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Open letter from "Canon 1024"
to Pope John Paul II

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Canon 1024 is an Internet mailing list devoted to the discussion of women's ordination in the Roman Catholic church.

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August 6, 1998
The Transfiguration of the Lord

H.H. Pope John Paul II
Vatican City

Your Holiness:

We, the undersigned members of the Canon1024 ecumenical forum on the ordination of women, greet you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Canon1024 internet forum is a grassroots, ecumenical discussion on the ordination of women.

Respect for your high office

We understand the power of the keys (Mt 16:18) and believe this power is given to the entire church (Mt 18:18). Some of us, especially the Roman Catholics in the list, believe that it is given in a singular way to you as the ultimate authority; though not to you alone, in isolation from the rest of the church -- in other words, the proper use of the power of the keys entails discernment of God's will by the entire church; then, and only then, a final decision is to be made by you (Cf. Acts 15).

We are concerned that such a church-wide process has not yet matured with regard to ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church, and this letter is an appeal for you to permit the process of dialogue and discernment to continue, not only within the Roman Catholic Church, but also in dialogue with other churches. Some of these other churches already have to offer the data of experience as regards women in ministerial positions. Surely, the Roman Catholic Church would not claim to already have exhausted divine revelation on this matter?

Until very recently, the Roman Catholic teaching was that women were defective human beings, inferior to and subject to men. This teaching now has been revised to recognize the full humanity of women, which we see as a happy doctrinal development. However, we believe that the 2000 year old practice of excluding women from holy orders has been based on precisely that view of women which is now understood to be inadequate. We think it reasonable to assume that, in teaching that only males can be ordained, the universal ordinary magisterium of Roman Catholic bishops did not always see women as complete and perfect human beings.

Furthermore, we think that the concept of women as complete human beings, yet unfit for ordination, has not been universally taught by the ordinary magisterium of Roman Catholic bishops currently in office and in union with you. Nor has it been consciously considered by most of the faithful, past and present, so as to be part of the "sense of the faithful." So, with all due respect, our consciences impel us to seek to better understand this practice of reserving holy orders to baptized men. Why not also to baptized women? That is, why not to baptized persons?

Christological reflection

The reflection that follows attempts to answer a very fundamental christological question: since Jesus is a male, does it follow that only males can be priests? This question encapsulates all other questions relative to the ordination of women; for it is in Jesus Christ, and only in him, that we can seek a better understanding of the Christ-Church mystery (John 14:6, 15:4).

To this end, we submit to your consideration a reflection on men and women as partners, equal and of the same nature, in the mystery of creation; a relationship damaged by the first Adam's disobedience, and restored by the last Adam's obedience. "First Adam" and "last Adam" refer not to first male and last male but to first human and to Jesus, the Eternal Word made flesh; this understanding is supported by 1 Cor 15:45-47, where Paul identifies the first human as Adam (Gen 2:7).

This first living body-person was differentiated into a male and a female (Gen 2:21-23) who jointly exercised God's assigned sovereignty, tending the garden and ruling over the animals as a communion of persons. Both the woman and the man jointly disobeyed God's command (Gen 3:6), and consequently found themselves alienated from God, from creation, and from each other.

In the Old Testament, God, working through individual men and women, and through his chosen people, Israel, seeks to restore creation's original harmonious order. But it is only in Jesus Christ, the last Adam, that God achieves this redemptive work, finally destroying all alienations that divide humans from each other, from creation, and from God (see, e.g., Gal 3:28; Rom 8:22-23; Eph 2:11-22; Col 2:9-13).

In Christ Jesus, once again men and women, equally and of the same human nature, as God's redeemed representatives, together share in creation's administration and governance, and together share the gift of divine life and the responsibility to reach every human being, by word and sacrament, with the good news of the New Covenant.

Redemption of the body

The original unity of man and woman, fully restored by the redemption of Christ, certainly does not cancel differences, but does exclude any relationship of superiority-inferiority, as well as any relationship of unilateral submission. After the death and resurrection of Christ, men and women must submit equally to each other, out of reverence for Christ.

This communion applies in the family, in society, and especially in the Church. Any manifestation of male supremacy obscures the mystery of the Church as a communion of persons in Christ. Since the very beginning (Gen 2:23), it is our consciousness of being a communion of persons that makes us truly human at a level deeper than our somatic structure as male or female.

Restricting church leadership positions to males impoverishes the body of Christ by excluding the gifts that women can and do bring to all the ministries of the church, ordained and unordained. Especially in the churches, it is time to overcome the prejudice of male supremacy; this comes to us from original sin (Gen 3:16), not from divine revelation on God's will for the church.

The signs of the times impel us to recognize that Christ the Priest, as well as Christ the Servant, can reach and nourish his people through the body of a woman as well as through the body of a man, and this in ordained as well as unordained ministries.

Life sciences

Our modern understanding of the mutuality between men and women is also enhanced by advances in the life sciences. Men and women are mutually complementary but, except for sexual-reproductive purposes, they are not mutually exclusive. There are masculine qualities in woman, and there are feminine qualities in man. No human being is exclusively male or female. At the most fundamental level, we are human persons, rational beings made of body and soul. Granted, sex cuts very deeply into the fabric of the human person; nevertheless, it is still a limitation of the human condition, not the most fundamental stratum of human personhood.

The most fundamental stratum is our consciousness as a communion of persons. Our fundamental unity as body-souls does not cancel the differences, which allow some men and women to commit to each other in nuptial love, become one flesh, and collaborate in procreation. Conversely, the differences do not cancel our fundamental unity as members of the human race and partakers, with Christ, of human nature.

Let us build the body of Christ

Divine Providence has given you the responsibility of serving the Roman Catholic Church as successor of St. Peter, Bishop of Rome. You may have excellent reasons for wishing to put an end to all dialogue and discernment on this issue within the Roman Catholic Church, but we have so far been unable to grasp these reasons. We are convinced that none of the churches will be able to avoid this issue, as we approach the new millennium. We therefore renew our plea for you to permit -- actually, we would hope, for you to encourage -- responsible dialogue and discernment of God's will.

We are mindful of our Lord's words to Peter, "what you bind on earth is bound in heaven". But are these words to be used for closing doors to the Kingdom, or for opening them? Do you not also have the power to loosen the bonds that limit the growth of the Kingdom? Since the Roman Catholic Church is not ready to define, as a matter of revealed truth, that the male-only priesthood is of divine will, is it not legitimate to plead for a process of prayer, dialogue, and discernment pursuant to settle this issue, within the Roman Catholic Church and with other churches, so that we all may be one, that the world may believe (Cf. John 17)?

Finally, are we to prevent the power of the Holy Spirit from using the complex issues of human sexuality and women in ordained ministry -- issues which all the churches are facing -- as a unique historical opportunity for the churches to come together in order to discern God's will on these issues, and emerge from this encounter more united than ever before?

With these questions we conclude this letter, in the sure hope that the Holy Spirit will help you and the Roman Catholic Church -- indeed, all the Christian churches -- to forge ahead in the journey toward the fullness of truth (John 6:13) in order to build the body of Christ.

"Come, Holy Spirit, enable the churches to be like Mary-Theotokos, who trusted in you and consented to be the bearer of Christ to the world, for the glory of God and our redemption. Amen."

Respectfully yours in Christ,

Maggie Albo
Erna Beck
Nancy Brown
Thomas Butler
Patricia Anne Byron
Claire Debenham
William T. Donnelly
Elaine Eisenstein
Francis Fergus
Marilyn Gardner
Luis Gutierrez
Elfriede Harth
Livia Hekanaho
Ed Janes
J. Christian Jensen
Carl A. Jimenez
Margaret Kavanagh
Alfred L. King
Danny Klopovic
Ann Lammers
Sydney Langdon
Deborah McDurmond
James McKay
Roberta Meehan
Pearl Miller
Roy Murphy
Marilyn Palmero
Isabelle Prondzynski
Hoan Ribera
Bruce Robinson
Theresa Timlin
Rachele Vernon
Cecelia Wasiljov

NB: The above list includes only those Canon1024 forum members who have explicitly requested that they be signers of this letter.

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