Dissent follows pope's 'last word' on female priests

June 01, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Pope John Paul II's forceful attempt to stop all speculation about women's ordination in the Roman Catholic Church has had the opposite effect among many priests, sisters and laity in the United States.

"I'm not quite sure how you stop a discussion that -- given the controversy surrounding it -- has taken on a life of its own," said Ruth Fitzpatrick, national coordinator of the Virginia-based Women's Ordination Conference, which promotes the view that the Catholic priesthood should include women.

Noting that the pope's directive was issued Monday, the "anniversary of the burning at stake of St. Joan of Arc as heretic," Ms. Fitzpatrick said, "How do you mandate people to stop thinking? That seems to be the real breach of divine law."

In his letter to the world's Catholic bishops, the pope attempted to end the ordination debate once and for all. He said that "the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women," and he ordered that "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church's faithful."

Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, sought to reconcile what he called "the church's constant tradition" denying ordination to women and its affirmation of "the fundamental equality of women and men, who are both created in the image of God."

Women can be saints even if they can't be priests, the archbishop said.

But the leader of a group of about 100 Catholic priests and brothers called the pope's directive "extraordinarily divisive."

Brother Stephen Glodek, S. M., who heads the Marianist religious order in the Baltimore region, said, "I don't think it will stop discussion of women's ordination -- if that's his purpose. It will have the opposite effect. He's operating out of the European mentality that doesn't understand the American need to talk about everything."

Fred Ruoff of Baltimore, a member of the board of the national Catholics Speak Out organization, said, "So here we are again -- another authoritarian, negative, theologically impoverished letter from John Paul II." While "Catholic people, both women and men, are deeply dismayed at the pope's attempt, yet again, to stifle legitimate theological discourse," Mr. Ruoff said, there is reason for those same Catholics to "take heart."

This time, Mr. Ruoff said, "John Paul's writing has a desperate ring. His words will not stand. They will not endure for one very simple reason. Jesus' compassion and love of justice is not alive in them."

The Rev. Francis X. Murphy of Annapolis, a Redemptorist priest who covered the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s for the New Yorker magazine under the pseudonym Xavier Rynne, said it may take another Pope John XXIII to overturn Pope John Paul's view.

"We just have to accept it for now. People have to calm down," Father Murphy said. "But I don't understand the pope's argument. Women have the same kind of souls that men have."

Anthony T. Padovano, president of CORPUS, an international organization of married Catholic priests, said of the Monday statement, "That kind of command is self-defeating. There's no one in the Catholic world -- the pope included -- who thinks the discussion will stop. The desire for female priests is too deeply rooted."

Dr. Padovano, author of 24 books on theology and a member of the faculty at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., resigned as a priest of the Newark archdiocese in 1974. He and his wife have four children. "When you don't have good arguments," he said, "you try to stop people with authority. But as every parent knows, that doesn't work."

The Rev. Joseph A. Dearborn, president of the Priests for Equality organization based in Brentwood, Prince George's County, called Pope John Paul's statement "monarchal abuse."

Dolly Pomerleau, co-director of the Quixote Center in Brentwood and a member of the board of the Women's Ordination Conference, said that the "support for women as priests is getting stronger and stronger, not just in the United States but around the Catholic world."

Sister Myra Poole, a nun who heads the Catholic Women's Ordination group in London, told the Reuters new agency that the pope's reasoning "is a theology of the past, of a different age."

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