With mess men have made, it's time to ordain women

May 19, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

OPEN LETTER TO Pope John Paul II:

Dear Holy Father:

This missive comes to you from a guy who is an admitted bad Catholic. I haven't been to Mass in a good while. Usually don't go unless my mom grabs me kicking and screaming. I haven't seen a confessional in decades. Being pious is a chore for me. I am, in short, just the type of Catholic you'd expect for a guy who used to read The Catholic Review's movie section to check which films were condemned and then go out and watch them.

But I figure you need some advice, even from a bad Catholic. And I figure bad Catholicism is better than no Catholicism at all. So here goes.

As I write this, the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, a suspended Catholic priest, lies in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center after being shot three times. The man charged with the crime is named Dontee Stokes, who says that Blackwell sexually molested him for three years when Stokes was a teen-ager.

I'll not get into the "who did what to whom" in the matter of Blackwell and Stokes. But you can imagine the field day the media had with this story. It's all part of the media frenzy that's been generated by "the crisis in the church" the past several months.

You recently met with a group of cardinals to discuss the issue of abuse. You all decided to condemn pedophiles who masquerade as priests, and, golly, was that ever a relief. But there you were, all guys, discussing a problem that up to this point has involved only male clergy in the church, trying to come up with policies and solutions. Anything wrong with that picture, Your Holiness?

Let me put it this way: When was the last time you heard of a nun sexually molesting a child? In all the talk surrounding pedophilic Roman Catholic clergy, there has not been one case of anyone saying a nun had done the molesting. All these revelations, and not one case.

As one victim after another comes forth to point an accusing finger at yet another priest, you have to wonder if the abused aren't divinely inspired to tell all. Might not this "crisis in the church" be God's way of telling you it's time to ordain women as priests?

So far, most folks have reacted to "the crisis" by criticizing the church's prohibition against priests marrying. It's that vow of celibacy, they say, that's keeping potentially good priests from accepting the sacrament of Holy Orders. Let priests marry, they say, and you'll end the shortage of clergy that is another church crisis and drive down the number of pedophiles in the ranks.

I offer the ordination of women as one possible solution. I'm also asking: What is the religious or biblical reason for not letting women be priests?

Before you dismiss the suggestion out of hand, listen to the words of one of the church's finest nuns. Sister Charmaine Krohe works at the St. Ambrose Outreach Center in Baltimore. She attends to the spiritual, psychological and physical needs of a population that is predominantly poor and African-American. Here's her take on the "crisis in the church," celibacy and the ordination of women.

"I think what's happening in the church today has nothing to do with celibacy," Sister Charmaine said. "Pedophilia has nothing to do with whether you're celibate or not." Sister Charmaine would like her church to at least discuss the possibility of allowing priests to marry.

On the matter of ordaining women as priests, she's just as open-minded: "There are a number of women who are able to competently, efficiently and with the utmost qualifications run a church and be effective in their role. We as women have the ability to bring a quality pastoral life to a church."

Priests are so few now that many of them are "stretched thin," Sister Charmaine said, with some in charge of two or three parishes. This has led to the position of "pastoral administrator" being created in many parishes. Most of those administrators are women.

"In essence, women are running those churches," Sister Charmaine continued. "Liturgy is the work of the people, not just the work of the priests."

But Sister Charmaine doesn't kid herself, Your Holiness. She knows what the chances are that a woman will be pastor of a parish in the near future.

"The church does not support the ordaining of women at this point," she said.

It's time for all Catholics, good and bad, to ask this question of you, Your Holiness: Considering the mess men have made with this current crisis, exactly why doesn't the church support the ordination of women?

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