Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Are women and men interchangeable at will?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Much in discussion these past few months are two subjects that might not seem to be related, but they are.

In public discussion is the question of civil unions and “marriage” between two persons of the same sex. This conversation is framed as a civil rights issue rather than a natural rights issue. The discussion is therefore about a matter of individual choice that should be respected in civil law, without much consideration given to whether or not “civil rights” provide an adequate context for understanding what is at issue. The Catholic New World is reprinting a letter from Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, in which he explains the legal response of three Illinois dioceses to this matter because of its repercussions on State of Illinois contracts with Catholic Charities adoption and foster care agencies. (See Page 21.)

Discussion in the church in this archdiocese for some months has anticipated the naming of two auxiliary bishops for this local church. They have now been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI; and my statement about Bishops-elect Andrew Wypych and Alberto Rojas, priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago, also appears in this issue of the Catholic New World. (See Page 13.) Their appointment and the ordination of priests for the archdiocese last month also, however, raised some discussion about the possibility of women in the priesthood.

What’s the connection?

Catholic moral and doctrinal teaching presupposes that marriage and family tell us something of lasting importance about God and about ourselves. In the Old Covenant, God espouses his people, Israel; in the New Covenant, Christ is the bridegroom of his church. In the apostolic churches — Catholic and Orthodox— the ordained priest represents Christ, the invisible head of the church, to all the baptized faithful who are members of Christ’s body. Ordained priesthood is historical and sacramental or symbolic before it is functional. Women can obviously do anything priests do, and often do it better; but women cannot “represent” a bridegroom. In Christ, the eternal Son of God, women are daughters of our heavenly Father, equal to men in baptism and often surpassing them in holiness, as the calendar of canonized saints bears witness. But the practice of the church from the time of Pentecost, interpreting the will of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has reserved priestly ordination to baptized men. They are called to be fathers in the family of God. The nature of the sacrament of Holy Orders is given to the church; and she is not free to change it.

Five hundred years ago, the major Protestant Reformers rejected the sacrament of Holy Orders. For them, the invisible headship of Christ is not made visible in his church. Baptism is therefore the only sacrament of Christian priesthood. In Catholicism, in order to complete the visible portrayal of the relationship between Christ and the church, there is a rite in which a woman is called to represent not Christ but his body, the church. The ceremony is a consecration of virgins living in the world. Theirs is an ecclesial vocation, and the Archdiocese of Chicago is enriched by their lives. They are not women religious and do not live in community or take religious vows. They are consecrated in a ceremony that resembles ordination, although it is not sacramental. In it and in the women who are so consecrated, the church comes to a clearer understanding of herself as virgin and mother, the bride of Christ. Men may not be consecrated virgins; they cannot be a public representation of the bride of Christ. The Catholic symbol system is consistent, even when not well accepted!

With the same nuptial imagery, and in accord with the natural moral law, the church recognizes that marriage is between a man and a woman, for life and for the sake of family. Marital union is based on a man and a woman becoming “two in one flesh.” Without such self-giving union, marriage is impossible. A marriage that is not or cannot be consummated in sexual union is recognized as invalid in both church and civil law. Genuine love and deep friendship are possible without two persons becoming “two in one flesh,” and love and friendship should always be respected and encouraged. But sexual activities separated from the context of the marital union are inconsistent with the order of human nature itself.

To speak of “the order of human nature itself” becomes progressively more difficult and less convincing when gender is regarded as a purely human construct, a cultural invention, and not something given in nature. Nature itself has now been mostly reduced to a field for scientific experiment and human control. Even biological differences are to be manipulated for economic profit and according to personal preferences. Whatever restricts personal choice is politically and socially unacceptable. So two men should be able to marry, if that is what they want; and women should be candidates for ordained priesthood, if that is what they believe. Women and men are interchangeable at will.

For those who believe that God’s will is normative in human affairs, however, acting against the nature of Holy Orders or of marriage is wrong. Last Sunday, on the feast of Pentecost, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would come upon the church with new force and would renew the face of the earth. The Holy Spirit is given so that we might come to understand, from within the communion of faith, God’s self-revelation in history and, from within the community of reason, God’s creation in nature. Understanding the truth about the sacrament of Holy Orders and about the nature of marriage and then following God’s will for us makes us truly free. God bless you.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago