Dear Pope Francis,
I hope you are well and that you receive this letter. I pray for you in this Advent season, and I am inspired by your obvious concern for the poor and the marginalized in our world and in our church.
Enclosed again are two letters about the ordination of women: the first is sent to each member of the Council of Cardinals; the second is a letter for background that I mailed to all the ordinaries of the United States at the beginning of Lent in 2014.
When you talk about the need for honest dialogue on the issues that we face as a church, I am somewhat heartened. You keep insisting: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” In fact, you say: “dialogue fearlessly.”
Unfortunately, however, there is not now, nor has there been, any fearless—let alone gender inclusive—dialogue on the ordination of women, although this is arguably the most crucial issue in the church.
Can the sea-changing collaboration of bishops and theologians at the time of Vatican II serve as a model for what needs to happen today? Can you empower that kind of thoroughgoing collaboration as part of your concern for honest dialogue in the church?
How can our church become whole if women are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Whatever the Vatican reforms—ecclesia semper reformanda—they are only window dressing until the wholeness of women—body and soul—is theologically and competently addressed.
Is it wrong in this Advent season to hope that the structures of the church—defended so often as indubitable yet mired so inordinately in patriarchal privilege—can be seriously addressed?
Pope Francis, will the day come when the church’s care and justice for women reflect the mercy that is the cornerstone of your papacy?
John J. Shea, O.S.A. Copy: Members of the Council of Cardinals