The Rev. Leo McIlrath: To Pope Francis: a few suggestions
Francis appears to be one who can help America and the world around us to realize that a full life is not limited to what we have been subjected to on the evening news, namely, violence, greed and the absurd spectacle being portrayed as “the Road to the White House.”
Whatever one’s religious persuasion, all should perceive in this holy and wholesome person a being in touch with the real world who lives the two-fold commandment: loving God and neighbor, including the environment for which each of us has a personal responsibility, in a warm, powerful and sensitive way.
Over the past two years, various churches have made provided questionnaires for their parishioners asking: “What would you like to tell Pope Francis, if given the opportunity?” And, of course, you can imagine some of the answers. So, allow me to offer two of my long-held opinions regarding my church — ideas that have been argued over by good people on all sides for centuries. During my 49 years since ordination, I have rallied for a more inclusive priesthood. So, my message to my brother Francis:
1.) The Roman Catholic Church needs to open up its doors, once again, in the Sacrament of Holy Orders (beyond Diaconate), to both married and non-married people. Mandatory celibacy is a man-made law that didn’t begin until the 12th century and Pope Francis and the Catholic bishops can change it when they so wish. There is no shortage of priests in the Catholic Church. Thousands would resume their ministry tomorrow, if given the chance. To stubbornly, or ignorantly, adhere to the belief that there is an essential affinity between priesthood and celibacy is to close one’s eyes to the Sacred Scriptures, the tradition of early Christianity and to the sacramental needs of the larger Church.
2.) You may notice that I referred to “people” above, not “men.” I would tell Francis that the arguments used by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church for the statements on candidates for priesthood — “Women need not apply!” — are extremely weak and unfounded in the Sacred Scriptures (including the fact that Jesus chose only men as Apostles). I would encourage all of the bishops to read and discuss Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s brilliant book, “She Who Is,” as well as a much older text, “The Ordination of Women: Pro and Con,” edited by Michael Hamilton and Nancy Montgomery. The latter text traces the history of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. Rome can follow the process of its younger sister faith-community and save itself unnecessary steps.
There are other ideas that I would happily bring to the table should I ever be invited to dine with Pope Francis on this side of the “Great Divide. ” Please join Francis, and the entire Church, in our united quest for true and lasting peace.
The Rev. Leo McIlrath is an ordained Catholic priest and a resident of Sandy Hook.