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Column: Importance Of Always Questioning

Heights Columnist

Published: Sunday, March 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

We can all breathe a sigh of relief. The contract of Father John Shea, an Augustinian priest and an adjunct professor in the School of Theology and Ministry, is not being renewed only because his position is being replaced with a tenure track professorship. According to the University, hiring a professor for a tenure track was considered long before this March, and the decision not to renew his contract was actually made over a year ago. It would be an absolute shame if this were not the case.

It would be incredibly depressing to any intellectually curious woman or man for others if Father Shea was asked not to return because of a letter he sent to the Cardinal O’Malley inquiring as to why women are not being ordained in the Church. Father Shea was not explicitly calling for a policy change. He only wanted a clearer explanation than women “are not fully in the likeness of Jesus” for why females cannot receive Holy Orders. He sought to change the minds of the vicars of Mother Church on intellectual and rational grounds.

The idea of someone losing his job over these statements would not only be a violation of academic free speech, but it would also be incredibly un-Christian. As people of faith—and not exclusively a Christian faith—we are called to be civil in the face of differences of opinion and work together so that we can all grow to a deeper understanding of each other and our faith lives. As scholars, we have a responsibility to be reasonable in our response to others’ words and actions. Father Shea being asked not to return because he called for women’s ordination would certainly not have been Christian or reasonable.

If Father Shea had been removed from his position because of his views, which diverge from Church doctrine in a very minor way, there would be a great deal of damage done to the faith of a demographic that already struggles with questions of belief. It would send the message to members of the Church that if your views are different from those of the Holy See, you will not be recognized as wholly Catholic. College students are constantly engaged in intellectual fights, and their faith is only one battleground in what may be a stalemate. The side of cynicism, disbelief, and nihilism would be able to march across no man’s land and take the trenches that belong to a genuine faith and trust in a good because the powers that be at the University would have given up the main weapon wielded in this war: reason.

The worst part, though, would have been that Father Shea is right. In his letter to the Archbishop, he provides many good reasons to allow women to become priests. The Church should allow women to receive Holy Orders if for no other reason than it would do no harm. Episcopals ordain women, and they have not been wiped from the earth by a plague of locusts and fire. In fact, their church is quite alive and still very Christian, despite their inclusion of women behind the altar.

Perhaps the Catholic Church is afraid of the perspective that women will bring. Perhaps it will be forced to examine other issues of inequality that they have helped perpetuate. The Church making this “concession” could help bring many people back to the fold and put Her on a more life- and faith-affirming path.

I can say with my tongue safely tucked away in my cheek that we don’t need to consider much of what I have written here. Father Shea is leaving not because he has fallen from the grace of the University for his radically progressive views on women, but because his job is being replaced by a tenure track position.  

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