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Voices Online Edition
Summer 1997 : Volume XII, No. 2

Justice in the Church:
Gender and Participation

by Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.
The Catholic University of America Press,
Washington, D.C., 1996. Pp. 234, paper $19.95, cloth $39.95.

Review by Jocelyn Johnson

The Catholic Church's teaching on male-only ordination is one of today's most controversial issues among those who dissent from authentic Church doctrine. Many Catholic feminists and their supporters see the Church's refusal to ordain women as a "justice" issue, contending that the all-male hierarchy is oppressive and asserting that they must "defect in place" until the Vatican caves in.

Father Benedict Ashley carefully looks at the arguments these feminists use to bolster their case and describes seven of them: 1) Scripture contains traces of a time in the early Church when women played important ministerial roles and ultimately this must have led to ordination; 2) that Christianity was influenced by the patriarchalization of the Jewish and pagan milieu of Jesus' time in which women were subordinate to men and that Jesus appointed His apostles under that influence; 3) that today the Church is not providing enough priests (especially in Europe and the U.S.) to reach all the faithful with the Eucharist, so women should be allowed to fill that void; 4) that some women claim they have experienced a calling from God to be a priest refusing to answer that call stifles a divine charism; 5) that the biblical teaching of Genesis in which men and women are created in the image of God indicates there should be no "hierarchy" in the Church instead there should be a discipleship of equals; 6) that women are just as well-qualified to preach, teach, lead liturgy, etc., as men; and, 7) that based on a principle of participation women have the right equally with men to make decisions in the Church by having equal access to ordination.

Both sides are considered in a methodical and fair fashion even while Father Ashley upholds the Church's traditional teaching. The Vatican Documents, Inter Insigniores ("Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood", from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1976) and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis ("Apostolic Letter on Ordination and Women", 1994), are used, along with Scripture and tradition to support the Church's stand.

A hierarchy of functions is essential for the mission of the Church, the author contends, even though every individual has personal equality which constitutes us as human persons. This mission is more crucial than structural democracy, he says, and reminds us that justice in the Church is "not to be defined by asking how 'democratic' is the Church, if by 'democracy' is meant some particular form of government. Jesus' authorization of the Twelve was not in this sense 'democratic.'"

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