Dear Cardinal Parolin,
I am writing to you and to each of the members of the Council of Cardinals yet again to ask you to directly address in your Advent meeting the church’s continuing decision to see women as lacking the body-and-soul integrity to be ordained to the priesthood. This decision so needing reform—ecclesia semper reformanda—radically disfigures the church’s identity and seriously compromises its mission in the world.
Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done, the way he opened the Synod on the Family in 2014 was perhaps the most extraordinary. He asked the bishops to speak “freely,” “boldly,” and “without fear.” This exhortation is quite shocking: he had to ask his fellow bishops—grown men and the church’s teachers—to speak honestly to each other. Given a church so incredibly challenged by dialogue, however, his exhortation was not only necessary but was also, at least at the time, some small sign of hope for the future.
If you believe that the ordination of women to the priesthood is vital for the integrity, the mutuality, the maturity, and the viability of our church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you find there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that that precludes the ordination of women to the priesthood, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If seeing women and men through a complementarity lens or in light of precious patriarchal symbolism is not ad rem to women’s worthiness of ordination, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you know from your own experience that any given woman is as religiously mature and able to provide pastoral care as any given man, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you find the 1994 letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: 1) was the fruit not of dialogue but of doctrinal fiat; 2) was written directly in the face of—and arguably to cut off—serious scriptural-theological dialogue actually taking place; and 3) then mandated that no dialogue—let alone anything fearless or gender-inclusive—is allowed going forward, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you see that the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is an historical interpretation of ordination rather than one that is theological, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If the theological explanation actually put forth by the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s—that women cannot be ordained because they are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”—would be silly if it were it not so heretical, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If seeing women fully created in the image and likeness of God does not mean that they are fully created in the image and likeness of Jesus— if such Trinitarian theology is puzzling, incongruous, or totally bizarre—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If the church’s current stance effectively undermines the Three-in-Oneness of our God—if a huge patriarchal beam is stuck in the church’s eye, worshipping the Father as genetically male, the Son as genetically male, and, of course, the Holy Spirit as genetically male—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you are concerned about the adult faithful leaving the church in droves because women are not worthy of priesthood—if you understand that “a patriarchal Jesus” severs the roots of inclusion, respect, and trust in the church—I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If it is clear that the church’s opposition to the ordination of women is taken—inside and outside the church—as affirming women’s inferiority and justifying domestic violence, infanticide, trafficking, and many other atrocities, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
If you want bishops to work now in a synodal way with theologians and the faithful—under the aegis of a genderless Spirit—to affirm the body-and-soul integrity of women and to heal our stubborn, stolid, and sexist church, I ask you to speak freely, boldly, and without fear.
Cardinal Parolin, how long will the temporizing go on? Is injustice to women to cripple the Christian message forever? Like the reformation of inclusion in the infant church, can you and the other bishops see, hear, and name what Pope Francis cannot see, hear, and name? Will you speak freely? Will you dialogue boldly and without fear?
John J. Shea, O.S.A.
Copy: Pope Francis