My good and dear friend, Rabbi Marc Gellman is a source of much wisdom. This Saturday, however, he fell prey to a common misreading of the Catholic Church when a woman asked “why can’t she be able to fully participate in the Catholic Church and be a priest?”
There are several parts of this that call for a clarification from the chief teacher of the Catholic Church on Long Island, yours truly. First, the woman and every Catholic, participates as fully as we can in the Church by the three sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. There is no other “fuller” participation in the Church. This good woman already has it and now her task, as well as the task of all of us in the Church, is to fulfill her mission to witness Jesus Christ through faith in what the Church teaches, worship as the Body of Christ, and witness Christ by her words and deeds in the world.
Regarding the desire for some women to be ordained to the ministerial priesthood (we all by the three sacraments are part of the priestly people of God) I need to point out that, when this question was first proposed on a serious level roughly fifty years ago, all three Popes, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI reiterated the same teaching which is faithful to the constant praxis and tradition of the Church: the Popes, held to being faithful to teach what the Church teaches as given to her by Jesus Christ, declared they were not free to change the tradition.
There have been many and varied writings by Catholic theologians and others claiming to be Catholic theologians (but are not) who argued that this is not a question of faith but of “justice” or of “gender equality” or that the desires of a person justifies having her desires fulfilled. None of these have the validity or the theological weight of three pontiffs who have made very serious and weighty declarations to the point that I, as one bishop in union with the Bishop of Rome, would argue that the teaching is de fide, that is, a matter of faith.
Rabbi Marc rightly makes several correct points about holiness and spiritual status. I part company with him in his assessment on celibacy which I addressed in my Chrism Mass homily this past Holy Thursday, available on our website. I am in no position to make any statement about women as rabbis, but I do believe we have to move away from basing positions based solely on feelings or on one’s desire to support a loved one. They are noble sentiments but sentiments cannot obliterate legitimate teaching and right jusgment. Again thanks, Rabbi Marc, for being you and for giving me the opportunity to share this reaction from a friend who loves you deeply.