Give Romney a Break

Although the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates last for 90 minutes, the tendency of the media, both professional and social, is to single out a sound bite as if it is the only thing worth remembering. As if one sound bite, however clever, is a sufficient reason to vote for someone, or a misspoken comment sufficient reason not to. That would be true only if the sound bite actually had meaning, such as indicating a policy or unmasking a candidate’s true position.

In one sense the candidates, themselves, are to blame with their incessant need to seem cleverer than their opponents, waiting for that precise moment to spring a well-rehearsed “zinger”. Even worse, the candidates’ desire to pander to the voters leaves everyone hoping for a glaring error. In truth, no candidate has ever waffled as much or pandered as much as Mitt Romney. That reality is probably the source of so many of his misstatements. Still, that does not mean that each error should be turned into ridicule.

For example, in last Tuesday’s town hall debate, Romney dodged the question of equal pay for women, refusing to indicate whether or not he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Instead, he referenced his time as Governor of Massachusetts, and spoke of creating flexible hours for one female employee so that she could go home and fix dinner. In the aftermath, he has been skewered by pundits with the claim that he does not respect the equality of women; that he possesses a 1950’s mentality on the role of women in society.

That accusation is supported by the fact that there were no women in positions of authority at Bain Capital when Romney ran the company. The accusation is intensified in Romney’s implication that he did not know of any qualified women to work in Massachusetts’ government. Many commentators have suggested that Mitt Romney has a problem with women, but that is exactly where he deserves a break. It is not his fault.

Most people do not want to address the real issue. However, before I address it let me point out that I have written in the past that a person’s religion should not determine his or her fitness for office. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Like many religions, including the Christian Faith, Mormons have a checkered history when it comes to women.

Time for full disclosure: I am a Catholic and my own Church has not always had a stellar position on women. Women are denied priesthood in the Catholic Church—a position I disagree with and find theologically untenable. On the other hand, many women hold significant positions of authority in the Church. Throughout history women have been some of the Catholic Church’s finest theologians, mystics and missionaries.

The position of the Mormon Church, however, is “woman’s primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband.” That is more than just patriarchal. It is not quite as demeaning or obnoxious as the phrase “barefoot and pregnant,” but it is not far behind.

To be fair, women may also serve as missionaries in the Mormon Church. It is rare, and unlike the men, women are “not invited” to serve, but they are “welcome.” In the rare case of women missionaries, they are accepted only if they have no immediate marriage prospects. Even then it is expected that missionary work will make them better wives and mothers—their true mission in life.

The Mormon Church is driven by the belief that a woman’s place is in the home. So the real question for Mitt Romney is whether he truly respects the role of women in the work place or in government. Does he respect the opinion, decision and work of women legislators, or if he is merely pandering to win election. Now there’s a thought! But I digress.

Mitt Romney is understandably committed to and proud of his faith. As President Obama put it at the end of the debate: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a good man. He loves his family and cares for his faith.” Indeed. But the President’s esteem also misses the mark.

Romney appears to have that blind commitment to faith that does not permit him to question any tenets of his church, no matter how absurd or out of touch. That blind commitment that does not permit him to seek changes in church theology. That blind commitment that does not permit him to think for himself. That blind commitment that enables him to believe men are superior to women.

Mitt Romney does, indeed, have a problem with women, but it is not his fault.

Women Priests and Pope Benedict's visit to England

Much to the chagrin of certain Church officials, the question of the ordination of women is not going away. Indeed, at this point in our history the Vatican and other Church officials should realize that conversations and movements cannot be ended by fiat. As might be expected, this issue does not divide neatly along sexual lines, although it is interesting that the most stringent defenders of the Church's teaching are men--most of them clergy!

As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to visit England in September, the Catholic Women's Ordination Movement is preparing to put up posters calling on the Pope to "Ordain Women Now." In response, Fr. Stephen Wang, Dean of Studies at Allen Hall Seminary in Westminster, has responded to the campaign with an attempt to defend the Catholic Church's position. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has distributed Fr. Wang's statement, clearly making it their own. Wang's statement is a retread of Papal teaching that is made no more persuasive simply by its repetition. Both the historical, and, even more so, the theological arguments are deficient.

One of the core teachings of Christianity is that Jesus is fully God and fully human. At the same time Jesus is the individuated Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus is one person with two natures--what theologians refer to as the hypostatic union. No one can argue that in his humanity Jesus was born, lived and died as a male human being. It seems, though, that the Catholic Church's position on women's ordination plays a little loose with the divinity of Jesus and the fact that God transcends sexual identity.

The term "Christ" is most accurately applied to Jesus after his death and resurrection, for it was not until some time after his earthly existence that Jesus' followers came to recognize him as the savior. It took many years of a living faith and theological debate for the Christian Church to settle upon belief in the hypostatic union, as ultimately defined the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The argument advanced by Fr. Wang, that women cannot stand in the place of Jesus who was a man, may appear appealing at first. However, a priest does not so much stand in the place of the human Jesus, as he (or she?) stands in the place of the resurrected Christ. In theory, at least, the priesthood does not exist for its own sake or that of the individual priest. The Catholic Church has long referred to the priest as an "alter Christus", another Christ, not an "alter Jesus". Therein lies the crux of the ordination problem.

We believe that Jesus is both God and Man, and, although I despise the triteness and superficiality of the WWJD ("What would Jesus do?") campaign, we do look to the earthly ministry of Jesus for examples of how we, both men and women, should live with and respond to one another. On the other hand, it is not the earthly Jesus, but rather the risen Christ who lives among us. It is the risen Christ whom we receive in the Eucharist. And it is the risen Christ whom the priest represents in ministry.

St. Paul guides our understanding and helps to ground the argument in favor of women priests in his Letter to the Galatians. In chapter 3 he states definitively, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This term is applied to Jesus only after his resurrection, and it is this oneness in Christ Jesus that should be reflected in the priesthood.

The determining identity of the priest is not a sexual one. Women can, and do, represent Christ by virtue of their baptism. To deny them the opportunity to serve the Church as priests can only be seen as a form of bias and discrimination. In those churches that do ordain women, the people properly respond to them as representing the risen Christ among them. Although some may disagree with me, it sounds as if that persistent ringing in the background is the Holy Spirit calling women to the priesthood. Maybe it is time for the Catholic Church to answer!