And the Pope Francis love train rolls on. But it's attracting fewer customers.
After a few leaks about his intentions, the pope recently unveiled his plan for a 2-year study of allowing women to be ordained as deacons. Welcome news, right? Maybe this signals an opening toward female priesthood! Maybe toward a wholesale reformation of the Church's medieval approach to sexuality!
But not so fast, ladies and gents!
Francis's move, while it may seem like nod to progressives, is at most a bone thrown in their general direction. They'll chase it around with great enthusiasm, chew on it furiously, tails wagging and ears turned up, and then come back for another treat from our master. So, we liberals will live out the remaining years of his papacy, face at the window, waiting for him to come home and take us for walkies.
What is not being addressed is that the theological and mythological structures underpinning the males-only priesthood are still strong and intact. And you can be sure that The Boys in charge will keep in that way, pope or no pope. We men have been in the top spot for millennia -- you don't expect one nice-guy pope to undo our hard work, do you?
It's the myths about the priesthood that keep it in men's hands. And Francis buys into these myths as hardily as any other prelate. We know that Jesus picked twelve men to be his disciples. No matter that he was involved in some street theater -- making himself into the image of Patriarch Jacob/Israel with his twelve sons. Nope. The Church more or less ignores Jesus's actual intent (he was signalling a new Israel) to focus on the gender of those he chose. Even when their gender was the least important aspect of the message. We may as well have focused on the fact that they had dirty feet, or ate barley, or smelled bad, or had ear hair.
In Church theology, the priest acts in persona Christi -- in the person of Christ -- when he says Mass and consecrates the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. In a Church that regularly reads from Paul that "There is neither...male nor female, for you are all one in Christ," a female priesthood should have been a no-brainer from the start. But that's where the mythmaking comes in. It's clear from the historical record that priests were not part of the early Church. There were "The Twelve," praying together in Jerusalem, and acting symbolically as the earthly reminder of the new Israel, and there was everyone else, organizing themselves as seemed best for their time and place. In 1 Corinthians 28, Paul writes about the job types in his community: "And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues." Not a priest or bishop in sight. The house churches that Paul established didn't "have Mass," and so no one was needed to say it. There was a communal meal, some readings and some singing. Boom bada boom. Priests came later, admittedly as a (perhaps) necessary development. But then, it created a fiction that the priesthood went all the way back to Jesus. So we still get fed the myth that he established the priesthood at the Last Supper, nonsense that bishops and priests are still repeating today. Pair that origin story with Jesus's choice of males for that Twelve, and you get a flimsy yet persistent teaching that the male priesthood was Christ's intention all along.
After centuries of seeing a man behind the altar, the idea of a woman consecrating the elements seems strange at best and sacrilegious at worse. Many Mass-goers find it impossible to perceive Jesus Christ in the body and appearance of a woman. Seeing him in the bloated corpus of an elderly, flabby, beardless, white-skinned male, of course, is fine. But Christ with boobs, lipstick and a uterus is straight out.
Francis is pushing the envelope a bit by showing an interest in women deacons, but it's impossible to ignore that fact that such women existed in the early Church. They were the ones who baptized naked female candidates: it would have been unseemly to have the job done by a man. But thus far shall you go and no further.
But why would a woman want to be a deacon in this church anyway?
Becoming a deacon would require them to swear believe in all of the misogynistic nonsense that the Church already peddles: that contraception is evil, in spite of the witness of common sense and the lived experience of married Catholics; that all abortions are intrinsically evil, reducing women to the role of disposal husk since the fetus is all-important (check out the view of former Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio--who opposes abortion for women infected with the Zika virus--the classic expression of the Church view that it is woman's lot to put up with a lifetime of struggle and pain raising microcephalic kids; that homosexuality is gravely disordered; that there is something terribly wrong with transgender kids trying to express their internal orientation to a sexuality at odds with the external appearance.
Would having these inanities mouthed by a woman make them any less vile?
Let's remove the log of self-serving stupidity from our theology before addressing the splinter of the female diaconate. Then we can have a Church whose teaching no longer reeks of misogyny and ignorance, and is worthy of both women and men.