Last week's Vatican statement reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church's position against the ordination of women to the priesthood, appears to have strengthened the determination of those intent on removing such barriers.
Reactions to the 18-page Declaration of the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood" issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have ranged from suggestions for a financial boycott of the church to the launching of scholarly studies to throw new light on the question.
The statement of the Sacred Congregation restated the Church's traditional position that women cannot be priests. It cited as reasons the fact that Christ was male and therefore a priest must be male to be the symbol of Christ "which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease."
As expected, bishops of the church have hailed the statement and looked to it to quell the ferment of recent years, particularly in the United States, over the question of ordaining women to the priesthood.
In addition, Archbishop Iakovos, primated of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, hailed the Vatican statement, which he said "echoes what the church universal believed and practicecd for 20 centuries."
Eastern Orthodoxy is even more adamant than the Vatican in its opposition to women in priestly roles. An Orthodox publication last fall headlined a story about the Episcopal church's General Convention vote to approve ordaining women: "Episcopal Church Succumbs to Women."
But in other circles, the release of the statement has precipitated a vamety of disagreement and protest both in and out of the church:
A Vatican official, the Rev. David Stanley, Canadian member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, has resigned in protest because last week's document ignores Biblical COmmission findings last year that there is nothing in the Bible to preclude ordination of women. "I find no point in belonging to an organization which is summoned to work on a very important matter like the ordination of women and then has its work disregarded," Father Stanley said.
Three New York Jewish leaders have protested that the Vatican document misinterprets Jewish law and tradition regarding attitudes toward women that prevailed at the time of Christ. Rabbi Walter S. Wurburger, president of the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of America; Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and Rabbi Joseph Glaser, executive of the Central Conference of (Reform) Rabbis, declined to take positions on what they agreed was an internal question for the Catholic Church. But they spoke out to set the record straight as it concerns Jewish history.
A Washington-based coalition of Catholic individuals and unofficial Catholic groups called yesterday on Catholics "who are members of parishes or dioceses where there is no men and women to withhold financial contributions from their churches and donate the money to local or national groups working for sexual equality in the Church."
The coalition, which described itself at a press conference as "Catholics loyal and loving toward the church," included the Rev. William Callaghan, a Jesuit who is executive director of the 1,3000-member Priests for Equality; the Center of Concern; Christian Feminists, and the core commission of the Women's Ordination Conference. The latter is the continuing orgainzation of a nationwide gathering of more than 1,200 persons in Detroit in 1975.
Priests for Equality plans to issue today "a public apology to all Catholic women and to Protestant denominations that ordain women for the unfortunate style, content and timing of the Vatican declaration," and for the Vatican's "refusal to allow the call of women to be welcomed and honestly tested."
Another unofficial Catholic group, Christian Feminists, is launching a week of prayer, beginning next Sunday, to encourage women to "reflect on the document, record their feelings and send them to their local bishops." Similar services will be held on Feb. 27 in each of eight U.S. cardinalates.
Last Saturday, a local Washington-area replay of last October's nationwide Call To Action Conference in Detroit found itself so preoccupied with reaction to the Vatican statement on women that it could give only perfunctory attention to other social issues on the agenda. More than a third of the 300 persons attending signed petitions protesting "continued discrimination against women in the church" and pledged "to intensify our efforts to end this injustice with new vigor and dedication." The petitions were brought forward and laid on the altar during the concluding mass.
The debate over ordination of women to the Roman Catholic priesthood parallels much of that which preceded the decision last September of the Episcopal Church to open priestly orders to women. Turmoil over the question in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion is generally credited with contributing to pressures on the Vatican for an up-to-date Catholic statement on the question.
When the Vatican statement was issued last week various official church spokesmen were optimistic that it would "settle" the question.
There has been no indication that this is likely to happen soon.