Thank you for the excellent article ("A Church at the Crossroads," by Heidi Schlumpf, March 2005). I wanted to respond to the comment by Father Cozzens that while the ordination of married men into the priesthood may be entertained in the near future - surely a welcome development as far as it goes - the ordination of women is a "remote possibility" at best. This is precisely backward. I object to the doctrine of clerical celibacy on practical grounds: It has weakened the institution of the clergy by reducing the number of vocations, creating needless barriers of understanding between the clergy and the laity, and weakening the credibility of the churchs teachings on sexual morality. But the theological case for celibacy as part of the Catholic vocation, while debatable, is actually coherent, and the doctrine is not inherently unfair since it has applied to all clerical vocations.
The ban on ordination of women is a different matter. There has never been a theologically, spiritually, or historically valid case to be made for it. It is gender discrimination, plain and simple, based on nothing more than archaic societal conventions. Generations of devout women, including members of my own family, have served the church despite it, knowing in their hearts that their calling was to church leadership through the priesthood. They made the same commitment and sacrifices as their male brethren but were unfairly and arbitrarily barred from full participation in the Mass, the sacraments, and other dimensions of spiritual leadership.
The church owes it to itself to drop the doctrine of clerical celibacy. But it owes it to Catholic women through the centuries who were denied the full and rightful exercise of their vocations to drop the ban on ordination of women.