A throw-away line in The Observer of April 2 set me thinking and made me question whether the attitudes which I hold as a Catholic of 24 are indeed regarded by the majority of my fellow Catholics as radical.
l'he article in question concerned the preaching engagements being undertaken in this country by the American Episcopal Canon Mary Simpson. The writer commented: "One fear is that to ordain women would widen the rift between Anglicans and Roman Catholics who, apart from a few radicals, favour a male priesthood" (my
I belong to a generation that has been both taught and has believed that men and women are equally gifted, have equal, often cornplemenLary roles, to play in society. have new opportunities to bring to bear the intuitions of their own sex in areas which by tradition have been preserves of the opposite sex.
The point I wish to underline is that these attitudes are the natural outcome of the reforms in the universities and the older professions (notably medicine and law) begun at the end of the last century. In no way are they the products of a Women's Liberation movement which, to many women. has committed the cardinal folly of confusing the terms "equal" and "same".
As a young Catholic woman who so far has enjoyed equal standing with men of my generation, sharing tutorials at Oxford as much as I share equal opportunities for promotion within my cho Re n career, I regard it as natural and not radical to look to and expect the emergence of a Catholic female priesthood.
When I was le I wrote an article for the Catholic Herald entitled • 'llave you ever considered thte religious life?" At the time I remember being conscious that the boy who had been invited to write u parallel article to mine had a more interesting question to answer. Not only could he consider the possibilities of the monastic vocation, the life of community, there was also that roost challenging of roles, that of the secular priest.
As far as I was concerned as a girl, the possibility was a life in community, he it contemplative, nursing or teaching, The girl who looked to a celibate life, given the kind of vigorous theological grounding offered by the Jesuits, had no outlet.
That is profoundly sad, for it denies to Christian women a vocation, quite distinct from that of a nun — that of a priest. The Church is all of us, and just because for previous generations it has seemed appropriate only to appoint men to Christ's Ministry, that is no reason not to consider why the tradition was established and to realise that it is only a tradition, a practice that coincided with current
Men and women want to work together towards. Christ's Kingdom; they are now able to do so as doctors, lawyers, as lay members of the Church.
Let us as Catholics have the courage to realise that the vocation to follow Christ as a priest should be available both to men and women, and that the Church would be the richer for it.
(Miss) M. S. Wookey Camberley, Surrey.
Reading with interest in your correspondence columns the letters which occur with increasing frequency on the subject of women clergy. I am always surprised that no allusion is made to any of the women who wielded great power in the medieval Church.
While it is certainly true that women have never been accorded the power to dispense the Sacraments. a fair proportion of them have been given the title of Doctor of the Church. Abbesses of great communities up to and including the time of Vatican II had considerable power. It was, I believe, true until very recently that a "mitred abbess" in her own abbey took precedence over a mitred bishop, and her blessing preceded his.
It should, however, be borne in mind that the woreei who rose to serve the Church ,n th.s way were celibate and had livel lives of considerable asceticism, probably since their catty youth. They were completely dedicated, and had been elected by their sisters for their outstanding spirituality.
They were not, as it is presupposed the modern women priests would be. housewives and mothers at the same time. with their pastoral duties tucked on as if they were teachers. nurses, or social workers.
Those who aspire to serve the Church more fully should make a study of the great women to whom saints have turned and with whom Popes arid abbots corresponded to their advantage.
(Miss) M. G. C. Neilson Edinburgh.
In your issue of April 7. Mrs Monica Comhenon poses what one might call the 64-dollar question — What is a priest? The trouble is there is no hook in English literature that gives a clear and popular account of what a priest is. George Herbert's "Priest to the 1 empleis a fine work by a saintly man, hut does 11111 help Us much.
For us Westerners, the basic; source of our ideas (when not derived from St Thomas Aquinas) is an
cient Athens. There, you will find, in ultra-ancient times, the king was the leader in war, the administrator of justice, and the priest. The royal line ran out with King Codros, who sacrificed himself so that Athens could gain the victory it needed to survive, At his death three people called Archons took over, one for each of the king's functions, and so the Priest's job of interceding for his people, for their needs and for their faults. to the gods of Olympus and, through the accepted oracles. of making their commands known to the people. was not forgotten. The late Mgr Knox said (in an old number of The Sunday Times, I believe) that Jesus never despised the guesses of the heathen when they were good ones, hut wrote "R" against them. and then improved them.
Reflect on Our Lord's life, and you will ace how true it is: a sacrifice not of a mortal king, but of the Son of God Himself, not the two-edged, garbled oracles of Delphi. but the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Obviously, the idea of interceding for the people, of being their representative before God. and of proclaiming God's word (the complementary function of the priesthood) is what inspired all holy priests and bishops, past and press rlI.
11 is obvious, too, that such an ideal. the combination of sacrifice and prophecy, is for a minority of men. With great respect. then, to Our Lady and all holy women of old, it seems to me that it is obviously a masculine, rather than a feminine. voeation.
T. S. Williams Cheltenham.
Concerning 1he dehaic on the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood, I do not find the arguments as such of either party to the debate either very satisfying or conclusive. In these circumstances I am quite happy to accept the teachings of the Apostolic See,
Your own dogmatic prognostication for the year 2000 deserves that slightly amused, aloof tolerance that one reserves for a Paisley rampant gardant, or a fairground fortune teller.
My own feelings are that as every Mass is a re-enactment of the Last Supper. the priest in his drama stands in for, or plays, the role of Jesus Christ. A woman east in this role would leave the observer with that feeling of uncomfortable inappropriateness that one would experience watching a hloke playing the Virgin Mary in a nativity play. John Wind ley Dartford, Kent.