In the image of God he created them …

Albani Psalter (12th century), Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection of Christ to the disciples.

In the context of the annual celebration of Easter, we encounter some women who can be called “witnesses from the beginning”: Mary of Magdala – as in the Albani Psalter (12th century) pictured here – is the first to recognize the Risen Christ and deliver his message to the disciples (who, admittedly, do not believe her); the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well proclaims the Messiah in her village (some villagers believe her, others only after they have convinced themselves). And Martha – not unlike Peter (Mt 16:16) – confesses her friend Jesus “the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (Jn 11:27). The historical impact of these women is short or non-existent, even today.

Not to diminish our Easter joy, but woman’s life in the church does not feel “redeemed” in every respect. There is too much hierarchical male dominance in the name of “divine right” and too little faithfulness to the biblical image of man, starting with the creation narratives up to Galatians 3:28.

The adoption of the respective current anthropologies has led to different ecclesiastical images of women that have one thing in common: What “being a woman” is has always been and still is decided by men in the Catholic Church – to the disadvantage of women.

From fluid transitions …

The ancient concept of gender thought of woman (including her sexual organs) as an unfinished “imperfect man.” Masculine and feminine did not denote biological differences, but rather characteristics and attitudes on a continuum between the poles of masculine-intellectual-strong and feminine-material/physical-weak. Women could find recognition by “masculinization,” while men could be “shamefully feminized.” Christian theologians from Origen to Thomas Aquinas have received and reflected on this image of women for over a millennium — perhaps one reason why, from ancient times, it was not necessary to argue specifically for the exclusion of women from the priesthood? The fact that women nevertheless served at the altars for centuries is shown by the repeatedly inculcated restrictions and prohibitions imposed by church authorities, which were often not enforced until much later.[1]

…to Cult purity

The Pauline “insignificance” of the sexes in Christ (Gal 3:28) turned into disdain, even contempt, especially for female sexuality. The late antique ideal of spiritualization in connection with cultic ideas of purity and sexual taboos was detrimental to women. As a periodically defiled and libidinous temptress, woman was incapable of liturgy. Only the “pure hands” of the supposedly asexual priest were allowed to touch the holy of holies.[2] Other effects of the menstrual taboo included: baptisms being postponed, church attendance being restricted, and the reception of communion being forbidden – even for women who had recently given birth. Even nuns were denied a view of the sanctuary during their menses.

The “essentially” different woman

The discovery of the “natural” biological otherness of women in the early modern period did not improve their situation. The new binary image of man merely transformed her previous deficits – feeling instead of understanding, devotion instead of leadership, etc. – into virtues and established them as female “essential characteristics.” The ecclesiastical ideal of the humble, pure, servant-obedient handmaiden of the Lord (or: of the lords?) was born from a male perspective: Mary-likeness instead of Christ-likeness is a topos that is still popular today.[3] How practical that such a strictly conceived complementarity also provides the (theologically untenable) “argument” that women cannot embody Christ in the ordained ministry for lack of “natural likeness” (!).

… and their “special” dignity

The social emancipation of women in the 20th century did not remain without effect on ecclesiastical thinking: John XXIII recognized that women “are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.“[4]

John Paul II, however, in his 1988 Apostolic Exhortation Mulieres dignitatem – which he characteristically understands as a “Marian Year meditation” – conferred special dignities on women. The pope attaches importance to their otherness: “The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different” (MD 10). By defining “virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality” he declares that “these two paths in the vocation of women as persons, explain and complete each other” (MD 17).  With the help of the Holy Spirit, women could realize that and “thus be disposed to making a ‘sincere gift of self’ to others thereby finding themselves” (MD 31). Male fantasies; once again, women’s rights are not general rights, but special rights! Most recently, Pope Francis, in his post-synodal letter Querida Amazonia (2020), hit the same narrow notch, dashing the hopes of Amazonian women. “Profoundly moved” by the testimony “of strong and generous women” he sums up: “Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother.”[5] The request for ordination of women deacons in a distressing pastoral situation went unheard.

One last Witness from the “Silent Church”

But there are Catholic ordained women priests. Following his motto, “Leadership is the granting of freedom” Bishop Felix M. Davidek ordained married men as bishops and women as priests in the Czech underground church during Communist rule, including his vicar general Ludmila Javorova. Attempts to positively involve the Vatican in advance had previously failed. Even before the fall of Communist states beginning in 1989, Davidek was defamed as mentally ill, then in 1996 ordained women were forbidden to exercise their ministry and were imposed the strictest silence. When the pressure from Rome on her sisters in priestly ministry became too great, Ludmila Javorova broke her silence and told her story.[6]

The conclusion? Whether “unworthy,” “equal in dignity,” “with special dignity,” or idealized into a devoted lover and bearer of a mission “of capital importance” … for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church,”[7] women remain “unequal” in the Catholic Church to this day. Could it be that this very injustice distorts the “true face” of the Church?

O Lord—how long?

[1] In fact, the sources are largely silent about the ordination of women to priestly ministry in the greater church; as things stand today, it seems unlikely.

[2] Comprehensive studies on this subject are fundamental works by Arnold Angenendt, Geschichte der Religiosität im Mittelalter, Darmstadt 22000; and most recently Ders. Ehe, Liebe und Sexualität im Christentum. Von den Anfängen bis heute, Munich 2015; Church historian Hubertus Lutterbach sums up: “Ab dem vierten Jahrhundert setzte sich das Ideal der kultischen Reinheit massiv durch und umfasste alle Bereiche des Alltags.” From this, he says, a “leistungsorientierte Verzichtsspiritualität” developed among clerics: ” Je höher der Verzicht, umso höher das Maß an kultischen Reinheit.” See: (accessed Nov. 08, 2017); in Ders, Fatale Sakralität, in: HK 4/2020, 43-47 (here 43), he argues for “diese Entwicklung zurückzudrehen.“

[3] In an interview with AMERICA magazine (Nov. 28, 2022), Pope Francis has reaffirmed the traditional patrine principle (of ministry and therefore male) and the Marian (female) principle.

[4] John XXIII, Enzyklika Pacem in Terris (1963) 41.

[5] Francis, Postsynodales Schreiben Querida Amazonia (2020) 101.

[6] She received the Herbert Haag Award for Freedom and Humanity in the Church in 2011.

[7] John Paul II, Apostolisches Schreiben Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) zitiert in Nr. 3 aus der Erklärung der Kongregation für die Glaubenslehre Inter Insigniores (1976) 6.

From the Wires: Traditionalist Flights of Fancy

With gratitude, we post the following from

Commentary: Traditionalist flights of fancy
By Mike Lewis

SEPTEMBER 3, 2022. There’s something in human nature that motivates us to imagine ways of getting out of impossible binds, solving the unsolvable, or that allow us to go back in time to undo the undesirable situations where we find ourselves. When we have a freak injury or if we cause a car accident, we might play that scenario over and over again in our heads, wishing to have that split second back and avoid all the trouble that followed. At other times, we might daydream about fictional future situations where we win the lottery, become famous or wealthy, or imagine an unrequited crush finally reciprocating our love.

Most of us eventually learn to keep our imaginations in check, although anyone who buys a lottery ticket or pushes the button on a slot machine, likely gives themself a moment to consider what might be. Creatives have channeled these impulses into their art, from the deus ex machina in Ancient Greek drama to superhero comics to romantic comedies. Just think about how many soap operas and serialized television shows have brought characters back from the dead in so many different ways, contrasting that with the real-life experience of losing a loved one.

Certainly some people win the lottery or become famous athletes or movie stars. But maintaining a sense of reality and maturity requires us to remain grounded in the real world and to avoid being daydream believers. Unfortunately, this groundedness seems to be lacking in much of the contemporary Catholic traditionalist movement – not only in the widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience by its members, but in the way they perceive the possibilities for the future of the Catholic Church.

Such fantasy ideas have been around for a while, but Pope Francis seems to have motivated people who hold such ideas to share them openly. For example, in the past I have mentioned a 2017 speech by Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols in which he suggested that Canon Law should be amended to create “a procedure for calling to order a pope who teaches error.” Nichols did admit that there currently exists no process “for enquiry into the case of a pope believed to have taught doctrinal error,” and also conceded, “much less is there provision for a trial.” Since then, Nichols has gone even further off the deep end, signing a letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy. As of December 2020, he was still teaching seminarians (in Jamaica), despite never having retracted his accusations.

It’s interesting that the full address has never been published, but the idea that a juridical body within the Church would have the capacity to judge the orthodoxy of a pope’s teaching is simply incomprehensible in light of Catholic ecclesiology. First of all, who would have such power and how would they be chosen? If the pope has the power to pick the people in the group, then wouldn’t he likely appoint a group of yes-men? Isn’t the pope himself the court of last appeal in the Church? It seems nonsensical on the surface.

Nichols’s proposal, of course, is reminiscent of Cardinal Raymond Burke’s promised “formal act of correction” against Pope Francis if he didn’t retract the official interpretation of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (one rumor I’ve heard is that he was unable to find a second active cardinal willing to join him in such a brazen act). Undeterred, Burke has been peddling his own novel reinterpretation of papal primacy, going as far as to insert a new section on how to go about correcting a pope into the Marian Catechist’s Manual.

The Marian Catechists are an apostolate started by the late Fr. John Hardon, a prominent conservative Jesuit and sought-after speaker who died in the year 2000. Following his death, Cardinal Burke took on the role of spiritual director of many of his apostolates. Fr. Hardon was a very strong promoter of the primacy and supremacy of the pope. (Click here to watch him spend an hour and a half condemning Gallicanism and Conciliarism while defending the pope’s absolute authority.) If you think the view of the papacy at Where Peter Is amounts to “complete subjectivist irrationalism,” Hardon’s view is unabashed pope worship by comparison. And he’s probably rolling in his grave over what Cardinal Burke has done to his catechist’s manual.

Why are the views of Burke and Nichols flights of fancy? Besides being unworkable and totally irreconcilable to Catholic tradition, the motives behind these proposals are obvious (they are prompted by dissent from Pope Francis’s teachings) and they have absolutely no realistic chance of coming true. It appears in their frantic desire to undo Francis’s pontificate, they have lost their grasp on what is actually feasible and what is consistent with the Magisterium.

I’ve seen many bizarre proposals packaged as “think pieces” in conservative Catholic publications proposing the impossible in recent years. For example, many prominent traditionalists have set an ultimate goal of full “restoration” of the Tridentine Rite and suppression of the Vatican II Liturgy as if it is desirable to the Church or even remotely feasible. Archaic and impossible political philosophies are openly championed by many traditionalists. Some trads are full-fledged monarchists or integralists, others seem to think advancing distributism as an economic system in the real world is a good use of their time. Going to an even further extreme, former Crisis editor Michael Warren Davis wrote a book that promotes feudalism as idyllic and romanticizes the life of a medieval serf.

I don’t quite understand why traditionalists spend so much time on ideas that they might consider Catholic but that the Catholic Church itself has not embraced since early in the industrial age. Traditionalists might bristle at the notion that their preoccupations are similar to live action roleplaying (LARPing), but how else can one describe the way much of their time is wound up in ideas, not realities.

And sometimes these ideas are as misogynistic (and at times creepy) as they are unrealistic. One particularly strange essay entitled, “Should Women Be Lectors at Mass?” was (wisely) originally published under a pseudonym. Written in the form of a Thomistic disputation, it features what the author apparently believes are rock-solid arguments against women doing the readings at Mass — such as, “for a woman to be proclaiming the Word is self-contradictory: it makes the female who receives the seed the male who issues the seed.” And who can forget the aforementioned Michael Warren Davis’s article condemning women’s suffrage, in which he argued, “Any sober and dispassionate mind must conclude that giving ladies the right to vote was the single greatest catastrophe in the history of our storied republic.”

In these two cases, the authors make proposals so unrealistic and impossible to implement in the real world that it’s hard to imagine what motivated them to advance them publicly, other than perhaps to offend. In the former case, at least the author had the good sense to use a pseudonym, but then a few years later he republished it, revealing himself to be Peter Kwasniewski. Then it all made sense.

On the evening of July 15 last year, I happened to watch a video of a presentation that had been delivered a couple of weeks prior by Dr. Kwasniewski. In the speech, entitled “Beyond Summorum Pontificum: The Work of Retrieving the Tridentine Heritage,” he described what he believed to be the “weak points” of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio liberalizing use of the older form of the Mass. By the end of this hour-long lecture, Kwasniewski had deconstructed the entire document, blasting every word from Benedict that even implied support for the Second Vatican Council or the liturgical reform, even saying, “it would not be too much to say that there are fictions, even lies, in the document.” He argues that the permissions granted by Benedict were “useful to our movement in the way that an enormous booster rocket is useful for launching a spaceship into orbit: it has a lot of raw power, but it can only do so much, and when it’s empty, it falls away.”

Kwasniewski describes the liturgical reforms as “wicked” and the new rite as “deviant.” He even questions the licety of the reformed liturgical rites. He calls for a return to the 1920 Missal (rather than the 1962 Missal, which is too modernist for his tastes), decrying the changes made by Pope Pius XII in the 1950s as corruptions. In the event that Pope Francis decided to abrogate Summorum Pontificum, Kwasniewski issues a battle cry: “If the pope will not honor tradition and pass it down without meddling and messing with it, we, for our part, are compelled by love of our genealogy, our family inheritance, our dignity as sons of God and heirs to His kingdom, to defend Catholic tradition, uphold it, live it, and hand it on, intact.”

Towards the end of the lecture, the thought that rang loudly in my mind was “Pope Benedict made a terrible mistake!” Then the next morning, I woke up to news of Traditionis Custodes. I must confess to having had a feeling of relief. But what was Kwasniewski thinking when he gave that speech? I was left with a question: with Summorum Pontificum facing its demise in the near future, why would he double down on publicly advocating the views that had led to its impending abrogation?

What did Kwasniewski imagine he was trying to accomplish? In what reality was he helping his cause (assuming his cause is for people to have access to the Latin Mass)? Pope Francis in 2013 described Summorum Pontificum as “prudent and motivated by the desire to help people.” He did express concerns, however, saying, “What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.” Francis left the old Mass untouched for eight years while the traditionalist movement, not least of all Kwasniewski, seemed determined to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Francis’s worries were well-founded.

Another traditionalist took a flight of fancy this week, with the publication of the leaked text of an undelivered intervention. It had been prepared by the 93-year-old Cardinal Walter Brandmüller for the two-day meeting of cardinals in the Vatican on August 29 and 30. It’s likely to his benefit that he was not allowed to deliver his intervention, because its offensive and discriminatory message likely would have drawn much well-deserved criticism from the bulk of the cardinal-electors. In the intervention, he noted that “the 120 electors, insofar as they come from the periphery, often meet for the first time in the consistories preceding the conclave and so know little or nothing about the college of cardinals and therefore about the candidates, thus lacking a fundamental prerequisite for responsible voting in the conclave.”

Cardinal Brandmüller went on to suggest that the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave should be limited to those who “shall have spent at least five years in a senior position in the curia of Rome.” He explains his reasoning:

“Indeed, it is all too evident that the current number of 120 cardinal electors, many if not the majority of whom have no experience of Rome, poses various problems. For a college in which the preference is to make cardinals of the heads of peripheral dioceses, it is practically impossible to carry out the aforementioned tasks adequately, even under the conditions allowed by modern communication technologies.”

Not only is his proposal an astonishing repudiation of the election of Pope Francis, who never worked in Rome (“let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again”), and not simply because Brandmüller is essentially condemning the popes of the last century who have very intentionally sought to make the college better reflect the global Church, but that he’s turned “periphery” into a pejorative. But that’s not all. He’s also saying that it’s better to have a bureaucrat as pope than a pastor. Note also that he’s not suggesting limiting the electors to current curial cardinals, but also to those who have spent five years there in the past, which leaves open the door for a number of cardinals Francis has sent packing but are still taking up space in Rome: Muller, Sarah, and Burke.

Speaking of Cardinal Burke, one of the most absurd and fantastical editorials I’ve read in years was recently published in the Catholic Herald with the headline, “Cardinal Burke: the dark horse in the running to succeed Pope Francis.” The article is pure traditionalist fantasy, with astute observations such as “Meanwhile, as Michael Warren Davis argued in the Catholic Herald, there have been rumours of tensions between the Francis-led Vatican and Burke,” curious theories such as, “Burke is often considered the de facto leader of the Church in the US,” and Davis’s claim that “Burke undoubtedly ranks among the top 10 most influential prelates in the Church today.”

In case it’s unclear to you, Cardinal Burke has no chance of being elected pope. None. According to all accounts he didn’t receive any votes in 2013, despite predictions from the likes of Taylor Marshall that he would be elected. Furthermore, the article suggests that the 78-year-old Cardinal Marc Ouellet is the conservative frontrunner. The Herald’s editorial staff is apparently unaware that by remaining loyal to the pope on issues like Amoris Laetitia and the false accusations of Carlo Maria Vigano, the conservative Canadian is viewed as a leftist by US traditionalists, and has made him persona non grata among dubia-backing conservative Catholics. I could go down the list of absurdities in the article, but that’s not the point.

One frequently hears that today we live in a post-truth world. Unfortunately, it seems that many of our traditionalist brothers and sisters have wholeheartedly succumbed to it. It is impossible to reach common ground until we can agree upon reality. I don’t draw attention to these examples to make fun of them, but so that traditionalists and their supporters might take a second look at these sorts of things and try to assess them rationally and critically. Each of these cases, in its own way, is a form of self-sabotage. It’s long past time that Catholics of all stripes came together to work through the issues that divide us. But it will never happen without a dose of realism.


Note [3 Sept 2022 7:41 EDT]

Nathan Turowsky took the trouble of doing the counting according to a strict interpretation of Brandmüller’s guidelines — “without exception … the candidate shall have spent at least five years in a senior position in the curia of Rome.” Eliminating cardinals over 80, by Nathan’s count, a conclave held today would be an approximately 23-man affair consisting of Cardinals Bertello, Bráz de Aviz, Burke, Calcagno, Cañizares, Farrell, Filoni, Koch, Krajewski, Ladaria, Mamberti, Müller, Ouellet, Parolin, Piacenza, Ravasi, Roche, Ryłko, Sandri, Sarah, Sepe, Turkson, and Versaldi.

There are many notable edge cases that don’t make the cut, such as Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization. Tagle has been a Cardinal for nearly 10 years and voted in the 2013 conclave, but he has been in Rome for less than 3 years. Likewise, Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who served as Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for three-and-a-half years and as a lower-level official in the Curia, would be excluded. Cardinal Michael Czerny would also be left out, as he has been in Rome for many years, but has only been a bishop and cardinal for three. He was an undersecretary until he was made Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development earlier this year.

Work Toward an Amazonian Rite Moves Forward

The Spanish news source, Religion Digital, has reported that on September 1, representatives of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA) met with officials of the Vatican Dicastery for Divine Worship to present a report on their work toward developing an Amazonian Rite, as called for by the 2019 Synod on the Amazon. CEAMA has been in existence since 2020.

The sixteen-member nucleus devoted to developing an Amazonian rite divided their work into four different sub-commissions: Anthropological-Sociological and Spiritual, Historical-Cultural, Theological-Ecclesiological and Ritual-Juridical. The report described their work as studying the traditions, uses and customs of the peoples of the Amazon, and seeking to identify common underlying matrices within this complex socio-cultural-religious reality so that a rite can be drafted. The challenge of developing an “inculturation in interculturality” so that “the peoples, cultures and Church of the Amazon region recognize each other in this Amazonian Rite” was noted in the article.

The meeting was described as “friendly” and having a “good atmosphere.” Bishop Eugenio Coter, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Pando, in the Bolivian Amazon, presented the report. CEAMA’s president, Cardinal Pedro Barreto, and its executive secretary, Father Alfredo Ferro, SJ, were also present at the meeting. Representing the Dicastery for Divine Worship was the prefect, Cardinal Arthur Roche, as well as the secretary, Mons. Vittorio Francesco Viola, OFM, and the undersecretary, Mons. Aurelio García Macías.

You can read the whole report here.

The new Prefect of Divine Liturgy and Sacraments speaks.

In a a wide-ranging interview with Vatican News interview Cardinal-elect Arthur Roche, the new prefect of the DDWDS, discusses, among other issues, the lack of ‘religiosity’ surrounding Sundays in the West.  The interview lead-in speaks of the “beauty” of the liturgy – though the topic is never addressed in the interview, at least explicitly. The reader is left to wonder, yet again, what such references to beauty in liturgical conversations actually mean.

A document on liturgical formation is being prepared in Rome

In a wide-ranging interview on May 9, in the Spanish magazine Omnes, Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, revealed that a document on liturgical formation is currently being prepared in Rome, to assist the world’s bishops in rising to the challenge of liturgical formation for all the baptized, not only priests and seminarians.

The necessity of this deepening of liturgical formation of the People of God is a direct corollary of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, he explained. The normative vision set forth by the conciliar reform is that all participants in the liturgy have their role to play and all are called to participate in the prayers and actions of the liturgy fully and consciously.

Fidelity to this process of liturgical formation is also a logical necessity of the affirmations Pope Francis made in his recent motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, restricting the use of the older rites. The reformed liturgy embodies “today’s ecclesiology” the Archbishop said, and therefore is formative of the church’s life and mission.

Regarding the forthcoming document, Archbishop Roche said it will aim to go beyond rubrics to reach the reasons why we celebrate, and the Mystery that we are celebrating:

I think that at this moment there is a lack of liturgical formation. It is very interesting to remember that in the years prior to the Council there was a liturgical movement, with a patristic, biblical and ecumenical foundation; and the Council offered the possibility of a renewal of the Church, also regarding the liturgy.

I think that at this moment the aim is only to comply with the rubrics of the Liturgy, and that seems a bit poor to me. Theologically, the reason was the celebration of the Mystery.

For this reason, two years ago the Holy Father asked this Congregation to hold a plenary meeting of all its members to discuss liturgical formation throughout the Church: from bishops to priests and laity. And indeed, a document on this matter is currently being prepared. Possibly it will materialize in a letter to the Church on the importance of formation. What do we do when we meet every Sunday for this celebration? What is the point of that assembly? Not just an obligation to do something every week, but what do we do? What do we celebrate at that time?

The Prefect also commented on inculturation and beauty in the liturgy as important themes.

You can read the whole interview here. 

Pray Tell readers, if you had a say in what should be included in a document on liturgical formation, what would be your own ideas? What priorities you would want to see set forth?