Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
By now, many BC students will be familiar with Fr. Shea’s letter and with the three pieces The Heights has released supporting it. The original letter asked for a theological explanation of the Church’s stance on ordination, while the subsequent articles seem to imply that Fr. Shea has received misplaced criticism. In particular, the piece “Importance of Always Questioning” spotlights accusations that Fr. Shea was fired as part of a witch-hunt and that BC tried to stifle his views.
The search for truth is not only laudable, but it is also deeply embedded within the Christian tradition. No less a thinker than St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “every truth, whoever said it, comes from the Holy Spirit.” Fr. Shea, in a spirit of humility, sought not to challenge the Church, but to discover the theological explanation for one of its doctrines. The questions he asks are worthy of better answers than my limited theological training can provide. With that said, the Church itself, through the documents Inter Insigniores and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, provides the type of theological explanation that Fr. Shea seeks.
What it has not provided, as either document will show, is anything resembling the claim “women are not fully in the likeness of Jesus.” Scripture itself revokes the idea that women are not “made whole by the saving favor of our God”. Pope John Paul II’s motto, Totus Tuus, comes from a saint who claims that God’s supreme masterpiece is Mary. Centuries of Church teaching holds her as holier and more spiritually “developed” than all men, including the Apostles who were ordained as the first priests by Christ Himself.
They, like the female saints who are Doctors of the Church, would reject the idea that women are “deficient in maturity or religious development.” Admittedly, the Church did acknowledge the belief that women do not have souls–by explicitly rebuking it as heresy in the fifth century.
As Professor Cornille teaches in her Intro to Comparative Theology course, dialogue can proceed only by honestly representing both one’s own position and those that oppose it. Fr. Shea’s position was made a tenure-track position long before his open letter was released. Presumably, he is free and able to reapply for the opening. Those who imply that he was unjustly fired and unfairly criticized should provide support for their claims. Otherwise, like the theological positions that Fr. Shea assigns the Church, those claims are no more than allegations disguised as questioning.
The Church has consistently condemned the ideas that Fr. Shea attributes to it. The implication that they are part of Church teaching is inaccurate and misleading. Arguing against straw man examples, employing “derisive mockery,” and portraying personal beliefs as objective news or theological truth all impair dialogue and do a disservice to those who genuinely strive to understand the Church’s position. Personal search for truth, while commendable and necessary, does not exempt one from the questioning of others or from the high standards of scholarship and integrity that The Heights espouses.