Cranmer ran a serious piece yesterday on the issue of ordination. His immediate concern was with the comments in the Guardian by Vicky Beeching to the effect that were it not for the concern for her own well-being and the homophobic attitude of many Christians, she would like to be able to lend her talents (which are considerable) to the service of the Church:
For me, as an openly gay Christian who disagrees with enforced celibacy and believes priests should be able to marry, I fear I’d simply be opening myself up to further damage, discrimination, and heartache.
She is not the only woman I know who is in that situation, and it is easy, perhaps too easy, in asserting the primacy of Church teaching, to forget the pain felt by people who feel called but know the Church will not take them. In the Catholic Church there are, of course, also those who feel called to the priesthood who are women, but they know that the Church has always said it simply lacks the power to change what was inherited from the Apostle; each generation is the steward of what it has received, not the owner.
To be called to the ordained ministry is, Cranmer reminds his readers, to be called to a life of self-sacrifice and service, and if one is not prepared to make the sacrifice the church asks, then it is in all truth hard to see how that person can make the others which a life of service will surely demand. As he reminds us all”
to live Christianly is to die to self; to live and participate in the church community of the centuries, not to chorus the fleeting fanaticism of the present.
There is here something that is at the heart of divide which is often (wrongly I think() characterised in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’. How much weight to we give to our ancestors? We are not the ones who will pronounce that all things are made new, and certainly for the Catholic Church, we have to acknowledge and give weight to what we have have received. That is not so say there is no development – all things that live develop, but it is to say that when we see purely secular arguments deployed, we might rightly conclude that we are hearing the words of the lords of this world. Those who think the priesthood is about power, prestige and position, will employ the arguments from the secular world about equality for women and for gay people in terms of these things, because they are seeing through the eyes of the world. They work themselves up into thinking that there can be only one reason the church rejects their vision – the one the world gives. Perhaps they cannot think with the mind of the Church, and perhaps for them the settled conclusion of its teaching is just a further sign of the correctness of their position; it would certainly explain the vitriol with which some of them assail those who are simply faithful to the teaching they have received.
We are far, now, from the days when the views of the laity were ignored, but we need to remember that the Body of Christ is not a democracy, and that even if 99% of Catholics thought Christ was not the Word Incarnate, it would change nothing. We are, in this society, uncomfortable with the notion of immutable Truth; all things are relative. But they are not. The Church has received a charge from its founder, that charge is to be the steward of the faith once given; it does not own it, it cannot change what the Lord has set in stone. If the world dislikes that, so much the worse for the world.