Never have I written on a more difficult subject than the pope’s recent letter on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. As the product of an Irish-Catholic family, the church I share with John Paul II is my roots, my home, my tradition. In addition I have had the joy of being a member of the Franciscan order for more than 40 years. In the ceremony of admission to that religious institute, we pledge obedience to the rule of life set out by St. Francis himself, part of which prescribes obedience to the pope.
Over the several decades of my life as a priest, I have had occasion to glory in some wonderful expressions of Catholicism. For example, I was a direct beneficiary of the Latin American church’s conversion moment at Medellin, Colombia, in 1968. There our bishops spoke of the "institutionalized sin" that afflicted and oppressed the majority of our people, and they called the whole church to a preferential option for the poor.
Working for the most part as a pastor since my ordination, I have consistently endeavored to help people encounter the Lord Jesus in and through, despite and beyond, the necessary rules and regulations of our worldwide body. This has sometimes proven most difficult, but I believe I can say honestly that I have remained faithful to that ideal.
It is this pastoral preoccupation that makes the present moment in Catholicism so difficult. In the face of Pope John Paul’s letter forbidding women’s ordination in our church, we are left with pastoral concerns that seem overwhelming.