"But when Christ came as high priest...He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God."
-Hebrews 9:11-14


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Monday, November 28, 2011

On Women Priests: Part Two

Hello again!  Here's the second part of my commentary on Mr. O'Malley's article and the issue of women's ordination; Part One is here.  As with the first post, all boldings are mine for the sake of emphasis.

Getting back to her flawed argument: Zeman, like so many before her, has touched on a debate the conclusion of which is fairly straightforward from the orthodox Catholic perspective.  The Roman Catholic Church is founded on the fundamental teaching that She is the One True Church established by Christ and handed down to us through the apostles, built up by Scripture and Tradition.  Christ further established St. Peter as the head of His Church (cf. Matt. 16:18, Jn. 21:15-17) and promised that He would be with the Church always (Matt. 28:20).  The authority of the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and on matters of faith and doctrine is infallible.  As such, doctrines infallibly defined are the Truth as revealed by the Holy Spirit, and are to be adhered to as such.  Catholicism is defined in no uncertain terms by these characteristics; the CCC states that “Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: ‘He who hears you, hears me’, the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms” (87).

Relevant to this, then, is the infallible proclamation that Blessed John Paul II made in his encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

Strong stuff, and also straightforward.  Logically speaking, the argument that follows from this proclamation is very simple: Catholics are required to adhere to the teachings of the Holy Father and the Magisterium in virtue of their teaching authority.  To refuse to adhere to these fundamental teachings is to implicitly deny that the Church has that authority at all, and if you’re at that point, why call yourself a Catholic at all?  Obviously, Zeman does not adhere to this doctrine; in fact, she calls it unjust.  So it seems that she denies one or several of the central premises concerning authority. If she denies these fundamental truths of Catholic faith and teaching, then how can she truthfully claim to be a faithful, devout member of the Catholic Church? 

To be perfectly blunt, Zeman is a heretic.  There seems to be a modern stigma attached to this word these days; Catholics today seem afraid to apply it to people who fit the definition, perhaps because it is oddly associated with the Inquisition and ‘those cruel, awful, medieval, and thankfully bygone times.’  But this is a foolish mindset, and we ought not to be afraid of using words in their proper application.  Heresy is defined by St. Augustine in his monumental work City of God (Book XVIII, Chapter 51):

Just so there are those in the Church of Christ who have a taste for some unhealthy and perverse notion, and who if reproved – in the hope that they may acquire a taste for what is wholesome and right – obstinately resist and refuse to correct their pestilent and deadly dogmas, and persist in defending them.  These become heretics and, when they part company with the Church, they are classed among the enemies who provide discipline for her.

Here are some more relevant sentences from the CCC:

2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.  Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same

Hmm.  From the sound of it, Zeman and her friends all fit these definitions pretty well – one might say they fit them like the proverbial glove.

We do not change truth; Truth changes us.  This is a poignant little adage that I think is eminently pertinent to this topic.  Zeman and her fellow “priestesses” refuse to allow Truth to change them, (I presume) because they have been indoctrinated with the popular and secular social mores of our times.  They believe that because men in the Church are permitted to become priests, logically they must be allowed as well, and they see the doctrine of male-only ordination as discrimination by the all-male hierarchy (I’ll disregard the illogic of that for the sake of brevity – if brevity even exists in this post anymore).

Zeman also seems to have conveniently forgotten another important point concerning the priesthood, which was covered in the blessedly ever-useful CCC:

1578 No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift.

Zeman and her fellow “priestesses” have fallen into the trap of thinking that the priesthood is a right.  It is not a right.  As outlined above, it is a gift from God, a completely unmerited gift that God freely gives to those He calls to serve him in that capacity.  No man, and certainly no woman, can claim a “right” to be a priest: there is no such right.  It is an unqualified privilege, in much the same way that God’s grace is.  If we need a Scriptural reference, the CCC helpfully provides it (Heb 5:4): “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God.”

Okay, moving on to the next part of the article, where it says that Zeman will “say the Mass” at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church.  This is a more minor point, but one I think is important to make.  Canon 933 of the Code of Canon Law states:

For a just cause and with the express permission of the local ordinary, a priest is permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in the place of worship of some Church or ecclesial community which does not have full communion with the Catholic Church so long as there is no scandal.

Well, obviously the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church is not in full communion with the Catholic Church – it’s a nondenominational group that doesn’t seem to have any doctrines or teachings at all.  But ignoring that, the operative words in this Canon are “priest” and “so long as there is no scandal.”  With regard to the former, she is not a priest, so the whole thing is invalid anyway; with regard to the latter, there most certainly is scandal involved, in that a woman is attempting to celebrate the Mass.  Canon 1379 deals with this one quite handily; “a person who simulates the administration of a sacrament is to be punished with a just penalty” – in this case, a latae sententiae penalty of interdict, whereby the person may not receive the sacraments in good conscience.  In the case of Zeman, whose egregious obstinacy makes her sin even more grave, she is automatically excommunicated.

Next up:

"We have a lot of people who believe in ordination of women," said Joan Daly, 74, of Rocky River, a member of the Malachi group. "It's a current issue in the Catholic Church and we feel the people of Cleveland should be informed about this rising trend throughout the world."
Polls over the last 20 years consistently show that a majority of Catholics in the United States would accept women priests. A New York Times/CBS poll conducted last year by telephone with 1,079 adults, showed six in 10 Catholics said they favor women's ordination.
But it's hard to assess whether the number of women priests is growing because many of them are quietly ordained and keep a low profile in small worship communities.

Hooray, statistics!  There are statistics here, which means we should take them very seriously – or not.  Statistics these days have a rather bad rep, and with good reason, given the subjective manner in which they are presented.  In this case, having “a lot of people who believe in ordination of women” is completely and utterly devoid of significance, other than to illustrate the jaw dropping ignorance – or stubbornness, take your pick – of American Catholics.  Likewise, simply having a “majority of Catholics” who “would accept women priests” says nothing at all, save what I just said before about ignorance.

Why, you say?  It’s very simple.  Mr. O’Malley here is utilizing a very common logical fallacy known as the argumentum ad populum, wherein a proposition is said to be true simply because a substantial number of people believe it – in this case, the ordination of women being acceptable.  However, majority opinion has no bearing on the truth of the proposition, so citing statistics on this is pointless.

Sadly, people these days seem to accept rather than reject examples of this fallacy as true; I pin it down to the widespread moral relativism of our present society (oooh, there’s a rich topic for another ultra-lengthy blog post sometime in the future – must investigate further).  I see this happen all the time with regard to the issues of homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, although the abortion question with regard to public opinion is slowly but surely tipping back to favor the side of the Truth.  For an exceptionally sad example of the Appeal to Popularity concerning abortion, see the website of Catholics for a Free Choice (specifically here) – and do your best not to weep with despair that such a group even exists.

The next part will deal with Zeman and her attitude toward Church hierarchy, among other juicy things.  I think this series will come in four parts; the document in Microsoft Word is now ten and a half pages long - finished - and as such I'll have to cut it up a bit more judiciously.  If you're interested, by all means please keep reading, and as always, comments and criticisms are welcomed.  God bless!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Women Priests: Part One

Hello, world. My name is Aloysius, and this is the first blog post I have ever made in my life. I hope to become better at this sort of thing as time passes, so bear with me if my first few attempts seem ungainly. This will be a rather long inaugural post, but I think the issue calls for some detailed examination. Thus, this will come in small increments (I went rather crazy with this one, so there will be two or three parts to it), and I hope you have the patience to slog through my commentary. Input of any kind, whether it be praise or constructive criticism, would be highly appreciated; I’m brand new to this whole blogging game, and any advice on how to improve would be immensely helpful from the gurus who have been doing it for a while.

I thought that for my first post, I would comment about something that never fails to get me worked up: the ever-present ‘question’ of women priests in the Catholic Church. I was reminded (again) of this tiresome issue when I came across an article about this subject in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written by the inestimably objective and unopinionated Michael O’Malley. And just to make things clear here, that was sarcasm just now; I have a habit for sarcasm which is a little on the heavy side, so I’m doing my best to quell that instinct. Whether I succeed or not is another question. As a side note, all boldings are mine, and are meant to emphasize a point that I am addressing in the piece.

The article is dated Saturday, November 12th, although I first heard about it on Monday the 14th while at breakfast with my father and some friends (Elizabeth’s parents, actually) after morning Mass; Dad always gets the paper when we go out. It’s titled “Woman priest, a Beachwood native, sees her ordination as valid; Roman Catholic Church does not.”

Disregarding the title, which had alarm bells ringing in my head already, I’ll get to the dissection of the article. Here’s the link, by the way: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/11/woman_priest_sees_her_ordinati.html

It starts:

Women priests are taboo in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, and those who participate in ordinations of women automatically excommunicate themselves from the church, according to laws of the Holy See.
But the Rev. Barbara Zeman, a Beachwood native, considers herself both a priest and a devout member of the Catholic faith.
Zeman, who now lives in Chicago, will be in Northeast Ohio this week to say a Mass. She was ordained in 2008 within a movement that believes God calls women as well as men to the sacrament of Holy Orders. She is one of an estimated 125 women in the United States who wear priest vestments and administer the sacraments.

Okay, not too bad. There’s the obligatory bit that emphasizes the views of the hierarchy of the Church as opposed to the views of the laity, a common enough tactic with regard to this topic. There's also the irksome reduction of the Church's position on women priests to a "taboo," implying that it really comes down to social custom or emotional aversion rather than theology, ontology and Biblical precedent. But then it really starts getting sad:

"As we see it, our ordinations are valid," said Zeman, who was raised Catholic. "We are Roman Catholics and we are following our consciences. We are disobeying an unjust law that says only men can be ordained."
Zeman, 63, will be here Thursday to lead a discussion on women's ordination and say the Mass. The event, sponsored by the Community of St. Malachi, a local nonprofit Catholic group focused on social justice issues, will be at 7 p.m. at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River.

Oh, where to begin? First of all, there is the telling “As we see it” bit – a statement of personal belief and opinion. It gets worse when she says that “we are Roman Catholics and we are following our consciences.” If it weren’t for the appellation of Roman Catholic included in that sentence, I would have thought we were talking about a Protestant here – they do, after all, lay so much emphasis on personal interpretation. But I digress. There seems to be an inherent misconception about the role of conscience in the Catholic faith. Zeman here seems to believe that conscience is paramount; it trumps all other considerations, especially those onerous laws and rules imposed upon Catholics by the Church hierarchy. I’ll get around to addressing the hierarchy bit in a moment and focus for now on the role of conscience.
To be sure, following one’s conscience is immensely important in living a life of faith. Conscience has been called the inner voice of God within us, informing us on right and wrong. But I think some clarification is in order, just to be sure. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Angelicus of the Church and my personal hero, writes in his Disputed Question on Truth, Question Seventeen, “On Conscience”:

Conscience is nothing else than the application of science to some special act…

Deciphering the more archaically worded bits of the passages may be puzzling at first, but the message is clear. Thomas here uses the term science to refer to “the knowledge of things from their causes,” and not the more popular conception of the term that refers to the branch of knowledge known as naturalism. In a more modern context, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines conscience as “a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed” (1778).

Okay, so we’ve established what conscience is. Aquinas writes further that the conscience is absolutely binding: “…it is clear that conscience is said to bind in virtue of the divine precept,” i.e. the precept that necessitates that we avoid evil and do good. Furthermore, the CCC states that “[Man must not] be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (1782). So it would seem that Zeman actually has a case here. But Aquinas further goes on to address the questions Can conscience err? and Can an erroneous conscience bind? With regard to the first question, Aquinas puts forth unambiguously that it may indeed err:

Conscience is nothing else than the application of science to some special act, in which application error can arise in two ways: in one way, because that which is applied contains an error in itself, in another way in this that it is not correctly applied. Just as in syllogizing fault comes about in two ways, either because one uses falsehoods, or because one does not reason correctly.

So in other words, a conscience may err either in (a) the premises one uses to come to a particular moral decision or (b) a simple failure to reason properly.

Zeman and her compatriots certainly qualify for the first example, and the key – and flawed – premise here is her claim that the doctrine of male-only ordination is an “unjust law.” She perceives it to be an injustice, and so her conscience compels her to reject it. I’ll address this shortly, but first, a little more from the CCC regarding conscience and error:

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man "takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin." In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

The issue of whether an erroneous conscience binds is fundamental to this issue. Thomas, in his exhaustive treatment of the matter, writes:

…we are said to be bound by precepts because we incur sin when we do not observe them. Therefore conscience is not said to oblige us to do something because to follow it is good but because not to follow it entails sin.

To go against your conscience is to necessarily go against what you see to be the will or precept of God. Thus, an erroneous conscience binds because to go against it, even though it is erroneous, would be per se going intentionally against what is seen to be the law of God, which characterizes a mortal sin of the highest order. In this sense, then, Zeman is right, in that to follow her conscience is required absolutely of her. The problem that must be addressed is the error in her conscience. I’ll address that issue in the next part of this series.

I hope you like how this is coming along. Any comments, advice, or thoughts that you folks have are greatly appreciated.