by Margaux Salcedo
When I was a child and my nun aunt, Sr. Vicky Reyes, would tease me that I should become a nun when I grow up, I would give a firm no but I always said that I would love to be a priest.
Ten years later, as segment producer for the talk show Firing Line hosted by the legendary journalist and once-upon-a-time Press Secretary Teddy Benigno back in 1998, we interviewed Cardinal Jaime Sin and as I sat across him at lunch after the interview, with enthusiasm (or was it bravado), I asked him, "Cardinal, how come women can't be priests?"
With signature wit, he replied, "How did the Lord tell the world that Jesus had risen? All he had to do was tell three women! Imagine if women were allowed to hear confession?" To which the entire table laughed.
I didn't pursue the question that afternoon although I tried - throughout the years - to find answers on my own.
Women in the Catholic Church
Pope Leo XIII's explanation in Rerum Novarum (No. 33) was baffling in its portrayal of women: "Women, again, are not suited to certain trades; for a woman is by nature fitting for home work, and it is that which is best adapted at once to preserve her modesty, and to promote the good bringing up of children and the well-being of the family."
Pope Paul VI, while a champion of evangelization in the "modern world" (Evangelii Nuntiandi), still closed the door to the idea of women as priests, citing tradition as his reason in Inter Insigniores.
Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis called it a 'perennial norm': " the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15)."
And then, almost sounding exasperated, in the same Apostolic Letter closed the issue: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."
This response to demands for equality was made in 1994, even after he had written extensively about the "dignity of a woman" in Mulieris Dignitatem in 1988.
A student of St Scholastica's College under then-President Sr Bellarmine Bernas - the St Scho that welcomed the widow Corazon Aquino back on campus to speak on democracy when she ran for president - I grew up in an environment and with a mentality that leadership is genderless. Women can be president. Women can run the country and run the world. Hence, papal infallibility notwithstanding, my Scholastican mind has been unable to reconcile the reasons given by the Holy Fathers.