Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Church of England's Choice to Accept Female Bishops: What Will Be the Effect on the Roman Catholic Church? Some Musings

As the Church of England votes at long last to accept women bishops, Catholic News Service, the USCCB's Pravda, is already (and predictably) complaining that this decision will impede ecumenical relations between the Roman and the Anglican churches. Interestingly, the New York Times today carries both an article by Stephen Castle noting that the step the Church of England is now taking will help move society in the direction of gender equity, and a lament by Cadence Woodland noting that the decision of the top men in the LDS church to crack down on open conversation about women's issues has led to the closing of what had been called "the Mormon moment," a moment of seeming openness to free discussion of women's and gay issues.

Two diverging paths, and of the two, it's clear that the top leaders of the Roman Catholic church have allied themselves decisively with the top men running the LDS church, and not with those leading the Anglican communion, a communion theologically and historically far closer to Catholicism than Mormonism is. The juxtaposition of these two articles in today's Times (they're not literally juxtaposed; I mean that both appear in the same issue of the paper) makes me ask myself, What  effect will the Church of England's decision to accept women bishops have on the Roman Catholic church?

It seems to me very likely that, for the short run at least (and I mean that term historically: for the Vatican, a "short run" can comprise centuries), the Vatican will stay fast its anti-woman course. For the men running the Roman church and for the men who run things in the socioeconomic sphere, the 1% who hold increasing sway over the decisions made by the men at the top of the Catholic church, this is, when all is said and done, a matter of branding.

They're convinced that, if they brand the Roman Catholic church as the church that stands against illicit claims of women on grounds of "orthodoxy," they can not only hold onto the loyalties of a solid core of reactionary believers in the Northern hemisphere (many of these the richest among their adherents in that hemisphere), but that they will attract burgeoning numbers of new Catholics in the Southern hemisphere, where the church is growing by leaps and bounds and where women continue to occupy a subservient place in most cultures. The Roman Catholic church as the "orthodox" brand in contrast to the brand of Anglicanism and its ilk . . . .

The men running the Roman church, and the economically elite 1% men who advise them, will continue trying to sell the Roman brand as anti-woman (and anti-gay) with assertions that the Roman brand preeminently lays claim to orthodoxy and tradition by refusing to cave into the demands of women (and gay folks) for human rights, since those demands are anti-orthodox and anti-tradition. Never mind that the actions of the men running the Roman church neatly parallel the actions of the men running the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in this anti-woman, anti-gay branding process, and that no Christian church could be more theologically distant from Roman Catholicism than Mormonism is.

So that the claim that resistance to women's rights (and gay rights) is rooted in "orthodoxy" and tradition is called into radical question by the alliance of the men leading the Catholic and Mormon churches in the U.S., in particular, where the branding claims I've discussed above have, for the most part, been crafted, and are shopped around primarily for political reasons, to make it seem that voting Republican is a holy duty for "real" Catholics and Mormons who resist the collapse of their "traditional" faiths to a secular culture that is increasing godless insofar as it recognizes the rights of women and gay people . . . .

I think we'll see continued resistance among the men leading the Catholic church — resistance to women's rights and gay rights — for a long time now. With the attendant claim that this resistance represents holding the line against godless secularization, and holding onto unchangeable tradition . . . . 

But in the long run, the decision of the Church of England to accept women bishops is one more decisive sounding of the death knell for misogyny in the all-male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church. The danger of painting a reactionary brand as "orthodox" becomes ever more evident as increasing numbers of people of faith — Catholics included — insist that the movement to accord rights to women and gay folks which some church leaders want to stigmatize as a collapse to godless secular culture is actually rooted in the deepest traditions of their faith communities. For Christians, for instance, this movement is rooted in the example and teaching of Jesus and in the gospels that enshrine the theological memory of Jesus's example and teaching in the first generations of his followers.

So that, increasingly, the claim of the men leading the Roman church that they alone hold fast to orthodoxy and tradition by resisting the rights of women (and gay folks) will sound hollow to Catholics who take note of Jesus's practice of open commensality, of his penchant for inviting everyone to his table, and for including women as freely as men at his table in a religious culture that, by tradition, forbade women at the table of orthodox men, since their presence there was, in the view of such men, a polluting presence . . . . 

It's just possible that the decision of the two popes prior to Pope Francis to rebrand Catholicism as the anti-modern, anti-human rights brand after Vatican II pointed their church to a very different future will turn out to have been one of the most colossally destructive decisions made by any popes throughout history, due not merely to the way in which that decision pretends that Vatican II never happened, but primarily to its betrayal of the gospels and the example and teaching of Jesus. 

The graphic, a photo of a fresco from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter showing an early Christian agape feast at which a female participant is holding a chalice, is from Wikimedia Commons.

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