On the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, one can find a nice write-up on the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. The Church's social teachings, which date back to 1891 when Pope Leo XIII published the landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum, are often considered to be the "best kept secret in the Catholic Church." There might be a reason for this.
I attended a memorial service this morning for a longtime friend of my mother. Nancy attended Presentation High School in San Francisco with Mom back in the 1940s. She was also a bridesmaid in my parents' wedding in 1949. The minister who officiated at the memorial service today was a woman. This was a new experience for me. As a cradle Catholic, my experience of clergy has been exclusively male. As I waited for today's service to begin, I wondered how the minister would handle the challenge of officiating at such a service.
Within moments of welcoming us to the celebration of life, the woman had my full attention -- and that of everyone in the chapel. She was eloquent. She was humble. She was insightful. She was compassionate. She facilitated the service in such a way that, when it was over, it seemed like her role was fairly minimal. After a poignant opening monologue, which lasted about ten minutes, she introduced three different family members. Each shared loving memories of their mother. At the end of the service, the minister concluded with a prayer which incorporated some of the memories shared by Nancy's children. She was a gifted presider, and I felt blessed to be present for the celebration.
Not surprisingly, this experience got me thinking about the all-male clergy in the Catholic Church. Why is it that only men can be ordained in the Church? What is it about women that make them unworthy of such a calling? Or is there a total disconnect between what the Church teaches and what the Church does when it comes to respect for women?
Reading through the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, it seems to me that, in the bishops' own words, Catholic Social Teaching rejects the idea of an all-male clergy. The "Dignity of the Human Person" theme mentions that the measure of every institution is whether it enhances the life and dignity of the human person. I presume that means every human person, not just male human persons.
"The Call to Family, Community and Participation" says that the bishops believe that every person has a right to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all. How does the Church do this when women are excluded from ordained ministry?
Another theme, "Rights and Responsibilities," mentions that a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected. Hmmmm.
"The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers" tells us that if the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected. One might think that one of the basic rights of workers would be to pursue a career in a ministry to which they feel called, regardless of one's gender.
Finally, in one of the most compelling themes, that of "Solidarity," the bishops tell us that at the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice. Excluding women from ordained ministry is hardly an act of solidarity…. or of justice.
I'm grateful for the experience of attending the memorial service this morning. I'm also grateful for the minister who presided at the celebration. She impressed me. She inspired me. And she left me wishing that many of the priests who have presided and preached at liturgies I have attended in recent years had the skills and the pastoral sensitivity that she displayed this morning.