• Joanna Moorhead looks through some of the many letters sent in response to our series on the Church's future.
THE article on women prompted the greatest reader response. Most people who wrote were critical of the way women are treated in the Church and hoped their position would improve in the years ahead.
Some, though, had very strong views against the "progressive" opinions quoted in the feature. "I am sick, sick, sick of the very small minority of women who want to be priests and who would much prefer to go to confession to a woman. I wish they would start up their own religion and let the vast majority keep our Church the way it is," writes Margaret Neville of Rotherham.
From Brisbane, Australia, Edna Szylkarski put pen to paper to say the question often lacking in discussions on women was, what does God want? "If God had wanted women priests or married priests, then surely he would not have waited 2000 years, nor would it be so contentious an issue," she writes.
Joan Scowcroft, of Clevedon in Avon, believes there is just a chance history may have got it wrong. Is there absolute certainty, she asks, that only men were present on the evening of the Last Supper? "The paschal feast was, we are told, a family affair, and any women, and children old enough to understand, who were present would have partaken of the meal."
One thought, she says, "tantalises the mind". "Do those who believe that they alone hold the sacramental powers ever consider that they might have grasped the wrong end of the stick ... as the apostles sometimes did and had to be jerked into that realisation by the gentle rebuke of their master?"
She also points out that: "If men insist that the words `Do this in memory of me' spoken at the Last Supper, were addressed only to men and therefore apply only to men, then they must carry that argument to its logical conclusion and insist that only Jewish men probably all married! can receive the eucharist as Christ gave it only to Jewish men."
Laura Stephens, writing from Oxford University where she is a second-year theology student, makes the same point. She goes on to say that: "To limit the power of the Spirit to sanctify a person for the ministerial priesthood is scandalous. In the Mass, it is the work of the Spirit which consecrates the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ and there is no reason why this should not be performed through not by a woman. After all, Christ is the only true High Priest, human priests being merely His instruments. All baptised Christians can be said to share in the priesthood of Christ in the same way as all share in his divine life, by grace not by right."
Ann Cunningham, of Cheltenham, regrets the waste of women's talents in the Church. "How can a church that claims to be 'Catholic' . . . exclude at least 50 per cent of the human race from full participation in all its affairs? Moreover, hers is among women, a vast pool of talents, skills, enthusiasm lying largely untapped, rejected . . . how can the Church afford this loss?"
Frank Wilson, of Chorley in Lancashire, believes there is a paradox at the centre of the Church's position. It cannot on the one hand say women are different but equal, he says, while continuing to deny them Holy Orders. "If women are not eligible for this, for purely anatomical reasons, then the Church is indeed saying that they are inferior," he claims.
Useful addresses: The Catholic Women's Network is at 2 Umbria Street, London SW15 5D13: the St Joan's International Alliance can be contacted via its chair, Sr Kira Solhdoost, at 7 Lance Lane, Liverpool L15 6TW; and the Christian Women's Resource Centre is at 36 Court Lane, London SW21 7DR.
WITH falling numbers of priests in most dioceses, many readers are clearly concerned about the future of the clergy.
The seminarians quoted in the article on the clergy "amused" Fr David Grant of St Mary's in Hull. Fr Grant, who describes himself as "an ancient 31-yearold", writes: "Might I humbly suggest an idea to the student who said: 'I'd probably give two lines, the Church's and my own. Church laws, after all, are just for guidance.' People usually consult their priest about a difficulty precisely because they want to understand the Church's teaching. If they wanted a personal subjective opinion they would ask their next door neighbour over the garden wall!"
Less amused than worried is Brian Tierney, of Oldham, Lancashire. "Our seminaries are apparently recruiting students who understand the faith so little as to say 'Church laws, after all, are just for guidance.' It is one thing to abandon one's `pedestal', quite another to abandon its base," he writes.
He is also concerned about more senior clerics. "It is wrong to blame our older clergy for being 'handicapped' by some supposed deficiency in their training. They have, on the whole, done a magnificent job in holding the Church together through a most difficult period."
Social worker Konnie Lloyd, of Nottingham, writes to say she thinks better in-service training "to help them keep up with the rapid changes occuring in our society" would be a good idea. "This is a normal part of professional life so why should priests lose out?" she asks.
The thought that more Anglican ministers are likely to be ordained in the Catholic Church in the future prompted John Berry, of Batley in West Yorkshire, to write. "Would it not be wise for those in authority to make it plain that the priesthood must not be seen as a safe and certain haven for disgruntled Anglican clergymen? The Church has often upheld marriages of convenience but she can not take the same view with regard to conversions: opposition to the ordination of women is not sufficient."
He believes the Church is in crisis "but, contrary to popular opinion, the crisis has not arisen because the Church has too few priests but because she has too many, far too many, of the wrong kind."
For Wilfred Page, of Camberley in Surrey, the answer to the shortage of priests might lie in the ordination of married men. "Men who are already married should at least be considered for ordination (with the wife's consent) . . . it might be interesting to ask some sixth formers at Catholic schools whether they would consider the priesthood if celibacy were optional," he writes.
Useful address: The Movement for the Ordination of Married Men, 2 Green Lane North, Liverpool L16 8NL.
shortage of priests should encourage laypeople to "meet in small groups, to study God's word and pray for each other . . . maybe to share a meal together occasionally, in true communion style".
Theo and Elaine Westow, of Salisbury in Wiltshire, write "as two practising Catholics in spite of everything". They suggest that the word "priest" should be got rid of. "It's biblical only when applied to Christ and to the priesthood of us all, otherwise it's pagan," they claim. Two types of minister should be introduced in churches, they suggest: one to read and celebrate the eucharist, the other to preach and teach.
Many were pleased to hear that the people of Clifton diocese had recently been asked
to contribute their views to a diocesan synod. Joan Hannam of Birkenhead says she "almost pinched myself as 1 read with growing delight" of the scheme.
She continues: "The hierarchy should feel threatened, not by a liberated laity, but by an alienated one. There has been much lofty talk about the growing importance in the role of the laity but the strong suspicion still prevails that we are regarded as people who will be more compliant if kept in ignorance except when communication of facts becomes unavoidable."
Mrs M H Gamble, of Stroud, writes to point out that the views reported from Clifton do not represent those of everyone. "I do not think you ought to encourage people to write in and
express their opinions against the teaching of the Church . . ." she says. So concerned is Mrs Gamble that she has decided to send the six articles in the series to the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith in Rome.
Fr Stanley Vince, a secular priest of Caldey Island, was less fearful after reading the feature. "The freshest, inspired, spirited reading in a Catholic publication since, perhaps, Vatican II," he calls it!
Useful addresses: The Catholic Renewal Movement can be contacted a! 16 Saxon Road, Winchester, Hants 5023 7DJ.
FEW who wrote in response to the
article on ecumenism were hopeful of any great strides foward in the next decade.
M Cunningham, of Bournemouth, writes: "1 do not think there will ever be unity. . 1 think we are getting hold of the wrong end of the problem. What is needed is tolerance with others in their beliefs we are all so different, but most of us believe in God in some way or another so does it really matter how we worship him?"
Hugh King, of Ashford in Middlesex, believes very firmly that the right way to worship is the Catholic way. "My plea is to allow the Roman Catholic community to hang on to what it has still got left and allow those who feel as we do to join us. Do not water down our beliefs and practices to fit Protestants and non-conformists."
Dermot Doyle, of York, is one of the few who is sure the churches will eventually unite, But, he says, "the present ecumenical process has an air of unreality to me. It seemed to imply negotiations between equals leading to some form of `agreed syllabus'. But the parties are not equal in their authority."
Useful address: the Interchurch Family Movement, The Old Bakery, Danehill, Haywards Heath, Sussex RH17 7E T.
Next week: Your letters on the future of education and religious.. orders.