of the ordination of women suggests a profound contempt for the sacramental significance of the female body, and it also means that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of Anglican priests and bishops now stand accused by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of a crime equal in gravity to priestly sexual abuse. This of course may be arbitrary insofar as the Roman Catholic Church doesn't recognize Anglican orders anyway, but it does highlight just how ludicrous it is to try to equate the two. Sexual abuse violates the body of another human being in the most profound way, and it does not depend on codes of canon law to make it wrong. It is wrong in communities and societies which are not bound by canon law, and its objective wrong does not depend on whether the abusive adult is a Catholic priest, an Anglican priest or indeed any other adult. Holy orders are specific to one religious community's self-understanding, and the language of criminality is therefore entirely context-specific.If the curia is really saying that there is no objective moral difference between ordaining a woman and sexually abusing another human being, then we are indeed in the throes of a moral crisis of staggering immensity. I have been to Masses celebrated by Anglican women priests. I have often found them holy and beautiful occasions, more meaningful than so many Roman Catholic Masses I attend. Are you really asking me to believe that participating in these times of prayer and worship is the moral equivalent to standing by and watching a child being raped? I am outraged.
I received an e-mail today from a woman who laments that 'It’s becoming increasingly difficult to explain to others and even myself at times why, as an intelligent woman, I remain part of this hostile institution.' I share her feeling, but perhaps you are indifferent to our struggle. Perhaps you dream of a 'purer' Church - it seems our own archbishop shares your dream - in which people like us would simply disappear. Maybe by the People of God you don't mean those of us who struggle to attend Mass Sunday after Sunday despite a palpable sense of exclusion and marginalisation. Maybe you don't include those of us who try to speak up and defend the Church when she is unjustly accused, but who also feel called to criticise the hierarchy when we believe that grave errors are being perpetuated in our name, and in the name of the Chuch we love. Maybe, among the People of God, all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. Maybe the Church's shepherds would rather not wait until Judgement Day to separate the sheep from the goats, but would rather ask the goats to leave now, so that only the most docile sheep remain.
Today, I am ashamed to be Roman Catholic. It has become a Church blighted by ignorance, arrogance and the decadence of a dying regime mired in its own obsessive clinging to power. But I am not leaving for, along with Peter, I would have to ask, 'Lord, where else would we go?' The Church is and always has been more than the very great sum of her parts, and so much more than the sum of her leaders.