Document 26: Eileen Stenzel, "The Ordination of Women: A Statement of Strategy," in Women's Ordination Conference, New Women, New Church, New Priestly Ministry: Proceedings of the Second Conference on the Ordination of Roman Catholic Women (New York: Kirkwood Press, 1980), pp. 141-43.
If the 1975 Women's Ordination Conference was a unified display of optimism and hope, the second WOC conference in 1978 revealed the movement's diversity and growing radicalism. This may be the conference's ultimate significance: it showed all participants in the movement that Catholic feminists did not share a single vision of the movement's future. In her conference talk, Eileen Stenzel took a radical position, arguing that sexism made integrated communities of men and women impossible. Only by reconceiving the Church without sexism could integrated communities eventually exist. In other words, Stenzel believed that women needed to embrace their own autonomy first, strengthening their own communities before they could renew the Church. This was a radical position because it opened the possibility that Catholic feminists might leave the Church in order to attain their goals.
THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN: A STATEMENT OF STRATEGY
There are three assumptions about strategy which serve to inform my remarks prepared for this afternoon. The first is that how a problem is defined controls how a problem is resolved. The second is that who controls the definition of problems also controls the solution. The third is that those who wish to develop strategies for change must, of necessity, be involved in the intellectual analysis of the problem or situation. The title of my talk suggests that strategy conveys a position. Therefore, my first observation about strategy-building for the ordination of women reflects on the organizing principles of our conference. It is unwise to separate the issues of theological exploration and strategy. Likewise, it is unwise to separate those who personally feel called to ordination from those who wish to work for the ordination of women.
Because of this inter-relatedness of position and strategy, my talk will do two things. First, I will outline my analysis of the issue of the ordination of women into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. Second, I will offer guidelines for development of strategies consistent with that position.
The questions with which I began to prepare my remarks are: What does it mean to seek the ordination of women? What does it mean to those who wish to be ordained as well as to those who wish to experience a Church which no longer refuses to ordain women because they are women? Does seeking the ordination of women mean the same thing as ‘seeking ordination’ does to men, to the institutional Church, to the Church-at-large? Should it?
This session of the Ordination Conference is concerned with the issues surrounding the development of strategy toward the ordination of women. When asked to speak with you today, I agreed to present a very simple thesis based on the Call given to attend this Conference: to seek a new woman, a new Church and a new ministry. The thesis which I submit to you today is as follows: If the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church is to mean a new woman, a new Church and a new ministry, then the process of seeking ordination must, itself, involve new women, a new Church and a new ministry.
I would like to develop that thesis around the following three questions. First, what is the relationship between the refusal to ordain women and the coming of new women? Second, what is the relationship between the struggle to become new women and the coming of a new Church? Third, what is the relationship between collective identification with women and the coming of a new ministry?
The final part of my paper will present guidelines for strategy consistent with the position developed in response to these questions.
"To seek the ordination of women means that we as women and men have looked at why women are refused ordination. It means that we have continued to ask ‘why’ in spite of our own fears at hearing the answer. We have read and heard and seen the reasons for what they are: an insistence that there are roles for women and roles for men, a system of dualism which is the foundation of sexism."
The Refusal to Ordain Women and the Coming of a New Woman
To seek the ordination of women means that we as women and men have looked at why women are refused ordination. It means that we have continued to ask ‘why’ in spite of our own fears at hearing the answer. We have read and heard and seen the reasons for what they are: an insistence that there are roles for women and roles for men, a system of dualism which is the foundation of sexism. To seek the ordination of women means, in light of the refusal to ordain women, that we reject the tradition on which ordained ministry within the institutional Church rests: the denial of female autonomy and female power. We understand, as we struggle, that that tradition has been institutionalized in Church teaching, preaching and service and has been internalized by women and men. Therefore, to disengage ourselves from that tradition necessitates a process whereby we recover our autonomy and power. To confront ourselves on the edge of time by insisting on full and rightful autonomy as persons. That is to say, we seek what is essential to our personhood: the ability to be ‘engagingly moral,’ i.e. to be able to decide among alternatives and to be able to accept responsibility for the consequences.
The Relationship Between the Struggle to Become New Women and the Coming of a New Church
The struggle to become new women is the struggle to come to attain a self-understanding which is rooted in a deep sense of one's own autonomy and an understanding of the absolute necessity of autonomy in human community at any level: interpersonal, inter-racial, inter-cultural. At its deepest level, the struggle to become new women involves a perception of sexism within patriarchal cultures and systems as the denial of sexual, political and moral autonomy to women. It is further to understand that as long as sexism continues, communities of men and women are impossible. Likewise, until men and women both take the dynamics of sexism seriously and commit themselves to struggle with them as deeply institutionalized and internalized, communities of men and women are impossible. For that understanding and that commitment are the first steps in bringing those communities to life.
Thus, the moral imperative by which we envision human communities — male and female — is the imperative of an alternative future. Whereas our engagement in the refusal to ordain women led to seeking the ordination of women by breaking with the tradition on which ordination rests, our engagement in the struggle to become new women is the initiation of a new tradition through which ordination can be re-examined and understood anew. That tradition will be one which ceases to make persons
of public ministry functions of institutional continuity. It will, rather, provide the basis whereby ordained ministry, if it continues to be characterized by sacramental leadership roles, will be understood in such a way as to recognize that sacramental power is a metaphor of the community, not of the ‘priest.’ Sacramental experience will, likewise, be inclusively understood, i.e., in a context that is immediately social, immediately personal and immediately political.
The Relationship Between Collective Identification with Women and the Coming of a New Ministry
At the previous ordination conference, Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza observed: "The demand of women for ordination has to be rooted in a theology and praxis of sisterhood which is not based on sexual identification." To place ourselves where women are: in factories, in homes, in schools, in welfare offices, in hospitals, in corporations, in mental institutions, in novels of alleged fiction, and research of alleged facts is to learn that the sexual gratification to which Elisabeth referred is a power system. The development of priesthood into a system of active male leadership over against a passive "female-like" participation has become characteristic of the hierarchical, male and celibate church.
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