The Roman Catholic Church has been striving for survival for the past 10 years or more. We are all familiar with reports of priests, and even bishops, who for decades have sexually abused children who were members of their parishes.
As this news became public, thousands of Catholics have left the church, either finding other churches, or dropping their faith altogether. As a Protestant minister who has been involved with the Baptist church for all of my 60-plus years of service, I humbly offer my Catholic colleagues some suggestions growing out of my experience.
Every clergy person knows that the Church cannot survive without women. Men may sit on key boards and committees, but it is women who do most of the work. While we were slow in elevating women to clerical roles, most Protestant churches now benefit from women ministers. The Catholic Church should follow suit. Women priests! Why not?
The Catholic justification for male clergy lies in the apparent fact that all of Jesus’ disciples were men. But if you read the Gospels carefully you discover that many of his followers were women, some of them mentioned by name. Indeed, we are told that they even supported the ministry of Jesus with their finances. Certainly in biblical times, especially during Old Testament days, most of the leaders were men, but it doesn’t follow that this pattern is God’s will for the 21st century.
Celibacy of Catholic male clergy has long been defended on the basis that Jesus wasn’t married, but St. Peter, the first pope, certainly was. In one Gospel account, Jesus went to the home of Peter’s wife’s mother, who was seriously ill, and performed a miraculous healing. If Peter was married, why not the popes and priests that followed? A married priesthood would likely have avoided much of the sexual scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church.
Yes, I know that sexual sins have also infected Protestant pastors; the Southern Baptists are currently wrestling with their own scandals, and I have known male colleagues who have left their wives and run off with their secretaries. Married clergy do not guarantee that there will be no more problems, but they will likely be fewer and more random.
As we look at the 2,000-year history of Christianity, we have to be appalled by the continuous violence and warfare carried on by popes and other male leaders. If the church had selected more women to occupy positions equal to men, I like to think that there would have been much less bloodshed and killing. There is a phrase in the Old Testament that spring is the season when kings go forth to war. Military victory was a badge of courage and status for male leaders. It seems to be infused into their testosterone.
Pope Francis recently convened a conference to examine openly the sexual problems that for years the church has attempted to cover up. But while the cardinals and bishops discussed the issue, the role of women’s leadership in the church was largely ignored. Male clergy, especially on the chair of the pope, is so deeply embedded in the Church’s history and practice that without it the Church might not exist. How can you even consider a pope Esther or Lydia?
There seems to be a growing movement among some of the nuns to pressure the male leaders of the church to grant women more equality of leadership. Perhaps this topic will become the issue to be considered by the next papal conference.
Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, while he was in the Continental Congress, “Remember the ladies.” She is suggesting that placing all power in the hands of men is dangerous, that all men would be tyrants if they could. Perhaps this is valuable counsel for the leaders of the Catholic Church: “Remember the ladies.”