The Manila Times, March 15, 2013
A stupid question? Not at all. In fact, the question goes deep into the nature of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is a question that has even haunted, as it were, the nightmares of the Catholic Church. Thus the intriguing reports through the centuries – dismissed though merely as legend by church historians – of a female “Pope Joan” in the 11th century who disguised herself as a male, to be exposed, and killed, only when she gave birth in a pontifical procession. The legend’s fascination even in the modern era is evident in that two movies have been made on Pope Joan, first in 1972 (and then more recently, a European one in 2009.
The persistence of the legend through the centuries is also evidenced by the fact that she is depicted in the Tarot as “La Papessa” (the Popess) or, obviously in order not to hurt Catholic sensibilities, merely as the “High Priestess.”
It is the deep fear of a female Pope that explains the rumors that the last step in the confirmation of a new Pope – portrayed in the hit TV series The Borgias — is for the pope-elect to sit without his underwear in the sedes stercoraria, a chair with a huge hole in the seat, so a bishop by groping can confirm if he has balls, literally.
A trivia: Canon law doesn’t categorically say a woman can’t be Pope. The bar is in the requirement that a Pope must not only be a Catholic priest but also bishop. (In the lotto-level chance that the Conclave elects a layman, he must first be ordained as a priest and then consecrated as a bishop by the Dean of the College of Cardinals.)
A woman obviously can never be a pope, since Catholic doctrine allows only males to be priests. That ban on women as priests has been the elephant in the vast chamber of St. Peter’s Basilica and in all Catholic Churches
The prohibition is based on the view that women are inferior to the male of the species, and therefore cannot mediate between God and man. The notion is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis’ explanation that Eve was just a prime rib of sorts of Adam to St.. Paul’s declaration in Corinthians 11:”The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
Starting in the 1960s, fierce debates have broken out in the Church on the issue, with its hierarchy’s argument boiling down to the assertion – believe it or not — that Christ’s twelve apostles were men. If females could be leaders of the Church, they would have been represented in the magic 12, the argument goes.
Never mind that only females (Jesus mother, her sister also called Mary, and Mary Magdalene) proved tough when the going was rough (they didn’t abandon Jesus as he was dying on the cross), that the first sighting of the resurrected Jesus was by a female (Mary), or that it was the housewives of the Roman empire that were the first main recruits of the early Church.
At the end of the day, the Vicars of Christ have asserted that that the issue is beyond debate. Pope Paul John in his Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (article 4) in 1994 affirmed: I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” Pope Benedict XVI declared it an infallible teaching “to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.”
There are theories that claim that it has been in fact Christian doctrine, which copied the mores of a nomadic desert tribe more than two thousand years ago, that has through the centuries created a deep belief in humanity’s collective psyche that women are inferior to men. The Catholic Church leaders have merely embraced such a view.
Human reason though has evolved by leaps and bounds since the 19th century, not only in understanding nature but societies as well. We now know that Kings weren’t appointed by God, but that notion was a clever hoax to ensure that exploited peasants remain meek. We now know that the Black Plague was not a curse on Europe by God for the Crusades’ failure to capture the Holy Land. It was a pathogen brought most probably from China by rats’ fleas.
With the same scientific method, we now know that females’ subjugation to men throughout the centuries was due to a complex of factors. There is a biological explanation, as women are dependent on their male mates during the last trimester of their pregnancy and during the time they had to care for their babies. A bit ironically, this was due to the fact that the because of its size, the human infant’s brain – which would make his species the lord of the earth – won’t allow it to pass through the vaginal canal at full maturity. Nature’s solution was to have him born before that, requiring however more time for protecting and taking care of it by the mother than any other mammal. There is also the fact that, on the average, for complex reasons (including males’ need to compete with other males to disseminate his genes) women are smaller and physically weaker than men, and therefore in ancient societies, might is right.
Societies then merely built up their cultural infrastructure to reinforce these initial biological conditions, such as the limitation of women to domestic duties in the hunting-and-gathering stage of human societies.
There is also an explanation that men had an imperative to subjugate women as he could not be sure if he was the father of the children he thinks would in effect give him “immortality”, and for whom he devote his resources for. The only way to ensure that his children are his is to ensure the total physical and psychological subjugation of his mate.
These discoveries though, which expose that women’s supposed inferiority are relics of past didn’t just drop from the sky though, nor did women wake up one morning to whack their subjugators on the head.
It was World War II which created conditions for ending the world-view of women as inferior to men. Since it was the men who went off to war, women had to run the offices, the factories, the trains – the first time they were brought to run mainstream economic production. It didn’t take too much thinking to realize that what men could do, they could also do. Why the heck were the men ordering them around?
Next to democracy, the notion that all men are equal, feminism has been the most powerful idea that has changed human society since the last century. That men and women are equal has become an axiom of modern society, as much as slavery and caste systems have become antiquated, disgusting notions.
Most human institutions have been changed by the value of gender equality. Even the most powerful and largest human institutions – states – have evolved to allow women to be their heads. And this has occurred in different situations, from the most developed nations such as the United Kingdom (Thatcher) and Germany (Merkel) to the poor countries as Pakistan (Bhutto) and of course the Philippines.
However, the Catholic Church has remained impervious to these two liberating ideas and movements of humanity. Even the succession system in China (essentially determined by the 371 members and alternate members of its Communist Party’s central committee) is a bit more democratic than that which involves 115 leaders called cardinals choosing the chief executive of an institution with over a billion members.
Half of Catholics presumably would be women, and probably 70 percent of its passionate, crusading members are women. Yet they can’t be led a woman, not even in its tiniest churches?
These are indications not only of a human institution, but a flawed one that has resisted the march of civilization.