'A priest must be a baptised man.' QED - People - News - The Independent

'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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week