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Women's Ordination? Don't Mention It

 |  NCR Today

Who says the ecumenical movement is dead?

The Mormons have signaled an important breakthrough by tossing Kate Kelly out of the church and thereby showing their solidarity with the Vatican. The Catholic church has punished people like Roy Bourgeois for the same thing.

Yes, they have bonded over their shared abhorrence of speaking in favor of ordaining women.

Paul VI with the help of the CDF had done his best to settle the issue in the midst of feminist ferment by slamming the door on women's ordination in 1976. But Catholics wouldn't shut up, so John Paul II  felt no alternative but to outlaw any discussion of the subject ever again in 1994 -- on penalty of, well, shunning. The Mormon brass, nagged by similar complaints despite their best efforts to make their rejection of women priests perfectly clear, must have been listening to their brethren in Rome. So Kate Kelly, founder of a group audaciously called Ordain, was booted out on the same assumption that there is absolutely no need to fuss over what the elders have decided once and for all.

The urge to demand that those who don't agree  "just can't talk about it" is as instinctive as it is universal. It follows us from childhood when mom and dad insisted we clam up when we continued nagging after they'd declared that we "would" be going to visit Aunt Flossie  and Uncle Preston no matter how much we griped. Teachers used it to put an end to moaning over homework assignments. Friends tried to impose it on friends who refused to accept an unwelcome rating of a lover. And so on.  There are times when we can't or won't take it any more and we try to shut it down.

Other than its possible usefulness in such pragmatic circumstances, the imperial attempt to force a gag order on a vital debate is as foolish as it is wrong. It assumes a medieval power structure that can control discussion and no doubt could to a significant degree. But we generally agree that liberal democracy with its provision for ongoing wrangling is much preferable even when we prevent it from happening. Mormons and Catholics, most visibly perhaps, still believe they operate in a world of fiat and unilateral authority. It's as if the U.S. courts had tried to enforce silence during its long backing legalized segregation (prior to Brown vs Education in 1954) by threatening imprisonment against those who continued fighting to end racial bigotry. The point isn't to suggest that the old always must give way to the new but that attacking open discussion is futile and inhumane.

But in this case it may open the way for an emotional summit meeting between the two sets of deciders who have heard more than enough and are willing to violate church integrity to muzzle the dissenters. 

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