The Personalist Project

I was always taught that the priesthood is reserved for men because Jesus is male, and they represent Jesus. That's true, but it's only part of the mystery. The other part is that the Church, as a corporate subject, is essentially female. 

The structure of redemption, we learn in Scripture and in JP II's Theology of the Body, is spousal. And spousal love, communion, and fruitfulness entail polarity—the polarity of sexual difference, which is not only physical, but spiritual. Our nature as male or female reaches to the roots of personality. It's true on the communitarian level as well as the individual.

The priesthood has a "communitarian form," and as such, it is male (at least in a sense); it's Petrine. The laity, too, as a body of believers, exist in a communitarian form, only ours is female, or Marian. (This isn't a personal flight of fancy. I got it from the papal magisterium of JP II, most explicitly this 1992 Pastoral Exhortation.)

The same mystery explains why homosexual men should not be priests. They lack a due orientation toward the female form of personhood, and hence the capacity for a full self-donation of love to the Church, which includes a spousal tenderness and regard for her in her feminine identity and procreative power.

Someone recently pointed out to me that, maddeningly, two camps seem to have emerged in the world of online Catholic commentary. On one side (usually the left side), the abuse scandals are blamed on clericalism. Ex-priest James Carroll's recent Atlantic magazine article, To Save the Church: Abolish the Priesthood is exhibit A in this camp.

The Church’s maleness and misogyny became inseparable from its structure. The conceptual underpinnings of clericalism can be laid out simply: Women were subservient to men. Laypeople were subservient to priests, who were defined as having been made “ontologically” superior by the sacrament of holy orders. Removed by celibacy from competing bonds of family and obligation, priests were slotted into a clerical hierarchy that replicated the medieval feudal order. 

I think he's right about this, by the way. I don't agree with him that the answer is to dismantle the priesthood. The answer is rather to transform the element of subservience into the reciprocity of authentic spousal love.

On the other side, the scandals are blamed on homosexuality in the priesthood. Michael Voris, is among the most outspoken in this camp.

I don't get how everyone doesn't see that these two things go together. Both have to do with the master slave dynamics of power and subservience, and a lack of due appreciation for the value and dignity of women as complementary equals.

In my ToB talk, I quoted a passage from JP II's 1995 Letter to Women.

Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. The dignity of women has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude.This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.

Then I repeated it, making two word substitutions:

Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of the laity. The dignity of the lay vocation has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of the Church and even reduced to servitude.This has prevented the laity from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of the Church.

The substitution works because the form of the laity as a body of believer is essentially feminine and because, as a matter of fact, we have been conditioned by history to devalue the lay vocation. All of us have.

Vatican II made a particular point of trying to fix that. But, as Pope Francis has said, it takes about 100 years for the developments of such a momentous council to be fully absorbed. We're a long way from being there.

I'll try to explain in my next post what I think we need to get there.

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Comments (3)

Neil

#1, Jul 11, 2019 12:44pm

So, honest question. If the laity are female, can a male be a layperson? 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jul 11, 2019 1:12pm

Neil, it's a fair question, even though nothing could be more obvious than the laity is composed of men and women both. 

The answer lies in corporate or communitarian personhood. The Church is female (in a sense) in her corporate subjectivity, not in all of her individual members.

Of course all of this is mysterious and metaphorical and inexact. Nevertheless, it gets at something real and true that no one who wants to see the Church become what she's meant to be should deny or overlook.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jul 11, 2019 1:18pm

UPDATE: I've amended the comment below, deleting an item that Facebook commentators persuaded me was too categorical and insensitive. My points stands without it.

I challenge anyone who doesn't agree to offer an alternative explanation that accounts for these five truths:

1) The priesthood is reserved for males.

2) The structure of redemption is essentially spousal.

3) The prime biblical image of Jesus' love for the Church is marriage.

4) New life comes from sexual polarity.

5) Sexual difference is not only physical, but spiritual.

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