First of all, your point that those who disagree with the papal teaching on ordaining women or on birth control can simply leave the church. Of course. The question is, is that what the Church really wants? To muzzle discussion and respectful disagreement presupposes that the Church never changes its doctrine or its mind. That it has is my only defense to those who still want to talk about the Inquisition.

Second, of course there are certain things that male physiology suits him best for, and men cannot bear children. But none of these gender-linked traits seem to involve the sacraments. I've always seen Jesus's offerring of healing to the hemorhaging woman as eucharistic. William Blake, who was not a theologian of course, but a poet says of Jesus that he was the "perfect man because he acted from impulse not rules." In this case, it seems true that He was not thinking about Jewish Law, but the healing power of touch. Respectfully, I cannot see how my sense of Jesus's presence in the Eucharist will be changed depending on whether it is blessed by prayers of a woman or a man, or whether it is offerred by a masculine or feminine hand. And while Jesus did not have a female disciple, he did reach out to women in surprising ways: When he visits Mary and Martha, he says of the sister who listens to his teachings rather than taking "her place" in the kitchen that she has chosen the better part.

As to the notion that only a man can play Rhett Butler, this seems specious at best. Surely the drama enacted in the mass is more complex than "Gone With the Wind"? And while you're certaily right that if the worst thing we have to worry about is whether or not women can become priests, we can hardly call ourselves oppressed, how can women be told they are equal and at the same time be told that only a man can perform the most holy of offices? While the metaphor of the Bridegroom and the Bride is wonderful, is this the only metaphor possible for the church, and does the representation have to be literally sexual?

As is clear, I am not theologian, though there is a wonderful article on alta vista by John Wijngaard which addresses the theology, as well as putting this issue into historical perspective.

I stay in the Church because I belong to a wonderful, loving parish where I found the Holy Spirit. I stay in the Church because I read just enough to know that these issues are not as summarily dismissed as they first seem. I stay in the church because I do see it as a marriage, and that the church, like a marriage is made up of human beings, who aren't always right, but they're doing the best they can to do the right thing. I stay in the church because ultimately what matters to me is liturgy, not doctrine, the drama of Love that unfolds every Sunday at mass, that connects me to a sacrifice two thousand years ago.

I stay in the church because the church might be wrong or I might be, and either or both of us is capable of changing, but in general, my conscience is better off being formed by an entity that changes slowly and tries to change always for the right reasons, to more fully show the face of God.

But if I can't see an argument, I can't see it. Surely, that doesn't mean I should leave?



Dear Wanda,

Thank you for the e-mail and the permission to post it and reply online. It helps clarify an important point. Staying with the Church, which I surely hope you do, does not depend on ones ability to "see an argument." Catholicism encompasses a tremendous diversity--but we have a common core which makes distinguishes us from all Protestants. It is certainly not wrong, but in fact positive to ask questions to gain a deeper understanding. Cardinal Newman said that a thousand questions do not add up to one doubt. He also asked how it is possible to embrace (affirm) all the doctrines which the Catholic Church teaches--past, present and future. His reply: we do so every time we say the Apostles' Creed, specifically the line "I believe in the holy, catholic church." Did Jesus found a Church whose visible head is the the sucessor of Peter? If "yes" you are a Catholic. If "no" there are many other much more genial options. It is a question of integrity. I am not telling anyone to leave, but as Shakespeare said: "To thine own self be true--and it follows as the night does the day, thou canst not be false to any man."

My prayers. God bless.

Fr. Phil