söndag 28 september 2008

50 years of women priests in Sweden and the Society of St Pius X

Svenska Kyrkan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of women priests. As a Catholic, I can only comment from the outside but having women priests has certainly has not helped the church to flourish. As far as I can understand, priests in the Swedish church are comparable to those at the "high" end of the Anglicans - in other words, they regard themselves as priests and not ministers. The status of Anglican orders was clarified in Apostolicae Curae in 1896 by Pope Leo XIII, declaring all Anglican ordinations to be "absolutely null and utterly void". I can find no reference to the status of Svenska Kyrkan's orders. One issue is that the Catholic Church regards Ordination as a Sacrament, which is not the case with the Anglicans, but the principal point is that of authority and recognition of the authority of the successor of Peter, which is an article of the Apostles' Creed - "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church". Anyone who really does believe that should be a member of the Universal Church of Rome - the Catholic Church - or a church in communion with it. I do not understand how people can recite the creed every day or every Sunday and still avoid this conclusion. Of couse the Anglican Church claims that it is both Catholic and Protestant, but that is impossible. The Catholic Church is the Church under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

There is a parallel here with the status of the Society of St Pius X, which promotes the traditional (Tridentine) Latin mass, which under the new regulations introduced by Pope Benedict, may now be freely celebrated without the need for special permission. The Society's priests perform the liturgy far more care than can be the case with the ordinary Catholic clergy, who, too often make things up as they go along and do not keep to the rubrics. The Society was founded by the French Archbishop Lefebre, and eventually consecrated its own bishops. This latter they had no right to do and consequently the society's priests have been ordained irregularly. Within the physical area of Catholic diocese of Barchester, authority rests with the Bishop of Barchester. You cannot have a another bishop with authority in that location. The same goes for parishes. Priests may come in and say a mass in another parish, but not without the permission of the parish priest. It is a regulation and of course a matter of common courtesy. And for the same reason, people should attend their own parish mass and not some freelance celebration, no matter how beautifully done. It may mean having to put up with a dire liturgy, but that is ultimately the priest's responsibility. If priests do not do their job properly, they will be held to account in the final reckoning.There is of course no objection to attending an authorised Tridentine Mass such as those celebrated by priests belonging to the Sacred Society of St Peter or under the auspices of the Latin Mass Society, which emphasises its loyalty to the Holy See above all.

People hope that the Society of St Pius X will be accepted back into the mainstream body of the Catholic Church. Its priests have a lot to offer. But if this does not happen, the inevitable fate of this movement will be to wander off into a wilderness and ultimate oblivion or worse, which is which what befell the Old Catholic Church which broke away in 1870 on the issue of papal infallibility.

What view does the Catholic Church take on women priests? Simply, that it is not able to ordain them. It is not capable of doing it. They could put women through the training and ritual, but that would still not make them priests. Had Jesus himself considered it possible, there is no doubt that he would have ordained a woman. There was no shortage of women in his entourage and he was not concerned about keeping to the conventions. Women have another function in Christian life - as mothers and contemplatives. To suggest that this demeans women is absurd. On the contrary, it is a recognition that men and women have different spiritual functions just as they have different biological functions. In the Anglican church, where, as mentioned earlier, ordination is not a sacrament, the orders are null and void, but even if they were not, the sacrament would not have been effective and the "ordained " woman would still not be a priest.

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