A follow up on the MOOS for the ordination of women

You will recall that our old pal Phyllis Zagano, a writer for the National Schismatic Reporter (aka Fishwrap), promoted her MOOS for the ordination of women.

MOOS means, I understand, a “Massive Online Open Seminar”.  It seems it was not entirely “open”. I wonder how “massive” it was.

A frequent commentatrix here, Elizabeth Durack, participated in Phyllis’ MOOS. Elizabeth has her own blog, Laetificat Madison. She describes her experience of MOOS with Phyllis.  HERE

It seems that Elizabeth has been interested in this topic for a while and knew about the MOOS even before I, helpfully, posted here.

You can – and really should – read the whole thing over at Elizabeth’s place!  It is useful, as all autopsies should be.  Here are a few bullet points:

  • It seems that, from Elizabeth’s exchanges with her, that Zagano “insists” that Ordinatio sacerdotalis does not convey infallible teaching. I take that to mean that Zagano thinks that the Church does not infallibly teach that only males can be ordained to the priesthood. That would be, at least, theological error.  The Church does teach, infallibly, that only males can be ordained to the priesthood.
  • Zagano cherry-picked, as part of the MOOS materials, something from a talk given by Sr. Sara Butler, a theology prof at St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein), which gives the impression that Sr. Butler is in favor of the ordination of women to the diaconate. Elizabeth, however, shows that Sr. Butler does not in fact think that. Sr. Butler thinks that deaconesses were not the equivalent of deacons that evidence does not support the “revival” of an ordained diaconate for women.  Follow the links at Elizabeth’s place.  You have to skip around in Elizabeth’s post for the full impact of how Sr. Butler’s thought differs from what seems to have been the true aim of Phyllis’ MOOS (i.e., promotion of, not just discussion of, the ordination of women).
  • One of the people involved in the MOOS “faculty”, at the level of their discussion board, Anne Southwood, is on the board of trustees of the dissident group Voice of the Faithful.  Again, follow the links at Elizabeth’s place.
  • Both Zagano and Southwood debated Elizabeth’s belief (in fact the Church’s belief) that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders at the Last Supper and conferred it on the apostles at that time. Elizabeth recounts that Zagano challenged even the Council of Trent’s anathema about those who deny that the Sacrament of Orders was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. She quotes the email, which is pretty interesting.  May I help?  DH 1740, 1764; CCC 1357
  • After Elizabeth offered to send Zagano a copy of her own book about the Sinsinawa Dominicans (in which Zagano is apparently mentioned), Elizabeth was banned from the discussion board. Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Who’s to know.  (BTW… Elizabeth also has an interesting book about Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli.)
  • Elizabeth posts email.
  • A quote from Elizabeth’s summary of the experience: “I had a strange ‘chaotic’ impression of Phyllis Zagano‘s theological thinking. The Faith is orderly and beautifully rational… until you start to mess with it or feel like you have to make it up yourself.”
  • In the comments, Zagano posted a response to Elizabeth’s post! I especially liked her neologism “upsetment”: “I cannot answer your upsetment point by point,…”. One of Zagano’s statements to Elizabeth baffled me: “I am especially concerned that you find no need for women’s ministry..”.  Anyone who reads what Elizabeth actually wrote will see that quite the opposite is true.  [UPDATE: Apparently “upsetment” is part of the dialect of Bayonne, NY, according to How to Speak Bayonnease: The secret language of Bayonne, New York’s sixth boroughHERE]

In any event, kudos to Elizabeth Durack for jumping in!  She tried, at least, to participate in the women’s ordination MOOS.

I’ll leave the combox open here, but turn on the moderation queue.  Do go check out Laetificat Madison for the full story.  HERE

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. JustaSinner says:

    “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our four…no… amongst our weapons…. amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise…. I’ll come in again. ”

    Where’s the Spanish Inquisition when you need it…and I’m not referring to the ones with fuzzy pillows or comfy couches.

  2. Sonshine135 says:

    Fr Z noted:
    “It seems that, from Elizabeth’s exchanges with her, that Zagano “insists” that Ordinatio sacerdotalis does not convey infallible teaching. I take that to mean that Zagano thinks that the Church does not infallibly teach that only males can be ordained to the priesthood. That would be, at least, theological error. The Church does teach, infallibly, that only males can be ordained to the priesthood.”

    Assuming we put anathema aside for a brief moment, I would love to know Zagano’s rationality behind this argument. I can only rationalize it if the Holy Spirit left the church and let it fall. If that happened, then Jesus lied, and we can all become secular progressive humanists. You don’t get much more dogmatic than the Council of Trent.

    I see why people are no longer taught about the Council of Trent. Trent is a four-letter word to those who would like to “change” or “evolve” the church. People like Zagano could easily be an Episcopalian, so I can only conclude that people of her ilk are simply there to disassemble what the perceive to be a threat from the inside out. It is Cloward and Piven used on the church.

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    Yes, well, I tried, or anyway like Alice I fell through the looking-glass. Thanks Fr Z.

    I have sought the advice of a canonist as to whether I am “seriously in violation of more than church law” as Professor Zagano says in a comment on my blog, apparently because she feels I have unjustly deprived her of her good name by disagreeing publicly with her repeated, steadfast rejection of the idea Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper when He said “do this in memory of me.” Any canon lawyers want to chime in on my blog? I have asked her every which way what she DOES believe about that, and I still really want to know and obviously we will all appreciate her as a theologian if we begin to recognize in her teaching good expression of the Faith that has been handed on to us.

    I do have to note, because I do not want anyone to be misrepresented, Anne Southwood’s sole reply to me was more neutral and I don’t recall her discussing the topic of Jesus conferring Holy Orders on the Apostles. Zagano was the one who wanted to get into debating me.

    As to Sister Sara Butler, whom I have attended a talk by about why women can’t be priests sponsored by the Diocese of Madison and chatted with her personally afterward, I do not have her contact info or I would want her to speak for herself. She is a very intelligent and admirable person. She does give an interesting opinion about why Zagano wants women deacons, which is quoted at the end of my blog post. She has a Catholic view of woman in line with for instance Edith Stein, and very clearly does not believe just like Phyllis Zagano. An examination of her statements suggests she may believe or speculate that there is a specifically female form of the diaconate for ministering specifically to women, dependent on the male diaconate and complementary to it (for a sense of Zagano’s POV please see her apoplexy over Pope Francis’ joke about woman being taken from a rib), that she may believe or speculate is sacramental, but she does not hold that women could simply be accepted into the Church’s current permanent diaconate, and does not see a need for the revival of any form of female diaconate, and is not a promoter of women deacons. I myself hold, with Cardinal Muller, that the same reasoning of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the apostles only applies as much to diaconate as to priesthood, and the Church has no authority whatsoever to do otherwise.

  4. Imrahil says:

    There was an interesting note in the dear Elizabeth’s comment to the effect that a surprising big amount of those fighting for female ordination seem to have an flawed concept of ordination, to begin with.

    Recently I was in a discussion about female ordination with a woman pastoral worker who thinks that she will be a priest one day ( ;-) ). I was quite surprised that when somebody mentioned the Apostles, the reply was not only “but that’s not binding precedent that they were all male” (it is; but if you were for female ordination, you’d contest that wouldn’t you?). No. The reply was: “but Christ* did not instituted a priesthood! Christ called apostles and did not ordain priests! there is no such thing as a priest in Christianity!” [*using not the title “Christ” but the Holy Name.]

    Happily we had a priest sitting on the table who said that “watch out, you have set yourself in opposition to all Catholicism, and in fact even to Protestantism who at least hold that Christ is the High Priest”.

  5. KateD says:

    Good work, Elizabeth!

  6. Cathy says:

    What a strange woman. Here is a question, instead of investing so much time and energy into why women can’t be deacons, why not invest some time and energy into why young women are not flocking to the religious orders promoting women becoming deacons. Here lies a clue, women really do not aspire to be men or even man-like. It is not because women consider themselves defective, it is because women are really happiest being women and cutting one’s hair short and donning business and or picnic attire does not reflect the summit of being a woman.
    We were raised in a generation in which the order of the day was to go out and fill men’s shoes. We didn’t fill them, we simply kicked them out, and, at the same time left our own empty. We haven’t left the future for men and women better, we simply created a great chaos. The great violence in our society has little to nothing to do with gun laws. It has a great deal to do with the stress and unhappy situation created not by gender roles, but by the lack of them. Our schools no longer see the duty of raising ladies and gentlemen and our children are being reduced to its at great financial, spiritual and moral costs.

  7. Legisperitus says:

    Chaotic theological thinking inevitably follows an upsetment of the Faith.

  8. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    Interesting. I think it needs to be kept in mind when having a conversation with those who hold positions like those of presented that there is a methodological move involved in their historical reconstructions. This is the basically a priori assumption that if a word does not exist the reality it names does not exist.

    In medieval historical studies the classical example of this is found in _The Birth of Purgatory_ by Jacques Le Goff, which came out in the 1980s. His position was essentially that there was no belief in “purgatory” until the 1100s because the word was not used. The next step he made was to create a complex definition for purgatory based on what he thought were the essential qualities ascribed to it in the 1100s, including that purgatory was “under the ground.” He could then return to the earlier beliefs about an “intermediate state” and “demonstrate” that there was no belief in purgatory.

    The move made by those who take positions like this about ordination of deacons, priests, or whatever is pretty much identical. The world “ordination” and “sacrament” did not exist in the first century, so when the Bible speaks of the Last Supper, it cannot mean that Christ “ordained” the apostles “sacramentally.” So the sacrament of orders did not exist until the words were used in the sense they have for, say, Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent, which happened in the 1200s. The problem with this hermeneutic is that it denies realities if there is no word for them, and then arbitrarily defines the word to mean only what it meant at the time it was first used (or first used with some particular meaning).

    I find this kind of position untenable historically and theologically. It basically denies that there is any true development of dogma. It is an a priori nominalism. It is waste of time to debate with those who hold this position because they have a “though the looking glass” understanding of language.

    [Well done. That book of Le Goff… great example. Lousy book.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I have sought the advice of a canonist as to whether I am “seriously in violation of more than church law” as Professor Zagano says in a comment on my blog, apparently because she feels I have unjustly deprived her of her good name by disagreeing publicly with her repeated, steadfast rejection of the idea Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper when He said “do this in memory of me.”

    I thought the rule was that a public sin allowed for a public rebuke. By her reasoning, any academic that disagreed with any other academic would be guilty of depriving them of their good name. Rubbish. She is an academic. If she cannot stand public debate about truth -claims, then, perhaps, she might find another line of work or at least stay out of the public eye. Even St. Paul recognized the usefulness of disagreements (c. f., 1 Corinthians 11:19, for example).

    It is really hard for me to express an opinion about your interaction with prof. Zagano without coming close to the sin of rash judgment, myself, so I will stay out of that. I know that I, personally, can be sensitive to criticism about some of the opinions I hold. It is a failing that many professors have (and we can be as sensitive as the next person), but I can’t claim to know what prof. Zagano feels regarding her stance of deaconesses . That you have not read all of the material can, I repeat, can be frustrating to a teacher, but, heck, I am sure that there are many scholars who have read most of her material and even more material who would and do disagree with her. Should they be kicked out, as well?

    If I were offering a MOOS on the history and development of Modern Pentecostalism, for instance, and you replied that the Church has approved of the modern Charismatic Movement and provided a partial quote from the CCC to support this, should I kick you off of the board because you haven’t read the material? I might tell you that the answer is provided in the material and to contact me after you have read it, but, unless you are either trolling or becoming obnoxious, I would not kick you off of the board. Indeed, if worst-came-to-worst, I would provide you with the counter-arguments showing why the Church cannot approve of the movement, at the level of dogma, I might add, and refer you to the original documents, by link, if they are available, on-line. Some of this depends on class size, time available to the professor, etc.

    I have participated as an outside expert on an on-line upper-level psychology class on humor. I interacted with many of the students and I learned a lot from them. They asked a lot of good questions. The discussion never got heated, as I am sure that one on Pentecostalism, might. Perhaps, professors should not offer courses on which they have a personal stake in the material. It can cause them to be territorial. I have to watch out for that tendency in myself and try (I don’t always succeed) to be detached from my own opinions.

    I am sorry that you had such an experience, but, really, were you expecting anything, else? You could have read the course material, I will fault you for that, since one must know your, “enemy,” in a debate, but since when should any discussion be limited to a restricted corpus of material? This is what makes arguing with Bible-only Christians often a thankless task. You have the right to introduce any relevant evidence and that evidence has a right to a hearing. It sounds like what you presented did not get the proper analysis that it deserves.

    You are not, by the way, guilty of libel, in my opinion. You did not, knowingly, attempt to mis-represent Prof. Zagano’s opinions, and, especially in a restricted on-line course, she will be hard pressed to make the case of any public damage. On your blog, it seems that you posted excerpts from the discussion board. Now, mark me, well – you are allowed to do so (barring any contractual obligations to the contrary), since professors are considered public figures in the act of teaching (they are, “professing”), but Prof. Zagano, by acknowledging your interactions, without you giving her permission to do so, may (I would have to see the contract you signed), I repeat, may, have herself, been guilty of violating federal educational privacy laws, since she is not supposed to, ordinarily, acknowledge the scores or actions of a student in her class to someone not in the immediate chain of command, without a federal court order. It is, sort of, like the seal of confession, in that regard. The MOOS might not, however, be governed by FERPA laws. Call any university legal department to check. If the MOOS was not sponsored by Hofstra University and does not use federal funds, then, chances are, it is not covered by FERPA laws, but, simply becomes a type of personalized opinion course:



    I don’t know if any if the tutors were compensated by federal funds or if the MOOS used federally funded computer facilities, even if the course was not, directly, offered through Hofstra University. If not, she might be okay. This is a murky area. Still, you are no more guilty of defamation than she is. You both are citing the same conversations, after all.

    The current laws on defamation by bloggers are, also, murky, at best:


    In any case, I wouldn’t waste too much time worrying about it. Your participation is done. You had your say. Now, if you continue to go on and on about things, then, you might wander into harassment territory, but I, personally, do not see a case for libel or even sin on your part. How can stating the Church’s teaching every be a sin? Public disputations were common in scholastic circles in the Medieval period and no one claimed sin on the participants unless malice or heresy could be proven. As a theologian, she should be familiar with the tradition.

    The Chicken

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. KevinSymonds says:

    Let us not forget that dubium was posed to the CDF shortly after OS was published (1994). The CDF responded to the dubium in 1995, answering in the affirmative that yes, OS’ teaching on an all-male priesthood is a matter of the Deposit of Faith and infallible.

    CDF Response to Dubium:

    CDF Note on the Dubium:

  11. Mike says:

    Well done, Elizabeth. The arguments against your position appear to be rooted in the line of thinking that, half a century ago, brought to the fore “dynamic equivalence,” which when practiced vigorously was apt to strike one as being less related either to dynamism or to equivalence than to searching for loopholes in the Eighth Commandment.

    Put another way, counterfeit doctrine, no matter how earnestly or broadly disseminated, is still heresy. Thank you for keeping up the good fight.

  12. Imrahil says:

    Dear KevinSymonds,

    you’re right to highlight that. Playing the Devil’s advocate, though, I’d say that 1. the CDF is no organ of infallibility, so, we have a teaching A that the teaching B is infallible, but teaching A is, itself, technically fallible. 2. Ordinatio sacerdotalis wasn’t intended to be itself a dogma, technically speaking, but a judgment over the existence of a tradition (which the infallible part); by the intended sense (“to strengthen the brethren”, “definitely”, etc.) it was meant to be definite, which probably means infallible (now the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis itself which is not directly “there must not be women priests” but “there is a Church tradition that excludes women priests) but that’s, probably again, only “dogmatic fact” and not “faith and morals”. Now the Church does teach that the Pope can teach infallibly about dogmatic fact (the classical example being the Anglican Orders question), but to my knowledge she does so fallibly (the dogma of Vatican I was “only” about faith and morals).

    Talk about second, third, and fourth derivative…

    but I tend to be abbreviating and will speak of a quasi-dogma, which it is.

    Salvo Errore et Omissione (and should I have made any mistake against the Catholic faith, it was only bad knowledge and not illoyalty.

    Anyway, not much is won even if we should have, by our good arguments (which we have), turned a protest against the Church not ordaining women into a protest against the Lord not allowing women to be ordained. We must argue that all-male priesthood is something good and something that should be. But then, I suspect, we will not be able to align ourselves (with a “please grant us this one exception”) to the gender-mainstreaming movement.

  13. Athelstan says:

    There’s an old definition of fanatic that runs thusly: “Someone who can change neither their mind nor the subject.”

    That is brought to mind whenever I see Ms. Zagano drop in on various Facebook conversations involving deacons, especially that of Deacon Greg Kandra. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, so long as it’s about deacons – you can almost guarantee an eventual appearance of Zagano asking “But what about women deacons?” It can be a story of deacons being ordained in X diocese, or a deacon running a program, or a deacon eating breakfast; it doesn’t matter. Zagano will take any opportunity to press zealously the case that women should be ordained deacons. And she won’t settle for some non-sacramental office. Perhaps she hopes that relentless persistence wil lsimply wear the opposition down.

    And so it’s not a surprise that she seems resistant to engaging differing viewpoints in her online conference/seminar. There’s a fanaticism there that’s not really open to genuine dialogue. It also doesn’t seem open to the facts on the ground, even when they come straight out of Denzinger in plain language.

  14. Kerry says:

    The Chicken, Elizabeth D, Augustine Thompson O.P.; what terrific commenters, always insightful.
    Nice shootin’ Lady & Gentlemen.

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    The BBC just declared that it will no longer book guests that believe global warming does not exist. Progressives often are apparently so insecure about their positions they can’t defend them. The only recourse is to silence anyone who disagrees with you. No worries Elizabeth, and good for you!

  16. Elizabeth D says:

    Kerry, you are kind, how could I deserve mention between the superb Chicken and the wonderful Fr Augustine as a commenter?

    Thanks especially to Fr Augustine who more than supplies for my lack of being a theologian… I think his interpretation may be right, and I would so much rather be his student than Professor Zagano’s.

    Chicken, thank you for the opinion I am not a libeler. Yes my low level of engagement with the intended course materials understandably frustrated her; I think she put a lot of work into the course. It probably would have given me more insight into how she is thinking, I do not think it would have persuaded me to agree with her about many things we didn’t already agree about. The little time I did have in the last few weeks I did not feel drawn to spend on that. And you have little to worry about me defending the Charismatic movement, I am very allergic to it. I do not myself accuse Zagano of any law violations or ethics violations!

  17. catholiccomelately says:

    I was one of the “less than 300” who enrolled in Zagano’ s MOOS course …. taking Father Z’ s suggestion. I listened to her lectures, the Q an A, and dropped in on the extra videos. I did not participate in the discussion boards, realizing that , like Elizabeth D, my comments and questions were likely to be unappreciated. (She was braver and more considerate than I.)

    Zagano’ s arguments bounced around the early Church Fathers, ancient and current Eastern Orthodox teaching and praxis, iconography and history of the first four centuries, the development of monasteries and the role of abbesses, in and out of the 12th century theologians, and into contemporary understandings of “gender” equality and roles. It seems she asserts that what was “lost” before the 12th century must now be revived.

    Even, or maybe, especially, in the face of the teachings of the Church. Her disdain for Pope Emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Mueller are especially sharp; her hopes for Pope Francis to remake the Church equally so.

    Thanks to all who have so ably spoken here.

  18. Elizabeth D says:

    There’s still some time, Catholiccomelately; your voice is legitimate and deserves to be heard even if it is a voice crying out in the wilderness. I approached it just expressing what I believe. No need and no reason to be antagonistic.

  19. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    It occurs to me when you have groups such as the aptly named “Commission on Women” (CoW) in a certain jurisdiction that Fr. Z would be familiar with, it would be appropriate for there to be some MOOS. :-)

  20. Legisperitus says:

    Apropos of the comment by Augustine Thompson O.P., someone should point out to Prof. Zagano that the word “sexism” did not exist until 1970, so clearly there could have been no sexism before then.

  21. catholiccomelately says:

    Elizabeth D., thank you for your encouragement. I may just send an email to Dr. Zagano at her Hofstra office with some overall comments. I bear her no malice nor do I want to argue with her “fans”. I think I will leave that to abler priests, theologians, and Chickens …. and to faithful people like you.
    My own background includes 30 years of ordained ministry as a Lutheran (woman) pastor, which is odd (or maybe mysterious) given how conservative I have always been theologically. And I spent the better part of 2 decades wrangling with progressive Christians. I was glad to lay it all down and come “home” to the Catholic Church in Jan. 2011.
    The central issue I hear over and over is the resistance to Authority ….. except, of course, those “authorities” one desires to use to prove one’s point. That is what I kept hearing in and underneath Zagano’ s arguments for ordained women deacons. It’s a very Protestant approach …..
    Thank you for your thoughtful and respectful comments here … and for your blog. I enjoy reading them.

  22. Elizabeth D says:

    Catholiccomelately, welcome home. I think that is a particularly significant life experience you have had and Professor Zagano should listen respectfully to what you have to say, especially since you did take the time to view her course materials. I think your interpretation is good.

  23. Michelle says:

    At the risk of nitpicking, I participated in the MOOS and I note that the piece from Sr. Sara Butler ends with her quite clearly and unequivocally stating her opposition to the ordination of women to the diaconate.

  24. catholiccomelately says:

    Michelle .. not nitpicking! Accurate comment. But I was speaking of Zagano’ s contributions to the seminar. I found her less than convincing on a theological and historical level. She collapsed emotions and hopes with assertions of what must be done. One thing she said that set me back (in speaking of the service of women in the first century): “Jesus had nothing to do with that! That was a decision of the Church.” That is an odd thing for a Catholic to say about the work of the Apostles and their early followers …. She also made great historical and theological leaps that took my breath away, collapsing examples of assumed functions of women deacons in the earliest years of the Church with a perceived denigration of women in this century because they have no “authority” (read power).

    Sr. Sara Butler was the lone voice within the seminar to assert that women should not be ordained as deacons or priests. Zagano mentioned her in an earlier lecture from Yale (included in this seminar) and lumped her in with Cardinal Mueller(whom Zagano obviously despises) as two isolated voices against the ordination of women.

    I appreciated Dr. Ditewig’s contributions on the history of deacons and the discussions surrounding the renewal of the diaconate after WW II and for the 2nd Vatican Council. That was helpful information.

    Elizabeth D, Thanks. Like you I have limited time but I might outline some specific points which Zagano (and others) made that I could raise questions about with her. Any suggestions?

  25. Matins says:

    In the large view, ones position in the Eternal Church is determined by holiness, not by job title. Cultivate holiness, and the Holy Spirit will guide you to your proper place.

  26. gordon.w.thomson says:

    These MOOS are milking the issue for all it’s worth, they are udderly ridiculous! :-)

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