What Peter Says to John Paul II

I have observed the misery of my people . . . ;
I have heard their cry. . . .
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them (Exod 3:7f).


5. What Peter Might Say to John Paul II
Regarding his Abuse of Papal Power
Relative to Women’s Ordination

Dr. Aaron Milavec

Our brother and father, John Paul II, has strayed from the path of Peter, his avowed model. Peter pastored the community of God’s people with compassion, with consultation, and with slow deliberateness. His successor, on the other hand, has spoken prematurely on the issue of the exclusion of women from ordination (ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS) and Cardinal Ratzinger [who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI], in an attempt to silence any and all further discussion, went on to declare that “This teaching requires definitive assent, since . . . it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium” (Reply 28 Oct 95).

Peter as the model for consultative and collegial authority

I call upon our brother and father, John Paul II, to reflect again on the path trod by Peter in the exercise of his authority. This early pastor knew when to keep silent and when to speak. Above all, Peter knew how to harmonize his initiatives with the discernment of the community whom he served. For purposes of brevity, I call to mind only three instances:

1. In the opening chapter of Acts, Luke presents Peter as placing his proposal before the community to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-22). Peter carefully lays out before the community the sources of his initiative which, in this case, hinge upon his interpretation of Psalms 69 and 109. Affirming his initiative, “they [the community] proposed two [candidates]” (Acts 1:23). No one imagined that, even at this point, everyone ought to defer to Peter who would make the final choice. Rather, “they prayed, ‘Lord, you know every heart. Show us which one . . . ‘” (Acts 1:24). They then “cast lots” (Acts 1:26). In carrying through the proposal, Luke deliberately allows Peter to recede into the background, thereby assuring us that, while Peter provided the initial impulse, the acceptance and the carrying through of his proposal was whole-heartedly shared by the entire community who sought the guidance of the Lord.

2. On yet another occasion, Luke draws our attention to an instance of open discontent within the Jerusalem community: “The Hellenists complained against the Hebrews” (Acts 6:1-6). Luke presupposes that his readers are aware of the potential problems which can arise when the Hebrew-speaking core community of about 120 (Acts 1:15) tried to integrate three thousand Greek- speaking foreign-born Jews who joined the movement after Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Presumably the gift of tongues was not a permanent skill and the Twelve who had little or no fluency in Greek were hard pressed to effectively minister to the Hellenists. Against this background, Luke suggests that the discontentment reached the boiling point when the Greek-speaking widows who had no breadwinners in their households were going hungry (because their needs were not known or responded to by the Hebrew leadership). Luke describes the movement toward a resolution as follows: “And the twelve called together the whole community of disciples” (Acts 6:2). At this point, Peter’s initiative is entirely subsumed within the collegial action of what will later come to be called “the apostolic college.” Even the Twelve, however, do not meet secretively in closed session. They are aware that decisions that will be binding upon all must be entered into by all. Thus, the initiative of the Twelve is by way of assembling “the whole community.”

When a decision is arrived at, the Twelve again delegate to the Hellenists the task of discerning “among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). This delegation is not merely a gesture of reconciliation or an attempt at inclusion; rather, the tacit recognition operative here is that the Hellenists know their people much better than do the apostles, hence, it is incumbent upon them to discern those whom they are assured are “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” These Seven, then, are subsequently brought before the apostles “who prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). In the end, therefore, Peter acts within “the apostolic college” to accredit these seven and to release them for the ministry to which they are called.

Church tradition has viewed the Seven as “deacons” and designated Acts 6 as the historical origins of the deaconate. Modern biblical studies, however, have been hesitant to credit these views as what Luke had in mind. In the first place, the Seven are never specified as “deacons” in Acts. Beyond this, when Luke presents Stephen and Philip in action, they are routinely characterized as doing public preaching, healing, exorcising (Acts 6:8-10, 8:6-13)—the very same ministries Luke designates for the Twelve. Raymond Brown, in his own study, concludes that “they [the Seven] seem to have been the top-level administrators for the Hellenistic Christians” (THEOLOGICAL STUDIES 41:326). Luke never presents the Seven as tagging along after the Twelve or checking in with them prior to any and reporting to them after every initiative they might make. In effect, by ordaining the Seven, the Twelve tacitly presumed that the Seven would wisely adapt their ministry to those cultural and historical circumstances which they knew on a first-hand basis existed among the Hellenists. In a word, the Twelve trusted that the Spirit who guided them in their pastoral discernment would likewise guide those whom they had ordained. From time to time, however, the Twelve did exercise a pastoral oversight for the sake of the unity of the church (see, e.g., Acts 8:14-17).

3. In his account of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), Luke presents the clearest instance of Peter functioning vis-à-vis a burning issue that was sorely dividing the churches.

Peter, had already done the unthinkable—he had visited Cornelius and baptized members of his household (Acts 10). When he arrived back in Jerusalem, he was roundly criticized by some members of his own community (Acts 11:2). He was required to respond. When doing so, however, he did not pull rank saying, “Jesus put me in change; hence, it is not your place to criticize me.” Nor was Peter inclined to succumb to a paternalistic correction: “God has shown me what he has not shown you; hence, if you would be guided by God, you must abide by my words.” Nor could Peter cut off debate by citing the Lord’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) because it was well known that the Lord sent out his disciples saying, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles” (Matt 10:5). Peter knew full well that it was in the name of orthodoxy that he was being criticized and that dogmatic decrees were out-of-order when it came to addressing issues which the community, as yet, was only beginning to grapple with and to penetrate with the help of the guiding Spirit.

Thus, as a prudent pastor, Peter accepted the criticism leveled against him but, at the same time, he endeavored to win over the sympathies of his opponents to a point of view which he himself had only recently adapted by telling his personal story (Acts 11:4-17). Peter hoped that those who opposed him might sympathetically enter into his story in such a way as to be able to say, “Yes, if I had been there, I too would have eaten with Cornelius and baptized the members of his household.” The route of persuasion, however, does not necessarily usher in immediate, unanimous results. This is hinted at by Luke noting that two distinct responses followed Peter’s detailed narration: the hard liners were momentarily “silenced” while many others “praised God” (Acts 11:18). For the moment, this was enough. It would not be reading too much into the text to imagine that Peter trusted that both time and the Spirit were on his side when it came to the vindication of the Gentile mission. His trust was well-founded. Five chapters and some five years later, Luke narrates the final resolution of the Gentile issue.

Acts 15 opens with the reminder that the hard liners continued to press their agenda respecting the necessity of being Jewish or becoming Jewish to adhere to the way of Jesus. Luke tells us that “Paul and Barnabas had no small debate with them” (Acts 15: 2) and, accordingly, their community in Antioch sent these two to Jerusalem with the mandate to argue for the legitimacy of their church’s position of not circumcising gentiles and not requiring them to adhere to the Mosaic Torah.

During the synod which was convened by “the apostles and elders” (Acts 15:6) to take up this matter, Luke makes it plain that no one expected Peter to make a decision by himself or to act as the final court of appeals after the various parties in the conflict had presented their views. The synod itself, composed of both apostles and elders, endorsed the principle that consensus was to be arrived at through free speech and open persuasion. Peter added his voice to the deliberations without implying that his rank or status somehow entitled him to bypass this process. Luke also makes it clear that Peter does not regard the process as merely consultative—awaiting his final decision which would be drafted by him alone at the end. In fact, Luke presents James as the one who drew the divided church into a compromise solution which gained the free acceptance of all (Acts 15:15-21).

Thus, as in every good decision making, there were no “winners” and “losers.” All had won the sympathy and admiration of their opponents and rested assured that, to some degree, the final resolution addressed their major concerns. This becomes even more clear when Luke informs us that “the apostles and elders, with the consent of the whole church” (Acts 15:22) decided to promulgate the compromise solution which contains phrases like, “We have decided unanimously . . . ,” and “It has seemed good the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” (Acts 15: 25, 28). While there can be various nuances placed upon the precise role played by Peter and James (who is “brother of the Lord” and not the apostle) during this synod, Luke makes it abundantly clear that neither secret deliberations from which the laity were to be excluded nor one-sided solutions imposed from the top down had any role in resolving disputes in the church of the Twelve apostles.

In sum, Luke enforces the notion that Peter did exercise the ministry of “strengthen[ing] your brothers” (Luke 22:32) as Cardinal Ratzinger is anxious to point out. However, at all points, Peter exercised his ministry with consultation and collaboration. This consultation and collaboration sometimes focused upon the extended apostolic college; yet, at other times, this consultation and collaboration embraced the entire assembled community. Luke presents Peter as taking Spirit-filled initiatives on behalf of the community; yet, at no point does Peter suppose that others (e.g., the Seven) are precluded from doing likewise. Peter staunchly defends his prophetic positions and tells as compelling a story as possible by way of persuading those who oppose him; yet, he does not presuppose that he can or should be above criticism nor that, after a certain period, that he should cut off debate and impose his definitive solution on all parties concerned. Unity achieved through coercion and intimidation seemingly had no legitimate function within the early church. Whatever one says about the exalted office of Peter and his successors, therefore, must be nuanced and interpreted from within the exemplary functioning of Peter within the concrete instances spelled out in the Acts of the Apostles.

One might imagine that the conduct of the Jerusalem church entirely harmonizes with what the bishops of Vatican II spelled out as the proper approach to religious inquiry and assent:

The search for truth, however, must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and his social nature, namely, by free inquiry with the help of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue. It is by these means that men [women] share with each other the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in such a way that they help one another in the search for truth. Moreover, it is by personal assent that men [women] must adhere to the truth they have discovered (DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, sec. 3).

It does not escape the attention of reflective Catholics that such exalted principles are sometimes overlooked or curtailed within the very functioning of that church which challenges abuses of religious freedom outside its walls while, at the same time, tolerating or even fostering such abuses within its own internal operations. Pastors who would walk in the path of Peter would necessarily exemplify collaboration, consultation, and freedom of inquiry. Such successors of Peter would know when their role is that of bringing opposing parties into respectful dialogue and when the dialogue has progressed sufficiently so as to propose a compromise resolution. Such pastors might, on occasion, argue passionate and persuasively for their own positions, but, at all times, they would remember that they are telling their story and not bent upon alienating those who, for the time being, cannot accept their stance. Above all, such petrine pastors would abhor throwing down the gauntlet and imposing one-sided solutions: “I declare that the church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful” (ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS).

Why Definite Assent Is Called For

On 28 October 1995, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a reply to a question posed for clarification:

Whether the teaching of that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the apostolic letter ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of the faith .

4batmanThe response was “in the affirmative.” Cardinal Ratzinger, furthermore, notes in passing that he met with John Paul II on this matter and that his judgment was confirmed by the Pope. While this issue of the status of ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS had been debated within the Catholic press and journals, our brother Ratzinger apparently thought it was his duty to resolve all doubt by putting forward this analysis:

This teaching requires definite assent, since, founded on the written word of God and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration . . . (REPLY).

Cardinal Ratzinger’s contention, therefore, is that John Paul II has not formulated a new doctrine nor is he invoking papal infallibility. Rather, Cardinal Ratzinger’s contention is that ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS requires definitive assent by all Catholics because it reaffirms what has “from the beginning [the exclusion of women from ordination has been] constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the church.”

Upon first glance, It would appear that the facts of church history settle the case. Given the fact that women have not been ordained as presbyters (save in some rare circumstances such as the “underground church” of former Czechoslovakia, NCR 12/01/95 p. 7) beginning with Jesus down to the present day, it would thus seem that this “teaching” of the church has been clearly exhibited within its constant practice.

At this point, however, some distinctions are called for?

4ordainMormanwomenDoes the exclusion of women from presbyterial ordination arise from the expressed teaching of the church or does it arise from the cultural habit within traditional patriarchal societies of only permitting men to teach and to guide?

When one examines the record, aside from instances wherein some church fathers discredited the gnostic movement due to its acceptance of women in positions of teaching, prophesying, and presiding and aside from the university debates of the middle ages wherein Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus took up the question of whether there was a miscarriage of justice in the church’s practice of not ordaining women, I am aware of no period prior to our present epoch wherein the possibility of having women-priests and women-bishops was even seriously entertained. Hence, contrary to the assurance which our brother Ratzinger takes in assuming that the practice of excluding women constitutes a “teaching” which is “constantly preserved and applied,” it may be more frank to admit that there is very little “teaching” on this issue in the formal sense since, within every culturally conditioned context prior to our own, the prevailing habit of judgment presupposed that women were prohibited, by nature and by divine law, from having any office which entitled them to “teach and rule” men.

  • One has to only recall the long struggle, sustained during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to make it possible for women to enroll with their brothers in institutions of theological learning.
  • One has to only recall the parallel struggle, sustained during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, whereby the medical profession was closed to women by virtue of their frail natures that were unsuited to the mastery and practice of medicine.
  • One has to only recall the parallel struggle, sustained during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that made it evident that nature and divine law precluded women from ruling nations. The reign of Elizabeth I dispelled this prejudice.
  • One has to only recall the parallel struggle, sustained during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which excluded women from voting or from holding public offices.
  • One has to only recall the parallel struggle, sustained during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, whereby former slaves in the South were excluded from ordination as Catholic priests.

In sum, it is always hazardous to appeal to the silence of history on a particular subject by way of asserting any universal conclusions regarding the capabilities and the callings of women.

An Instance of the Ordinary Magisterium

Moreover, the annals of church history provide numerous instances in which a clear and definitive “teaching” which was “constantly preserved and applied” turned out to be a case of premature judgment which the Church later had to repudiate and revise. The specific instance which I would like to review is that of the Copernican controversy which rocked and divided church members during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Copernicus (d. 1543) was a faithful Catholic and an ordained cleric who, by way of solving the problem of a calendar which was hopelessly out of synchronization with the passage of the seasons, put forward the daring thesis that, “in opposition to the general opinion of mathematicians and almost in opposition to common sense” (preface), the earth was not motionless at the center of the universe but “another planet” which orbited the sun. Copernicus, aware of the radical nature of his findings, was hesitant to publish his findings for over twenty years. Then, Andrew Osiander, his Lutheran friend, came forward, calmed his fears, and ushered DE REVOLUTIONIBUS through the printing process with a protective preface which stated that “it is not necessary that these hypotheses should be true . . . but it is enough if they provide a calculus which fits the observations.” Legend has it that the newly printed text was completed in time for Copernicus to receive a copy on his deathbed in 1543.

Within a few generations, the calculations of Copernicus offered in DE REVOLUTIONIBUS became the basis for the new science of astronomy and set into motion a solid basis for reforming the outmoded Julian calendar. Thus, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that October 4th was to be followed by October 15th (the catch-up rule) and that an extra day was to be added to the month of February on certain leap-years so as to prevent the necessity of ever having to adjust the calendar ever again. The official church, therefore, accepted the practical application of the Copernican theory without passing any judgment on its cosmological implications.

4galileoJust as people were getting used to the new Gregorian calendar, an Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei (d. 1642) came forward offering popular lectures and demonstrations bent upon showing that Copernicus’ thesis was more than a successful calculating device—it was a true description of the movement of the heavenly bodies. Galileo thus brought before the public eye a long-standing controversy which had divided philosophers, astronomers, and even theologians. Very soon, given the temper of the times, formal denunciations began arriving on the papal desk. In response, Pope Paul V authorized an investigation and placed the learned Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine in charge. Bellarmine cautioned Galileo to limit his adherence to the Copernican system as a “hypothesis” and not as a “proven fact” since the constant teaching of the Church affirms that “the earth is very distant from the heavens, at the very center of the universe, and motionless”:

The Council of Trent forbids the interpretation of the Scriptures in a way contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. Now if your Reverence will read, not merely the Fathers, but modern commentators on Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Joshua, you will discover that all agree in interpreting them literally as teaching that the sun is in the heavens and revolves round the earth with immense speed . . . (12 April 1615 letter of Bellarmine to the Carmilite Foscarini).

Thus, from the vantage point of those in that era, the constant teaching of the church relative to the immovability of the earth and the common agreement of the Church Fathers relative to Joshua words, “Sun, stand still” (Josh 10:12), constituted a definitive testimony which required faithful adherence. One can even surmise that Bellarmine, had he grown up in a church which had dogmatically defined infallibility, would have been quite comfortable in using the very words of Cardinal Ratzinger, namely, that “this teaching requires definite assent, since, founded on the written word of God and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” In short order (05 March 1616), consequently, the Holy Office of the Inquisition placed Copernicus’ book, DE REVOLUTIONIBUS, and all other books upholding his viewpoint on the Index of Forbidden Books— permission to read or to publish these books was thus severely restricted in all areas of Europe where Roman Catholicism held firm.

Now that Rome had spoken, Catholic astronomers had to decide whether their locality to the Church inhibited them from being productive and informed members of their own profession. Needless to say, Catholic astronomers gained access to contraband copies of these proscribed works and gradually an informal consensus grew regarding the correctness of the heliocentric system. After 1686, Newton’s Laws of gravitation made it all but impossible for any scientist to imagine that the enormous mass of the sun could physically revolve around a midget earth, immovable at the center of the sun’s orbit.

4CopernicusOnce the works of Copernicus and Galileo had been placed on the Index, however, it was notoriously difficult to get them removed. Thus, the heliocentric system was accepted by the scientific community for well over a hundred years before Pius VII, on 16 August 1822, gave a favorable decision to grant an imprimatur to a Catholic treatise openly favoring the Copernican system. Even with this one-time exception, Catholics had to further wait until the revision of the Index undertaken in 1846 before the writings of Copernicus and Galileo were definitively removed. Thus for two hundred and thirty years, the decision of Cardinal Bellarmine was used to silence and to impede the acceptance of the writings of Copernicus and Galileo because they were judged as contrary to the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

The social and religious climate of the late nineteenth century precluded anything being done to reverse the humiliating repudiation of Copernicus which had been imposed upon Galileo by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. So, in our own time, our brother John Paul II, sensitive to the injustice that remained unaddressed, established a Pontifical Commission on 03 July 1981 in order to reexamine the Ptolemaic-Copernican controversy of the sixteenth century. After thirteen years of attentive labors, their findings were transmitted to the Sovereign Pontiff. In part, they concluded as follows:

Galileo’s judges, incapable of dissociating faith from an age-old cosmology, believed, quite wrongly, that the adoption of the Copernican revolution, in fact not yet [then] definitively proven, was such as to undermine Catholic tradition, and that it was their duty to forbid it from being taught. This subjective error of judgment, so clear to us today, led them to a disciplinary measure from which Galileo “had much to suffer”. These mistakes must be frankly recognized, as you, Holy Father, have requested (tr. from L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO 04 Nov 91).

The honesty and courage of this reassessment offers reasons for Catholics to be proud of a Church which can face up to some of its own historical shortcomings.[1] More than this, however, the mistakes of the past give us cause for reflection lest similar mistakes be perpetuated due to “subjective errors of judgment” which might prevail within the current scene.

  • The Copernican controversy merits the reflection of Catholics because it illustrates how Catholics, when separated by diverse systems of thought and judgment, can arrive conscientiously and sincerely at diametrically opposed positions regarding matters of consequence.
  • The Copernican controversy also merits reflection because it illustrates how a one-sided decision made in an era undergoing an intellectual shift causes an immense amount of needless suffering on those “loyal dissidents” within the church and provide religious skeptics outside the church with further reasons to reject the saving Gospel of Jesus.
  • Finally, the Copernican controversy merits reflection in so far as it demonstrates that the Roman Church “has benefited and is still benefiting from the opposition of its enemies” (GAUDIUM ET SPES, sec. 44) and that, in due course, the Roman Church is willing and able to publicly face up to its failings and to humbly ask forgiveness and to make restitution to those who have “had much to suffer” because of its historical shortcomings.

Our Church is a vital church which, in a single generation, has carefully examined and substantially revised how Catholics are to regard atheism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, scientific and technological progress. Moreover, we have undergone a liturgical and spiritual renewal which has placed the teaching of Christ and the shared celebration of the Eucharist at the center and core of Catholic practice and spirituality. Moreover, Vatican II declared that “the visible social structure [of the Church] which is a sign of its unity in Christ . . . can be enriched, and it is being enriched, by the evolution of social life” (GAUDIUM ET SPES, sec. 44).

In our own day, this evolution of social life increasingly means acknowledging that women (and other subjugated classes) have the God-given right to authentically discern their own calling to define themselves within spheres of public life which, prior to this, have been reserved to restricted classes of men. From the vantage point of a patriarchy which has served the church for two thousand years, a decision to irrevocably close off the possibility of women to be ordained to the presbyterate might appear as a victory for social stability and religious sanity in a church structure which has undergone substantial revisions in the space of one generation. From the vantage point of those women and men who are pioneering new modes of harmonizing their self-definitions within the larger social nexus, however, this same decision might appear as an attempt to constrain the grace and freedom of the children of God within a humanly conditioned and culturally maintained social system bent upon maintaining the privileged status of certain men at the immovable center of church life while women are forever restricted to orbiting around them.

Thus, in the wake of Vatican II, many Catholics are rightly asking, “How can the hierarchy of my Church preach that ‘every group must take into account the needs and legitimate aspirations of every other group’ (GAUDIUM ET SPES, sec. 26) when the decision making procedures within the church often contradict this message?” Furthermore, must Catholics imagine that the Holy Spirit no longer guides those 500,000 Austrian Catholics who petitioned their bishops for a public dialogue on women’s ordination and optional priestly celibacy? And what of the 75,000 Swiss Catholics who petitioned their bishops in a similar way? And, now that our brother Cardinal Ratzinger has classified the exclusion of women as “infallible teaching,” will those Irish, German, and American Catholics who sign petitions now in circulation be automatically classified as “stiffnecked” or, even worse, as “heretical”? Will Catholic priests and sisters who publically advocate the ordination of women have to be disciplined and silenced and threatened with dismissal from their lawfully held posts on the basis of this single contentious issue?

It would seem so. . . .


4FrancisAt this point, the path of Peter developed above again comes into focus. What courage would be shown now if our brother, Pope Francis, openly acknowledged that the evolution of social life has not yet sufficiently progressed to provide any definitive solution to the question of how women will contribute to the church in the years to come. What if Pope Francis would allow free and open discussion on women’s ordination by citing Vatican II: “Let them [the faithful] realize that their pastors will not always be so expert as to have a ready answer to every problem (even every grave problem) that arises” (GAUDIUM ET SPES, sec 43). What renewed confidence would be engendered if our brother Pope Francis would endeavor to encourage dialogue and exchange between those sectors of the church which are presently divided by adhering to different “cosmologies” of womanhood.

If these things would happen, then the words which Karl Rahner, himself aware of changing social conditions back in the early 70s, penned to a Lutheran pastor in Bavaria would become true for all Catholics everywhere:

The practice which the Catholic Church has of not ordaining women to the priesthood has no binding theological character. . . . The actual practice is not a dogma; it is purely and simply based on a human and historic reflection which was valid in the past in cultural and social conditions which are presently changing rapidly (cited in Brita Stendhal, THE FORCE OF TRADITION, p. 160).

In the end, therefore, one can only plead in the name of Peter that our brother and father would lead and guide Catholics in these troubled times along those paths which reflect the wisdom and conduct of Peter, the first-called disciple of Jesus.

  • Functioning collaboratively and consultatively is not a sign of weakness but the very character of petrine authority which distinguishes it from the pagan authoritarianism wherein, as Jesus observes, “their rulers lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants” (Mark 10:42).
  • Furthermore, leaving a question open and refusing to impose a one-sided resolution until all the voices of the community have been sympathetically heard is not a sign of indecision but the mark of the dignity and purpose exemplified by Peter whom we are all pledged to follow.

The stakes are high, and it is difficult for most men and a good number of women as well to appear indecisive and to live with ambiguity. Furthermore, once a decision has been made, most men are all the more reluctant to backtrack and to admit that they were hasty and premature in their judgments. Yet, Peter sometimes made bold initiatives which got him into trouble.

  • He was the only one to get out of the boat and to come to Jesus on the choppy waters—yet he sank like a stone.
  • He was the only one to boast that he was not weak like the others but would stand with him even in his death—yet he could not even stay awake with him for one hour.
  • While the others fled and he alone followed after Jesus—yet he swore three times that he did not know him when a mere servant girl made inquiries.

Peter staunchly defends his prophetic position (Acts 11) and tells as compelling a story as possible by way of persuading those who oppose him; yet, he does not presuppose that he can or should be above criticism nor that, after a certain period, that he should cut off debate and impose his definitive solution on all parties concerned. Unity achieved through coercion and intimidation seemingly had no legitimate function within the early church. Whatever one says about the exalted office of Peter and his successors, therefore, must be nuanced and interpreted from within the exemplary functioning of Peter within the concrete instances spelled out in the Acts of the Apostles.

For all his boldness and for all his weakness, Jesus did not reject Peter. On the other hand, Jesus did not accept Peter’s conduct as normative or exemplary. With good reason, therefore, we Catholics who surround our brothers, Pope Francis, John Paul II, and Cardinal Ratzinger, will not reject them for having been too bold and too quick. On the other hand, we cannot allow that their conduct in imposing a premature decision on the women’s ordination question be allowed to stand.

colorlnAdditional Resources

by Michael H. Crosby, OFMCap.

Sister Louise Akers Challenges The Church Patriarchy
by Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer [The Sun Interview  November 2013 | issue 455]

Catholic Church Targets Proponent of Women’s Ordination: Roy Bourgeois and Elizabeth Johnson
by Mary E. Hunt

 A Psychological Investigation of 100 women who feel called to the Priesthood in the Catholic Church
by Priests for Equality

[1] You can find a reconstruction of the entire case against Galileo by clicking here. More recently, two brilliant arch-conservative Catholics, Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett, who have spent thirty years contending that the condemnation of the Jews was an infallible and irreversible doctrine of the Church that Vatican II mistakingly overturned, have now come forward with a three-volume study which demonstrates that the condemnation of Galileo was also biblically and scientifically justified. See “Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right” (http://galileowaswrong.blogspot.com/). Interested persons might also enjoy hearing how the astronomer Carl Sagan situates the Catholic case against Galileo in today’s culture (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXaEFpuK2mQ). For an excellent summary of how the Vatican has massively altered its appreciation of Galileo, see “The Vatican’s Turn to Recant” (http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2000/03/The-Vaticans-Turn-To-Recant.aspx#OkCzilZvd3vJFicT.99).

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