I heard this story on NPR this morning about a dozen Catholic women in the US who claim to have been ordained as priests. I am not Catholic, and so it would seem that I have no vested interest in this story. However, this story brings up a question that I have had with a number of movements within a variety of religions in recent history (for example – the schism among the Anglicans over whether to bless gay marriages or ordain openly gay priests). When I hear about these debates among the clergy and the actions of those who proceed to do something that has not been sanctioned – in this case, ordaining women to be priests – I begin to wonder what kind of a God they worship.
In many churches, where decisions of policy are made by a vote, I can understand (to some degree) why people would approach these changes the same way we approach social changes in a democratic society. Ordain a few women priests (or whatever your cause is) to show that the change is not going to make the organization fall apart as a result. In more authoritarian organizations, like the Catholic church, it seems ludicrous to do so. These organizations preach that the doctrines are not made by man and thus cannot be changed by the will of men. Following that doctrinal reasoning, a change must not take place without the direction and sanction of God (however that is perceived to happen within any particular organization). There may be some value in debating an idea, but to take action without sanction in an organization with those beliefs makes no sense. This is what leads me to my question.
If you believe what the Catholic church teaches about being directed by God and about Papal Infallibility then you could not, in good conscience, defy the laws of the Catholic church. If you do not believe those things then you should ask yourself – why do I remain a Catholic?
As far as I can figure, the people who do these things must believe one (or both) of two things.
First, they may believe that the church is a social institution. This would imply that it is organized and run by people who are fallible and that those people make their policies according to their best understanding of what God desires. If this is the case, it would make sense to call to their attention those cases where they have interpreted the will of God erroneously. The question becomes, who is the final judge of which interpretation is correct (yours or the church leaders’).
Second, they may believe in a God who is fallible. This reduces their deity to an extremely powerful man, or possibly some other extra-terrestrial being. In saying this I do not wish to mock anybody’s beliefs on the subject. I am merely outlining where my logic takes me as I try to explain their actions.
If someone believes in an all-powerful, all-knowing God and also believes that their church is directed by that God, then it makes no sense to knowingly disregard the edicts of that church. To do so suggests the desire to say “I have a better understanding/interpretation of what is good than an all-knowing, all-powerful Deity.” Does anyone really want to say that?