Latvian Lutherans ban female ‘priests’

Here’s a step in the right direction for our upcoming ecumenical celebrations of the Reformation!

From IOL:

Women priests voiced dismay on Wednesday after Latvia’s Lutheran church ruled it would no longer allow women to be ordained, putting it at odds with its counterparts in other countries.

Lutheran churches in the United States, Canada, Germany, Norway and Sweden for example not only allow female priests but have also appointed female leaders.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) synod, which gathers every four years, voted on June 3 to amend its constitution so that only men could become priests.

“The decision of the synod is very sad,” said 38-year-old Zanda Ohff, who trained for the priesthood in Latvia but moved to Germany to become ordained.

Ordination was theoretically open to women before, although Archbishop Janis Vanags has refused to ordain any new women priests since becoming head of the church in 1993.

According to latest official figures, about a third of Latvians identify themselves as Lutherans, followed by Catholics and Orthodox.

“I started my studies when archbishop Vanags had already been elected but I hoped that some day I might become a pastor,” said Ohff, one of many women priests driven abroad.

“I hoped it would be in Latvia but the last 23 years have shown that it’s not possible,” she told AFP, adding that the church has become more authoritarian under Vanags.

The ruling does not affect the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (LELCA), which is a separate organisation formed during the years of Soviet Occupation to keep the church alive among emigre Latvians.


Read the rest there.

I am reminded just now of the old book by Fr. Miceli, Women Priests And Other Fantasies.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. bbmoe says:

    I attended a service at the Dom in Riga. I got up early to go to morning Mass and due to (a) jet lag and (b) a travel guide that didn’t get into the niceties of denominational distinctions, I thought I was in a Catholic church. It was smells, bells, ad orientum, and my bi-lingual order of the Mass worked perfectly. I thought it was rather strange that the only two statues in the chapel, on either side of the altar, were Moses and St. Paul (I must have been really tired not to get *that*) but otherwise, all proceeded in a perfect orthodoxy, better than the Masses at my home parish. Whoops.

  2. Sloet Steenkamp says:

    As a Latvian, I can confirm that the Latvian Lutheran Church is very “high” and its head, Rt.Rev. archbishop Vanags, is rather pro-Catholic. Furthermore, in the Catholic Church in Latvia Gregorian chant has been almost completely destroyed (together with the Latin Mass), and if you want to hear some Gregorian, you will most likely find it with the Lutherans.
    On the other hand, the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (LELCA) will probably become more active in the country of origin (i.e., in Latvia), ministering to those liberal Lutherans who justify homosexuality, extramarital sex, abortion, uncontrolled immigration of Muslims, multiculturalism and other “progressive” things.
    Remember the famous “Tale of the Antichrist” by Vladimir Soloviev: cheering crowds of mainstream Christians happily join the Antichrist, while the small remnants of faithful Catholics (including the Pope), Orthodox and Protestants, remaining in their benches, move closer and closer to each other…

  3. Hidden One says:

    Now here are people we could have a meaningful ecumenical dialogue with.

  4. Augustine says:

    This is truly good news! It gives me hope that there still are some Lutherans worthy the time of engaging in ecumenical dialog.

  5. John Nolan says:

    Rowan Williams when he was still Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that at a future date the CofE could reverse its decision to ordain women in the interests of the wider unity of Christendom.

    Since then the Anglican Church has ‘consecrated’ women as bishops, so this is no longer even a theoretical possibility (and the same goes for unity).

  6. William Tighe says:

    In 1999, when I was in Latvia, I interviewed both Archbishop Vanags of the Latvian Lutheran Church and Janis, Cardinal Pujats, then the Catholic Archbishop of Riga. The former interview (about a third of the interview, which lasted nearly two hours) subsequently was published in Touchstone:

    while the interview of Cardinal Pujats appeared in Catholic World Report, in its November 2002 issue. I cannot find that interview online, but excerpts from it turned up here:

  7. William Tighe says:

    Perhaps someone with more internet savviness than I possess could locate my interview of Cardinal Pujats. Here is its bibliographical details:

    “At Their Own Pace” by William J. Tighe, in *The Catholic World Report,* Vol. 12, No. 10 (November 2002), pp. 46-49.

    The interview goes on to discuss, in addition to “liturgical reform,” the general religious situation in Latvia and that of the Catholic Church there, and in particular ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Lutherans and the Orthodox.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Could someone (Dr. Tighe, perhaps?) put this in Porvoo Communion perspective? Are the ELCL and the LELCA currently in communion with each other? If so, while the ELCL uniquely has Porvoo observer status, it is also in communion with a church (LELCA) that not only “even has a female archbishop” of its own (as we read in the rest of the article) but is also in full communion with all the other Porvoo churches, with their various distinguishing characteristics (in some cases, ‘same-sex marriage’, ‘women bishops’, formal affirmation of abortion, for three examples). Interesting, in the rest of the story, that LELCA “female archbishop, Lauma Zusevica,” is quoted as saying, ““Various Lutheran churches in Germany and in Great Britain, as well as in the US have expressed their grave discontent with the decision and have indicated that their own relationships with ELCL will be re-examined.”

    And, what Sloet Steenkamp sees as likely for the future, is also stated in the rest of the article to have happened in a first instance: “One congregation in Latvia’s third-largest city of Liepaja has already voted to leave the home-grown church and join the overseas body since the synod ruling, and others could follow.” (The LELCA Wikipedia article expresses this differently, with more detail, such as “In 2016 the church established itself within Latvia, and Archbishop Zusevics stated that it would have to change its name accordingly.”)

  9. William Tighe says:

    Venerator Sti Lot,

    The matter of your second paragraph is easier to answer than that of your first. Parochial (and other) property of the ELCL is not owned by individual congregations – that is, it is not a congregationalist organization in legal terms – and so a church/congregation cannot secede from it. Perhaps what the article implies is that the pastor and members left their ELCL church and founded a new “continuing body” under the aegis of the LELCA – although I have the impression that there may be some individual Lutheran “parish churches” in Latvia which may stand in an uncertain legal relationship with the Lutheran Church there.

    As to your first paragraph’s question, this whole business has always confused me, in that it seems to lack any rational consistency. If you read my interview of Archbishop Vanags, at one point he states that although he is opposed to WO, those women whom two of his predecessors “ordained” can continue to function as pastors because, in effect, having been ordained they cannot now be unordained. Whether he was speaking theologically or legally, his answer made no sense to me then, nor does it now. I write this to preface my “impressionistic” statement that the ELCL and the LELCA seemed to be “in communion” with one another (or, as Lutherans say, be in “Altar and Pulpit Fellowship”) back in 1999/2000, and I have not heard that the situation had changed. On the other hand, if the LELCA really is obtruding itself into Latvia over the matter of WO, then it would be a goof idea of the ELCL would formally and officially sever communion with it. Certainly, I do not believe that I am betraying any confidence in stating that Archbishop Vanags himself back in 2000 told me that the ELCL would have formally to repudiate any communion with churches that “bless homosexual marriages,” and since four of the Porvoo Communion churches – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland – do just that (with the Scottish Episcopal Church just having taken the first step towards it, and Finland too, I think), why have anything to do with this pack of apostates at all?

    The “Porvoo Communion” is, in my view, an absurdity with which no self-respecting church body ought to be associated. Here is another absurdity associated with it – one, indeed, which even involves the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The Estonian Lutheran Church, which ordains women, is a member church of the Porvoo Communion. The Latvian Lutheran Church, which has now – and high time! – formally repudiated WO, is not a member of the PC (albeit having “observer status”) but it is in full “Altar and Pulpit Fellowship” with the Missouri Synod. The small (minority) Lithuanian Lutheran Church, which does not ordain women, is at one and the same time a member church of the Porvoo Communion and in altar and Pulpit Fellowship with the Missouri Synod. Now the Missouri Synod has a commendable reputation for insistence upon “purity of doctrine” – Lutheran doctrine, of course – as a condition for church fellowship, but I would fain know (my MoSynod friends especially) how they manage to square this particular circle.

    I hope that this helps.

  10. William Tighe says:

    Oh, and see this:

    and note the enrages holding forth on the comment thread!

  11. William Tighe says:

    And the last two paragraphs of this:…-a-woman.a186748/

  12. GrumpyYoungMan says:

    I was not aware of this book – just ordered it for a little light reading. Thank you, Father!

  13. William Tighe says:

    Here is some more, and more accurate, information about the situation among Lutherans in Latvia. The questions (preceded by Q.) are mine; the responses (preceded by R.) from a Latvian Lutheran pastor:

    Q (1): First, can parishes/congregations leave the Latvian Lutheran Church, and take their church building and parish property with them? I had the distinct impression that they could NOT do this, but see the last two paragraphs of this article which makes me wonder if I am mistaken about this.

    R (1): By the ELCL constitution and the special-law in Latvia concerning the ELCL, all properties are CO-OWED by the parish and by the ELCL. This in practice means that if a parish wants to sell a property, the parish must get approval from the Consistory (the “governing council” of the ELCL).

    The two cases referred to are extraordinary. The parish which was able to keep its properties (church etc.), was able to win the case because the parish had never officially been part of the ELCL. The second was a part of the ELCL and left. What will happen with m?c.Urdze and his parish is left to be seen, but the juridical precedent is that the properties will remain ELCL. But I am not a jurist, and Latvian jurisprudence is a strange animal.

    Q (2): The second question concerns the nature of the relationship between the LELB and the “exile church,” LELCA, the one headed by the “female archbishop” (for which the customary Latvian abbreviation is LELB?L; that for the LELCA is LELB). Are these churches in what Lutherans call “Altar and Pulpit Fellowship” with one another, despite the stark contrast of their views on WO (and also homosexual stuff – since the “exile church” seems in practice to be very “liberal” in this area, even if it has not openly begun to bless homosexual “marriages”)?

    R (2): We are in altar and pulpit fellowship. Although Lauma Zus?vi?a (the LELCA “archbishop”) at the synod said that the recent vote was “very disappointing” to LELB?L. Male pastors have been called to serve in exile churches to fill vacancies. Female priests do not get called to a parish in Latvia. But — and this is where it gets weird – LELB parishes who have sister parishes in LELB?L, will sometimes have mass together, both pastors at the altar (male and female).

    The archbishop’s position (if I understand him correctly) is that these women have been ordained (albeit wrongly) and the guilt of that ordination must be taken by the ordaining church.

    Q (3): My third question, thus, is – has the Latvian Lutheran Church declared its breach of communion with the Church of Sweden, and with other Lutheran churches that have begun to practice “homosexual marriage?”

    R (3): Our stance here is also “interesting” – communion has been broken at the official level – Consistory to Consistory, Bishop to Bishop, etc. BUT at the parish level pastors are able to make and keep contact with parishes/pastors with whom they can find theological harmony. But our church has stated that she will not (cannot) bless sin. AS the archbishop recently said about the stance of “tolerance” of sexual-minorities, referring to the tension church doctrine and the world’s Zeitgeist he said: “We are open to everyone, but not open to everything.”

    Poorvo is an abomination. And I expect it to be soon brought up in pastor’s conference. The history must be seen from a practical level. LELB joined Poorvo, as I understand, at a time when it was looking for western contacts and joined without much discussion.

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dr. Tighe,

    Thank you very much for your detailed response – and all the additional detail!

    Whew! I had the impression that “The ‘Porvoo Communion’ is […] an absurdity”, but it is good to hear more about it from someone knowledgeable!

    Anglican and Lutheran ecclesiologies and their histories strike me as bewildering but fascinating, and the results seem to me to resemble the ecclesiology of the Orthodox churches (for example, with respect to who can be in and out of communion with whom, ‘internally’ or otherwise) – but that may merely reflect the depth of my ignorance!

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