'A priest must be a baptised man.' QED

FAITH & REASON Ludmila Javorova says she was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. You could as easily consecrate a potato, declares another Catholic. Andrew Brown investigates.

There are delightful parallels between the ordination of Florence Li Tim Oi, in Hong Kong in 1942, and that of Ludmila Javorova, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, some time after 1970. Both were acts of bishops cut off from central authority, suffering under anti-Christian foreign invaders and worried about their flocks. Both women believed from an early age that they had a vocation; both, when the emergency was over, returned to obscurity and stopped functioning as priests.

There, however, the parallels diverge. Li and her bishop never concealed that she had been ordained. Ms Javorova's obscurity was so great that she has only recently admitted what happened. Li was an Anglican and Ms Javorova is a Roman Catholic. The bishops of the Anglican Communion, meeting at the Lambeth Conference in 1948, could not utterly repudiate Florence Li Tim Oi. Reason suggested there might be two sides to the case, and that the bishop who had ordained her might have made an understandable mistake. Pope John Paul II has been solicitous to spare Catholics any such painful confusion. "In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, . . . I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful," he announced, on 22 May 1994.

It is of course the last phrase which gives the real difference between the Anglican and Catholic cases: "I declare . . . that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." This shows the superiority of authority over mere reason. In relying on authority in this way the Pope is surely right, for what the Anglican experience showed is that neither scripture nor tradition nor reason can be relied on to prove women priests impossible.

The tragedy of most Anglican opponents of women priests is that they did not realise this until too late. They believed that tradition and scripture, understood reasonably, made their case unassailable. They failed to grasp that reason is a human activity, and not a faculty exercised according to wholly independent rules. The bishops of the Lambeth Conference in 1948, examining scripture and tradition in the light of reason, concluded almost unanimously that women priests were probably impossible and certainly undesirable; the bishops of the Lambeth Conference in 1988, embarked on the same exercise, were deeply divided, and next time they meet, in 1998, the supporters of women's ordination will be in a clear majority. Not many of them have abandoned the use of reason, tradition, or scripture. What has changed is their definition of rationality: their understanding of what may reasonably be argued.

It is notable that this process took place among a largely married clergy. Few of the classic arguments against women priests can be comfortably made across a table, at breakfast, to a woman of less than about 60 in this country. If reason is a human faculty, shared between men and women, then an argument that cannot convince a well-disposed woman is unreasonable. From the standpoint of most Western women, most of the arguments against women priests are based on an assumption of women's natural inferiority to men, and so are unreasonable. A celibate clergy does not suffer from such constraints.

The difference between Catholic and Anglican reasoning on this matter is not merely cultural. There is also the profound Catholic faith in the reliability of dogma to consider. To a properly educated Catholic theologian, the efficacy of the sacraments is as little in doubt as Ohm's law. One, to whom I broke the news of Ms Javorova's ordination, compared it spontaneously to an attempt to consecrate a potato. Then he realised that he had said something apparently offensive and rephrased himself. None the less, Canon 1024 of the code of Canon Law says that a priest must be a baptised man. QED.

Yet, however watertight this reasoning may be; however clear the Pope's directions are; however far the Catholic mind diverges from the Anglican or Protestant, one cannot help wondering whether they will once more converge. From the ordination of Florence Li Tim Oi in 1942 to the decision of the Church of England to ordain women took 50 years. I wonder what the Vatican will be doing in 2022.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?