I'm Not Saying...

[Edit:  A less charitable, but very much worth reading take, can be found here.]

Cardinal Sean O'Malley sat down for an extended interview with Norah O'Donnell of 60 Minutes, which was shown last Sunday.  Never say never (after all, there are people who don't like ice cream), but it seems impossible to me that you could come away from that interview with a negative opinion of "Cardinal Sean" (as he prefers to be called).  He came across as funny, charming, kind, and very, very candid.  He admitted that he was "terrified" being sent to the toxic waste dump that was the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003, despite having already served two tours as the clean-up guy in dioceses decimated by sex abuse scandals (Fall River, Massachusetts and Palm Beach, Florida).  He was unabashed in his enthusiasm for his friend Pope Francis.  He more or less said that Bishop Finn of Kansas City, who has been convicted of failing to report/covering up for an abusive priest, needs to go.  He called the investigation of the American sisters a "disaster."  All to the good.

Then, at the end, O'Donnell asked about women priests.  You can watch the interview here (skip ahead to around the 11 minute mark), but here is the transcript:

Norah O'Donnell: The church says it's not open to the discussion about ordaining women. Why not?

Cardinal Seán O'Malley: Not everyone needs to be ordained to have an important role in the life of the church. Women run the Catholic charities, the Catholic schools, the development office for the archdiocese.

Norah O'Donnell: Some would say women do a lot of the work but have very little power.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley: Well "power" is not a word that we like to use in the church. It's more service.

Norah O'Donnell: But they can't preach. They can't administer the sacraments.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley: Well...

Norah O'Donnell: I mean, some women feel like they're second class Catholics because they can't do those things that are very important.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley: Well, they, but they're, they have other very important roles that, you know, a priest cannot be a mother, either. The tradition of the church is that we have always ordained men. And that the priesthood reflects the incarnation of Christ, who in his humanity is a man.

Norah O'Donnell: But in spite of that, does the exclusion of women seem at all immoral?

Cardinal Seán O'Malley: Well, Christ would never ask us to do something immoral. And I know that women in...

Norah O'Donnell: The sense of equality. I mean, just the sense of sort of the fairness of it, you know. You wouldn't exclude someone based on race. But yet you do exclude people based on gender.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley: Well, it's a matter of vocation. And what God has given to us. And this is, you know, if I were founding a church, you know, I'd love to have women priests. But Christ founded it and what he he has given us is something different.

"[Y]ou know, if I were founding a church, you know, I'd love to have women priests."  Those are the words of a man whose heart is not in it.  He has to defend the shield as best as he can, and I understand that.  But O'Donnell (appropriately) pushed him on the idea that the ban on women priests seems to be unfair and arbitrary.  And O'Malley all but conceded the point--the only thing he could fall back on is the idea that Jesus was a dude, and he set it up the Church to only have male priests, and thus we are stuck with it.

That is an incredibly thin reed to exclude half of the human population, and no one knows that more than Cardinal Sean.  He's too smart, and too genuine, to fall back on the overtly misogynist arguments that have been trotted out to defend the ban on women priests--women are inferior, women somehow don't "image" Christ, etc.  All he has left is fiat.  And while the fiat is projected onto Jesus (i.e. "Jesus set it up that way"), Cardinal Sean knows that the evidence that Jesus would disprove of women priests is, at best, circumstantial.  The fiat is the Catholic Church's fiat far more than it is Jesus's fiat.

Cardinal Sean comes across as a man who would be perfectly happy if Pope Francis, or an Ecumenical Council, or whatever, were to announce that the ban on women priests was a product of historical, structural misogyny, and not a core teaching of the Gospel.  One gets the sense that he would be first in line to ordain women for the Archdiocese of Boston.  But, he can't say that, because the certainty of the Church's positions is more important than his own instincts about fairness and justice on this issue.

Cardinal Sean seems like a good man, and it is good that he has a prominent position in the Catholic Church in the US.  I just wish that he could break out of the politics of certainty.


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