The school sponsors a Vocations Club to stir and explore interest in religious or priestly life. Perhaps that also is not surprising.
But, in fact, there are two clubs: 'Father Kolbe' for boys, named for St. Maximillian Kolbe, and 'St. Cecilia,' for girls.
Our son belongs to Father Kolbe--in a ten-year-old's way, he likes to get out of class and enjoy the snacks. (No number of snacks or amount of time out of class has aroused our daughter's interest in St. Cecilia.)
An interesting thing happened yesterday when I asked our son about his Father Kolbe meeting. He said that a new girl in his class had tried to attend. Being new, she didn't understand that there were two vocations clubs--one for boys, and one for girls. Playfully, I asked my son whether his new classmate had managed to force her way into the Father Kolbe meeting.
He gave a satisfied, "Nope!"
I have been thinking a lot about his reply. He is ten years old. It is appropriate to his age for him to want to keep girls out of his treehouse. His "Nope!" comes as no surprise in that light. He will grow out of that attitude about girls. Or, at least, he should grow out of it. But I find myself wondering whether the way the Church talks about and enforces gender differences will help him do it. I find myself worrying, might his Catholic education become an obstacle to growing out of it?
In fact--Why must there be separate vocations clubs for boys and girls?
It's not the first time I've found myself asking questions like these.
Consider these comments made earlier this year by Raymond Cardinal Burke about how letting girls be altar servers has 'feminized' the Church at the expense of priestly vocations:
“Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away [from priestly vocations] over time.”At the time, I found Cardinal Burke's observations merely amusing. Note how the fact that girls are "very good at altar service" is completely irrelevant to him. Notice also that Cardinal Burke argues from nature.
Nature, of course, has its goodness. Nature is created, and shares in the goodness of the Creator. Yet nature does not have sufficient goodness, says St. Thomas Aquinas. Since humanity first was separated by sin from its Creator, "human nature is left to itself, and deprived of original justice", and so we speak of a "defect in human nature." Nature is perfected by the grace which we receive as a free gift from God. What is "natural" never is enough from a theological perspective on sin.
As I say, initially I took Cardinal Burke's contradictions only to be amusing. But now, in light of yesterday, I find myself thinking more seriously about this.
In 1988, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, in which he explained the proscription of the ordination of women:
Since Christ, in instituting the Eucharist, linked it in such an explicit way to the priestly service of the Apostles, it is legitimate to conclude that he thereby wished to express the relationship between man and woman, between what is "feminine" and what is "masculine." It is a relationship willed by God both in the mystery of creation and in the mystery of Redemption. It is the Eucharist above all that expresses the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride (§26).In 1994, with his much shorter apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he more simply and pointedly concluded any debate:
I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful (§4).But in the light of Cardinal Burke's comments and my son's reaction to his classmate, I wonder whether this should be the last word. I wonder whether there is not such a potent contradiction here that we must expose it and discuss it.
With Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul affirmed unambiguously that, "both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God's image." Further, Pope John Paul argued forcefully against historical circumstances in which
the male "dominated," without having proper regard for woman and for her dignity, which the "ethos" of creation made the basis of the mutual relationships of two people united in marriage....In all of Jesus' teaching, as well as in his behavior, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honor due to women. The woman with a stoop is called a "daughter of Abraham" (Lk 13:16), while in the whole Bible the title "son of Abraham" is used only of men. Walking the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus will say to the women: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me" (Lk 23:28). This way of speaking to and about women, as well as his manner of treating them, clearly constitutes an "innovation" with respect to the prevailing custom at that time (§§12, 13).As we have noted here, it is only natural that a ten-year-old boy should not regard girls as equals. There is nothing surprising about his delight that his classmate was thwarted.
But the more important question is: Should not his experience of the Church and Catholic schooling create an opportunity for the grace that would perfect his nature?
Put more plainly, we should wonder how many young boys have had their natural disdain for young girls ratified by separate clubs for vocations. Or, by a power structure in the Church that excludes women from positions of genuine authority because they cannot be priests. How many grown Catholic men carry gender bias because it was reinforced, at least in part, by their youthful contact with the Church?
To tie the bow over the knot--How many of the men who hold power in the Church, and who perpetuate its power structure, are molded not by grace but by the nature so uncritically accepted by Cardinal Burke?
I do not argue here for the ordination of women. That is a separate question. In this light, we could have an interesting discussion about it.
But there are other ways of being a decisionmaker in the Church, and they do not necessarily demand ordination. I'm asking here, in these days while Pope Francis is opening membership in the curial Councils, Congregations, Tribunals, and Secretariats to women at an unprecedented pace, whether we only have barely begun to perceive the depth to which affirming gender difference has accommodated gender bias in the Church. .::UPDATE (5/15/15)--see also, "Most US dioceses have women in key posts, but some have none"::.
Until very recent times, the Church's reflexive reply to that question has been something like my son's "Nope!" Look to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which, for all the good things Pope John Paul wrote about the equality of women, does not consider the possibility of structural bias built on an unchallenged, "natural" perception of inequality, which his own writings suggest would be a sin.
Is there structural bias in the Church? A ten-year-old boy seems to know the answer. So, I fear, does his sister.