One of the more popular quotes in Catholic circles is, \”There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.\” – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
This truth is all the more evident when notorious anti-Catholics in the public eye give interviews to equally biased media sources. Case in point, ex-president Jimmy Carter and TIME magazine. With all due respect to former President Carter, his theology is pretty terrible and there were more than a few quotes that caused me to either shake my head in bafflement or wince in pain. For example:
I think there’s a slow, very slow, move around the world to give women equal rights in the eyes of God.
This is a bizarre statement on its face. The function of civil government is not to give women (or men) equal rights in the eyes of God – wouldn\’t an omnipotent or omnipresent God, the one Jimmy Carter claims to believe in, already have full knowledge of those rights? — but rather to confer legal rights (or recognize natural rights that already exist, such as the inalienable rights as described in the Declaration of Independence) that reflect their God-given, intrinsic human worth and dignity.
And then after about the third century when men took over control of the Catholic Church, then they began to ordain that women had to play an inferior position, not be a priest.
Men “took over control” of the Catholic Church? Carter must be as bad at history as he is at theology, because men have always been at the forefront of leadership in the Church. Jesus is a man. St. Peter, the first Pope, was a man. All subsequent popes have been men. The early Church fathers were men. Women did (and still do!) have leadership roles within the Church, but Christ instituted the male priesthood for men only – not because women are inferior to men, but because woman and men have different, complementary roles to pay in the spiritual life of the Church. Christ could ordained any of his women disciples – including his own mother, the only human conceived without sin – but He did not, and the Church is following His example.
Men who are called to the priesthood become spiritual fathers, serving the people of God, and act in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The priest represents Christ, the Bridegroom; the Church is His bride. Women cannot be both a bridegroom and a bride. They have a much more important role. Women are infinitely blessed with the gift of fecundity, the ability to nurture and bring forth new life and new immortal souls into the kingdom of God. This an awesome and amazing ability and one entrusted to women alone. In the Church\’s view, women can\’t be priests for the same reason that men can\’t be pregnant — God designed men and women for complementary roles in the life of the Church, roles that are equal in dignity and importance for each sex.
Carter fundamentally misunderstands the role of the priest if he thinks that laypeople or religious sisters are “inferior” to priests. That belief is not and never has been a teaching of the Church. Nor is it a teaching of the Church that there is a “right” to the priesthood granted to anyone, male or female. As the Catechism says, \”No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed, no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God\’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift\” (1578).
John Paul II reaffirmed the infallible teaching regarding a male-only priesthood in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he also wrote,
The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, \’the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church.\’”
Carter’s vast ignorance of the Church\’s great appreciation for women is even more evident given statements like this one:
For instance if an employer, who might be otherwise enlightened, if he is a religious person and he sees that, he might be a Catholic, and a Catholic does not let women be priests, then why should he pay his women employees an equal pay [as men]?
This makes no sense whatsoever. Another writing of John Paul II, Letter to Women, states,
And what shall we say of the obstacles which in so many parts of the world still keep women from being fully integrated into social, political and economic life? We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift. Certainly, much remains to be done to prevent discrimination against those who have chosen to be wives and mothers. As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State.
Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of \”mystery\”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.
Does this sound like the teaching of a Church that believes women are fundamentally unequal to men, and therefore should be paid less than them? Any “Catholic” man who tries to use the teaching of the Church to rationalize unjust discrimination toward women is no better than a Catholic who attempts to twist Church teaching in support of the killing of unborn children (for example, Nancy Pelosi).
Furthermore, perhaps Carter is unaware of the generous benefits afforded to women who work in the Vatican:
The women pointed out that the growing presence of women in the Vatican has led to a very pro-family environment. The Vatican, whose workforce is approximately 40 percent female, has a very progressive maternity leave policy, allowing women paid leave beginning two months before their due date and allowing them a year of paid leave after birth. When the women return, they are allowed to create a “milk schedule” so that they can structure their hours around their nursing needs.
If women are as denigrated and disparaged by the Catholic leadership as Carter believes they are, why are women allowed to work at the Vatican at all, let alone comprising 40 percent of the workforce, and why are they given benefits that are far more generous than those offered to women in the United States? Are those the actions of an organization that is oppressive toward women? Are female employees of The Carter Center afforded similar benefits? Somehow, I think not.
As a lay woman in the Catholic Church, I find Carter\’s viewpoints profoundly ignorant. I wish he would have the honesty and integrity to argue against what the Church actually teaches instead of some bizarre caricature of what he thinks She teaches – but that\’s probably asking too much of an ex-President. In his view, who needs honesty and integrity when you can advance your personal and political agenda by defaming fellow Christians?
Venerable Fulton Sheen, pray for us.
© 2013. JoAnna Wahlund. All Rights Reserved.