The Tablet www.thetablet.co.uk has had a series of articles in recent weeks under this title, in which a wide range of people have written about what they would say to the Pope in a short one-on-one meeting. Here we reproduce, with the editor’s permission, two of them.
‘I would like to wash your feet, but not before I have stood up first’
In her imaginary private audience with Pope Benedict, Lucy Winkett, a senior Anglican priest, tackles the subject of the ordination of women in the Church of England head on.
I am aware that you believe my ordination is a serious barrier between us, but I hope we could discuss what unites us in wanting to live an apostolic life. I want to learn from you what you would say are the characteristics and hallmarks of that life. For myself, it’s Christ’s actions at the Last Supper – and if I could, I would love to discuss this with you.
How do you interpret the tradition that Jesus took the bread first eaten by slaves on the run in the Passover story and identified himself so closely with them that he became this bread? The cup is the cup of suffering that he asked to be passed from him, the cup that he offered to James and John when they vied for seats of honour in heaven. One of the aspects that moves me about that evening was that Jesus knelt and washed his disciples’ feet, but not before his own feet had been washed and anointed by the woman from the city. When Christ stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read from Isaiah, he was echoing the song of Mary in her Magnificat and, as such, he showed himself to be highly responsive to the example and ministry of women. He was not only his Father’s son, he was his mother’s son too. In this spirit, I would like to find a way to wash your feet, but not before I have stood up first.
Women’s apostolic path is, in this way, different from men’s. Women have to find a way to live a redeemed humility, not a humility based on the nature of a victim or a doormat. Social expectations, particularly within the family, mean that women’s default mode of relating is of self-sacrifice. This is a noble way to live but only if it is chosen, not enforced.
Women’s path to salvation is one that involves standing before we kneel, learning to accept ourselves and delight, as does Holy Wisdom, in the nature of human beings, before choosing to serve others as a sacrifice freely given.
I am not going to try to tell you what it’s actually like to be a woman and a priest, or about the nature of the calling I believe with all my heart I am following, unless you want to know. These personal experiences are vital but they pale before the fundamental truth that God in Christ is taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of a suffering world. Women, half of humanity, take their place alongside men in being a sign and symbol of the risen Christ at the altar when we celebrate the Eucharist. When I celebrate the Eucharist, I am not taking part in a re-enactment of an action by Jesus of Nazareth. I am being caught up in the eschatological foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
The ontological difference in gender between me and Jesus of Nazareth, just as fundamental as the differences ethnically between Gentile men and Jesus the Jew, are not material. It is our common humanity, not our gender differences, that define and dignify our attempts to live such an apostolic life.
I regret deeply that we are not united, but the truth is that, with or without your permission, as a woman and a fellow human being, I walk respectfully with you as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a priest in God’s universal Church.
‘Churchmen aren’t at all happy to see gay couples happy’
If you had a one-to-one meeting with the Pope, what would you talk to him about? In the third of our series, the church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch tackles His Holiness on homosexuality and Catholicism.
Given my five minutes with Pope Benedict, I would ask him if he’s ever spent any time with a gay couple. I don’t mean the large number of silently gay Catholic clergy under vows of celibacy, who are not unknown even in the corridors of the Vatican; I mean two people who have met socially, spent time getting to know each other, found that it’s a lot of fun being with the other person, had rows, made up, gone to parties, done the shopping, been polite to each other’s dull relatives, had a good laugh with the unexpectedly entertaining eccentric aunt, and at the end of a day of pleasant trivia, have turned off their bedside lights side by side? And have perhaps done that over months, years, decades, initially despite the huge amount of social pressure to split up and fade into the background of other people’s social and moral expectations.
Has His Holiness sat down with them over a coffee or a beer and discovered how intrinsically ordinary they are? Because if he hasn’t, I don’t think he’s got much business calling them intrinsically disordered.
I think what might disconcert him about such an experience would be that such couples don’t have any problems, at least problems no different from those of other couples, or of human beings generally. The Church rather likes claiming a pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay people, because it sees them as having a basic problem that needs pastoral care. And the Church has been very good at setting up problems for gay people which it can then solve. It has demanded that they feel guilty if they ever enact their feelings for another person of the same sex in a physical way – then it can deal with the guilt. Churchmen really aren’t at all happy to see gay couples happy; it breaks all the rules and of course encourages others to do the same things. Who knows where it will all end? Gay teenagers cheerful, contented and fulfilled? Or at least making the same stupid mistakes as any other teenagers?
But perhaps the Pope will surprise us all on his visit. He is, after all, planning to beatify Cardinal Newman, a distinguished theologian who patently found a way within the conventions of his time of having a deep, committed relationship with another man, Ambrose St John. It was the primary relationship in both their lives and that was expressed by their single grave in death. Because they were both priests committed to clerical celibacy, I don’t suppose that they did much that was physical to express their relationship, and I don’t think that I would greatly care even if there were proof that they did. It really isn’t that important. The relationship matters. For those who aren’t nineteenth-century celibates, there are different means of celebrating such a relationship, and I can’t imagine that the God of love is too worried about the details of what they are.