I would have thought that the Church would make every effort to avoid showing support for groups who have demonstrated a strong inclination to forcefully impose their opinions on the Church. I am clearly wrong. This week I have been cogitating the fact that my Catholic diocese has allowed a group, which clearly believes in forcefully imposing its beliefs regarding the ordination of women, to advertise its activities on the diocesan Facebook Page.
It was today, in 1994, that Pope John Paul II issued the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. In it he clarified the official teaching of the Church on the subject of the ordination of women to the priesthood. The letter concludes with these words: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”
Naturally, as we have become accustomed in our Church, there are those who hold different beliefs in this regard. Some of these people will use every opportunity they have to challenge the teaching of the Church on this and on other subjects. Of course if that is what their conscience leads them to do, then they are clearly not wrong in doing so, bearing in mind that our conscience must always be properly informed, which is itself an entirely separate topic.
Although one must follow ones conscience, no serious Catholic can believe that it is appropriate to engage in practices that are intent on forcing acceptance of ones beliefs onto the Church. Those who are questioning a current and long held belief of the Church must surely engage in a process to get the Church to reconsider its beliefs. They cannot go about using a process that involves forcefully imposing their beliefs onto the Church, no matter how strongly their conscience convinces them that they may be right.
It is always surely the attaining of the truth that matters, not the time frame that it may take to do that. Their belief about the ordination of women, or any other subject for that matter, may initially be rejected. The Church may in fact always reject it. (I personally am convinced it will always be rejected.) However, it is also possible that, if it is truly from God and that the Church has got this wrong, that one day it will be accepted, even if that is the consequence of many years, even hundreds of years of dialogue.
The point is that, if these people sincerely believe that it is God’s will, it cannot matter that the Church’s acceptance of their beliefs will not necessarily occur in their lifetime. Sincerity in wanting to attain the truth must surely dictate that ultimately all that really counts is that there is a journey that commences, which will end in a truth being proclaimed. What then is this need to rush and, of greater concern, this need to force? This is God's Church and it is about God's will. His will be done, with or without us, whether in our lifetime or thereafter. Why this need to resort to behaviour that implies that God cannot get it done and that only human efforts will accomplish His will.
“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
History has shown us that the forceful approach has inevitably always led to a breakdown of unity in the Church. It has led to one split after the other and today we have approximately 41,000 separate Christian denominations to show for this forceful implementation of different peoples beliefs. This certainly cannot be what Christ intended?
One such group of people, who claim that they cannot obey the Church’s teaching on the ordination of women as priests, is a South African group. They have named themselves We Are All Church South Africa. This group is an affiliate member of the international movement We Are Church. They have, as one of their primary objectives, the ordination of women as priests.
This international group has however gone way beyond just state that they believe that the Church should ordain women as priests. They are indeed a prime example of a group that is intent on forcing their beliefs onto the Church. They have shown quite clearly that they are not in the least bit concerned about creating a split in the Church.
The international group, We Are Church, has directly and indirectly participated in and supported ‘ceremonies’ wherein the ordination of women as priests was simulated. In addition, they have openly participated in a simulation of Mass by these allegedly ordained ‘woman priests’.
This is clearly not a group interested in dialogue or in seeking the truth. This is a group intent on ramming down our throats their opinions. This group does not care one iota about the harm it may be doing to the Church. This group has shown beyond doubt that the stubborn pride of its members has convinced them they are right and that everyone else is automatically wrong.
One of the members of the South African group – We Are All Church South Africa – has herself participated in a simulated Mass with a ‘woman priest’. She remains a very vocal member of the group We Are All Church South Africa and has frequently written in publications like our South African Catholic weekly newspaper about this movement and its objectives.
We Are All Church South Africa has made no attempt whatsoever to distance themselves from Rosemary Gravenor and her activities. This must be interpreted to not only mean that We Are All Church South Africa supports her actions, but in fact that they condone their Catholic members participating in activities such as a simulated Catholic Mass or any other events that Catholics are expressly prohibited from participating in. Further it shows that they condone activities which are clearly intent on causing rupture in the Church.
So, imagine my complete surprise this week when I came across an advert on the Facebook Page of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg for a meeting to be held under the auspices of this dissenting group known as We Are All Church South Africa.
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, has, I am told, banned this group from meeting on Church premises in his diocese. A move that I believe is entirely appropriate for a group that is clearly intent on creating chaos, inciting dissent, causing rupture and not in the least bit interested in engaging in a process that involves mature meaningful dialogue on the matters that concern them.
Why then, I have to ask myself, does the Archbishop of Johannesburg permit this group to advertise on the Facebook Page of his diocese? Why also does the Archbishop of Johannesburg permit this group to continue to meet on Church premises, specifically on the premises of the Rosebank parish of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg? Is it not sailing to close to the rocks to allow this group to continue unchecked in the diocese? Will this not lead Catholics to believe that the objectives of this group, We Are All Church South Africa, are endorsed by the Archbishop and his diocese?
In fairness, I must conclude by saying that I do not believe that the Archbishop of Johannesburg is sending the perceived message. I have never, from any of the homilies given by the Archbishop, had any reason to doubt his complete fidelity to the true teaching of the Church. I think that the truth is that the Archbishop is probably completely unaware of the advert on the Facebook Page. The Archbishop may in fact even be completely unaware of the actual existence of the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg Facebook Page, which is relatively new and has only 4 members at the time of writing this.
If this last scenario is the case, what does it then say about those whom the Archbishop trusts to do this type of work for him? Why have they abused the position of trust he has given them? How much else is out there, supposedly with his endorsement, that does not carry his endorsement? Are we in fact facing a situation where members of dissident groups, like We Are All Church South Africa, have infiltrated key positions in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and even in other dioceses in South Africa? Are these people abusing their positions to transmit, not the core message of the Church, but their own? If they have no objection to imposing their will through simulated ordinations and Mass, why wouldn't they resort to other means to mislead Catholics?