Interlocking Pieces and the Maleness of Jesus: Exegeting the “America’s Pope’s” Statement on Gay Marriage and Ordination of Women By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

On a 20/20 interview, posted August 21, 2011, Morley Safer interviewed the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.  Dolan is also referred to as “America’s Pope.”  In this article, Safer calls him a scholar and a “passionate defender” of issues that he considered to be “settled questions.”  These settled questions? Gay marriage and women’s ordination.

Gay Marriage: Incest, “Necessary Attributes,” and Interlocking Pieces

Dolan makes an unbelievable comparison of gay marriage to the desire to marry his mother:  “I love my mom, I don’t have the right to marry her.”  He further compared gay marriage to his desire to be a shortstop for the Yankees, which is not possible because he does not have “what it takes.”  Both analogies Dolan uses give a clear indication that he does not understand what a committed relationship looks like for a gay couple.  Many in society share this ignorance.  In fact during my daughter’s health class, at a public school no less, she was told that sex was only between a man and a woman because they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Not only does this fail on words, it lays the foundation for bullying, repression of identity, sexual confusion, and problems for children who are members of a modern family.  Besides, last time I checked not all puzzles have interlocking pieces.  

The church defines marriage as an opening of oneself to a mutual aid and to self-giving to the other (1609).  Within that same statement it also says “marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, (and) pursuit of one’s own pleasure.”  This definition makes sense.  Seems that “what it takes” is a complete and unselfish giving of oneself to your partner.  Certainly both heterosexual and homosexual marriages based on this concept have “what it takes.”  To be quite frank, if we based marriage on this definition, instead of possessing the “necessary attributes” of a committed and loving relationship, the divorce rate in the U.S. would certainly see a decline.

Women Ordination: Jesus was a Man, Jesus did not Ordain Women, and Maleness is Necessary for the Mother Church to Give Spiritual Birth

When it comes to the issue of women ordination, the statements become equally appalling and misinformed.  Dolan called Jesus a pioneer for women’s rights; I certainly agree with that.  Living in a patriarchal world, the very fact that women are named, permitted to travel, and given basic fundamental human rights demonstrates this point.  Dolan’s logic fails when he states that women were important because they were at the foot of the cross, they found the empty tomb, and they traveled with Jesus during his ministry on earth.  The implication of that statement alludes to women as passive bystanders and not active participants in Jesus’ ministry.  This is untrue. Women were active in Jesus’ ministry during his life and after; many women even were martyred for their devotion and service.

To further compound this ill-conceived definition of women’s role, Dolan went further in his rationale for prohibiting women from becoming priests.  First with the standard response of the church, male ordination is a consistent tradition in the church for 2000 years.   Dolan stated that if Jesus intended women to become Priests, he “woulda done it. And he didn’t.” There are quite a few problems wrapped up in these two reasons.  First, Jesus did not ordain anyone.  The Christian church did not come together until after the resurrection event.  Even then, the earliest Gospel writings in the New Testament are dated at about 60-64 A.D.   Found in St. Paul’s letters it is clear that women were Deacons in the Early Church.  They were also leaders in house churches where the early Christians would gather to break bread. A precedent for women to lead and to be ordained in the church can be found in Bible, in history, and thus is part of tradition.

Dolan also stated that ordaining women had theological implications. The first is that woman cannot be configured to Jesus.  In other words Jesus was a man therefore to be a priest of the church you must also be a man.  The second is that Jesus was married to his spouse, the church.  From that marriage is a spiritual rebirth; this is the reason a priest is called father and the church is called mother.

If we are looking for physical attributes or similarities as a prerequisite for ordination, then any man who is not Mediterranean or Jewish descent should also be disqualified from being a priest.  If you base this statement upon genitalia, then the Christian community should be insulted. In essence, to say that you cannot see Christ in a woman is not only ridiculous, it is simply unchristian.  By baptism, we are all born into the priesthood of Christ and we are also blessed with the Gifts of the Spirit; some with the gift of vocation and others to different ministries.  Baptism and the Gifts of the Spirit do not discriminate between the sexes neither should a vocational call.  To state that you cannot see Christ in a woman, a woman like Mother Theresa or Dorothy Day, has theological implications in and of itself.

The other reason Dolan cited was that spiritual rebirth is the product of a “father” or priest and the church, which is female. To be blunt, it was through the blood and water of a woman’s womb that Jesus entered the earth.  The Church teaches us that Jesus’ birth was a divine birth, a product of God, who is without gender, and woman.  Man or a male figure is missing from this birth equation.

Another issue that Dolan’s statement fails to take into account is that God as Sophia is representative of woman; God, even as a female image, together with the church has the ability to produce a spiritual birth.  Jesus as the Godhead and the Church, once again female, as the rest of the body implies that we are all members of that body – all with different jobs, all with different responsibilities, and all of equal importance.  To be whole in this definition cannot discount the importance of a single chromosome or cell.  Moreover, from these analogies, this gives further support to women ordination; it also gives credence to lesbian and transgendered unions, which are also capable of producing spiritual birth for the Church.

Rooting ordination on genitalia instead of a person’s spiritual and God-given gifts is nothing short of selfish and ignorant.  It robs the institutional church of the many spiritual gifts that God has given to women; gifts that should be the very foundation and reason for ordination.  When a high-ranking member of the church speaks of gay marriage and women ordination as “settled issues” it shows a lack of awareness of women’s role in Jesus’ ministry and the early history of the church.  It also shows ignorance as to what gay marriage is based upon; love, commitment, and a total giving of oneself to another.  I dissent from Dolan and state firmly that these matters are definitely not “settled issues.”

Categories: Catholic Church, Church Doctrine, Gender and Sexuality, LGBTQ, Social Justice, Women and Ministry, Women in the Church, Women's Ordination

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9 replies

  1. Thanks so much for this post — I hadn’t seen the Dolan interview. I have to say I’m rather surprised to see him explicitly reprising the Inter Insigniores argument about women not being able to represent the male Jesus — I had rather gotten the impression that it was going to remain on the books, but not be trotted out, since the hierarchy had realized that baptism is all about being conformed to / representing Christ. Apparently not!

    And thanks so much for your blog — I have really appreciated a number of posts from the various authors here, and as a member of an all-women-grad-students anti-kyriarchal theology blog, it is wonderful to see more women in the theoblogoworld!


  2. Women had some rights in the Roman Empire, though they were not equal.

    Women had important roles as priestesses in Greek religion see Joan Breton Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess, though this did not translate to full equality in society.

    So the very fact that women were named in the NT and travelled and even that they had roles in the early church does not set Christianity apart from the context of the Mediterranean world.

    There is no need to overstate the case.

    It is amazing that the church still holds to the ideas you mention.


  3. Michele,
    I watched the interview with Dolan. He reminds me of Cardinal Law from Boston, popular but dangerous. I have heard the language of “The Right” to the priesthood from parish priests, which of course falls apart theologically. They must have a stock lecture on this in seminary.

    I have not heard the logic of why priest are called “Father” before. This sounds like a great research paper topic! I liked how Dolan’s positions marriage within the context of procreation as a reason for heterosexual marriage. The logic of which he and others seem to miss. The Church does a very weak job of defending this stance in light of couples who suffer with infertility or those couples who marry after child bearing years.

    The Diocese of Phoenix recently went the way of Wisconsin by banning girls as altar servers. I thought this move would have had strong repercussions from the families in the pews who would not normally question ecclesial authority. Wondering what, if any, the fallout from this is. Great post.


  4. Thank you all for your comments. It is amazing that this is still a topic of discussion.

    Bridget, I wish your statement about equality in baptism and ministry was correct.

    Carol, thank you for that information. It is unfortunate that the Church still thinks that way and its unfortunate that we have to keep stating and correcting the misinformation over and over again.

    Cynthie, I am not sure that Dolan’s rationale for “Father” is correct. It would be a great paper! I was going to include the issue of couples who either choose not to have children or cannot have children, but that may be a topic for another day. That is a loaded issue!

    The issue with banning girls from being altar servers is appalling. Next will be women Eucharistic Ministers. After that, the altar rails will come back. This fall there are mass changes coming to make the language of the liturgy more true to the Latin Translation.

    Hand gestures and a truer translation is not going to solve the problems of the church. Dolan did make two points in this interview. The first, the biggest denomination in the world are ex-Catholics. I will state that there are good priests, but there are so many members of the hierarchy that have lost sight of what’s important, have become power hungry, and lost sight of Christ’s ministry. We certainly have seen our fair share of that in the Cleveland Diocese – and our Bishop came from Boston. Dolan stated that JPII wanted to get back to Jesus and his ministry along the Galilee. Though I am quite certain my opinion differs from Dolan’s on what that means, I would suggest that we get back to a priesthood of service, humility, and self-giving and throw out the hypocrisy and politics in the institution church.


  5. This will only change when women categorically refuse to go the Catholic churches. There will be no change unless women walk out, and it is depressing to see the sheep still in the pews, still putting up with this. Courage to shake the dust from the sandals. Where is the absolute rage? Where are the hundreds of women’s churches nationwide….? Why are women still going along with this? Why?


  6. Michele, this is a fantastic post. And so interesting to me as a Mormon, a tradition that likewise excludes women from priesthood.

    “Found in St. Paul’s letters it is clear that women were Deacons in the Early Church. They were also leaders in house churches where the early Christians would gather to break bread.”

    I was thrilled to read in Torjesen’s book ‘When Women Were Priests’ that not only were women deacons, they were also apostles in the early Christian church. (Junia, Romans: 16:7). I find it very problematic when people justify excluding women from priesthood by using arguments of tradition — clearly there was a tradition of women’s leadership in the early church. And in taking a class from Rosemary Ruether this last semester, I was thrilled to find out that women were ordained to priesthood in the early Catholic church. If only early Mormonism had such a tradition of including women in priesthood! What a powerful tool to have at hand to call for a reconsideration of the male-only priesthood stance.


  7. Highly recommended is Cynthia Bourgeault’s recently published book, “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene”. Cynthia, in case anyone doesn’t know, is an Episcopal priest and a profound author on the Wisdom tradition, Centering Prayer and other significant aspects of present-day spirituality.

    I didn’t hear all of the Archbishop Dolan interview, but enough to realize that trotting out the same old hackneyed arguments clothed in absurd analogies…the jigsaw puzzle one really is absurd…isn’t advancing the dialog in any meaningful way.



  1. Catholicism, Contraception, and Conscience: Church Imposed Teaching, God’s Gift of Free Will, and Political Rhetoric « Feminism and Religion
  2. Catholicism, Contraception, and Conscience: Church Imposed Teaching, God’s Gift of Free Will, and Political Rhetoric by Michele Stopera Freyhauf « Feminism and Religion

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