Ecumenism: July 2010 Archives

The other day I made a post on this blog about a Canadian woman priest giving Communion to a dog. A reader of the Communio blog, Lydia wrote to me saying:

I am a priest in the Episcopal Church in the US. The Anglican Communion does not have priestesses. I am sure that you know that. Perhaps you are just being sarcastic.

Personally, I would rather have my Church known for giving communion to a dog than for the fact that many of my priests molested children, in countries all over the world, and that my Bishops did all that they could to ignore complaints about the abuse, to hide the problem, and to protect the offending clergy.

My response to Lydia

The dictionary defines a priestess as a female priest. It's a perfectly good English word; in fact, the Anglican C.S. Lewis wrote an essay called, "Priestesses in the Church." If the word "priestess" has a strangely non-Christian sound, perhaps that is because in churches that claim apostolic succession, there is no precedent for female priests. As Lewis pointed out, there have been many religions with female priests (priestesses), but these religions are very different from Christianity as it has been known for 20 centuries.

In any case, the word "deaconess" is not considered offensive, so why should "priestess" be so considered? If masculine imagery for divine transcendence needs to be balanced by feminine imagery of divine immanence, why not say that priest and priestess together represent the divine more fully, like Yin and Yang? My impression is that many modern Anglicans (including women clergypersons) think on those lines. So why fight about the sound of a word when its substantive meaning is considered OK?

As for the Catholic Church being "known for" molestation of children and minors: well, the Anglican Church in Canada and Australia has been racked by similar problems, particularly in residential schools, with some dioceses being nearly bankrupted. I am saddened by the Anglicans' troubles since the attacks on their schools is an indirect form of anti-Christian persecution at the hands of a hostile state. As such, this abuse hysteria threatens us all because it is premised on the assumption that the sins of a few abusive clergy should be avenged on the entire Body of Christ. In the case of any other group besides the clergy, this would be considered unjust prejudice and overreaction.

Statistically speaking, Catholic priests are no more likely to molest than ministers of other religions; it's just that we are a much larger church and that our dioceses are legally set up as a corporation sole, thus inviting crippling lawsuits and lots of bad publicity. That said, I do agree that we Catholics are not in a position to cast any stones on the sexual abuse issue. And so this blog has not done so.

Gross liturgical abuses and irreverence are a different sort of issue. These liturgical-sacramental aberrations are public acts done in an official capacity, not secret sins or obvious crimes. And, in fact, I do emphatically criticize and abhor similar liturgical abuses among Catholics and wish that more Catholic parishes had the reverence and decorum to be found in many high-church Episcopal parishes. It's not a matter of either side of the Reformation divide being free of sin or failure: it's just that without an authoritative center of communion and teaching and practice, Anglicanism can't easily set any parameters for legitimate diversity within itself. And Archbishop Williams himself would sadly admit that that is unfortunately the case.

taft.jpgThe Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches should own up to their past misdeeds and work to restore communion, according to Archimandrite Robert F. Taft, SJ.

Fr. Taft, a Jesuit priest of the New England Province and professor emeritus of the history of Byzantine Liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, said that the rift between the churches was sustained primarily by offensive actions--not theological differences. He delivered "Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today," on June 28 at Fordham University.

"The main problem that we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine but behavior," Fr. Taft said. "The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way. The problem is that we do not know how to act."

He pointed to Catholic "uniatism"--aggression against another church--as a major problem blocking fruitful dialogue between the religions. He added that although the Orthodox faith has been victimized, it also refuses to admit its own misdeeds.

Fr. Taft advocated a system of "ecumenical scholarship and theology"--a new way to study Christian tradition that seeks to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. To accomplish this, the Catholic and Orthodox churches must recognize one another as historic apostolic sister churches, he said.

The point of this new ecumenical theology is not that Catholics and Orthodox never disagree. "What it does mean, is that at the official level, disagreements can be discussed truthfully and courteously, without invective, rudeness, and slander," Fr. Taft said. [Fordham University]

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page is a archive of entries in the Ecumenism category from July 2010.

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