watershed moment for feminists in the Catholic Church

This week, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith invited believers to come to the waters of baptism… but to reject the baptisms of WATER:

VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) — Made public today were the responses of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to two questions concerning the validity of Baptism conferred with certain non-standard formulae.

The first question is: “Is a Baptism valid if conferred with the words ‘I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier’, or ‘I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer'”?

The second question is: “Must people baptised with those formulae be baptised ‘in forma absoluta’?”

The responses are: “To the first question, negative; to the second question, affirmative”.

Benedict XVI, during his recent audience with Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved these responses, which were adopted at the ordinary session of the congregation, and ordered their publication. The text of the responses bears the signatures of Cardinal Levada and of Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., secretary of the dicastery.

An attached note explains that the responses “concern the validity of Baptism conferred with two English-language formulae within the ambit of the Catholic Church. … Clearly, the question does not concern English but the formula itself, which could also be expressed in another language”.

“Baptism conferred in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, the note continues, “obeys Jesus’ command as it appears at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew. … The baptismal formula must be an adequate expression of Trinitarian faith, approximate formulae are unacceptable.

“Variations to the baptismal formula – using non-biblical designations of the Divine Persons – as considered in this reply, arise from so-called feminist theology”, being an attempt “to avoid using the words Father and Son which are held to be chauvinistic, substituting them with other names. Such variants, however, undermine faith in the Trinity”.

“The response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith constitutes an authentic doctrinal declaration, which has wide-ranging canonical and pastoral effects. Indeed, the reply implicitly affirms that people who have been baptised, or who will in the future be baptised, with the formulae in question have, in reality, not been baptised. Hence, they must them be treated for all canonical and pastoral purposes with the same juridical criteria as people whom the Code of Canon Law places in the general category of ‘non- baptised'”.
(source: VIS)

The beauty of this response is that it underlines the truth that persons can not be reduced to functional realities, and highlights the priority of being over doing.

For instance, the word “wife” bears a much richer, more personal meaning than “intimacy provider” or “baby maker.”

The deepest essence of personhood is to be in relation.

What will this response mean, in practical terms, for the Church? Here are a few of my predictions:

  • a higher-than-average volume of smack-talk about Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal William Levada, and the CDF at events like this weekend’s Religious Education Congress
  • lots of infuriated press releases by liberal organizations (many templates available here)
  • a renewed interest in An Examination of the Problems of Inclusive Language in the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism by Fr. Thomas Scirghi
  • an ever-clearer dividing point in the Catholic Church in America between those who hold fast to the apostolic teaching and those who do not
  • If books like Donna Steichen’s Ungodly Rage are any indication, there will be quite a few places where parishes will need to dust off the baptismal fonts to accommodate those who thought they had received the sacrament of baptism, but did not. Writes Steichen:

    Where I was best able to observe, in the heavily German-Catholic diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, feminist influence has seemed to emanate primarily from three sources: the College of St. Benedict (C.S.B.) and the Benedictine motherhouse at St. Joseph; Christ Church, a Newman Center parish at St. Cloud State University; and the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis in Little Falls. Their broadly diffuse subversive efforts began in the 1960s.

As the 1980s opened, reluctant but obedient older nuns were spending “recreation” hours deleting “non-inclusive language” from lectionaries. Soon, nun lectors everywhere were making awkward impromptu revisions or deletions as they read. Matthew Fox enjoyed soaring popularity; employees at the Catholic bookstore reported, “Fox is our best seller among nuns.” The diocesan liturgy commission, directed by Sister Delores Dufner, O.S.B., pressed for liturgical dance, inclusive language and other feminist innovations, except when expressly forbidden by the bishop. First in the three centers, then in avant-garde parishes, the Sign of the Cross was replaced by the invocation “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier,” sometimes even in the rite of Baptism.

It’s interesting how the Catholic News Service missed the fact that the response was really an evaluation of certain strands of feminist theology. The CNS story simply puts it this way:

The Vatican’s statement was released “because of the abuse (by priests and Protestant ministers at baptisms) and the questions that have come from it,” said Father Weinandy.

The Vatican “wants to make sure the formula is the proper formula,” he told Catholic News Service Feb. 29.

Instances in which a baptism has been considered invalid have been “very, very, very few and far between,” he said.

Yeah, that’s interesting when the note from the Vatican Information Service had specified that the variations in formula arose from feminist theology and that the response “has wide-ranging canonical and pastoral effects.”

The Curt Jester puts it well:

…Progressives keep finding new ways for people to not actually receive the sacraments. For example women priests, Communal confession without individual confession, and invalid baptismal formulas. And when they are not finding ways for people to not actually receive the sacraments they make excuses for how people can receive them unworthily.

For more background on this response, read this post over at The American Papist’s website.

2 thoughts on “watershed moment for feminists in the Catholic Church

  1. Clayton,Thank you for keeping us posted on the news of the Church. The topic of feminist theology has been in many discussions lately among Catholic parish circles. The anger and hostility that I’ve encountered before my ordination to the priesthood tells me that there are many women who have a woundedness that has never been addressed. The subject of feminist theology would really be a non-issue if most of these women actually felt as though they had been heard earlier in their lives. Unfortunately, most of the people pushing for women’s ordinations and a language that goes way beyond “inclusive language” are not looking to be one Church but rather, their own sense of justice. I beleive that very few of these women who are pushing for feminist theological ideals have really understood the theology behind Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride. They have not understood the significance of the identity of the Bridegroom at the altar or who the “Woman clothed with the Sun” is for us. If I tried to explain this to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, they probably would want to string me up and use me as a pinata. Pax Tecum,So Cal Padre

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