An unhealthy failure to speak (John J. Shea O.S.A)

Aug 25, 2016 | 4 comments

“If the bishops in this country are incapable of addressing women’s ordination—perhaps partly because of loyalty, partly because the church never makes mistakes, partly because of fear, and partly because they simply are not informed enough to speak—and if the theologians in this country who are informed enough to speak are also incapable of addressing women’s ordination—perhaps partly because they have been told by the bishops to be quiet, partly because of fear, and partly because of the prospect of jeopardizing their academic careers—then who is able to speak?”

“All of this induced silence raises the question of the role of the bishops and the theologians in the church. If they are our teachers, how can they have so little concern for intelligent, informed, and engaged pedagogy?”

“What is the impact of squelched, truncated, and timid thinking—over two decades of a forced and enervating silence—not just on the ordination of women but also on any open, honest, and fruitful discussion of the ministerial needs of the church?”

“What happens to the church when it is separated from a living theology?”

“Do we realize the price we are paying for an un-called-for and unhealthy failure to speak?”

“Do we realize what happens to our theology when it is separated from the living church?”

“At this point, do our bishops and theologians—so similar in so many ways—only serve as a pale reminder of the events, the promise, the fortitude, and the aliveness of yesteryear?”

“Are we still recovering from the Americanist heresy?”

“Is Vatican II a reality for us or just another event to be chronicled? Have we devolved—in pacifying yet paralyzing pusillanimityto the point where the only good church is a silenced church, a gathering of the voiceless and leaderless, a Vatican-fettered church we cheerfully accept not only as patently sexist and rigidly controlling but also as dialogically dead?”

Is skewed patriarchal thinking the best we can bring?

Are historical explanations the same as theological explanations?

Is a folk theory of gender the essence of revelation?

Was Jesus wonderfully patriarchal?

Is the past prologue or is it meant to be an endless present of male superiority and privilege?”

Visit ACP website t read article and letters  here


Called to become an Adult Church  (YouTube video: John J Shea Jan 2016)


  1. Sean O'Conaill

    I’m quite certain that the current crisis is NOT all about ‘male superiority and privilege’ – with the emphasis on ‘male’. For me we would not be addressing the core problem simply by ordaining females – although I have no objection to doing so.

    As most Catholic males are also shut out from the dialogue that Shea is calling for, so would be most females if just some were ordained.

    For me the core problem is to articulate a Christianity, accessible to everyone, that addresses the prevailing secular crisis – of faith in all institutions and in the ideologies upon which they depend.

    Where does inequality come from, as a pervasive human tendency that defeats all egalitarianism? If we cannot address that problem – focusing instead simply on female ordination – we will be simply replacing an all-male oligarchy with a male / female oligarchy that is just as inarticulate and irrelevant as the present one.

    ‘Sin’ was the ancient world’s terms for whatever it is about our behaviour that defeats our own best interests and puts us at odds with one another. We now know that inequality correlates with higher incidence of every major human social ill from crime to violence to addiction and mental illness – so we should now see our tendency to inequality as ‘sin’ also.

    Yet most educated Christians too have bought into the ideology of unrestrained competition that clearly lies at the root of inequality. ‘Sin’ we associate still essentially with sexuality rather than competition – even though competition in the ‘money game’ is clearly the root of the huge wealth inequalities that now threaten the world.

    We can swear allegiance to equality in one breath, and, in the next, engage in activity aimed at our own ascendancy. Until our moral theology grapples with this problem – and links it to the Cross and the Resurrection – no rearrangement of the qualifications for priestly ordination will address the current crisis.

  2. Mary Vallely

    I agree, Sean, that sin in Catholic Ireland is sexual only. You can fiddle your taxes, pay your employees a miserable, meagre wage, tell all the lies and mental reservations you want but just indulge in a little Grindritis or sexual slip-up and you are shamed for life.
    The problem is that inequality is rampant in the RCC and even though the male non-ordained have little opportunity for engaging in dialogue ( the first step towards any change) we women aren’t anywhere near where you are! I am not at all sure women deacons will solve anything either and am coming to the conclusion that it were best to dismantle the whole structure. Not only is is inequitable but it is un -Christlike and extremely unhealthy!
    What values are we passing on to our children and grandchildren if we don’t at least practise what we preach, that we are all equally beloved by God and therefore all worthy of engaging in dialogue about how to bring the Reign of God into fruition?

  3. Martin Murray

    Gerard Maloney put it well in his blog when he said that “unless power is separated from priesthood or women are allowed to be ordained, the fact is that women can never have full equality with men in the Catholic Church”. See full article here
    To me, that matters. It may not be THE core problem but it certainly is A core problem that cannot be bypassed. It would be like an ambulance passing the scene of an accident to attend another one further down the road.
    I think that is reflected in this article, in that it’s not just about women’s ordination but our silence and toleration of inequality, patriarchy and dysfunctionality of all kinds in the church, including bad or outdated theology. It doesn’t have to be this way, but we need to break the silence and work for something better.

  4. Gerald Donnelly

    women priests has been discussed and decided against in the Church many many times. The Protestant family introduced it into their Church in the 50’s and their attendance hasn’t increased to my knowledge. Why have our Catholic women not flocked to it? Please, please stop wasting our time and energy on a sterile solution. Women according to our faith are subject to their husbands, so would a woman priest be compromised by her husband? I realise I am now talking about married women priests.


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