Rosemary Reuther’s article in the NCR: Women’s ordination hits a snag!

In olden days a glimpse of stocking was pretty common.  Once those old silk stockings got a snag in them, they would get a ladder-like run in them.  It was inevitable.  Once they got a run, there was no stopping it.

So it is with the women ordination movement.

Quite a few readers have urged me to examine closely a piece in the National Catholic Fishwrap written by that venerable old feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther.

It is a labor arduus to drill into these articles of open dissent.  For every word they write, the Faith requires us to write ten. 

Lest it be said that RRR’s piece has gone unanswered I will give you a some hooks you can snag some ideas on as you read it on your own and then talk about it with others… if you must.

First, put it into the context of what the National Catholic Reporter is trying to do. 

Recently there have been many articles in NCR, all positively promoting the ordination of women.  These articles are, in my opinion, not merely for the purpose of lively discussion of a burning issue in the Church.  They are contumacious gestures of dissent from the Church’s defined, infallible teaching.  The timing of this gush of articles in NCR is payback for the inclusion of the attempt to ordain a women among the graviora delicta listed in Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela.

Now to Rosemary’s article.  If we put this in the context of NCR, put it also in the context of RRR’s life.  Check quickly her wikipedia entry.

As a Patristicist I was attentive to her long argument that there is no solid evidence of a conscious Apostolic Succession in the early Church.  Instead, she argues, there were various ways by which people (men and women) were called to various ministries in the Church.  She quotes various Patristic sources.  Rosemary has been out of the loop for a while.  She is unaware it seems that no good scholar thinks that Hippolytus was the author the Apostolic Tradition. Manlio Simonetti has taken care of the question.

But, leave that all aside.  This is not the real point we have to focus on when reading RRR’s article.  Her long Patristic thing is really a head fake.

Let us stipulate that, yes, ministry in the early Church was messy. It took centuries for the Church in both the East and West to figure things out clearly.  Fine.  The relationship of the norms of doctrine and authority with the Patristic tradition is thorny.  No news there.  Let her have that ground for the time being, though someone could really have fun picking her references apart. 

So. The early Church was messy.  There were schisms and dissenters and fights and arguments all the time.  This is the history of the Church.  No surprise there.

In fact, as the situation was in 2nd-5th centuries, so to it is today.  Today all sorts of different people in a myriad of different communities call themselves ordained.  Not all the "ordained" are recognized even by others within their own faith communities.

But this is still not the real snag in her article.   

Most of the time when you read a womanpriest dissenter, the writer is actually begging, desperately pleading for Rome’s approval of what they are doing.  They are never going to get it, which makes their dissent so pathetic.  Rosemary doesn’t care about Rome’s approval for the ordination women are attempting.  When she argues against a secure basis for claims of an unbroken Apostolic Succession, she is not arguing that women could have been part of the valid Apostolic Succession (though she suggests that).  Her real point is that the Apostolic Succession, unbroken or not, doesn’t make any difference

Watch what happens in her article.  From the very beginning of her piece, she merely assumes that ordination of women, in any form, is valid. 

But then she turns to the example of a breakaway community in California, the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community.  This MMACC is simply calling forth women they think embody what they are doing and "ordains" them on their own, without the involvement of any of those Danube-riverboat-style ordinations which meticulously tried to show that they had some involvement of Catholic bishops in the Apostolic Succession.

Get it?

On the one hand, we have the Euro/Teutonic womenpriests of the Roman Catholic Women Priest thing, who in a good German style want to build the precision autobahn machine.  They really care about the Apostolic Succession and Rome’s approval.  They want to tinker with that engine can get it just right.

On the other hand, we have the California gals who could care less about the precision of the engine.  They just want to turn up the radio and whip down the road with the top down.  They could care less about Apostolic Succession and Rome’s approval.

Cutting through the long Patristic thing and the long-rehearsed feminist stuff in RRR’s article, RRR is terrified that there is going to be a messy split between two groups of women who want to be ordained.

This is what keeps RRR awake at night: not that Rome might not give approval to their ordinations, but that one group of women not approve the other.  One group will tell the other that they are not – wait for it – validly ordained because there was not womenpriest bishop from some river-boat thingy involved.  The Eurowymyn will point at the Calgals and say "You are not validly ordained!"

Just as the early Church was messy, and RRR describes this at length, RRR is worried that these groups could get all messy.  They could even "excommunicate" each other. 

These women – in either group – can claim that they are priests till the cows come in, so to speak.  Christian history of who says whom is ordained is a mess.   Some denominations might accept some of the wymyn as ordained, some won’t.  Some catholics will migrate to the Magdalen Catholic Church or the Roman Catholic Women Priests thing.  It could happen.  So what.  We have seen this movie before. Heck, millions could join! 

They will never have approval of Rome and they will never be priests.

But Rosemary Radford Reuther is worried about a first schism in their new birthing church.  She covers her fear over with a little anger about graviora delicta.  She deflect us from her real concern in her long exposition about the early Church.  

Her new church – and she favors the non-Apostolic-Succession-style California-Gal Magdalen Church Community stuff and not the precise i-dotting t-crossing Euro-boat-riders – Rosemary’s new church even in its birth pangs is already going into schism with itself over the question of Apostolic Succession.  Her new heroines are on the verge of a cat fight over true priesthood and how it is transmitted.

One of these days it is going to happen, you know. 

The boat-riders are going to say that the California gals are going to have to be ordained by one of them or they will not be validly ordained. 

Sardonic Question: Will the Roman Catholic Women Priests establish a doctrinal congregation to settle this?  Will they need their own CDF? 

Which penalties will be applied by women to women when they attempt ordain without a bishop in the Apostolic Succession?

I will make popcorn.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. AnAmericanMother says:

    Clear nail polish. That will stop a ‘ladder’ or ‘run’ in its tracks.

    Wish we could apply clear nail polish to the Fishwrap and all its works. [I don’t.]

  2. chcrix says:

    Often when contemplating the obsession with the ‘early church’ that bubbled up with V2 I have felt that the real reason behind this is because appealing to hypothetical early church practices allows one to create and justify any narrative one wants. I guess it is a kind of extreme form of a generalized protestant take – the church and its practice is whatever I say it is or should be. And things like apostolic succession are in the way of this.

  3. doanli says:

    What part of “No” don’t these wymyn (that spelling always cracks me up!)..understand?

    The Holy Spirit is in control of the Church and will always be. So these things would make me laugh if it weren’t for the fact that some people will lose their way and may even lose their souls to Hell over it.

  4. Steve K. says:

    “Often when contemplating the obsession with the ‘early church’ that bubbled up with V2 I have felt that the real reason behind this is because appealing to hypothetical early church practices allows one to create and justify any narrative one wants. I guess it is a kind of extreme form of a generalized protestant take – the church and its practice is whatever I say it is or should be. And things like apostolic succession are in the way of this.”

    Well that’s really it right there. The early church obsession is ostensibly about getting back to the pure, real Church, before all supposed ‘accretions’ and corruptions, but what it is really about is remaking the Church in one’s own image, to suit one’s own tastes. At the root, it’s Non Serviam.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    These concerns are no different than the state of the Anglican Church under Elizabeth I. She had to deal with split off groups who either claimed a more direct apostolic succession or other groups who could have cared less about the priesthood-the Puritans.

    As in the 16th century chaos in England, the two, or possibly more, womenpriest movements will have difficulty stating that their way is “tradition” as such an impetus is the same as the protestant heretics under Elizabeth-each group saw themselves as translating the experience of either the Apostolic Church or the post-Apostolic Church in their own ideologies.

    The details of such differences are of no concern, as the permutations of “protesting” thought and bad theology is always the same-“We are the true church and you are the diluted, infected impostors.”

    Sadly, Ms. Reuther has been allowed to simmer on pseudo-Catholic campuses without much direction from bishops, like at Loyola Marymount and other places, where she has been allowed to speak.

    Until there is more direct rebuttal from the true hierarchy of the Church here in America, her position, and those of people like her, will lead to further confusion and splits in the Church, leaving only the remnant, prophesied by our present Pope, will survive as true sons and daughters of the Church.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    sorry, the remnant which will survive..and I think not a large, triumphalist (word hated by so many liberals) Church, but a smaller, truly purified in fire, and holier one…

  7. M Heller says:

    Pass the popcorn, please.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    If it would stop them from running (their mouths or their paper) clear nail polish would be a good thing.

    But you’re right, it would be better to pray for their conversion of heart.

  9. nanetteclaret says:

    If these “wymynpriests” ever face the possibility of being persecuted for the faith, I think they will distance themselves as fast as they can from all things Catholic. I just don’t see them as martyr material.

  10. janek3615 says:

    Wednesdays are 20% off day for perms, coloring and cuts for senior theologians and nuns at Madame Helena’s Coiffure and Manicures. Maybe Rosemary can bring along Srs. Joan Chittister and Donna Quinn for an even bigger discount. And they have clear nail polish for those runs.

  11. PeterK says:

    “Rosemary could care less about Rome’s”

    FatherZ please please please the correct phrase is;

    “Rosemary could NOT care less about Rome’s…”

  12. Charivari Rob says:

    Quoting Cole Porter, Father Z?

    Maybe they could use the same source for apostolic succession – Bishop Henry T. Dobson and the (not right, nor a Reverend) Moonface Martin.

  13. basenji says:

    Re the Cole Porter reference: Anything does not go!

  14. Gabriel Austin says:

    An interesting question: how many women would confess to another woman?

  15. Peggy R says:

    Poor St. Mary Magdelene. So abused by these women.

    In the same way, the late John XXIII is abused by the dissenting crowd.

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    Question: Will the Roman Catholic Women Priests establish a doctrinal congregation to settle this? Will they need their own CDF?

    No. Even though they may not admit it for several generations or so, they will find themselves in the position of every other protestant congregation. If they are attractive to the people in the locality, they will attract congregants. Yes, they will have disputes with the other flavor of womenpriest-type churches, BUT it won’t amount to anything except a little credential-flashing and name-calling, and even that will be kept to a minimum to avoid losing the tender-hearted suckers that attend their churches.

    So no. For the same reason the baptists and methodists don’t have a joint CDF. They’re older, more seasoned protestant groups and they’ve agreed to disagree. Quietly. It’s cheaper.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    So expect to see at least 2 flavors of womenchurch congregations, and more besides. Who knows what we could get once this catches on.

  18. Fr. W says:

    Heresy always continues to split, and split, and split. Fracture into more pieces is a trademark of heresy.

    As to schism – not necessarily, eg., the Orthodox.

    But heresy, always splits and splits.

  19. Athelstan says:

    “So no. For the same reason the baptists and methodists don’t have a joint CDF. They’re older, more seasoned protestant groups and they’ve agreed to disagree. Quietly. It’s cheaper.”


    And Reuther essentially advocates just that here. They’ll agree to pluralism. It’s the modern Anglican way. They’re used to “living in tension,” too. Although there’s a lot more tension if you’re conservative.

    I know we all make noise suggesting that these folk would be best off swimming the Channel to Canterbury. I don’t want to see anyone leave, but in this regard they really do have a church out there that meshes quite well with their theology. Why not join it? Why not let the conservative Anglicans come over here? Modernists can have their church, and we can have our Church. “Everybody wins.” (Speaking loosely).

    Yet they seem unable to abide this solution. As with the Anglicans, they mean to have their Revolution succeed here as well.

  20. EXCHIEF says:

    This one calls for specially flavored popcorn, not the plain kind.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    by the way…

    Why is it the Ms. Reuther and Sr. Kane do not refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary when discussing who Christ called to be a priest? If any woman would have been worthy, or in a position to be a priest, it would have been Mary. But, of course, she wasn’t made a priest and she points us to her Son, the Great High Priest.

    None of the ladies who are fussing about womenpriests seem to understand the difference between function or role and being or person.

  22. teevor says:

    One gets the feeling that something somewhat serious could be brewing with these repeated women’s ordination stories (it seems like there’s one every day). The Vatican has made itself plainly clear and yet there is significant vocal dissent within the Church. How long will it be until a major parish or alliance of parishes (think progressive inner-city Jesuit, or something along those lines), in conjunction maybe with some female religious orders enter into a state of formal schism?

    We all know that if that happens, the media will give it immense publicity. It seems to me that quite a few cafeteria Catholics could jump ship as well.

    That doesn’t mean that as a movement it would have any staying power… with the leadership stripped of their comfortable diocesan chancery positions, no property and with stagnant and falling numbers due to members dying off, it would disappear just like the Episcopal church is rapidly extinguishing itself.

  23. The-Monk says:

    No need for a CDF, Fr. Z. These wymyn will “feel” their way to the truth in the true feminist tradition of an “ethic of care.”

    Then: “But Rosemary Radford Reuther is worried about a first schism in their new birthing church. She covers her fear over with a little anger about graviora delicta.” God has term limited every human being. At her advanced age, perhaps RRR is a little worried about making sure she is “good with God.” Surely, a high priestess confessor can make RRR feel good with God.

  24. The-Monk says:

    By the way, the best corn for popping is black popcorn from Kewaskum, Wisconsin. Conventional or hot air popping, it’s the best…you can count on it!

  25. The Monk: Don’t forget their relational wisdom!

  26. cl00bie says:

    It has never been about who is called to valid ministry with these women. It’s all about who’s got the “power”. It’s not who can bring Jesus to the faithful, it’s about who has the keys to the kingdom.

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    Actually, teevor,

    I’m not expecting it to be a big public affair. These things will just spring up like pizza joints and people will hear about them from friends and family, and we will lose some people who aren’t clear about what religion is about. Unfortunately, most catholics aren’t sure what religion is about, so it could be major. But it needn’t be a big confrontation for that to happen.

  28. catholicmidwest says:

    IF the church proper doesn’t like this happening, THEN they’d better get their ducks in a row and let people know what religion is about in plain terms. Otherwise, this IS going to happen, one way or another.

  29. Either R. R. is going to create a “new movement”; or the “old gal” (I’m being careful here!) IS going to die along with all of her insane, heterodox and dissenting garbage…
    I vote for the latter.
    We just have to hold tight, pray, and just be faithful; God is ever greater.
    What a bag of wind she and her like are; how annoying!

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    Nazareth Priest,

    There’s list after list of so-called independent Catholic churches online. Here’s one but there are plenty more:

    Not only that, these lists correspond to actual buildings with people going to them in lieu of the real catholic church. We have them here; everyone has them.

    IF Rome expects a big confrontation, Rome might wait a long time. This time, that’s not how this is going to work for a couple of reasons:
    1) communication methods have changed so these people can propagate their message and locations.
    2) the culture has changed and the threshold is lower for moving around.
    3) catechesis is so poor that the meaning of “being Christian” has drifted from being a deep salvation story to being about niceness and fairness.
    4) we are selling deconsecrated churches so they get our old castoffs, some of them far more beautiful than the ones we choose to keep.

    etc etc.

    The Catholic world had better wake up and get their ducks in a row. Complacency is a bad idea.

  31. catholicmidwest says:

    I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who assert with confidence to me that all churches have the same goals and all churches are equally good in purpose. Some of those people are protestant; some are non-church-going but many, many, many of them are Catholic. This is the predominant view in the culture and many Catholics have bought it because they have been encouraged to be in the culture fully.

    The Catholic church has not, and still does not, distinguish herself from this view sufficiently. Catholicism is unique, regardless of the fact that politically that’s not a “nice” statement. But until we do assert the uniqueness of Catholicism, we will suffer the emigration of Catholics to other persuasions. And people will come into the church thinking that it’s just another “flavor” and they can come and go as they wish. [We have a huge “in, then out” problem in our RCIA process. People come and go like in a revolving door.]

  32. Gail F says:

    Catholicmidwest: You’ve got that right. A lot of priests even say it’s not important to be Catholic. There is an upsurge, I think, in Catholic identity. But it’s still pretty weak in general. People don’t know how to be Catholic and “nice” at the same time, so they opt for “nice.”

  33. catholicmidwest: Thank you. I don’t doubt in any way, shape or form that all kinds of “stuff” is going on.
    It is a sad, sad commentary upon the lack of proper catechesis, formation, and practice of authentic Catholicism in this country, in the world…but if we stand firm, staying with the Pope, no matter what, people of “good will” will remain, even if only a “remnant”.
    I’m not encouraging complacency; no way.
    But these horrid “anti-Church”, “Anti-Christ” folks and movements are going to have their day…we have to stand tall and weather this storm, maybe even to the death.

  34. Supertradmum says:

    A priest I know gave a talk to seminarians about how concerned he was that they might “scare” people away from the Church with their new ideas which were more conservative than his. He said, and this is a quotation, that is was important “to be nice” and not cause any dissension by giving homilies on hard topics, or by correcting people in the confessional, etc.

    Niceties over Truth, and Truth, as Father Corapi reminds us, is a Person, seems a total cop-out.

    This talk was give early in 2009, and the seminarians were so disgusted that, sadly, they lost respect for this superior. The superior also stated that priests should not cause trouble, but “keep their heads down and just do their job”. Well, if we need priests to stand up to the above lady and the like of Sr. Kane, we need courageous leaders, not nice men. Truth can be said calmly and without rancor, but it needs to be spoken.

  35. robtbrown says:

    This talk was give early in 2009, and the seminarians were so disgusted that, sadly, they lost respect for this superior. The superior also stated that priests should not cause trouble, but “keep their heads down and just do their job”. Well, if we need priests to stand up to the above lady and the like of Sr. Kane, we need courageous leaders, not nice men. Truth can be said calmly and without rancor, but it needs to be spoken.
    Comment by Supertradmum

    I agree that priests should “just do their job”, but their job is “to bear witness to the Truth”.

    What can be worse than a superior telling seminarians not to imitate Christ and the Apostles?

  36. AnAmericanMother says:

    “Niceness” is not what’s needed in a leader and a shepherd.

    “Nice” people are afraid to rock the boat, afraid to confront people who need confronting, afraid to offend, afraid to make a stir.

    They wind up being so afraid that they allow all sorts of wrong and even evil things to happen.

    It is better to be good and charitable than be “nice”. A good and charitable person can gently point out error in another without offending against charity. The person may be momentarily offended, but that has more to do with their feelings than the conduct of the person doing the correction.

  37. robtbrown says:

    In defense of the superior, we should remember that despite the Humani Generis warning against false irenism, that in fact became the required MO for priests and seminarians in the 70’s and 80’s.

    From HG:

    12. But some through enthusiasm for an imprudent “eirenism” seem to consider as an obstacle to the restoration of fraternal union, things founded on the laws and principles given by Christ and likewise on institutions founded by Him . . .

  38. catholicmidwest says:

    This is drifting once again into familiar, but old, territory. I think the thread is really about the prospect of a schism in RR’s burgeoning schism, and the condition on the edges of Catholicism as people wander back & forth across the boundaries between Catholicism and something else.

  39. catholicmidwest says:

    And also I think Fr Z is making the point that RR can’t hardly appeal to a magisterium (a CDF, of sorts)…. unless she somehow confabulates one of her own. A funny thought.

  40. catholicmidwest: I agree, wholeheartedly.
    I, being of a rather choleric temperament, wish it would just “happen”.
    Then, you know just what who and what you’re actually dealing with.
    There are all kinds of different aspects of the “Catholica” that have been in the tradition for eons; but this dissent and wholesale rejection of the Creed and the Catholic Tradition/Obedience is just schismatic/heretical/whathaveyou. It’s just crazy and “off the beam”.

  41. Supertradmom: I, myself, have heard this rubbish in a seminary setting.
    Yeah, keep your heads down…bullshite.
    If the new priests, present priests of whatever age, do not defend, explain and explicate Catholic Truth, teaching, practice…then the “apostasy” will continue to envelope the Faithful…
    The only means I know of, based upon authentic revelations, consistent with Catholic Teaching are the Holy Mass, devout reception of Holy Communion, Eucharistic Adoration, the devout praying/recitation of the Holy Rosary.
    These are “heaven-sent” means of saving our souls, the conversion of sinners, and the help of Christians, everywhere and always.

  42. catholicmidwest says:

    That’s just it, nazareth priest. It is happening. People are expecting some kind of formal schism with signs in Time’s Square or something. But no. People are just wandering off and joining other things or nothing at all at a terrific pace. 1 in 10 Americans are ex-Catholics. Did you know that?

  43. catholicmidwest says:

    It’s kind of humorous, if sick, that RR has the same perception as the rest of the Catholic world. Catholics think that somehow she matters because she’s making threats; she thinks she matters for the same reason. But then in the midst of all that, she sees the possibility for interference from other wannabee woman-priestess types. “How DARE they,” she probably thinks.

    All the while, people are coming and going and 9/10 of them have no idea who RR even is. And people who wander out of the real RC are invited by their friends and neighbors to these new outfits and are scarcely aware they’re really leaving because they think to be Christian is to be “nice,” to LUV one another and such. Huge swaths of the RC think that Catholic is a just a flavor of Christianity now. Do you know that?

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