Women’s ordination, moot question, what? reason or sentiment?

Dr. James Kottoor Published on 07 October, 2015
Women’s ordination, moot question, what? reason or sentiment?

This is  an editorial note on NCR article on whether the  Women’s ordination issue is shut or open. The moot question here is: What is the core of women’s  ordination issue?

 Is it theological, philosophical, sacramental, hierarchical or just administrative? To many it seems to be none of these, but just sentimental attachment to an age-old male domination of the female in Church and society. Why? No one seems to have given or is giving a rational basis for their objections to equal treatment while indulging in double talk. All preach equality and practice inequality between men and women  in the Catholic Church.

 Theologically, scripturally and rationally who is better equipped to project Jesus, the living good news to the whole world? Ab esse ad posse valet illasio, (the fact something has already been done, is the unassailable proof that it can be done again and again) is the Latin saying and compelling reasoning.

Jesus was  brought into the world first through the family  path (you may dispute virginal conception ad nauseam, but none dispute he was born of a woman) by a lady, Mary.  His resurrection, the breath-taking, perplexing, dazzling and unbelievable good news, central to Catholic belief,  was announced for the first time also by a  lady, Mary of Magdela. In doing that she, a lady became the first to evangelize  those who today claim themselves to be  evangelizers  par-excellence, headed by Peter(Pope) of course,  that is, today’s hierarchical class.

Added to all these there are various other considerations:  Many research scholars today deny that Jesus instituted a priesthood at all; the author of the future of the church, in an interview recently said: “ Even St. Augustine never believed in transubstantiation”; scripture speaks of elders, not priests nor of any imposing of hand to create them.  As for the opposite view, Francis himself is clear when he quotes previous Popes, as though to please his predecessors, saying “the door is shut” but not equally clear when he waxes eloquent in condemning inequality in the Church  as the worst sin without mincing words.

Paul fought against Peter to put an end to inequality practiced between Jews and gentiles. Is a similar fight in the making to burry all objections to women’s  ordination and establish  their inbuilt equality and competence to every ministry in the Church? In spite of all this, think of the apparent contradiction, not a single woman in this Synod is allowed to vote. If so what is all the great talk of empowering them? How are their presence in this Synod, going to better than  that of “Cheer girls” in an Indian Kricket match?

 In spite of  all the great admiration this scribe has for the present unparalleled humble, simple Pope in history (“miracle of humility in an era of vanity”), one thing that always got stuck in his throat from the very beginning of his pontificate is his vacillation on the  question of women’s ordination, even his hesitation to allow open  discussion of the issue in public. Is there anything under the sun, which cannot be discussed in public in the Catholic Church?

 How can that be reconciled with  Francis’ counter to the Atheist Editor, that  a person’s conscience and conviction is the voice of (the unknown) God speaking to him, that the world would have been far better  if everybody acted according to his/her conscience,  that there  were great men of excellence among unbelievers and atheists, that the name of his God is not Catholic etc.

Or is Francis waiting for a long  drawn study and consequent  development of a theology of the role of women in the Church to give his final  verdict on Priesthood for Women? He has been speaking often about developing  such a theology. We  may have to wait till this synod is concluded, to see how this question is going to be settled to  everybody’s  or nobody’s satisfaction.


Published in CCV,, Kerala, India, Daily News, NY


Zacharias Nedunkanal, Oct.6/15

             The real problem facing the church, ever since the time of St. Paul, is the male domination. Though the basic document of Christian faith is the Bible and the position of women in it is very strong, the eccentric male leadership continues its hod and won't give it up at any cost. Reason is simply shut down. The pontificate of Pope Francis will be, for all the blessed things he has uttered so far, without consequence, if he fails to gather up enough courage to declare woman as equal to man in creation, though not in history. For history is made by men for men.

             The present historical moment in the Church calls for a determined and drastic change in this by recognizing women as equal partners in every level and sphere of life. In principle and according the the New Testament, priesthood is not necessary to the mission of the Church. But if there are male priesthood to manage the institution, there can and should be female priesthood, too. Any number of bishops' synods is not going to rejuvanate the Church unless women are also called in and allowed to work freely, that is, not as helpers to the men, but themselves as leaders. The fact is that the old generation of the present college of Cardinals and office holders are miserably bound by some sort of sentiment in which the male domination is a sine qua non for the existence of the church. All the evidences, however, from the life of Jesus is to the contrary. But the present chovenistic leadership is blind to this fact. For all the innumerable qualities of the present Pope, he, too, is unfortunately subject to it. Our only hope is in his gathering sufficent courage to throw off board this devilish bondage to an ugly tradition. Zacharias Nedunkanal, asso. editor, CCV


Joseph Mattam,

Dear James,

              None of the arguments produced by the hierarchy is of any real value; they work under an illusion that Jesus ordained men at the Last Supper; that is an invention by the male dominated clerics; I have argued in a number of articles that Jesus could not have ordained anyone a priest, as he never used this word except in the Good Samaritan story and when telling leprosy patients to show themselves to their priests; if all his life he never spoke of this, to say that just when he was to leave his disciples he would ordain priests makes no sense.

            It is obvious that Jesus had a very poor opinion of priests; the primary and almost only function of priests at the time of Jesus was to offer sacrifice; we know Jesus' attitude to sacrifice; the God he presented to us does not call for any sacrifice; he explicitly said that God does not want sacrifice but fidelity, etc; also the cleansing of the temple and the prediction of its destruction also show that he was bringing that system of sacrifice to an end.

            So the main argument on which this opposition is kept up has no foundation at all. The fact that this has been always the tradition says nothing because the tradition is kept up by men only. Women were never given a chance to speak their mind on this matter.

            That Jesus was a male and only a male can represent him is also a faulty argument as it is not the maleness of Jesus that saves us but the fact that he became human. How can we reach these arguments to Pope Francis? Keep trying.

Joe Kurien Joseph from Delhi 

             More people are reacting. Here is another knowledgable person and a forceful writer Kurian Joseph, who leads the campaign against the expansionism of Syromalabar Church which resulted in the Faridabad SM Diocese in Delhi

Dear Dr James

             As an educated Catholic, I find it embarrassing the way the Church treats this issue. I have not heard one argument – cogent or otherwise – to justify this man-made rule and traditions.  I checked with the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia – and found that all it could do was quote church leaders who said this was final. 

           Quote 1: Most Rev. J. Francis Stafford, Archbishop of Denver (November 17, 1995) Catholic teaching on the priesthood  . The substance of that teaching was affirmed nearly 20 years ago by Pope Paul VI in a declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insignores. Simply put, the Church cannot ordain women as priests. She does not have the authority or capacity to do so. 

            In issuing his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II employed the full authority of his office as teacher and universal pastor. The teaching is definitive and has been set forth infallibly by formal declaration. It will not and cannot change. Therefore, for those who see with the eyes of faith, the matter is resolved.

             Do you see why I call it embarrassing? The Church says this is final and right because it “is rooted in the Word of God and unbroken sacred Tradition”. Is that an explanation? Where does “the Word of God” say this? And, as for “unbroken sacred Tradition”, let us face the fact that, until Galileo, it was “unbroken sacred Tradition” that the sun went round the earth! 

              The good Archbishop quotes the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. That document in turn starts like this: “PRIESTLY ORDINATION, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying, and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.” 

              Who made this “reservation”? So back to the basic argument: “It’s always been like that – and our friends in the ‘orient’ do the same thing.” 

              The Church has never even claimed any argument other than “that’s the way it’s always been”, which is not an argument. And in matters of reason or logic, the hierarchy’s perceptions are in no way higher or more authoritative than those of reasonably educated people.

              Whether Pope Francis himself will be able to do anything about this, however, is another issue: after all, he has to fight the most winnable battles, before attacking the citadel of the male hierarchy.

Kurien, New Delhi

                                  John  Wijngaards, Oct. 6/ 15, UK

                  Dr. Wijngaards with his Institute for Catholic Research and promotion of Women’s ordination  in UK writes:

                  FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION is also suppressed in the Church by blocking financial support. Vatican II laid down: “All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression.” (Gaudium et Spes, no 62; Canon Law no 212 § 3.) In spite of that, many official Catholic resources refuse to help fund our work. That is why we rely so much on donations by individuals who think critically.

               Today we received a letter from a Religious Congregation that illustrates the point. Though they personally agree with our points of view, they say that they may not support us.I am printing the letter here, deleting the details of the Congregation in question to avoid breaching confidentiality.

“Dear Council of the Wijngaards Institute: Thank you for your letter asking our Congregation to give a grant towards your work.

Your Institute promotes some causes with strong argumentation, such as the admission of women to the ordained ministries and a new way of exercising authority within the Catholic Church. Although we have sympathy for your points of view, which you base on powerful evidence, we still feel that we do not have the freedom to allocate our funds to objectives which, while ignoring obedience a virtue so highly valued by our founder, so clearly contradict the explicit wishes of a series of Popes.

By our Constitution we simply cannot go against the express wish of a Pope. One of the wishes of the deceased Pope John Paul II was precisely that the admission of women to the priesthood should not be discussed. In private many of our members will treat this papal request with prudence. But it is different where our funds are concerned. We simply may not release them for this or other discussions that criticise authority.

So I have to inform you that we cannot honour your request.With all best wishes for your work”, etc. If this letter saddens you, as it does us, please consider giving us your own financial support. Believe me, we need it!”

Isaac Gomes from Kolkotta

Isaac Gomes,, Oct.6 /15


Dear Dr Kottoor,

                  The last part of my observation to your article WHAT IS THE HURDLE: REASON OR SENTIMENT?

                  It has been years since Fr Joris passed away.  St Xavier's College is now filled with girl students who are rubbing shoulders with boys. And Park Street Police Station has not been converted into a Maternity Home as perceived by Fr Joris. It still remains as it was - a  Police Station as before. 

                  So this proves that the notion (or shall I say the wrong notion) on women about their inability to be on par with men, is mostly in the mind, as was the case with Fr Joris, one of the most famous educationists Calcutta has ever seen.

                  It is time we gave our women equal rights and gladly welcome them into our fold (read the Church Hierarchy). 

                   The Rome Synod without any voting rights to women participants would be meaningless, especially when it is on the Family.
Regards and all the best. Isaac, Kolkotta

 An afterthought from Isaac Gomes 

Dear Dr Kottoor,

It is an established fact that the Church has always has created and maintained a deliberate dichotomy on the place of woman in the community.  While it extols Mother Mary to the sky for all her immaculate virtues, it treats women as second class citizens and makes no qualms about it.  It's hypocrisy gets thoroughly exposed when it has to deal with issues like equality of women in all spheres of the church hierarchy including their right to be ordained.

From the theological point of view nowhere it is written that the Church will be run by priests and that it would be an all-male bastion.  Even if there be some mention on the specific role of women, it has to be taken with a grain of salt as after all even Theology is written by men!

Regarding Jesus having instituted priesthood, this cannot be true for it was the Priestly class that put Jesus on the Cross.  At the most Jesus might have meant a "Collegial" group of leaders, both men and women, considering he was very fond of his mother Mary and also Mary Magdalene.  He could not have destined a second-class role for women.

One possible reason according to me for the Catholic Church Hierarchy not allowing women to come to close to them on equal footing is that this will entail regular interaction with them putting their vows of celibacy to serious test.

I remember the famous quote of Fr Joris, late Belgian Principal of B.Com. Department St Xavier's College Calcutta.  On being questioned by a reported why he was opposed to St Xavier's College being fully Co-educational (B.Com. at that time was all-boys department), Fr Joris replied if this were allowed, then Park Street Police Station (opposite the college) would soon become a maternity home!

Regards, Isaac 

The question is whether this on going discussion will be guided by reason, sentiment or pious faith in the Faith of Papal pronouncements.

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