The Inferior Mix
The Real Reasons Why the Catholic Church Does Not Ordain Women
Annie Lally Milhaven, Conscience, 18 (1997) no 3, pp.12-14.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions.
Annie Lally Milhaven is a writer, lecturer, and adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island.
Once again the Vaticans refusal to ordain Catholic women is claiming headlines. The news seeps down to local papers and though in deep parts of their beings many women note and are offended by such news, few seem to respond to the oftrepeated proscription. The main reason given to the faithful by the Vatican as to why women are inadequate to the priestly calling is that Christ, at the Last Supper, chose only menonly twelve Jews [no Poles, Italians, or Irish]-to be priests. Catholics seem generally to accept that rationale and move on.
Today women are in every field of inquiry and human endeavor. Dr. Shannon Lucid was awarded the Congressional Space Medal in December 1996 for having stayed in space the longest of any American astronaut. Early in 1997, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that she was on her way to visit thirty countries in the interest of this vast and complex nation. Women are presidents of universities. What is it then that makes them unequal to the task of celebrating and participating in the Christian act, as men do, at Mass? To find the answers, we must examine in more depth the churchs objection to ordaining women; this will take us back to the first Mass.
The first Mass was a Jewish Seder or Passover meal celebrating the Exodus from Egyptian captivity. I have attended Passover Seders for which Jewish women spent days in preparation. Without the women, the meal would not have been prepared and served. Where were the Jewish women on the night of that special Seder? Who prepared the bitter herbs, lamb, and goblets for wine shared amidst many biblical and rabbinical readings? Who practiced over and over with the youngest child to prepare the question asked in Hebrew, "Why is this night special above all others?" To my surprise, singing broke out in full throat at the end of the Seders I attended. Women, with men and children, concluded the meal as someone gleefully announced: "Next year in Jerusalem."
The first Christians were "Jews who took the Seder and transmuted it, eventually, into the Christian Mass. Women not only lent their homes and fortunes to provide places to celebrate Mass; they also officiated. This is abundantly shown by New Testament scholars such as Harvey Cox and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, among others. But by the second century of the Common Era, however, the women were silenced: "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have. authority over men; she is to keep silent." (1 Timothy 2:11-12) Most Catholic women remained silent until something happened in the 1950s and 60s. Then a few pioneer scholars like Mary Daly, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Rosemary Radford Ruether began to examine and explain to the rest of us why women are the second sex in the church.
These hardy souls went down into the depths of Judeo-Christian religion where they found that Judaism and the Bible (especially Leviticus, chapter 12, and Deuteronomy, chapter 22) posed the problem of womens uncleanness and, hence, their inequality with men. Indeed women were viewed as polluters of men, and men were commanded to avoid women at certain times and to cleanse themselves after sexual intercourse. Christianity went one better: women (and men) transmitted sin, original sin, to every newborn baby. Only priests have the power to remove this "stain" from the little ones soul.
The same probing scholars went further. They examined the roots of philosophy in the West, as well, and found that Greek thinkers like Aristotle described women and men in dualistic terms. Men, Aristotle noted, are rational, women; emotional; men active givers, women, passive receivers; men transcendent from above, like God; women, immanent, from beneath, earthy and sullying. Men then called themselves the standard, the norm of what it is to be a full human being. Women and children did not meet this standard. Women, children, and slaves were not normative, "full" human beings.
Thus, according to Ruether, men became "the monopolizers of self-definition" and projected onto women the untaimable traits in themselves. Women became the repositories of the cast off human traits of men, such as emotions, giving men the obligation not to feel or cry. It is this philosophy of the superiority of men, their rinsing out of our deep humanity, and the inferior mix named "Woman" that men have transmitted through three millennia of Western religion and philosophy. This thinking saturates the bone and bloodstream of educated men in the West - a line of thinking women, many women unfortunately; continue to accept unexamined. Such thinking corrodes the minds of the men who sit at the top ín the Vatican; it underpins religion and culture in the West. It is the reason why only 3 percent of the largest American corporations have a woman at the helm; and why women, who comprise the majority in the United States, are a minority in American politics, power, and access to power. This brings us back to priestly ordination.
And so it happened
Pope Paul VI in 1977 stated that only men can be ordained. The pope wrote, "ít is a question of the unbroken tradition throughout the church .... The priest,... [is] taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration ...." Such would not be the case he added, were a woman to preside and celebrate. This kind of theology led Ruether to conclude: "Women can " represent only the creaturely (female), side, never the divine (male) side... The possession of male genitalia becomes the essential prerequisite for representing Christ, who is, the disclosure of the male God."
Professor Nancy Jays posthumously published, splendid opus, Throughout Your Generations: Sacrifice, Religion, and Paternity (1992), found that in diverse matrilineal and patrilineal cultures, ancient and modern, only men celebrate sacrifice: Jay concluded that sacrifice is the only cure men have "for being born of woman". Sacrifice provides for men what biology denies. Catholic teaching insists that each Mass is an actual reenactment, a spilling anew of Christs blood each time the ritual is celebrated. But the sacrifice of the Mass and the shedding of the blood of animals in sacrifice, even the blood-letting in the ravages of war, are all seen as rational acts under the control and timing of mens intellect. Blood-letting from such allegedly rational acts, men claim, purifies. But the shedding of blood by women in the menstrual cycle or in childbirth are unpredictable in time. They, therefore, are seen as irrational acts, not under the control of the will. Such blood pollutes men and the sanctuaries men so carefully guard.
What are we dealing with in this complex theory, this turning inside out of womens being? We are dealing with fear; we are dealing with dread - the dread and fear of losing power and control. I often ponder, what is the vacuum, the emptiness that must be in the hearts and souls of men that led their brightest minds to fashion, teach, preach, and continue to tell us that only men are full human beings?
I know firmly, and believe more firmly, that such a turning upside down is due to the incredible power and ability of woman to bear children and to people the earth to the tune of 5 billion in our time alone! It is a stunning achievement, as John Giles Milhaven disclosed after holding our daughters hand during her labour and the delivery of her daughter, Stephanie before he hurried to his class at Brown University. There, he told his students: "It, is no wonder that we men are afraid of women and that we try to keep them down, for what I just witnessed this day is a stupendous feat of power and strength. We men are afraid, of such power and strength. We fear and deny womens superiority".
Just as that power, strength, and creativity of women will flow on to the end of time, so too; it is not likely that the issue of Catholic womens ordination to the priesthood will soon fade away .