I'm convinced future generations will watch dramas about "the ordination of women" and "homosexuality" in the church and scratch their heads in a mixture of confusion and fascination, much the way I am entertained watching the British 'Masterpiece Classic' Theater's production of Downton Abbey.
Pastor’s wife sends body double to sit pleasantly on front pew". Here are a few snips:
GRAND FORKS, Mich. — Unbeknownst to her husband or congregation, Trudy Smith has been avoiding church for two years, sending a look-alike in her place.The other two emails were about the NY Times article "For Priests' Wives, a Word of Caution," which pondered the role of the wives of priests who have joined the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, a special division of the Roman Catholic Church that former Episcopal congregations and priests — including, notably, married priests — can enter together en masse.
The impostor played the role successfully, greeting people, hugging her husband, listening to the sermon, taking copious notes. But she was found out when (the pastor) invited her up one Sunday for a spontaneous reprisal of an old hymn they sang early in their ministry.
“I knew the kids’ names, anniversaries and birthdays, but I didn’t know that song,” said the fake Trudy, who asked not to be identified. She made roughly $10,000 over two years.
“Worth every penny,” says the real Trudy, who’s back on the front pew. “You know, mannequins are getting more realistic …” •
The Vatican has stressed that the allowance for married priests is merely an exception (like similar dispensations made in the past by the Vatican) and by no means a permanent condition of the priesthood. If a priest is single when he enters the ordinariate, he may not marry, nor may a married priest, in the event of his wife’s death, remarry.She then goes on to give us a history of the evolution of celibate, unmarried clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, and how it came to be that "decisive legislation mandating priestly celibacy" was not enacted until the reform movement of the 11th century.
During the....umm....assimilation...of married clergy, their wives were (Surprise!) treated horribly. Ritchey reports that
"The priest’s wife was an obvious danger. Her wanton desire, suggested the 11th-century monk Peter Damian, threatened the efficacy of consecration. He chastised priests’ wives as “furious vipers who out of ardor of impatient lust decapitate Christ, the head of clerics,” with their lovers. According to the historian Dyan Elliott, priests’ wives were perceived as raping the altar, a perpetration not only of the priest but also of the whole Christian community."And .....
"Furthermore, the priest’s wife was often accused, along with her children, of draining the church’s resources with her extravagance and frivolity. Pope Leo IX attempted to remedy this problem in the 11th century by decreeing that the wives and children of priests must serve in his residence at the Lateran Palace in Rome."Oh, but wait! There's more! Ritchey saves the best salvo for last:
Until then, priests’ wives should beware a religious tradition that views them, in the words of Damian, as “the clerics’ charmers, devil’s choice tidbits, expellers from paradise, virus of minds, sword of soul, wolfbane to drinkers, poison to companions, material of sinning, occasion of death ... the female chambers of the ancient enemy, of hoopoes, of screech owls, of night owls, of she-wolves, of blood suckers.”You know, I have to say that I much prefer bigots who are simply bold and obvious in their bigotry. They're ever so much more entertaining and much easier to deal with than the subtle forms of institutionalized sexism with which we have to manage today.
"Sacerdotal attaché"? Oh, dear. Ms. Ritchey may know her medieval European history, but she clearly doesn't know too many wives of Episcopal clergy.
Oh, to be sure, there are 'good wives' in the ranks of the wives of the ordained in The Episcopal Church. Indeed, there are 'good women clergy', too, who play the game according to The Boy's Rules.
There are lots of variations of both and I am sometimes hard-pressed to know which is the greater portion of wisdom and efficacy - the woman (ordained or spouse of the ordained) who commits her life to authenticity to one degree or another, or the one who lives in some manner with the understanding that her husband is 'head of the household' and does her best to be her best - for herself, her family and the church.
In thinking about it, I have been able to identify at least six different incarnations of 'The Priest's Wife'. They are, in a way, of course, stereotypes; but the thing about stereotypes is that there is always at least a grain of truth to them.
Admittedly, there's lots of 'cross pollination' amidst the six categories. And, I'm being completely heterosexist in my perspective. Those of you who are LGBT clergy or the spouse/partner of LGBT clergy will have to do your own translations - until the next installment on that particular issue.
I also hasten to add that I'm not trying to fit people into boxes. Rather, I'm trying to describe the ecclesiastical landscape as I've observed it over the years.
I know the risks involved in trying to describe what I see. I'm fully prepared to pick up lots of flack for this piece. So be it. I think it makes the point about the 'issue' I'm guessing Rome hasn't considered in this whole 'Ordinariate' scheme.
See if you recognize any one of these "Priest's Wives".
I vote this woman 'most likely to succeed' in the Ordinariate. She attends everything, sits up front, takes notes on her husband’s sermon, and believes she lives in a glass house and so she acts like it. She 'minds her tongue' in public, and dresses modestly and impeccably. Everyone knows the sound of her proper Episcopal pumps on the center aisle as she makes her way to 'her pew' - which no one would ever dare sit in, except the occasional, unsuspecting visitor who is quickly whisked away by the ushers who know the exact time she will make her appearance in church. The congregation speaks well of her but not necessarily warmly or fondly - sort of the same way in which they speak of the rector's sermons (which, in a way, she is painfully aware that she is).
2. The Helper Wife
This woman will also fare well in her new role in the Roman Catholic Church. She sees her 'calling' as helping her husband be a priest - which does not mean that she teaches Sunday School or is involved much in 'traditional' church activities. She is often her husband's at-home secretary, confident, coach, and advisor but she does this without pay. Make no mistake (and, members of the congregation do so at their own peril), she is her husband's eyes and ears in the church, informing him about conversations she 'just happens' to overhear in the kitchen or lady's room or garden or parking lot or from an open window in the rectory. She is pleasant and may even provide sparkling entertainment at the rectory, but she relates mostly to her husband's ministry, rather than the church's ministry.
That's it. That's all she is. Well, at least in the eyes of the institutional church. She's a member of the congregation who may or may not sing in the choir or serve an occasional 'season' as a Sunday school teacher. She may or may not bring a casserole to the church potluck supper or even entertain at The Rectory. The Priest's Wife, more often than not, has her own life and "works outside the home" as a doctor or lawyer or some other professional. Her attitude is, "“He is a priest and I am a lawyer. He doesn’t come to court to work at my job and I don’t interfere with his job at the church.” I suspect she'll do well, at least for awhile, depending on the relationship she has with her husband and the strength of her relationship with him and the quality of their family life.
These first three categories of women will do fairly well in their new lives and roles, I suspect. It's still going to be an adjustment - to one degree or another - but as long as the Roman Catholic Church in the post-modern world does not treat her as wives were treated in The Dark Ages, she'll be okay.
Time will tell, but I'm guessing most of these women will not.
The 'rude awakening' will come when she becomes The Dowager Priest's Wife. I don't expect the institutional Roman Catholic Church to treat her well if her husband predeceases her. Indeed, I don't expect any provisions have been made for her in this little arrangement.
It's the next three women for whom I have the most concern.
This woman may have silently or even unconsciously struggled with her own vocation to ordination for years. Unlike the 'The Helper Wife', she believes her call is to the ministry of the church, not her husband's ministry - at least, for the first decade or two. She leads ministries in the church and often functions practically as the chief lay leader. This wife is intimately involved in programming, organizations, and often launches new initiatives or new programs on her own. She counsels, teaches, organizes, administers, manages and leads as if she is a paid staff member even if she gets no paycheck from the church. I have seen these wives - in middle age or after her husband's untimely death, or, in at least two cases I know, after her husband 'came out' as a gay man - come before Commissions on Ministry to seek ordination. Many of them do not pursue ordination and make their peace with their status - mostly because they are recognized as leaders in their own right by their husbands and members of the congregation.
I fear for the future of this particular woman more than I do the next two because I don't think too many husbands of too many of the following wives would seek membership in the Ordinariate. Oh, there will be some, but it would obviously require a sacrifice of major proportions such that the possibility could not even be entertained - unless, of course, there were to be a divorce.
Now, wouldn't that present an interesting problem to Rome?
Anyway, here are the other two 'priest's wives'.
She may have been a Vicarious Wife for years who has come to realize that she has been called to ordination all along. Often, she is a deacon but sometimes, she is also a priest. She may or may not be a paid member of the staff, but she works in full partnership with her husband. She may even be 'co-rector', receiving - at least, theoretically - half of the salary package or, perhaps, simply working for health insurance and pension. She sometimes is called by the bishop or canon to help out in another congregation that needs short-term supply or interim. Sometimes, she also has a private pastoral counseling and/or spiritual direction practice. Or, she may work as the (paid) Director of one of the Church's Outreach Ministries. I can't imagine the turmoil the Ordinariate will bring to this person and her relationship with her husband.
6. The Parallel Wife
I vote this woman 'most likely to fail' in the Ordinariate - or, at least, least likely for her or her husband to become a member of the Ordinariate. She is also a priest (or Methodist, Presbyterian, UCC or Unitarian minister) but leads another congregation as Rector, Priest-In-Charge, or on staff as an Associate/Assistant. She may work full or part time. Sunday mornings, both are preaching at their own church and, throughout the week, both are involved in the pastoral and administrative and educational pursuits of their congregations. Sometimes, one of these clergy couples - it may or may not be the woman - is working part time while the other pursues a doctorate. In most congregations I know, there is, among some members, a low-level resentment about The Parallel Wife because they feel they have been denied the full benefit of having either an Iconic, Helper or even 'just' a Priest's wife. They may feel sorry for their priest if the wife is ordained in another denomination. We often want most what we can not have - which is 'the way it was'. Or, at least, the way we think it ought to be.
I wish them all well. Really.
I've never been happier since my decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church and enter The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
I wish only the same happiness for those who have swum the baptismal waters from The Thames to the The Tiber.
Because the institutional Roman Catholic Church does not see women in the fullness of their humanity - despite the encyclicals that proclaim their 'full respect for the role of women in the church' - they will be blissfully unaware of the quiet revolution they have unknowingly begun.
Despite the ruling that these matters may not even be discussed, I suspect that many conversations will ensue in the pews and parking lots and in dark corners of the parish hall which question the church's decision about the unmarried, celibate state of their priests in particular and the role and status of women in the church in general.
I'll just have to watch the whole thing unfold from the other side of The Pearly Gates. Which is just fine with me. Really.
Besides, I've got Downton Abbey to keep me entertained while I'm here.
Ah, 1914, in the days just before the first World War. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And all of it is very entertaining. As, I suspect, 2012 will be to the next generation.
It has been said that "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."
Shhh....don't anyone tell The Boys in Rome. It's bound to completely ruin their day.
I mean, Rome just apologized in 1992 for putting Galileo on trial in 1610 because he said the world wasn't flat.
What are you expecting?