There they go again. The old men in Rome are continuing their historic (and hysteric) misogyny. A week ago the Vatican reaffirmed yet again its ban on the ordination of women.
This latest proclamation from the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on May 30 can be classified as "olds," rather than news. It reaffirmed a 1994 Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II, "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone," which declared that the ordination of women is not even a matter open to discussion. That document, in turn, reflected nearly two millennia of the Church's denial of equality between the sexes.
Olds though it is, this latest Vatican echo of the distant past demands a new reaction from those who hope finally to free our Church from critical mistakes made by men--human males--so long ago.
The reason for the continued exclusion of women from the priesthood that was stated by Monsignor Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is that the Church does "not feel authorized to change the will of its founder, Jesus Christ."
Well, there's an impressive argument! Jesus is the ultimate celebrity endorsement.
But was it actually the will of Jesus to exclude women? That's not the way I read the canonical Gospels. "The Church's One Foundation" for excluding women from the clergy is not "Jesus Christ her Lord"; it is the hoary manmade argument that Jesus' apostles were all men.
It was St. Paul who obscured the role of women around Jesus and ignored the centrality of Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom the risen Christ appeared, as one equal to St. Peter.
The Church established in the centuries after the Crucifixion was set up as a No-Woman's Land. The basis for silencing and restricting women in the Church was not any of the words attributed to Jesus. Rather, in order to argue female inferiority, Paul had to go all the way back to Genesis 2 and its incredible story of the creation of Eve from Adam, a tall tale that men had woven to overcome their feelings of inferiority because of women's capacity to give birth, and to Genesis 3, with its Fall Tale that blames women for the world's evil.
Women have scared the bejesus (i.e., "by Jesus")--and the be(like)Jesus--out of the men who have run most organized churches.
The reservation of the clergy to men alone is, quite simply, not "the will of [the Church's] founder, Jesus Christ." It was the will of misogynistic men who took over the Church in its early centuries, from the time of Paul through the fourth century councils of Nicaea and Constantinople.
Deep below the argument over the ordination of women is the truly fundamental mistake that has been at the base of all the monotheistic religions: the contention that God is male and only male. That absurd idea--neither males nor females can create alone and so any sensible conception of a Creator must be as either without sex or a combination of both sexes--dates back to a misconception about conception that arose in the Neolithic Era, after the development of agriculture provided the irresistible metaphor of seeds being planted in the furrowed earth being analogous to men planting semen (Latin for "seed") in women and so males are the sole creators.
The fundamental error of seeing God as male was enshrined by the Church Fathers who chose which gospel accounts to include in the official New Testament and excluded all the Gnostic Gospels that contain references to an androgynous God,. It was further confirmed at Constantinople in 381, when the bishops modified the Creed to say that the Holy Spirit, like the other members of the Trinity, is male.
The fears of our fathers are living still. We must escape them.
Here's what Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican should be doing, instead of reiteraing old, erroneous reasons for discriminating against women: Reiterate a much more recent--and much more sensible--statement by a leader of the Church. In 1978, during the second week of his papacy, John Paul I declared that God "is a Mother as well as a Father." That Pope died eighteen days later. Let's resurrect his position that God must combine both sexes, which will necessarily open the clergy to both sexes.
I am as "guilty" of the putative offenses with which the Vatican has charged women who are ordained. In my new book, Grand Theft Jesus, I have suggested a revised Creed that corrects the mistakes made by the men who set up the Church and recognizes the equality of the sexes and the androgynous nature of God.
My Church has officially proclaimed that anyone involved with the ordination of women will be automatically excommunicated.
Here is my response to the Vatican, one in which I hope millions of other Catholics around the world who support women becoming priests will join me:
I'm involved. If you threaten to excommunicate my Catholic sisters who, like me, believe that women are equal to men, excommunicate me, too.
Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College. He is (at least for now) a member of the Catholic Church. This piece is based in part on his new book, Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America (Crown).