CALDWELL-The controversial and sometimes divisive topic of women and their role in priestly ministry in the Catholic Church was discussed Nov. 7 at Caldwell College.
Sister Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., author and teacher of dogmatic theology, addressed the topic "Women and Priestly Ordination," answering questions about the role of women in the Church.
Acknowledging the objections about the Church's teaching on ordaining women as priests, Sister Sara said "people are looking at the wrong argument. People are not looking at the text (the Bible)."
An instructor at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, NY, Sister Sara indicated she was not always in agreement with the Church's teaching on women and priestly ordination. She was involved in the Catholic Theological Society of America Task Force that concluded, in 1978, that available evidence favored the admission of women to the priesthood.
During the 1980s, Sister Sara participated in the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation and was a consultant on the Bishops' Committee for a Pastoral Letter on Women's Concerns. She changed her perspective after years of reflection and analysis. Her book, "The Catholic Priesthood and Women," further examines the topic.
"I wasn't reading the (Bible) texts closely and over a 10-year period," she said, "I realized that what I believed the Church was teaching was not accurate. You have to understand the point of view of the Church before you can form any argument."
In 1976, the sacred document, Inter Insigniores, was published by the Church, which concluded that, in fidelity with the example of the Lord, women cannot be ministerial priests. Two arguments-one theological and the other fundamental-were derived after that document.
Sister Sara claimed that people respond to theological arguments but are not focusing on the fundamental arguments that are rooted in Scripture. Theological arguments include the belief that only men can represent Christ and therefore only men can be priests. The fundamental argument is, following the tradition of Christ, only 12 men were chosen as apostles, serving as the model for all priests.
While conducting research as part of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation, Sister Sara explored the "Gospel innovation" that although Jesus was surrounded by faithful women and taught them, He still only selected men as apostles.
"We read the Gospels with a new, fresh eye. Christ never said anything in the Bible about the question of women as priests or apostles. Jesus treated women as equals and taught them. He was free to choose who He wanted to follow Him and He chose 12 men. Women were in His company and there were many holy women, but He did not chose them," Sister Sara declared.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II issued the Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacredotalis, in response to the Church of England ordaining women as priests. "The letter defined the constant tradition and the bottom line that the Church has no authority to change the priestly ordination of women. Jesus' choice determines what constitutes a sacrament," Sister Sara explained. "The letter's purpose was to remove all doubt about the Catholic Church's teaching on a matter that pertains to her 'divine constitution.'"
She said one common objection to the Church's teaching on female ordination is that the Catholic Church is patriarchal and not including women in the role of priests is sexist. "Most argue that the exclusion of women from a public leadership role is an injustice and explicit sexism. Some view that Jesus' choice of 12 men is irrelevant and that it is just an ecclesiastical tradition to have men as priests," Sister Sara said. However, she explained that the priesthood is a sacrament and that all priests are to follow in the tradition of the apostles who were all men.
"Priestly ordination is a vocation to exercise Christian ministry through the Church. It is conferred by a sacrament instituted by Jesus and ordained ministry is traced back to the apostles. Priests are successors of the apostles," Sister Sara emphasized.
Women held roles of influence and had leadership positions in the early Church, Sister Sara stressed, and both female and male saints are represented and revered in the Catholic Church.
The goal of a Christian life is not to be a priest, but to be a saint," she said. "Women have full participation in the Church and we are all called to live the Gospel to the hilt. It is not about a leadership position. Mary's dignity was not compromised because she wasn't a priest or an apostle and she is known as the 'Queen of All Saints.'"