The Pope and I

Back about twenty years ago, while I was doing my exercises before work and listening to NPR, I heard a report about a breakdown in communication between the pope and the archbishhop who was head of the Anglican church. It seems that these two eminences were planning a get-together to discuss the issue of women and the priesthood, when the pope cancelled the meeting. The pope then announced that it was against God’s will for women to be priests. Period. That Jesus Christ had been male, the apostles had been male, the apostolic succession had been from male to male down the centuries to him and that he was not going to be the one to break with tradition and allow a woman into the priesthood (giving her, I guess, a shot at the papacy, should she make it up through the Catholic hierarchy).

And this story really got to me. Clearly, the topic of women in the priesthood was not a superficial issue to this man — it had everything to do with his fundamental understanding of the nature of Christianity and the Christian God. He believed as sincerely and as deeply as anyone can believe in the maleness of God, and he believed that it was absolutely essential to be male in order to be a priest of the church and to carry out the sacred duties of the church. So dedicate to the supremacy of maleness is Catholicism.

Although I was not a Catholic, I was a Christian. And I had reconciled the ways of God to woman by telling myself that God had no gender. But, after giving the matter some consideration, I decided the pope was absolutely correct. Regardless of what I might want to believe, there is just no getting around it, the Christian God is male — whether Father or Son — and for that reason maleness is sacred in the Christian church, no matter what the brand. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that any representative of that God had to be male also.

Consequently, that morning, I realized I could no longer be a Christian, because a male God could not possibly represent “the absolute” or absolute truth — and was not worthy of being believed in. If the Christian God could not represent me, if Christianity could not value me, then I could no longer value it. So the Pope played a decisive role in turning me away from Christianity. He helped crystallize my thinking on a very important issue and for that I am deeply grateful.

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