Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
Please address all correspondence    e-mail:
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA

No. 17 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program May 1988

Athanasius Contra Mundum
The U.S. Bishops' Proposed Response to Concerns of Women

by John F. McCarthy

        The first draft of the U.S. Bishops' "pastoral response to women's concerns for church and society" has been public since last April 21. The feminist orientation of the draft reflects a profound shift of mind and heart away from traditional concepts of Christian womanhood and Christian manhood. I believe that this document was published, not simply to produce a kind of fait accompli that would henceforth be irreversible as a position of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, but rather as an opportunity for others to examine and publicly criticize with reasonable arguments the statements that would appear erroneous and even offensive to many. It is with this understanding that I have criticized the draft.

        The writers of the draft rely heavily on other statements of United States bishops, including submissions by them to the world Synod of Bishops. They do not report the negative reactions of bishops in other parts of the world to their feminist ideas, nor do they address the fact that for the U.S. bishops to move unilaterally on this issue could be a violation of the principle of collegiality.

        The inspired words of Sacred Scripture, beginning with the teaching of St. Paul, take a beating in the draft from the feminist interpretation of the Bible in a way and to a degree heretofore never witnessed in what is intended to be a document of the Church. If this attempted reinterpretation of Sacred Scripture in a feminist key becomes official, how many more millions of American Catholics will be alienated from Catholic preaching or wooed away into Evangelical Protestantism by missionaries claiming that the Catholic Church does not adhere to the genuine teaching of the Bible?

        Feminists are quoted in the draft as objecting to male attributions given to God in the Bible and in Catholic preaching (No. 191). Feminism demands equality, even on the level of divinity. Now, God is neither masculine nor feminine, and the angels are neither masculine nor feminine, but feminists have never objected to the male characterization of the Devil. It was Lucifer who first said, "I will ascend," and it may be Lucifer who keeps saying to feminist women, "Ascend" and be like God by taking away the masculine superiority that is appropriated to Him in the Bible.

        In the area of sexual morality, the draft falls short of Catholic expectations even in more specific areas. One of the most unfortunate sentences in the draft is that which states: "We especially encourage a spirit of compassion toward those who in good conscience have not lived in accord with the ideals set forth by the church" (No. 121). The writers are thinking especially of "those who find prohibitions against artificial contraception unacceptable." Those who refuse to abide by the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception are deliberately frustrating one of the most fundamental instincts of the human composite, that of procreation of the species, and they are stubbornly preferring their selfish worldly interests to their supernatural vocation to love God and keep His commandments. For the bishops to declare, even obliquely, that these selfish people are acting "in good conscience" would seem to go beyond their mandate as bishops and to open the door to an enormous lie. To remain clearly within their mandate, the bishops would do well to call for a whole new committee and a whole new draft.

        (See the critique of the draft later in this issue.)



by Monica King

        St. Athanasius was one of the greatest Christian bishops of all time. He was born in Alexandria (c. 296) of wealthy Egyptian parents who were able to send their 'little' son (for he was little in stature) to the famous Catechetical School at Alexandria, where the saintly Clement of Alexandria had taught in the late second or early third century. Origen, the great teacher, Scripture exegete, and philosopher, took over from Clement, who was presumed to have been martyred, as head of the school at the early age of eighteen. It was possible therefore for Athanasius to have a broad Greek education combined with a Christian one, and Athanasius soon became well-versed in the Scriptures. Not only his studies, however, but the fact that he grew up during the last and possibly the worst of all the Christian persecutions, under Diocletian, must have had a profound effect on him. Although his mother did not hide his clothes, as we are told of Origen, in order that he should escape martyrdom, nevertheless he was in danger throughout his childhood and refers to it in his De Incarnatione. This work was written when he was a young man and before Arius had even been thought of. It was the second of a two-part treatise, the first part of which was called Contra Gentes, or Against the Heathen. He wrote it as his first major work for a young man called Macarius, who was a recent convert to Christianity. In it we sense a virtual break with his Greek Platonic background. The soul could no longer, as Plato propounded, become divine merely by contemplation of God. It had fallen from its original state of grace and was a very frail entity in need of a saviour. The crux of Athanasius' teaching is that the soul is created out of nothing (creata ex nihilo) and not out of any pre-existent and uncreated matter, because to accept this teaching of Plato would be to deny that God Himself is the cause of matter and therefore to impute limitation to God, just as it is a limitation on the part of a carpenter if he can make nothing unless he has the wood with which to make it. St. Athanasius saw no diminution of God, only the corruption of man who needed a saviour in order "that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of his body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire" (De Incarnatione, Chap. II). 1

        Some time shortly after Athanasius had written his first work, the Alexandrian presbyter and popular rector of a suburban parish, Arius, began to teach that Christ was inferior to the Father, and that "Son of God" was a mere courtesy title. Arius maintained that in actual fact Christ owed his existence to the Father, and that therefore to suggest that he is equal to the Father or "consubstantial" with the Father was in some way to detract from the Godhead. The doctrine of Arius naturally caused a furore in the Church of those days, and the Emperor Constantine himself intervened by calling a council which was the first oecumenical council of the Church at Nicaea in the year 325 A.D. There it was decided to adopt the term homoousion, or 'of the same substance or being with the Father,' to describe the unity which exists between the Father and the Son. This formula was accepted by the majority of bishops, but, as in most councils of the Church, there are always those who leave the council-chambers with feelings of dissatisfaction and even resentment. In this case it was Eusebius of Nicomedia, the leader of the Arian group at the Council, who was the chief trouble-maker. He immediately demanded the recall of Arius from banishment and persuaded Constantine to oppose the Bishop of Alexandria, who was by this time Athanasius himself. Athanasius refused to comply and was, therefore, deposed from office by Constantine and sent into exile. When Constantine died two years later, Athanasius was restored to his see. But Eusebius, ever busy making trouble behind the scenes, prevailed upon Constantius, the Emperor of the East, and Athanasius was replaced by another pseudo-bishop of Arian persuasion. So, for a second time, Athanasius was forced into exile. In 346 he was again restored, only to be condemned shortly afterwards by a council at Milan. On this occasion Athanasius spent seven years in hiding with the monks in the desert. They were not by any means fruitless years, for Athanasius took a great interest in monasticism. With the Coptic monks he found peace, inspiration, and time to write. He wrote a life of the founder of the Desert Fathers, St. Antony, who lived to the ripe old age of 105. It was also in the desert that Athanasius tackled the Arians and wrote his famous Contra Arianos. The monks, though some of them were said to have been illiterate, nevertheless helped him greatly in distributing his writings to the people.

        After his fifth period of exile, Athanasius was at last brought back by popular acclaim throughout Egypt to his beloved Alexandria, where he spent the last seven years of his life shepherding the Egyptian Church. He died about the year 373, and his feast-day is kept on May second.

        The work of Athanasius did not end there; it was carried on by the great Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil and the two Gregorys. But it was Athanasius who laid the foundation, and they merely tidied up the terminology. The homoousion doctrine was finally ratified at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The Nicene faith which St. Athanasius had so vigorously defended is contained in the Nicene Creed, not actually compiled by him. In it is affirmed the belief that, if Christ is God, then He must be God in the same sense as God the Father, that is, He must be "of one and the same substance or being with the Father." As the Cappadocian Fathers affirmed, the doctrine of one substance in the Trinity underlined the essential "stuff" of the Godhead, whilst at the same time teaching that there were three distinct Persons, or hypostases, within the Trinity.

        The unity and trinity of God were preserved for all time, and Arius' attempts to demote Christ to being less than God had failed. Difficult times lay ahead for the Church in the next few centuries, but if this truth had not been maintained in the face of Arius, it is difficult to see how Christianity would have survived.

        St. Gregory of Nazianus, his contemporary, writing a few years after the death of Athanasius tells us how he was "raised up for the Church's need." This was how he described the way in which Athanasius fulfilled the office of bishop:

He was sublime in action, lowly in mind; inaccessible in virtue, most accessible in intercourse; gentle, free from anger, sympathetic, sweet in words, sweeter in disposition; angelic in appearance, more angelic in mind; calm in rebuke, persuasive in praise, without spoiling the good effect of either by excess, but rebuking with the tenderness of a father...2

        Athanasius contra mundum is a phrase that no doubt many students of Church history have often heard. It is certainly no less exaggerated than St. Jerome's remark, "that all the world suddenly woke up to find itself Arian." Perhaps people were more concerned about the doctrines of the Church in those days, but, however suddenly it appeared, it was centuries before Arianism disappeared. No doubt the errors which have sprung up since Vatican II, although not contained in the Council documents, will take as long, if not longer, to die out.  


l. St. Athanasius on the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (trans. and edited by a Religious of C.S.M.V.: Mowbray, 1953).

2. Greg. Naz. Or. XXI (trans. by Browne and Swallow), in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII.



by John F. McCarthy

        Partners in the Mystery of Redemption is the title given to the "First Draft of the U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Response to Women's Concerns for the Church and Society." This document was published in the April 21, 1988, issue of Origins: NC Documentary Service.

        I. The Feminist Orientation of the Response  
        The response is addressed in part to the uplifting of women in society. That is a mission that the Church has had from its very beginning, and this theme could be developed into some good recommendations, if it were not overlaid and largely vitiated by the new ideology of feminism. What has caused concern in the minds of many Catholic women and men is the prominent new feminist philosophy superimposed in the document over the valid traditional teaching of the Church. The new ideology is expressed in a radical and thoroughgoing opposition to what the drafting bishops call "sexism" and "sexist attitudes." According to the document: "Sexism, directly opposed to Christian humanism and feminism, is the erroneous belief or conviction or attitude that one sex, male or female, is superior to the other in the very order of creation or by the very nature of things. ... Sexism is a moral and social evil" (No. 39).

        To accredit this definition and rejection of "sexism," the draft can refer to no relevant statement of Sacred Scripture or teaching of the Church, but only to a newly acquired opinion of some American bishops and to a certain attitude that has sprung up recently in feminist circles. In fact, the radical equality of men and women in a clear distinction of roles and, therefore, the eligibility of men over women in the exercise of certain male roles now being sought by feminist women, is the explicit teaching of Sacred Scripture and of the Church. By suppressing the distinction between radical equality of vocation and inequality in the exercise of certain roles, the definition of "sexism" in the draft confuses the issue and places out of focus both the teaching of the New Testament and the constant testimony of the Church.

        In our day we have seen women accepted in many roles and responsibilities in civil society that were previously considered to be roles of men, although often not exclusively so. This has come about largely through greater opportunities of education for women and through technological advances that have made some jobs physically easier for women to do. In expressing criticism of the feminism expressed in the draft response, I would like to make clear that I am in favor of the advancement of women and of enhancing the dignity of women where this is true advancement and true dignity, but I am apprehensive of the forcing of women, or women's, forcing themselves, into roles that belong to men by nature or by divine ordinance.

        Under the guise of "fidelity to the foundational principles and canons of our Christian heritage," and under the title of "Discriminatory Systems, Structures and Styles," the draft calls for "a careful examination of religious and social systems, structures and styles that have marred the mutual respect which ought to exist between the sexes" (No. 224). Now, probably nothing has done more to mar the mutual respect which ought to exist between the sexes than the philosophy of feminism, which causes resentment and envy in women for the exercise by men of roles that belong to men and which makes feminist women intolerable to men in their rejection of their vocation as women.

        The draft response aids and abets the philosophy of feminism, where it goes on to state: "Women have suffered from profound as well as petty discrimination because of an attitude of male dominance which, in any form, is alien to the Christian understanding of the function of authority" (No. 224). Now, for certain defined areas of activity, male eligibility in the form of service, as distinguished from male dominance in the form of oppression, is clearly recognized in the teaching of the Church to be a correct understanding of authority, so that to substitute "discrimination" for "oppression" in the wording of the draft about male dominance "in any form" would appear to falsify one of the foundational principles and canons of our Christian heritage.

        In reflecting on our tradition, the drafting committee declares that "Pauline theology, as expressed in Ephesians (5:22-32) and in Colossians (3:18-21), is especially important for a comprehensive understanding of the Christian vision concerning marriage and family life, even though some of the details found in these passages are conditioned by the cultural patterns of the New Testament era. Their fundamental emphasis is the Pauline teaching that disciples of the Lord should experience a mutual charity rooted in Christ as the motivating and binding force in the marital and familial sphere of relationships. Therefore, no one should treat a spouse as a master or a slave. Both his and her requests have to be in harmony with right reason and the dignity due one another" (No. 86).

        St. Paul says in Eph 5:22-24: "Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church, being himself savior of the body. But just as the Church is subject to Christ so also let wives be to their husbands in all things." In the ideology of the draft response, this teaching of St. Paul is "conditioned by the cultural patterns of the New Testament era" (No. 86), which is another way of saying that this teaching of St. Paul is no longer true today.

        St. Paul explains in 1 Cor 11:3, 8: "But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. ... For man is not from woman, but woman from man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man." Therefore, while "no one should treat a spouse as a master or a slave" (No. 86), and while wife and husband are equal in dignity, they are not equal in ministry within the bond of matrimony, but each excels in a different way. While husband and wife "should experience a mutual charity rooted in Christ as the motivating and binding force in the marital and familial sphere of relationships" (No. 86), this charity is, in the clear teaching of Eph 5:21-33, expressed through a difference of roles: 'husbands excel in charity by treating their wives with the same love and care that they treat their own bodies; wives excel in charity by treating their husbands with loving and voluntary respect. In this wise St. Paul concludes the passage: "However, let each one of you also love his wife just as he loves himself; and let the wife respect her husband." But this concluding sentence, which declares the true "fundamental emphasis" of the passage has been chopped off of the reference made in the draft response (No. 86).

        The New Testament professes the radical equality of men and women in a difference of roles. In Galatians (3:27-29) St. Paul teaches: "For all you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are the offspring of Abraham, heirs according to the promise." Et is clear that this teaching of St. Paul does not eliminate the bodily difference between men and women, it does not make Gentiles the bodily descendants of Abraham, it does not in itself change the social distinction between slave and freeman, it does not change the cultural distinction between Jew and Greek. While this teaching does give an indirect call to diminish the various inequalities in these distinctions, it directly emphasizes the spiritual equality as members of the Mystical Body of Christ and as heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven (where men and women "will be like the angels of God" - Mt 22:30), and it in no way contradicts what St. Paul says elsewhere about the different roles of men and women.

        The drafters of the response are not recognizing the equality of dignity but difference of roles in the female and male sexes, where they aver that in Lumen Gentium "it is stated unequivocally that 'there is in Christ and in the church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex'" (No. 202, quoting Lumen Gentium, No. 32). Lumen Gentium says textually in this place (No. 32): "The holy Church, by divine institution is ordered and ruled with marvellous variety. 'For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another (Rom 12:4-5).' There is, therefore, one chosen People of God: 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism' (Eph 4:5); a common dignity of the members from their regeneration in Christ, a common grace of children, a common calling to perfection, one salvation, one hope and undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality as regards ancestry or nation, social condition or sex...."

        The drafters of the response seen to be speaking in contradiction to the Judeo-Christian understanding of the diversity of roles among the people of God; they are opposing a subjective reading of what they call the "essence" of this understanding (such as the undifferentiated principle that "what offends against human dignity is ultimately unjust" - No. 163) to the actual and express wording of that same understanding, which the feminist thesis violates and overturns. The draft goes on to say: "Customs and practices that do not promote the equal dignity of women must be adjusted to reflect more faithfully the essential teachings and traditions of the church" (No. 229).

        The essential teaching and tradition of the Church is that women and men are equal in dignity (Rom 10.12), but their roles are not all the same (1 Cor 14:34-35). To say that in order to be "equal in dignity" men and women must have identical roles in society, or that all male roles (except possibly the priesthood) should be open to women, is a confusion of logic in the interpretation of the Faith. We should rather say that the inspired teaching of St. Paul provides a norm that may not be contradicted but which may be applied to different cultural situations. Here, the draft, in its definition of 'sexism' and in its application of feminism, contradicts the inspired teaching of St. Paul, and makes him by implication a 'sexist,' because his insistence upon the functional subordination of women to men in certain specified roles is presented as a radical inequality between women and men.

        I think that the document would do better if it presents what St. Paul is saying in terms of vocations in the Church, that is, if it would distinguish the roles of men and women in civil society from the vocations of men and women in the Church. When St. Paul says that "the head of every woman is the man," he is referring especially to the relationship of the woman to the man in Christian marriage, and he is saying that, as a spiritual vocation, the woman is called to defer to the man. Similarly, those women who are called to serve in the Church, as an exercise of humility should defer to the men who are ordained ministers in the Church. Such an interpretation would remain faithful to the teaching of St. Paul and would, at the same time, allow for a greatly expanded role of women in civil society.

        But there is no doubt that the inspired Word of God on the lips of St. Paul is clear and peremptory in restricting the ministerial activity of women in the Church. In 1 Cor 14:34-35, it is declared:

Thus I likewise teach in all the churches of the saints. Let women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted thee to speak, but let them be submissive, as the Law also says. But if they wish to learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is unseemly for a woman to speak in church.

        Again in 1 Tim 2:11-15:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. For I do not allow a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men; but she is to keep quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and was in sin. Yet women will be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty.

        One does not get the impression that serious theological attention was given in the draft to the full historical situation of men and women that St. Paul is referring to in these passages. One hears rather the background voices of articulate feminist women who have rebelled against this teaching and have won the hearts of the writers. St. Paul is not forbidding women to learn or to teach, but he is forbidding women to preach or teach in church and to preside over men, especially in ecclesiastical ministry. This idea of subordination by reason of sex is infuriating to the feminist mind, and that fury is given expression in the draft response.

        St. Paul is saying that women should not be teachers of men in matters pertaining to the ministry, that is, they should not give homilies in church, they should not take part in formation of priests and seminarians, they should show a basic respect for the role of men. This is the modesty that St. Paul demands and that feminists refuse to exercise. As for childbearing, St. Paul does not demand that women stay home and bear children. He allows and even prefers the vocation to virginity. What St. Paul is especially warning against here is the worldly anti-childbearing mentality that undermines the nature of womanhood (Gen 3:20) and leads to sins of contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. And these sins are, in fact, harbored and treasured by radical feminists.

        The draft has emerged from an emotional involvement that leads the writers to begin with a public confession of the "sin of sexism": "We therefore regret and confess our individual and collective failures to respond to women as they deserve. We call the people of God to join us in personal and social contrition for the sins of sexism that violate the basic tenets of our faith" (No. 41). "Sexism prevails," they say, "when preachers fail to announce the full dimensions of sins against women in their personhood and dignity, ... for example, arbitrarily excluding or ignoring women and their contributions" (No. 40). But it is arbitrary on the part of the committee to assume that there are no distinctly masculine roles and that the exclusion of women from the sanctuary is sinful, whereas such exclusion is actually based upon divine revelation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

        The draft goes on to say that "some women are offended by the very suggestion that a woman because of her sex cannot represent Christ or image him as a priest. Some, noting that theological opinions vary, insist that Scripture does not decide the question and that the tradition of the church has been colored by the cultural situation of former times, namely patriarchy, a social order characterized by male dominance" (No. 200).

        Thus, they rely on the feelings of "some women" about "the insensitivity of the clergy," in pointing out among other things the following: "Instead of valuing women as peers and partners, some priests treat them as competitors or inferiors. Women are saddened and hurt, therefore, when priests see them as sexual and-or professional threats rather than as potential friends, colleagues and co-workers. What mars the model of partnership is a false view of church as an exclusive masculine hierarchy rather than a community of God's people made up of lay, ordained and religious members" (No. 193).

        There is deep confusion in this statement. In the sacred ministry both lay men and lay women are inferior to priests. Women who want to be ordained or to take over functions in the sanctuary are threats to the sacred ministry and to the Church's understanding of the diverse roles of men and women. The way in which priests, religious, and lay women and men exercise diverse roles in the one community of the Church is clearly explained in the teaching of the Church, and to speak of "an exclusive masculine hierarchy" as a "false view of church" is itself a falsifying of the authentic view of the Church regarding the Hierarchy and the sacred ministry.

        The draft response gives voice to "a desire on the part of many to revise devotional representations that appear to propose Mary as a paradigm of passivity and submission to male authority, a woman valued chiefly for her virginity and maternity, a woman confined to domestic and familial roles" (No. 242). But what the humanist focus of this draft does not recognize is that the faith and devotion of the Church proposes Mary as a paradigm of openness and submission to divine authority, a woman valued chiefly for her virginity and her divine maternity (Lumen Gentium, No. 63), a woman who placed her supernatural vocation above any desire for a professional career in this world. Only by violence can her image be pushed into a feminist mold.

        What is striking about the draft response is the total absence of the image of Christian womanhood that has been presented consistently in the teaching and example of the Church, and in its place appears the image of secularized women pushing their way into areas that belong to men, in particular into the sacred ministries. For these women, "the long-standing practice of the church, according to which only men are ordained to the priesthood, has become a source of frustration and even alienation" (No. 197). The drafters of the response sympathize with this state of frustration. While they feel constrained (No. 217) to quote the authoritative declaration Inter Insigniores of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1976 that "the Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination," they give only grudging assent to this teaching, and they do not defend it themselves. In fact, they hasten to add that "some Catholics, including biblical,, anthropological and theological scholars, do not find all the arguments put forth in Inter Insigniores to be convincing or persuasive" (No. 218), which in plain language means that they themselves are not convinced that the Church is not authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.

        The drafters are eagerly waiting for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to undertake and complete a study which will authorize bishops to ordain women deacons (No. 220). They feel no great pastoral responsibility to point out that it may not be the will of God that women be ordained deacons, as the Church has taught consistently over the centuries. The public declaration of this hope by the drafting bishops may lead to even greater frustration on the part of those women who are already confused and alienated because they cannot become priests.

        At a time when the Anglican Communion is falling into error regarding the priestly ordination of women, it appears to be no service of charity to them for Catholic bishops to raise doubts about the truth we hold, nor does it serve the cause of unity to let Anglicans fall further away from their original faith while toying with the same errors themselves.

        II. The Empowering of Feminist Women  
        It is really a confusion of logic to suggest that the exclusion of women from the sanctuary and from some ministries in the Church is an "oppression" of women (No. 230). Yet the drafters of the response feel compelled to protest against "the exclusion of women and girls from certain aspects of service at the altar" (No. 221), to recommend "that women participate in all liturgical ministries that do not require ordination," and to "encourage the theological preparation of women to preach the Gospel and to use their gifts as preachers in the church, in retreats and in other spiritual conferences" (No. 222).

        What is remarkable in this appeal for the presence of women in the ministry of the altar is the lack of any awareness of the mystical significance of the sanctuary and of why throughout the whole of the Judeo-Christian tradition there has been an exclusion of women therefrom. In the fully humanistic focus of the document the spiritual tradition preserved always by former bishops that there be no mixing of the sexes in the ministry of the altar is completely lost sight of. In such a focus, the sanctity of the sanctuary can vanish and there remain just a group of people moving around the altar and carrying out exterior tasks with no interior meaning or motivation.

        The drafting bishops point out that Canon 230 of the new Code of Canon Law "validates women's participation in the liturgy as lectors and extraordinary eucharistic ministers" (No. 223). But they do not point out that this authorization was intended without the mixing of the sexes in the sanctuary and only in cases where men are unavailable to minister the Eucharist. Logically, some would say, if women may do this, they should be able to do other things in the sanctuary as well, but it would be more logical and more true to the homogeneous thinking of the Church to return to the practice of using men only as Eucharistic ministers, especially during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, since the limits of the experiment of women Eucharistic ministers have been so badly understood and so poorly observed. The recent authorization to allow women to participate as lectors at Eucharistic celebrations presupposes, according to Catholic liturgical tradition, that the women read from outside the sanctuary. The abuse of this principle does not establish a valid precedent.

        Regarding the formation of candidates for the diaconate and priesthood, the drafters declare: "The sin of sexism should be recognized for what it is, and attitudes tending toward it or an incapacity to deal with women as equals should be considered as negative indications for fitness for ordination. ... We further recommend that women be included on the faculties and staffs of institutions responsible for the formation and education of candidates for the diaconate and priesthood" (No. 228).

        I think that the point of this "empowering" of women is the intent to give feminist women power over men in the life of the Church and in the sacred ministry so that even a priest would have to see himself as an equal or subordinate to women who are not ordained. I see here also the intention of imposing this upon priests by an episcopal dictate overriding the reason and good conscience of the priests involved. And I see this as an invasion of that separation of the sexes that has always in some way been involved in ecclesiastical vocations, both male and female.

        But even more serious is the fact of the kind of women who are thus to be empowered. It is evident that, in listening to the voices of women, the committee heard only the voices of a minority of feminist activists, chiefly among religious women, and did not hear the voices of the majority of women in the Church or of those religious women who are living their vocation according to their vows. The few references to the testimony of the majority of women (e.g., in Nos. 184, the second part of 194, and 244) are absolutely buried under the avalanche of voices from malcontent women of the new style. Even under the title of "voices of affirmation," the same feminist voices are heard as under "voices of alienation." Thus, as a "voice of affirmation": "As I reflect upon my experience as a Catholic woman, what stands out the most for me is that I choose to participate in an institution that is discriminating against me as a woman, (that) I maintain membership in a church that is blatantly sexist" (No. 134). As a "voice of alienation": "Many women detect in our culture a pervasive sexist bias, directly opposed to basic justice" (No. 135). So the same feminist women are quoted on both sides of the question, and the non-feminist women are hardly quoted at all. It is painful to perceive the treatment given to the concerns of women such as the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, the Daughters of Isabella, the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, the Institute on Religious Life, Women for Faith and Family, and other organizations of women who are vibrantly living their vocations according to the model of Christian womanhood that has always been presented by the Church.

        In feminist ideology the only sin is 'sexism,' and in this draft the only thing specifically (and repeatedly) referred to as a sin is the "sin of sexism." Nowhere in the fonts of Catholic doctrine will the "sin of sexism" be found, yet, in the draft response, 'sexism' is called not only a sin but a "heinous sin" (No. 39), that is, a sin "so flagrantly evil as to excite hatred or horror" (Webster). Now, according to the inspired word of Sacred Scripture, there are some heinous sins, such as abortion and homosexual acts, but these are not called sins in the draft response. The drafters say, regarding abortion, that the bishops will "continue to be committed to helping women through societal, diocesan, and pro-life agencies to bring children to term without pressure to choose abortion" (No. 171), but they do not say that for a woman to choose abortion is a sin. The drafters say that "lesbian women express the pain of exclusion or insensitive pastoral care" (No. 69), but they do not say that lesbian activity is a sin. In footnote 72 they quote a previous statement of the NCCB, To Live in Christ Jesus, as declaring that "homosexual activity, as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong," but they do not call homosexual activity a sin. Quoting later (footnote 82) from the NCCB's Human Life in Our Day (41), the draft brings out the following distinction regarding those who deliberately violate the divine law: "Humanae Vitae does not discuss the question of the good faith of those who make practical decisions in conscience against what the church considers a divine law and the will of God. The encyclical does not undertake to judge the consciences of individuals, but to set forth the authentic teaching of the church, which Catholics believe interprets the divine law to which conscience should be conformed." Thus, the draft response, while admitting in a footnote that homosexual activity is "morally wrong" goes on to say implicitly in another footnote that the bishops are not questioning the good faith or judging the consciences of those who decide to engage in homosexual activity.

        In fact, according to the draft: "Lesbian women deserve special understanding and support from the Christian community to enable them to live a chaste and loving celibate life. At the same time we must be ready to hear, with pastoral solicitude and concern, what these women have to say about the particular ways in which their dignity as persons is belittled and demeaned by sexism abetted by cultural prejudices" (No. 126). Now, the "cultural prejudices" referred to take their origin from the common understanding of the natural moral law and from the teaching of Sacred Scripture, which characterizes lesbian activity as a heinous sin (Rom 1:26-32), but those who hold this view are, in the feminist ideology, accused of being "sexists." It is not here a question of women who are merely tempted or prone to lesbian acts, but rather of practicing lesbian sinners, even of self-proclaimed lesbian activists, who resent that their public lesbian image is looked down upon and feared, and this fact is clear, because those who are merely tempted to sins of lesbianism are not known for this at all by others.

        In speaking about homosexuality, contraception, and other sins of the flesh, the response ties together the words "chastity" and "unselfishness" in a way that seems to water down the teaching of the Church regarding purity of heart. While, in "reflecting on our heritage," the draft presents the call to chastity of all who would be God's children, nevertheless, in "responding as bishops," the draft seems ambiguously to define chastity in terms of a superficial humanistic idea of "unselfishness" toward sexual partners, with "love for God" being fused into identity with love for one's partner in the same superficial sense.

        Thus, in "reflecting on our heritage," the drafting committee declares: "Because of sin, men and women are tempted to live 'according to the flesh' (Rom 8:5), that is, selfishly in seeming forgetfulness of their being bound to one another and to God in spiritual love. This selfishness is the root of all sexual injustice and oppression" (No. 95). "To deny the spiritual depth of sexuality, to make genital orgasm its ultimate meaning, is a tragic betrayal of true humanness" (No. 100). "What makes for vibrant marriages and radiant celibate commitments are the sane ingredients of openness to God, generosity, charity, patience and the host of virtues that comprise a holy life. ... Hence, all persons whether married or unmarried, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are called to chastity, a virtue which opens their hearts to friendship and concern for others and does so in a way that excludes selfishness and self-seeking" (No. 107).

        But, in "responding as bishops," the document takes a less ambiguous approach. It says, for instance, that the integration of human sexuality into the universal call to holiness "must be freed from the false notion that Christian sanctity is a matter of progressive separation of the soul or spirit from the body" (No. 120). It says that, along with propagating the teaching of Humanae Vitae against artificial contraception, "it is essential that we foster a dialogue between those who find prohibitions against artificial contraception unacceptable and those who find that the natural regulation of births has enriched and preserved their marriage. ... We especially encourage a spirit of compassion toward those who in goad conscience have not lived in accord with the ideals set forth by the church" (No. 121).

        Traditional Catholic spirituality has never taught that sanctity is a matter of progressive separation of the soul from the body, but rather that sanctity is a progressive liberation of the spirit, of human intellectual consciousness, from the downward tendencies of a body burdened with Original Sin. Sanctity is not separation from the body, or negation of the body, but domination of the disorderly tendencies of the body in favor of the intellectual object of divine revelation and of direct love for God. This ascent of sanctity in relation to sexuality has been beautifully described even in the recent teaching of the Church. A defect that seems to hang over the teaching of this response in the area of sexual morality is the not-excluded teaching of the infamous Human Sexuality report of the Catholic Theological Society of America, which proclaimed the false principle that "we are our bodies" (instead of "we are body and soul") and claimed that there are no sins of genital indulgence as such. The CTSA report denied the whole Catholic tradition that a person can sin against love for God simply by indulging in genital pleasure outside of the right use of marriage, and sought to locate sexual sin only in selfishness or injustice toward other human persons. The repeated tying of sexual sin to "selfishness" in the draft response seems to favor the false teaching of the CTSA report, and thus implicitly to undermine the teaching of Jesus: "If you love me, keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15). The draft does have the bishops say that they accept the responsibility "to sponsor sound doctrinal, sacramental, and pastoral education to facilitate the practice of sexual abstinence before marriage" (No. 124), but they do not say that sexual indulgence before marriage is a sin.

        In opposition to the "often expressed" patronizing attitudes of "clericalism in pastoral ministry," the draft declares that the bishops intend "to ensure that women are empowered to take part in positions of authority and leadership in church life in a wide range of situations and ministries" (No. 225). Which women? The committee has listened to the voices of power-hungry feminist women and has sympathized with their desire for power, no matter how unmortified that desire may be. Jesus never said, "Blessed are the power-hungry, for they shall have their fill." Rather, St. Paul warns against listening to the voices of power-hungry women, where he says: "But I fear lest, as the serpent seduced Eve by his guile, so your minds may be corrupted and fall from a single devotion to Christ" (2 Cor ll:3). And he means also that modern Eves can tempt bishops to overturn holy customs and practices of the Church, even as these women protest against "language with sexist overtones stereotyping females as, for example, temptresses or subordinates" (Ho. 192). In Gal 1:9-10 St. Paul admonishes: "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I should not be a servant of Christ." So may contemporary successors of St. Paul. ask themselves: Are we just trying to please certain women? Are we being tempted to change the gospel of St. Paul to please feminist women who have tasted forbidden fruit and found that it was good? For it is a faithful understanding of the gospel of St. Paul that Eve sinned, not because she was a woman, but because she was a feminist woman, and Adam sinned, not because he was a man, but because he was a feminist sympathizer.

        It is obvious, however, from the draft itself that the preponderance of voices to which the committee has given heed, whether they are referred to as "women," or "some women," or "single women," or "many women," are not simply feminist women but feminist women religious, and that, while the strident call for change in the basic outlook and practice of the Church is corning ultimately, perhaps, from hard-core secular activists, it is coming more proximately from secularized sisters. It is especially some feminist religious women who "are unwilling to stand back and wait for years until the church (acknowledges) equality and the feminine dimension of ministry" (No. 188). These are religious women with a vow of obedience, but they do not show that attitude of obedience which is demanded of men in ministry; rather "they express frustration at having to refer the ultimate decision regarding their religious life to men who do not share their experience" (No. 189). That is, they want to become sacred ministers, not to obey male bishops, but to change the sacred ministry according to their own experiences. Yet the bishops are presented in the draft as saying that they "do not wish to ignore the genuine aspirations of women to be included more in the church's liturgical, administrative and pastoral life" (No. 202). The aspirations of feminist women religious are not genuine; it would be a pastoral mistake for bishops to declare that they are. Many of these religious women have abandoned the corporate apostolates of genuine sisters in order to seek careers in society. As religious vowed to poverty, chastity, and obedience they were a public sign of the universal call to holiness (Lumen Gentium, No. 44), and their formal participation in the work of the Church attracted many vocations. It would be a mistake now for the bishops to belittle the regular religious style of life and empower those who have abandoned it (No. 227), thus giving with one stroke the finishing blow to both the genuine religious vocation of women and the genuine priestly vocation of men. One of the most outstanding defects of the draft response on women's concerns is its insensitivity to the concerns of those religious who have remained faithful to their full commitment as religious in keeping with the spiritual tradition of the Church.

        In conclusion I submit that a proper response to the concerns of women for Church and society in our day must reflect a mere objective understanding of the concerns of non-feminist women who have preserved a balanced view of themselves as women. To have accepted the unbalanced view of feminist women as its own criterion is the greatest methodological error of the draft. Any modification of the draft that does not exclude and positively reject the unhealthy view of feminism will be a pastoral failure and a blow at the true advancement of women.

        A proper response must affirm and defend the concept of Christian womanhood that is presented in Sacred Scripture by St. Paul and others, and then build upon that concept a pastoral model for the hopes and circumstances of the present time. To undermine the teaching of Sacred Scripture by a semantic distinction that claims to preserve the "essence" of what is actually being denied (No. 86) is not correct reasoning or correct preaching.

        The notion of "sexism" presented in the draft is anti-Christian to the extent that it includes a denial of the different roles of men and women in Church and society. Abuses of power by men against women need to be eliminated, but by requiring men to be kind to women, and not by instituting a new mythology of feminism.

        To reduce the differences between men and women in certain roles and functions that have been opened or could be opened without attacking the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the tradition of the Church would be a commendable thing, but to speak of a need to "reduce the stereotyping of the roles and functions of the sexes" (No. 43) is unfortunate phraseology, because it sounds too much like homosexual jargon based on behaviorist psychology. It could be read as an implicit attack on the basic notions of Christian manhood, Christian womanhood, and the Christian family; its implementation as regards the sacred ministry would tend to produce an effeminate clergy, apart from any attempted ordinations of women.

        The draft states the teaching of the Church on the male priesthood, but it does not defend this teaching. In order to be a balanced statement, the draft must not simply advocate the new; it must manifest the same degree of eloquence and persuasiveness in defending what needs to be preserved. The presentation of truth as a mere undefended given that is not being attacked at the moment is an inept way to preserve the truth.

        The reluctance of male bishops to teach women anything relating to the experiences of women is a theologically erroneous attitude. For bishops to present themselves as repentant sexist sinners expressing "personal and corporate contrition for the sins of sexism" (No. 41) is to implicitly attack the good conscience of their fellow bishops around the world, of their predecessors in office, including the Apostles and all the Popes, and all of the holy men and women of the past. The draft is thus insensitive to the faith and practice of the Universal, Church, past and present, and this insensitivity stems from the selfish desires of feminist women. The draft claims that the bishops "must listen first to the will of God speaking in the deepest recesses of (their) hearts" (No. 246), but that the writers of this document have done so is far from obvious. What is obvious is that they have listened to feminist voices speaking into their ears and have trusted the wisdom of these voices (No. 41). They have given their hearts to the cause of feminism. The statements in the draft about "language with sexist overtones" and "language that is exclusively male-oriented" (Nos. 191-192, 229) reflect this new conversion of heart.

Go to: Roman Theological Forum | Living Tradition Index | Previous Issue | Next Issue