Published: Sunday, March 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Rev. John Shea, OSA, an adjunct professor at the School of Theology and Ministry, recently wrote an open letter to Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, published in The Heights on Mar. 19, 2012, concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.
In the letter, Shea did not call for women to be ordained in the Catholic church, nor did he refute the Church’s stance on the topic. What Shea did was reasonably ask for an explanation of why, according to Catholic doctrine, women cannot currently be ordained in the Church.
“I am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained in the priesthood in the Catholic Church,” Shea wrote.
Shea has continually asked for explanations of the issue of women’s ordination since as far back as 1986, calling the Church’s response to the issue “a rule of science.” Priests and Catholics alike, he claims, “are told that women’s ordination cannot be discussed.”
Shea does not, however, reject Church teaching. “I write not to challenge the teaching of the church as set forth in the 1994 Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, concerning priestly ordination,” Shea wrote. “My concern is the theological explanation of this teaching.”
Boston College has announced recently that Shea’s contract will not be renewed for the coming year. He is at the end of a three-year contract as an adjunct professor, and the University has stated their wish to make that position a tenure track for full professorship for another candidate. The announcement has been met with much criticism, as students and outsiders alike have accused the University of leading a witchhunt against Shea and attempting to stifle his controversial discussions.
The Heights would like to use this opportunity to support Shea in his questioning and search for theological explanations. Regardless of whether or not the University’s decision not to rehire Shea was made before or after the publishing of his letter, he has received much misplaced criticism from both media and colleagues as a result.
To criticize Shea harshly and immediately for his questioning is both foolish and unfounded. Shea made it explicitly clear that he did not wish to deny Church doctrine, but rather that he wanted a clear, theological explanation for why women cannot be ordained in the Church, something he has not personally come across in his 30 years of teaching. As students at a Jesuit-Catholic university, BC students are constantly called to question their faith and reflect on the most fundamental questions of life. Throughout their history, Jesuits have ignited controversy worldwide by questioning Church teachings on topics as contentious as abortion and GLBTQ issues. The questioning, empirical basis of the Jesuit faith has permeated education here at BC, has pushed the Church to new boundaries, has forced difficult but revealing and important discussions, and as a result has strengthened the faith of many. The faith of a believer does not become stronger by blind acceptance—it becomes stronger by questioning, reflecting, and continually reaching new conclusions about the Church and God.