Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Would we be better Catholics if the bishops wore high heels? St. Margaret Clitherow would probably have said no

St. Margaret Clitherow
In an essay entitled, "Give Us a Bishop in High Heels," published recently in the New York Times, Jane  Gardam rejoiced in the Anglican Church's decision to allow women to become bishops.  The Anglicans have allowed women to become priests since 1992--and both male and female Anglican priests can marry. But allowing women to become bishops is another step forward toward modernizing the Anglican Church.  Indeed, the Anglicans' American cousin, the Episcopal Church, took that step some years  ago. America's chief Episcopal bishop is a woman.

I have no quarrel with the Anglicans on this issue.  I feel about it very much like Dorothy Day is said to have felt.  According to Rosalie Riegle, Dorothy was on record as being opposed to the ordination of women. Nevertheless, Dorothy thought the day would come when the  Catholic Church would ordain women. "We will have women priests," she is said to have predicted, "but I think the culture of the Catholic Church in the United State right now is not ready for it."

Dorothy predicted that the first step toward permitting Catholic women to become priests would be to allow male priests to marry. "And then when women are closer to the altar by being associated with priests, married to them, then the culture will be ready for women priests."  Riegle wrote that Dorothy seemed "very peaceful and calm" about this prospect.

And so am I. Nevertheless, I would like to respond to Jane Gardam's celebratory piece in the New York Times by making two brief observations. First, the Anglicans' recent decision toward modernization--permitting women to  become bishops--is just another step to make the Anglican Church more compatible with contemporary culture--married priests, women priests, and now female bishops.  And I believe I read somewhere that homosexual priests are permitted to live openly with their partners so long as they remain celibate. (I wonder how that's working for them.)

But where has all of this gotten the Anglicans? Have more Brits joined the Anglican faith? Have disaffected British Anglicans returned to the fold? I don't think so.

In America, where the Episcopal Church has made all the reforms that the Anglicans have made and more, the Episcopalians are in free fall--with their membership shrunk now to less than 2 million.  In fact, there are more Catholics in the Los Angeles Archdiocese than all the Episcopalians in the entire United States.

And the Episcopal communion in the U.S. is now hopelessly fractured, with some congregations affiliating with the Church of Uganda and some whole congregations reuniting with the Catholic Church.  In Texas, for example, six large Episcopal congregations have become Anglican Rite Catholic Churches. Like lost sheep, these Anglican Rite churches have returned to the Roman Catholic fold--an incredible testimony to the power and durability of the Ancient Faith.

G.K. Chesterton perceived the drift toward modernization among the Anglicans almost a century ago. "These people merely take the modern mood," Chesterton observed, "with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist, even without the creed."

In other words, many modern Protestants have reshaped the contours of their religious creeds to conform to their personal desires and preferences:
They say they want a religion to be social,when they would be social without any religion. They say they want a religion to practical, when they would be practical without any religion. They say they want a religion that is acceptable to science, when they would accept the science even if they did not accept  the religion. They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it. 
So I ask Ms. Gardam, will allowing women to be Anglican priests strengthen the Anglican Church? Will it make Anglicans better Christians? Will it reverse the downward spiral in the number of English people who  call themselves Anglicans?

Second, I think Gardam's references to women saints does not support the premise of her argument.  Gardam invokes St. Hilda, one of England's great Catholic saints. If she had been made a bishop, Gardam asks, would she be willing to be martyred for her faith as St. Thomas of Canterbury was? "Would she have gone swearing and cursing to her death in the cathedral, as it is said that he did?"

Well, here's my answer to that question. Of course, St. Hilda would have gladly suffered martyrdom as St. Thomas of Canterbury did. but she would have made that sacrifice whether or not she had been named a bishop.

Ms. Gardam needs to read the biography of St. Margaret Clithrow, who was crushed to death by the Anglican authorities in 1586 because she refused to renounce her Catholic faith.  St. Margaret was not a bishop; she was not a priest or a woman religious. She was simply a housewife who had converted to Catholicism and who refused to cease partaking of the Catholic Mass.

What do you think Margaret was thinking as the blood was literally being squeezed out of her naked body?  Was she thinking, "Boy, this would be so much better if I were only a bishop!"

I'm telling you, Ms. Gardam, all my favorite Catholic saints are women: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), who died in an Auschwitz gas chamber; St. Elizabeth Seton, who was denounced and disinherited by her upper-crust Episcopalian family after she converted to Catholicism; St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote with a golden pen and who reformed the Carmelites during the Counter Reformation; St. Catherine of Siena, who was almost illiterate and yet the prose of her letters was inflamed with the passion of her faith.

And of course there was Dorothy Day--Servant of God--who lived a saintly life of poverty and sacrifice and had no desire to be a bishop.   In fact, she had no desire to be a saint--although she will certainly be canonized one day.

You know what, Jane Gardam? None of the women saints of the Catholic Church--and there are hundreds of them--were bishops. In fact (and I mention this because fashion seems important to you), I don't believe any of them wore high heels.  So--do you think the Anglicans will have more women saints now that it allows women to be bishops?

And I end on a minor note. Please, Ms. Gardam,  don't refer to clerical collars as dog collars. To do so suggests a frivolous attitude toward the priesthood.   And you weren't being frivolous, were you, Jane, when you argued that bishops should wear high heels?


Jane Gardam. Give Us a Bishop in High Heels. New York Times, July 21, 2014.

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