By Phillip J. Chesser
In his recently published, first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis reaffirms the Catholic Church’s teaching on the male priesthood, and that is that the Catholic priesthood is reserved for males.
I noted this because sometime back President Jimmy Carter said that the Catholic Church should ordain women. At that time I asked myself, “Why does he care?” The Catholic Church exists as do other churches in the Christian world, as a private assembly of like minded believers. And like other Christian assemblies, no one is required to join.
President Carter is a Southern Baptist. During his presidential campaign he said he had been born again. I congratulate him and anyone else who takes his faith seriously; furthermore, it’s none of my business who his church ordains or how his church prays, organizes itself, or formulates doctrine. I would never suggest that Southern Baptists or any other religious tradition take my suggestions. If I did, any one of them would be justified in telling me, a traditional Catholic, to mind my own business.
But while on the subject, for the benefit of President Carter and others who might have questions: why doesn’t the Catholic Church ordain women? The short answer: she can’t. “What do you mean,” a non Catholic might ask. “The Pope can do anything he wants.” No, he can’t. His job is to safeguard the Depositum Fidei (the Deposit of the Faith) and neither add to it nor subtract from it. President Carter and others should know that when a Catholic priest administers the Sacraments he does so in persona Christi, that is, in the person of Christ.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1577: “The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry… The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.” For much more detail on the church’s teaching in this area see Inter Insigniores (1976) from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994). Also, Catholic apologist and convert from the Southern Baptist tradition Tim Staples has an interesting and detailed audio tape on the subject titled “Call No Woman Father.”
Another prominent person advising the Catholic Church a while back was President Obama, who said during a visit to Ireland that Catholics and Protestants in Ireland should not have separate schools. Again, why does he care? He calls himself Christian, and I take the president at his word. As such, I would never say that either he or his pastor for twenty years the Reverend Jeremiah Wright do anything of a religious nature that I might suggest.
But to enlighten the president and anyone else who might have questions about separate schools, I offer the American example. Catholic immigrants to America entered a nation founded by anti Catholic Calvinists and other Protestants hostile to anything with even the hint of “popery.” For a clearer picture of the problems Catholics faced in early America, I suggest the recently published book The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675, by Bernard Bailyn, especially the chapter titled “Terra Maria,” about the founding of Maryland as a home for Catholics.
Later on in America public schools were established with decidedly Protestant and anti Catholic orientations. Fearful that her children’s faith would be endangered, the church established parochial schools to pass the faith on to future generations.
Another non Catholic writer who has given advice to the Catholic Church is a regular contributor to these pages. He has written that the Catholic Church should be more democratic, whatever that means. But again, why does he care? Are we to believe that his democratic concerns arise from a surplus of compassion for benighted Catholics who cannot help themselves? That’s an old stereotype from those who have declared themselves officially tolerant and enlightened.