SHOULD THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ORDAIN WOMEN PRIESTS OR NOT?
BY APPOLLONIA LUGEMWA
WOMEN'S ORDINATION WORLDWIDE
FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
I am sharing on this controversial topic, only from the perspective of what some Ugandan Catholic women say on this debate within the universal church.
How discussion on this debate has come about in Uganda:
1. After several decades of massive violation of human rights in Uganda, a radical change came in 1986. The new administration greatly emphasised the knowledge and protection of human rights. Various NGOs came into existence to promote human rights. Among these, many are for the protection and promotion of women's rights. They give numerous sensitisation workshops for both educated and rural women. In these workshops, some ordinary women ask why the Catholic Church does not ordain women priests. One would have to fumble for a convincing answer.
2. The Government of Uganda came up with a new Constitution (1995) about which the entire population was somehow involved in giving views. This Constitution includes under Article 34 specific Women Rights. Women are assured of full equality with men in all fields. The same section continues to declare null and void any practice, tradition, cultural custom or law which in any way undermines the equal dignity of women with men. Whenever the Constitution is being taught to people, some do ask whether the refusal by the Catholic Church to accept women priests is not a violation of this section? A similar question is put to Muslims for their support of polygamy, which undermines the basic equality of women with men! Again. when confronted with such question, it is hard to find the convincing answer.
3. For the first time in our history, Uganda has a woman catholic as Vice President of the country, several women Ministers in Cabinet, more than 60 women in Parliament and women District Resident Commissioners who represent the President in Districts and women leaders at all levels of Government. Several women fought in the liberation struggle and some are Majors in the Army. Besides there is a policy of affirmative action to assist women 'catch up' with men in the areas of higher education and in Government and Civil Service. When Catholic Women see the entire opening of new opportunities for them which they never thought about before, they do ask why the Catholic Church cannot also open up for their equal competition with men.
6. Since the coming of Christianity to Uganda in the later 1870s both the Anglicans and Catholics have been strongly competing with each other for excellence. Whatever good one Church does, the other also does: whether in building schools, hospitals, orphanage, community development, writing books, opening up new universities and so on. This healthy competition has enabled both churches to be strong so that none can fully outplay the other. Now since 15 years ago the Anglican church here allowed women priests. So many Anglican women have taken to the study of theology and become ordained priests. Some are parish priests and some have become Canons. But none as yet has been ordained bishops! When Catholic Women daily see these Anglican ordained women with their 'Roman' collars they begin to ask themselves why their church does not do the same. They fear the Catholic Church may now lose out in the healthy competition with the Anglican Church. Again this concern cannot be easily addressed by us without theological and church history background education.
7. In some of our schools some very bright girls have begun posing questions such as this: 'Tell me madam why I should accept to be Confirmed in a church that discriminates against women, when there are other churches where I can be treated fully as equal to men? Some of these girls may one day enter the numerous new churches where they can be made full pastors and bishops.
8. The phenomenon of many of these new churches and sects has led to new questions being asked. In Uganda one wife of a self-styled Archbishop was also 'ordained' bishop by the husband. One other lady is a Prophet and head of her founded church which is very popular in Mulago, Kampala. Many women have become preachers, pastors and missionaries within these newly established churches. These examples do pose questions which we should be helped to answer effectively.
9. One other reason is that within our African traditional religions, women were never discriminated against. There were numerous female deities, female mediums or priests, female diviners and female medicine people. Men of all ranks paid respect to them. The discrimination of women in Christianity seems to have come from the Judeo - European culture but not from the African culture on this aspect.
10. When the Catholic Church was first established, the first missionaries appointed many women catechists who did wonderful work. It is only when Congregations for the Religious Sisters were established that the recruitment of women catechists was for a long time stopped. It has only resurfaced after Vatican II but even then it is not much supported by many bishops and clergy.
WE AS AFRICAN CATHOLIC WOMEN LEADERS NEED CONVINCING EXPLANATIONS ON THIS ISSUE SO THAT WE CAN IN TURN KNOW WHAT TO RESPOND TO THE CATHOLIC WOMEN ON THE ISSUE AND TO WOMEN OF OTHER CHURCHES AND RELIGIONS:
The questions on which I would much appreciate a deeper explanation include the following
1. Is the priestly ordination of women denied on basis of biblical teachinq and the fact that Jesus did not have a woman among the Twelve Apostles?
2. Is it denied on basis of Patristic tradition, theological doctrine and teaching? If so, can this teaching be made available in simple language to us?
3. Is it denied simply on basis of church tradition and discipline, in which way one may say, a day will come when it is permitted, when the church will think the conditions warrant it? This view will continue to give lots of hope to those asking catholic women.
4. Can we as lay women know the reasons why some leaders in the church do not want this controversial issue to be widely debated and discussed?
5. Knowing that issues of injustice such as slavery and slave trade and the discrimination of black people took such a long time to be condemned by the Catholic Church, is it possible to think that even the ordination of women to priesthood is a issue of injustice based on prejudice and the patriarchal control and vision of the Church?
Until ample explanations are given on the above question, it will be very difficult for Catholic women leaders to discuss comfortably the equality of catholic women in the Church. I await your enrichment on this matter.
- Appollonia Lugemwa