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Prophets with God in their side will win in the end

I FEEL humbled by the courage of Jennifer Sleeman in her attempt to break down the irrational barriers to the inclusion of women in the ministry of the Catholic Church other than in roles where they are subservient to men.

In years to come we will look back at the scandal of the disrespect for women implicit in the thinking of the church and give thanks to those lone voices who successfully opposed it.

It was lone prophetic voices like Ms Sleeman’s that triggered the abolition of legalised slavery and the gaining of the vote for women.

I watched the TV coverage of the beatification of Cardinal Newman and found much of what I saw deeply moving. However, there was one shot that panned across a sea of men overdressed in red and purple that sent a shiver down my spine. There was not a woman in sight. I thought to myself: “Can this possibly be the will of God?” Jesus Christ was the most inclusive person who ever walked this earth. In the end, it was women who stood by him; the men ran away. It was women who were the first to bring to the world the Easter message.

The history of the church has always been a tension between priests who sustain the status quo and the prophets who seek to move us on. We ignore, at our peril, the voices of those who tell us that we may have got it wrong.

The greatest evil in our time has been dogmatic certainty and the suppression of dissenting voices. It has led to the unspeakable atrocities of Nazi Germany, the barbarity of Stalin’s regime, the killing fields of Cambodia and, more recently, the invasion of Iraq. The opportunity for renewal offered by Vatican II has been steadily whittled away. The moving simplicity of the Sermon on the Mount has been replaced by a church hellbent on inculcating orthodoxy and resignation. One sometimes feels led by systems of power and not by systems of justice and fairness. Our society is founded on the principle of equality which suggests there should be no discrimination between people unless there are relevant reasons for doing so. The presumption is in favour of the ordination of women. The onus of proof rests with those who are against it.

Philip O’Neill

Edith Road

Oxford OX1 4QB



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