Document 18: Excerpt from Anne Elizabeth Carr, BVM, "The Church in Process: Engendering the Future," in Women Catholic Priesthood: An Expanded Vision, Proceedings of the Detroit Ordination Conference, ed. Anne Marie Gardiner, SSND (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), pp. 82-84.

Document 18: Excerpt from Anne Elizabeth Carr, BVM, "The Church in Process: Engendering the Future," in Women Catholic Priesthood: An Expanded Vision, Proceedings of the Detroit Ordination Conference, ed. Anne Marie Gardiner, SSND (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), pp. 82-84.


   In this talk at the Detroit Women's Ordination Conference (1975), Anne Carr made several practical arguments in favor of ordination, including that women in positions of spiritual leadership needed to perform the sacraments for those they served. She also contended that women, raised to serve others, would transform the priesthood into "an open, collegial spiritual service of unity," an argument that relied on the belief that women share a set of characteristics by their nature (a position disputed among feminists). Moreover, Carr advocated a distinct Christian feminism, one based on openness to God's grace, not the demand for rights or power. The contrast between Carr's arguments and those of other Catholic feminists reveals the diverse points of view contained within the movement.

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New Reality of Church and Ministry

   The ordination of women will not mean admission to the clerical caste, as some fear, or as the defensive jokes and cartoons — ridicule of the issue — suggest. Rather it would further the transformation of the priesthood: by admission of those who have traditionally only served, the sign will be clear. It will help to transform the ministry from a predominantly cultic role to a ministerial one, from a symbol

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of prestige to a symbol of service, releasing the imagination of half the Church's population into fuller operation as the Church moves into the future. The priesthood will no longer be a male-dominated club with restricted membership, a bureaucratic hierarchy, but an open, collegial spiritual service of unity. Nor will ordination do away with the variety of functions in the Church. Only some ministries appropriately call for official appointment and sacramental ordination. But those women who have led a community in prayer on campuses, in homes for the aged, in hospitals, prisons, neighborhoods, who have counseled retreatants in their own discovery of God or the experience of reconciliation recognize that the ability to celebrate the eucharistic meal, to baptize new life into the Church, to give absolution is the appropriate sacramental expression of the liberating action of Christ's grace in their ministries. For our tradition, in which sacramental experience is central, the ordination of women will be a sign of the Church's attentiveness to the concrete experience of its people, of its awareness of where God's grace is working in people's lives, where the authentic ministry of the word is occurring.

   Emphasis on historical consciousness and on tradition raises the question of whether women seek ordination because of developments in the secular sphere or in the Church. Clearly it is because of both — the Church reflects its culture even as it transcends culture as a prophetic voice. But there is a distinction between the women's movement in the Church and in society. In the secular sphere, women justly demand equal rights, and affirmative action programs insure and protect those rights. In the Church it is different. In a certain sense, no one has rights or even powers. The priesthood belongs to the whole Church. And all of us, women and men, are receivers and sharers. The grace of God in Christ and the Spirit is pure gift, unowed, incomprehensible benevolence. Intrinsic to the whole pattern of sacramental mediation of grace in the Church is that it cannot be hoarded, claimed, deserved. Nor is it rare or intermittent. It is given freely as it is received freely. The ordination of women in the Church is an appropriate sign in our time of the generosity and freedom of Christian grace.

   Finally, there is the issue of what is "pastorally prudent." Are people ready for this? Will it be a stumbling block to faith for the community? Will it appear that the Church has been wrong in the past if it now goes against so enduring a practical tradition? And from the perspective of women, will it appear that women are merely

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being used, once again, this time to fill the places of thousands of departed men? Certainly not all people are ready. For some (including some women) the very idea is distasteful, and this reaction reflects the depth of the cultural taboo — the feeling that women's reproductive processes are unclean, or that women represent the temptation or evil of sex, or that women cannot bear the authority of leadership, be theologically competent, or be trusted with significant functions in the Church. All of these taboos have been disproven, but they remain. The gradual ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood will be a profoundly educational sign of the human and theological truth of the matter. The ordination of women cannot be a stumbling block to faith because an authentic faith must recognize the full personhood of women, that we are not lesser human beings, auxiliaries, instruments, as the language of the Church on the "use" of women in discussions of sexuality used to suggest. Women look for a new language, not a sign that we are suddenly useful because of the shortage of men but that the new ministries we perform are genuinely needed by the Church.


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