Women's authority in the church

by Christine Schenk

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I suppose Women's History Month is a good time to weigh in on current discussions and disagreements about women deacons and women priests in the Catholic Church.

In some ways, it seems a fluffy conversation in light of recent revelations about our grievously wounded clerical system.

But perhaps that is exactly why we need to have this discussion.

Is Catholic governance fatally crippled by our failure to address/accept human sexuality and/or unhealthy shame over one's God-given gender or sexual orientation?

Yes, I have been reading Frédéric Martel's In the Closet of the Vatican.

Martel writes that a high percentage of priests and bishops are gay, and that they protected predators out of fear that their own homosexuality would be revealed. For Martel, the need to maintain silence about the prevalence of homosexuality within the clerical system allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act.

While his book has been both praised and reviled, I found his hypothesis about the systemic effects of shame-based duplicity and homophobia worth considering. Sean Larson's online symposium on the book is a signal contribution to evaluating some of the substantive issues it raises, including accusations of systemic misogyny. Jesuit Fr. James Martin's lament over Martel's failure to even consider that many gay priests live their vows of chastity and promises of celibacy with fidelity is especially compelling.

But for me, it is a supreme irony to consider that much, if not most, of the ministry in the church is being performed by the very ones we have rejected — gay priests and women.

Read the full column at National Catholic Reporter.