Should the Church have women cardinals?

Should the Church have women cardinals?

As we speak about power in the Church, we must ask: is this not simply a form of clericalism, a phenomenon much decried by Pope Francis?

As this summer of scandal in the Catholic Church has unfolded, many have offered suggestions for how to address the deeper issues lying at the heart of the corruption within Church leadership. We’ve seen calls to end the “imperial episcopate,” make clerical celibacy optional, even for a mass resignation of the US episcopate and bringing back something akin to lay trusteeism. (That may be a tendentious reading of the proposal here.)

And, of course, some are once again calling for the ordination of women to the priesthood, which the last three popes have all affirmed is impossible. This has not stopped some from continuing to argue that bringing women into Sacred Orders is a necessary step to combat abuse and corruption in the Church.

Fr. James Keenan, SJ, a moral theologian at Boston College, has offered his own suggestion, a seeming middle way: to change canon law and Church practice and add women to the College of Cardinals.

Putting things bluntly, Fr. Keenan states, “I believe that until women have power in the church, we will not be reformed. By power, I don’t think making women deacons is much of a step; I think making them cardinals is.” (Nota bene: Pope Francis does not thinking that making women deacons is a solution, either, as he expressed his anger over the way his commissioning of a body to examine the role of ancient deaconesses was misconstrued to be preparation to ordain women into the Order of Deacons, which is not at all the same thing.) Fr. Keenan takes the suggestion of Cardinal Arborelius of Sweden to have an official “College of Women” as consultors to the pope and brings it one step further: simply admit women to the Sacred College itself. (He rejects the cardinal’s suggestion as akin to racial segregation, “separate but equal.”)

Whereas the current Code of Canon Law requires cardinals to be clerics, it was not uncommon in previous periods in Church history for laymen to be created cardinals, as Fr. Keenan notes. The Renaissance period was dotted with “cardinal-princes” who advised and elected popes. And Fr. Keenan reports rumors that both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI offered to make St. Teresa of Calcutta a cardinal, “but she didn’t want it” (apparently trying to add “conservative” bona fides to the idea).

We’re even given a list of women theologians to choose from:

Think of M. Shawn Copeland, Lisa Sowle Cahill, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, Cathleen Kaveny, María Pilar Aquino, Dominican Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, Susan Wood, Phyllis Zagano, C. Vanessa White, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale. From around the world, think of Linda Hogan, Agnes Brazal, Philomena Maura, Maria Clara Bingemer, Marianne Heimbach Steins, Virginia Saldanha, Ivone Gebara, Benedictine Sr. Teresa Forcades, Holy Child Jesus Sr. Teresa Okure, and hundreds of others.

His assertion that naming women as cardinals is both “theologically and theoretically possible”—quoting the former Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi—is certainly correct. However, the key question is not whether it is possible, but whether it would be beneficial. What advantages and disadvantages would there be to naming women as cardinals?

As Fr. Keenan and others having argued, having women cardinals would send a strong signal of women’s “empowerment” within the Church. Women might more easily be placed at the head of Vatican congregations. Women would be involved in electing popes. Women would be given a place of real power in a Church often seen as patriarchal in the most negative sense.

But look at the list provided. Why do those who suggest this route always have the same sort of people in mind as “ideal” female cardinals: progressive social justice activists and suspect theologians? Many on Fr. Keenan’s list have publicly dissented from Church teaching, and a few have even been investigated or censured by the doctrinal watchdogs of the USCCB and the Vatican (several instances of which are noted here).

You’ll notice, too, that Fr. Keenan slips in a passing reference to “workin[ing] to see women… ordained as deacons,” which the weight of theological opinion agrees is an impossibility just as much as women priests, because the Sacrament of Holy Orders, though it consists of distinct orders, is one sacrament, meaning that the requirements for validity for one order are the same for all the others. It’s not unreasonable to see this call for women cardinals as thin edge of the wedge, looking to pry loose the nails that have heretofore closed off that possibility.

The subtle hint is always there, though seldom stated outright: if women were in more positions of power in the Church, they would be able to effect changes in Church teaching that many women (they say) would like to see, from female ordination to declaring contraception, abortion, and a range of other acts as morally licit. For these advocates, the purpose of this power is not to reform, but to transform.

As we speak about power, we must ask: is this not simply a form of clericalism, a phenomenon much decried by Pope Francis? Has not the Holy Father spoken repeatedly against attempts to try to “clericalize the laity” thus denigrating the inherent dignity of all Christians? Notice how Fr. Keenan frames the issue in his opening sentence: “I don’t see enough constructive models of empowerment.” This is a common stance among advocates of women’s ordination and women cardinals: to speak about power rather than service, about decisions rather than ministry, about representation rather than the Gospel.

At a time when the divisions within the Church are becoming more visible, would such a move help to heal them, or only exacerbate them? Would we begin to talk of constituencies needing to be represented? Why have only theologians—why not businessmen or “thought leaders,” and so forth? Should “cardinal-princes” be revived in the form of creating political leaders as cardinals, representatives of their nations’ interests? Who would like to see Tony Cardinal Blair? Though I must admit, the prospect of Jacob Cardinal Rees-Mogg is intriguing—but that only proves my point! Isn’t there enough of the Corinthian error right now—with “I belong to Paul” and “I belong to Apollos” becoming “I belong to Burke” and “I belong to Marx” (with all the delicious irony that latter provides)—must we multiply it?

What gives the game away in Fr. Keenan’s article is that, though he prefaces his case for women cardinals by speaking of the current scandals and the need for reform in the Church, he never actually states how bringing women into the Sacred College will alleviate the particular problems the Church faces. This creates the sense that Fr. Keenan and others advocating for such changes are merely taking advantage of the situation to push an idea they held otherwise—or in the words of current political argot, to “never let a crisis go to waste.” This is hardly the time for such things.

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3 comments on “Should the Church have women cardinals?

  1. Re: Jesuit Fr. Keenan’s suggestions for female cardinals:

    Think of M. Shawn Copeland, Lisa Sowle Cahill, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, Cathleen Kaveny, María Pilar Aquino, Dominican Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, Susan Wood, Phyllis Zagano, C. Vanessa White, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale. From around the world, think of Linda Hogan, Agnes Brazal, Philomena Maura, Maria Clara Bingemer, Marianne Heimbach Steins, Virginia Saldanha, Ivone Gebara, Benedictine Sr. Teresa Forcades, Holy Child Jesus Sr. Teresa Okure …

    Popcorn Moment! James Keenan, SJ, and his 8 women cardinals!

    Posted on 8 September 2018 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

    At Fishwrap [Fr. Z’s name for the National un-Catholic Reporter], which is ever devolving into the delusions they have fomented over the years, you can read about the devious Jesuit promoter of sodomy – I know, I know – James Keenan. [George] Weigel’s notes on Keenan’s antics are helpful.

    Keenan penned a patently sycophantic piece about making women cardinals. He provides eight candidates!

    After you stop laughing, take a look at his list. It’s a hoot. You’ll laugh until you stop!

    Included among The Keenan 8™ are the likes – I promise I am not making this up – of the heretical Srs. Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley.

    Margaret, whose work was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is a promoter of masturbation and same-sex activity. In her censured book, she wrote: “My own view, as should be clear by now, is that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities.” Yep. Let’s make her a Cardinal.

    Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale is a colleague of Keenan at Jesuit BC, so that’s not at all self-serving. She is a great admirer of the late ex-priest homosexual Gregory Baum (so venerated by certain of Team Francis).

    Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert is one of the 16 signers of the ultra-feminist Mandeleva Statement calling for an end to patriarchalism in the Church and acceptance of homosexuality. I’m sensing a theme.

    Sr. Theresa Forcades, a darling of the wymyn who want ordination and, it seems, carnal knowledge of other women, is feted at the site of the Conference for the … no no… WOC: Women’s Ordination Conference for her “queer theology”. She is against capitalism and, in an interview, said: “I do call my church structurally misogynist. It’s not just a couple of priests here and there or a particular bunch of cardinals. The whole structure needs to be undone. Fully. Because it’s based on clericalism, and clericalism is based on ordination, and only males can be ordained and access the places where decisions are made. I find this completely sinful.” Yeah… she should be one of Keenan’s cardinals, too.

    And there is, of course, our old pal and promoter of women’s ordination Phyllis Zagano!

    No, really.

    That’s enough for now. You can do your own digging. What do you want to bet a certain theme keeps coming up in their work.

    Now that I think about it…

    A dominating criterion for Keenan’s list seems to be along the lines of ex-Card. McCarrick’s proclivities. Is that the Jesuit standard for making someone a cardinal?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    At his octogenarian level, perhaps Keenan could be forgiven for some of his crazy notions. After all! But, then again, I know some really sharp nonagenarians.

    No. I think he really means it.

    Notions, by the way, are what these heterodox Jesuits and Fishwrappers generally proffer.

    Notions are found in sewing baskets, not in serious discourse.

    Amusing as this all is, I find it deeply tacky to issue it on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.

    • [More on Fr. Keenan’s “Cardinal-designate” Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale]

      B.C. to B.C. (for “before coming to Boston College”), Sister Hinsdale was a tenured Ass. Prof. of Reliigous Studies and chairwoman of that department at the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, MA. She was given a paid sabbatical leave, which she took at Boston College, which made her an offer to teach there. During the summer before her planned return for the start of the new academic year at Holy Cross, she accepted the B.C. offer and suddenly quit H.C., leaving the College to hustle to get a new religious study prof and a new department head. Because a paid sabbatical is granted on the condition that the prof will return to teach for a number of years after it, she had to return the payment for her year off (no great financial burden despite her vow of poverty as a religious, because her new salary at B.C. was almost twice that at H.C.). Also, a resigning prof is supposed to give one year’s notice before quitting, which would not look well on her resume in view of any future move. B.C. to H.C. (for “Before coming to Holy Cross”), she taught theology at St. John’s Provincial Seminary for the Archdiocese of Detroit, where she advocated women’s ordination to the priesthood (and still does at B.C. but has not yet undergone such). The Seminary closed for lack of enrollment through loss of seminarians and not enough new ones.

  2. Pope Francis warns of ‘Sharknado’ effect danger from Hurricane Florence due to climate change
    Holly Beth McQuackly
    National Catholic Contorter
    September 13, 2018



    ROME, ITALY – After meeting with a panel of environmental consultants and climatologists in the Vatican, Pope Francis warned of the imminent danger of a Sharknado effect from Hurricane Florence along the east coast of the United States. The Holy Father had been advised during the meeting that the hurricane threatening the Atlantic seaboard is so strong that the cyclone is drawing up sharks into the air which will be raining down on various towns, villages and suburbs in the Carolinas to Washington, DC as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The pope said that this is “clearly an effect of climate change” and that Catholic laity should “limit their use of air conditioning and bottled water” to try to counteract the torrential downfall of “Hammerheads, Makos, Tiger Sharks, and Great Whites” certain to strike Nags Head, North Carolina, with devastating force before the weekend.



    “When the Sharknado cyclone hits, know that this is a sign of climate change that must not be met with silence,” the Holy Father continued. A team of Vatican climatologists has been sent to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, to observe the strength and force of the Sharknado and to collect trash and debris along the shore.



    “Let us not be distracted by gossip and rumors of neo-Pelagian triumphalists and those suffering from excessive rigidity during this environmental crisis,” the Holy Father told journalists and reporters at his press conference. “We must all join in together to face the dangers of climate change and global warming. But when you do see sharks falling from the sky,” the Holy Father said, “do not react with xenophobia and hatred. Open the doors to your homes with mercy since we must always extend welcome to the stranger and migrants.”


    Downpours of falling sharks to rock Atlantic coast from hurricane’s Sharknado effect

    Father Paulo Giovanni Fettucine, S.J., a professor of moral theology and climatology in the New Evangelization at the Gregorian University in Rome, and the pope’s chief environmental consultant, said that in addition to the rainfall of Hammerheads, Makos, Tiger Sharks, and Great Whites pummeling the Carolina coast that downpours of plastic bottles, Budweiser cans, and Yosemite Sams had been sighted which also threaten the fragile ecological balance of nature. This story will be updated from the Vatican as reports come in.

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