July 10, 2007

Article at San Diego Union Tribune

The stained-glass ceiling.

BYLINE: JIM SOLLISCH, SOLLISCH is a writer who lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

The same doctrine of "original status quo" denied women the vote and kept neighborhoods segregated. In an apostolic letter dated May 30, 1994, Pope John Paul II decreed that women cannot be priests.


End of discussion. He wants to assure women everywhere, though, that "the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them."

Not if you follow his logic, which he makes clear in his letter, entitled "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone." 

The argument goes like this: "The church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundations of his church." Well, who else could Jesus Christ have chosen?

Women were practically slaves back then.

And since Jesus was a carpenter, it's not as if he was going to run into a lot of female carpenters on the job site.

He picked his apostles the way most of us pick our friends and associates: We find mirror images of ourselves. And so Jesus chose 12 guys who were a lot like him.

As far as I know, none of the apostles was disabled.

Does that mean that disabled men should not be ordained into the priesthood?

None were Americans, so should Americans not be priests?

Yes, I know there was no America 2,000 years ago, but in a very real sense, there were no women, either. The pope, lacking any rational ground to stand on, fell back on the oldest and most widely used exclusionary tactic in the book: the doctrine of original status quo.

Maybe you've heard it at your country club: "It's not that we have anything against Jews, it's just that we've never had any in this club, and why should we start now?" I know you've heard it if you listened to the debate about homosexuals in the military: "We have nothing against gays.

We believe they can serve their country as well as anyone.

We've just never admitted any openly gay people to the armed forces, and when it comes to national security we aren't about to start experimenting." Maybe you've heard the original status quo argument from your neighbors: "This neighborhood was founded by people just like us.

It's not that we have anything against blacks or Hispanics.

We just think they should live in their own neighborhoods." For over a hundred years, we argued in this country that the words "All men are created equal" didn't refer to blacks because at the time the words were written, blacks were not considered men but slaves.

For over a hundred years, we denied women the right to vote based on a similar usage of the doctrine of original status quo.

The founding fathers defined the "person" in the phrase "one person, one vote" as "landholder," which excluded women. Today, the glass ceiling that holds women down in most corporations is finally starting to shatter, although it appears to be made of safety glass -- the kind that breaks piece by piece instead of all at once.

The ceiling is yet another twist on original status quo: "While women have contributed a great deal to this company and are greatly valued, we've never had a woman president or CEO and so we don't know if a woman can lead a company like ours." The good news, though, is that in a capitalistic society, the companies that don't embrace the best and the brightest will eventually fail.

And so women and other minorities will get their chance, not because it's the right thing to do but because it may be the best thing to do. Of course, capitalism doesn't exert the same positive force on the church. And yet, you could certainly argue that the church would do well to welcome with open arms anyone willing to answer a job description that reads: The applicant must be willing to work for nothing 24 hours a day, be willing to relocate to the roughest ghettos in the country, must believe in miracles and be willing to give up sex forever. Because the truth is, fewer and fewer American men are willing to enter the priesthood.

The decline in numbers has been well-documented. To keep women out simply because Jesus didn't choose any to be apostles is to fly in the face of logic and common sense.

Then again, maybe that's what religion is all about.