Open letter from "Canon 1024"
to Pope John Paul II
Canon 1024 is an Internet mailing list devoted to the discussion of women's
ordination in the Roman Catholic church.
August 6, 1998
The Transfiguration of the Lord
H.H. Pope John Paul II
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?
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.
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
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
"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
Respectfully yours in Christ,
Patricia Anne Byron
William T. Donnelly
J. Christian Jensen
Carl A. Jimenez
Alfred L. King
NB: The above list includes only those Canon1024 forum members who have explicitly
requested that they be signers of this letter.