Document 22: Ann Patrick Ware, "Perplexed Thoughts Upon Leaving the Church After Mass," 25 May 1977, National Coalition of American Nuns Records 3/2, Marquette University Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 2 pp.
Ann Patrick Ware, a leader in the National Coalition of American Nuns, found a personal means of expressing her anger over the Vatican's Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood. Unable to contain her feelings, Ware jotted down her "perplexed thoughts" about the teaching in nearly stream-of-consciousness form. With its sarcasm and devastating wit, the piece expresses not only Ware's anger with the church, but also her sense of profound betrayal. Ware echoed the feelings of many Catholic women when she asked simply, "Fathers, how could you?"
I am walking along Broadway on my way from the 8 o'clock Mass at my parish church to my office at 475 Riverside Drive. The priest has used this morning the Man-Canon (Eucharistic Prayer IV), the one which thanks God because "You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world…you helped all men to seek and find you…offered a covenant to man…." Somewhere along the line the Canon shifts into first-person plural language, and I hear "He became a man like us in all things but sin." Who is this "us" whom Jesus Christ is like? Now we know. It is not the little crowd of folks in the church. They, with few exceptions, are women, and women have no "natural resemblance" to the Redeemer.
Says the male priest to the male altar boy and to the three men in the pews, "He became a man like us." Perhaps, I tell myself, Jesus Christ is like all of us (men and women both) but without resembling women. I consult the dictionary. "Like: resembling (followed by a noun or pronoun)," it reads. "Resemble:" it continues, "to be like or similar to." Alas, it is too much for me. What's a poor woman to think?
The Vatican's prohibition of the ordination of women because they do not bear a "natural resemblance" to Christ poses fascinating logical and theological conundrums. First of all, what is a natural resemblance but a resemblance in nature? The two natures in Christ have been declared by the Council of Nicaea to be: one human, one divine. Now we know (for Rome has told us so) that to be human is to be male. True God and true man = true God and true male.
Or I ponder this scene: Heaven and earth are breathless (let all mortal flesh keep silence) as the Blessed Virgin Mary brings forth her first-born son, wraps him in swaddling clothes and exclaims, "Mon dieu! Who is this that bears no natural resemblance to me!"
What am I to make of the implication, on the one hand, that priests must be Jesus look-alikes (pity you Nordic types, you over-aged) and the astonishing fact, on the other, that bearded and long-haired priests, looking for all the world like first-century Galileans, are not tolerated in at least one Cardinal's diocese? Gone is the day when we may look at a family photograph and observe a "natural resemblance" between brother and sister.
The natural-resemblance argument of the Vatican document is derived from St. Thomas' reasoning that sacramental signs must represent what they signify by natural resemblance. Interesting, I reflect, that the Church calls upon me to recognize the living and risen Christ under signs of inanimate bread and wine but finds it impossible to see Christ-the-Priest in a woman. Baptism identifies the faithful, men and women alike, with Christ in his Body, but hear, all ye women: identification, sì; resemblance, no.
I am now at 120th Street and I try this syllogism:
Ordination is a sacramental sign which makes "the minister the image of
Christ" (words of the document).
But males are already images of Christ, bearing as they do a natural
resemblance to him.
Males do not need ordination. Women do!
And what am I to make of the magisterium's use of female imagery to express its teaching? Just who is teaching, the Holy Bride (tsk, no natural resemblance!) or Christ? Nevertheless, the document reads:
In the final analysis it is the church, through the voice of her magisterium, that…decides what can change and what must remain immutable. When she judges that she cannot accept certain changes, it is because she knows that she is bound to Christ's manner of acting. Her attitude, despite appearances, is therefore not one of archaism but of fidelity.
Here, even though appearances are to the contrary, I must not be put off from reading the sign aright. Let me see if I can get it straight: The "sign must be perceptible," "one which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease." Yes, I think I've got it. But a decision thought out (I use the term loosely), arrived at and conveyed by the all-male magisterium is "her" decision? No, by George, I haven't got it. It's a case of Holy Mother doing her daughters in.
The Church, I read, "does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination." I can't help wondering, if "she" did feel "herself" so authorized, how would "she" know? I smile feebly at the little special touch of irony: "Given in Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on October 15, 1976, the feast of St. Teresa of Avila." Fathers, how could you?
But be consoled, my Roman Catholic sisters. Monsignor Malone, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine and Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices, has told us that since the question of women priests is resolved, the bishops "can now deal with how women can become active in all decision-making bodies of the Church" (italics most assuredly mine). I wait for the headline: COLLEGE OF CARDINALS GOES COED!
Now I have reached my office building, The Interchurch Center, where a number of ordained women work. Cardinal Medeiros' statement comes to mind: "Were the church a merely human institution, there would be no reason for resisting the mounting pressure in favor of the ordination of women." Alas, you poor ordained women. The Church which ordained you must be a merely human institution, not divine like mine.
Ann Patrick, S.L.
May 25, 1977
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