P O Box 91422
28 November 2014
Dear Archbishop Brislin
We read with concern the recent PASTORAL STATEMENT ON THE ATTEMPTED ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD, issued on 10 November and share with you some of the reasons for this concern. We write to you as a group of committed Catholic women who remain as faithful members of the Catholic Church, working for its ongoing conversion and reform, together with our own, from within its ranks, to meet the changing needs of the times. We send you our response, acknowledging the pastoral concern underlying the statement.
Most of us were active during the Apartheid years, where once we had recognized the oppressive system under which we lived, we prayed and discerned about how we could be instruments of change and transformation from within this society. We sometimes risked and endured imprisonment and interrogation, and often were harassed by the authorities of the time for the stand we made and the actions we took. Letters such as the recent pastoral statement, and the references it makes to certain unalterable/ intransigent statements, leave us feeling as we did in the days of Apartheid: that there are some laws and teachings of our church which cannot be upheld or remain unquestioned in the changed and changing social, spiritual and intellectual climate of the 21st century.
Some of our former students, who have brought up their daughters to be practising and law-abiding Catholics turn to us in despair as these same daughters find themselves unable to continue as members of a Church that takes such a fixed position on gender inequality in relation to ordained ministry. With them, we believe that open dialogue, even around conflictual issues, is the only way for truth to emerge, and consciences to continue to be formed. Your letter appears to forbid this. We believe that Jesus chose the way of open dialogue, with those with whom he was forbidden to dialogue according to his culture and religious tradition like the Samaritans, and with those with whom he disagreed, like the Pharisees. There is no way we can agree to distance ourselves from platforms where conversations are held with some of the very fine women who have submitted themselves to priestly ordination out of deeply held Gospel values and a profound sense of call, nor with those who support the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.
The recent changes in pastoral practice led by Pope Francis, and his restrained and open statements about persons and situations that have previously been outlawed by the Catholic Church have encouraged many within the Roman Catholic Church family, including ourselves. The language of the recent statement seems to lack some of this compassion, and indeed understanding of the situation of those who have chosen such a prophetic action within the church.
The pastoral letter urges all Catholics to ‘keep to what is taught and know to be true’ (2 Tim 3:12). While not denying the authority of the magisterium to direct believers in the truth, nonetheless, ‘the truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power’ (‘Dignitatis Humanae’ #1).
It is our earnest hope and prayer that you and your fellow bishops would be open to dialogue with us, and with others who like us, love, care and anguish for the Catholic Church in which we have spent our lives.
Judith Coyle IHM
Sheila Flynn OP
Marie Andre Mitchell SND
Brigid Rose Tiernan SND
Mary Tuck OP
Shelagh Mary Waspe HF
Ann Wigley OP
MEMBERS OF THE SISTERS FOR JUSTICE, JOHANNESBURG