The Church of England approves women bishops

This week, the General Synod of the Church of England approved the appointment of women to the Anglican episcopate. “The synod’s House of Bishops voted in favor 37-2, with one abstention; the House of Clergy voted 172-25, with four abstentions; and the House of Laity voted 152-45, with five abstentions.” 1 “The Church of England [subsequently] said its first female bishop could be appointed by the end of the year.” 2 “Two years ago, a similar proposal failed narrowly due to opposition from traditionalist lay members, to the dismay of modernisers, the Church hierarchy and politicians.” 3


They are right to do so, but the reason why it’s right to do so requires explanation, and it unfortunately requires the suspension of a certain amount of otherwise-due tact. 4 Alas, we are awash in muddled thinking on this question, and so I feel obliged to bring clarity, even at the expense of being frank in order to do so.

The ecclesiastical decisions taken by a church or ecclesial community should be consistent with the internal logic of their beliefs. Relevant among Anglicanism’s beliefs are these: There is no ministerial priesthood and there is no sacrament of Holy Orders. 5 And because Anglicanism specifically denies the purpose for which the ministerial priesthood was founded by Christ, the confection of the Eucharist, 6 why would there be a need for such a priesthood and therefore a sacrament to constitute it? To be sure, Anglicanism refers to some of its ministries as “clerical” and provides a ceremony called “ordination,” and those are words that Catholicism uses,  but Anglicanism uses (and, given its substantive beliefs, must use) them to mean something other than that which Catholicism uses them to mean. 7

When a person is “ordained” to the Anglican “priesthood,” neither he nor the person “ordaining” him (or her) thinks it to mean that which a Catholic bishop would when “ordaining” a man to the “priesthood.” The same words, yes, but denominating different realities, almost as if homonyms. That’s why Anglican priests entering the Ordinariates are ordained: Precisely because he has not hitherto been “ordained” in the sense that we mean the term. (It might, tactfully, be called “re-ordination,” but that’s a social grace; there is no such thing as “re-ordination,” because the sacrament is irrevocable. 8)That doesn’t deny the fact that he went through a ceremony called “ordination,” but rather affirms the fact that something other than “ordination” (in the sense that we mean the term) was intended and effected when that happened.

And that’s critical in this case because it’s important to understand that the Catholic teaching on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood presupposes the Catholic meaning of the words “ordain” and “priesthood.” Ordinatio sacerdotalis has no application here because Anglicans do not share those understandings. If a woman is “ordained” by an Anglican “bishop,” she is not a “priest” in the sense that Catholics use the word—but neither is a man so-ordained. That result follows inexorably from the Holy See’s 1898 decision in Apostolicae curae that Anglican orders are invalid: The problem isn’t that a woman so-ordained is a woman but that she hasn’t been ordained (in the Catholic sense). The quite different and separate question of whether or not she could be is the question governed by Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

As I have said, while Anglicanism uses traditional labels, they denominate something that is substantively different. It is tactless and unkind to put (but too helpful to avoid putting) it this baldly: All Anglican ministries are, in the Catholic understanding of those terms, lay ministries. And there is no theological obstacle to women serving in lay ministries. 9 It may help to illustrate it this way: Imagine that a Catholic diocese decided to give its chancellor the title “bishop.” Not, mind you, to ordain the chancellor as a bishop, but rather to simply give that officer the title “bishop.” That would be stupid and confusing, certainly, and one might fear that one’s bishop had gone a little bit Roger Cardinal Mahony,  but it would pose no obstacle to appointing a woman to the position, because there is no problem having a female chancellor, and the substance of the position is chancellor even if its label is “bishop.” In the same way, if the diocese decided to appoint lay administrators of parishes with vacant pastorships, it could appoint women as such administrators, and it would be neither here nor there whether they further decided to give those lay administrators the title “reverend.”

There is an important difference between label and substance, and in this case it strikes me as dispositive. The internal logic of Anglicanism poses no obstacle to the appointment of women as “bishops,” and where there is no such obstacle, it seems to me that tradition will not withstand the presumption of equality. 10. We know that women can carry out all the functions asked of Anglican priests and bishops, and we know that those are labels for offices quite different to the sacramental, ministerial sense in which Catholics use them, and so it is hard to see what the fuss is about.


I can subscribe to some, but not all, of what Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has said in his post on the subject. 11 When the Synod rejected the same motion two years ago, I pronounced it “a baffling turn of events,” 12 because as Fr. Lucie-Smith points out, “this move is long overdue. If women can be deacons, then they can be bishops, and they have been deacons for over two decades. The Church of England has at last caught up with itself.” One could maintain that women may be priests; one could maintain that women may not be priests; but it is incoherent, under any ecclesiology of which I am aware, to maintain that women can be priests but not bishops, 13 and so I agree with Lucie-Smith that “this latest step as it restores some sanity to the world. There was no earthly reason why that ‘stained glass ceiling’ was in place….”

Where I disagree with Lucie-Smith (and with the Catholic bishops of England and Wales) is the notion that this move imposes some new obstacle to reestablishment of communion between the Anglican Communion and Rome. The bishops say: “For the Catholic Church, the goal of ecumenical dialogue continues to be full visible ecclesial communion. Such full ecclesial communion embraces full communion in the episcopal office. The decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate therefore sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us.” 14 And Lucie-Smith says: “[T]here is now a new (and, in human terms, insurmountable) obstacle to unity. Once, when I was in my youth, corporate reunion looked possible in my lifetime. Not any more.”

Nonsense. Any “reunion” was always going to mean re-absorption. If it was going to happen, it was going to look like Anglicanorum coetibus, and it was going to involve (with all the caveats and explanations tendered above) the “re”-ordination of the Anglican clergy. 15 Anyone who thought otherwise was living in a dreamworld.  And the reason for that has nothing to do with women bishops vel non, or even the original decision of the Church of England to start ordaining women. It is because the Church has expressly held that Anglicans have no valid orders and so no valid succession. Any possibility of “reunion” in the sense of the Church recognizing the Anglican clergy as valid in situ flew the coop not this week, nor two decades ago, but more than a century ago with promulgation of Apostolicæ curæ, the above-cited decision that Anglican orders are invalid:

[W]e ordered that the Anglican Ordinal, which is the essential point of the whole matter, should be once more most carefully examined. … [T]he words which until recently were commonly held by Anglicans to constitute the proper form of priestly ordination namely, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” certainly do not in the least definitely express the sacred Ordel of Priesthood (sacerdotium) or its grace and power, which is chiefly the power “of consecrating and of offering the true Body and Blood of the Lord” in that sacrifice which is no “bare commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross.”

This form had, indeed, afterwards added to it the words “for the office and work of a priest,” etc.; but this rather shows that the Anglicans themselves perceived that the first form was defective and inadequate. But even if this addition could give to the form its due signification, it was introduced too late, as a century had already elapsed since the adoption of the Edwardine Ordinal, for, as the Hierarchy had become extinct, there remained no power of ordaining.

. . . .

The same holds good of episcopal consecration. For to the formula, “Receive the Holy Ghost”, not only were the words “for the office and work of a bishop”, etc. added at a later period, but even these, as we shall presently state, must be understood in a sense different to that which they bear in the Catholic rite.… So it comes to pass that, as the Sacrament of Order and the true sacerdotium of Christ were utterly eliminated from the Anglican rite, and hence the sacerdotium is in no wise conferred truly and validly in the episcopal consecration of the same rite, for the like reason, therefore, the episcopate can in no wise be truly and validly conferred by it, and this the more so because among the first duties of the episcopate is that of ordaining ministers for the Holy Eucharist and sacrifice.

. . . .

With this inherent defect of “form” is joined the defect of “intention” which is equally essential to the Sacrament. The Church does not judge about the mind and intention, insofar as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it. A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a Sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed. On the other hand, if the rite be changed, with the manifest intention of introducing another rite not approved by the Church and of rejecting what the Church does, and what, by the institution of Christ, belongs to the nature of the Sacrament, then it is clear that not only is the necessary intention wanting to the Sacrament, but that the intention is adverse to and destructive of the Sacrament.

. . . .

Wherefore, strictly adhering, in this matter, to the decrees of the pontiffs, our predecessors, and confirming them most fully, and, as it were, renewing them by our authority, of our own initiative and certain knowledge, we pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void. 16

Thus, Apostolicæ curæ stands as an insuperable obstacle to the kind of reunion that it would seem that the English bishops and Lucie-Smith have in mind. No one seriously supposes that the Holy See would or could overrule it. And, crucially, it rested not merely on form but also intent, which precludes any objection that Apostolicæ curæ need not be overruled, but could instead be sidestepped by declaring that it judges only the situation as it existed in 1898 and insisting that today’s situation is distinguishable. But even if the form were corrected and the apostolic lineage rejuvenated (for example by having a Catholic or Orthodox bishop co-consecrate, Anglicanism would have to change its foundational ecclesiological beliefs in order for those ordinands to subsequently ordain (in the Catholic sense) another generation. So what, really, has changed this week?

Bluntly, last week, reunion in the sense of in situ recognition was impossible because the Church of England had bishops who could be validly-consecrated but weren’t; after this week, reunion in the sense of in situ recognition will be no more impossible—were impossibility to admit of degrees—because the Church of England may also have bishops who couldn’t be validly-consecrated. It follows that reunion today means the same thing that it meant last week: Ordination of those Anglican clergy who can and wish to be Catholic clergy. 


Lastly, one must add that no matter what anyone thinks of the result, the means by which it was obtained is ugly and no credit to anyone. Even if one believes in democracy, and even if one believes in applying it to ecclesiastical governance, it is surely a mockery of democracy to say “we are going to vote on this, and we will keep voting until you rubes vote the right way.”

Of course it is true that progressives never believe that anything is settled until it is decided in their favor, 17 but it is rare to see so naked and unembarrassed a demonstration of the principle, or one so hasty. The question was raised and defeated in 2012,  but “Anglican Archbishops Justin Welby of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York supported the change, as did Prime Minister David Cameron.” 18 Thus, the Supreme Soviet’s rejection of the motion means nothing: We will bring the motion up again as soon as the rules allow, if not sooner, 19 and we will keep re-voting until the politburo-approved result wins. In 2012, Martyn Percy huffed that “it is only a question of time before the Church of England will take this next step.” 20 Well, duh. Anything can be achieved with sufficient determination to ram it through. Faced with implacable opposition, church leaders, Percy said, have a “duty … not to be too patient.” This is not quite Stalinist,  but it is not attractive.

On the feast of St. Camillus de Lellis, priest, patron of doctors.


  1. Church of England’s Approval of Women Bishops ‘Obstacle’ to Christian Unity, National Catholic Register, July 16, 2014, (all online resources last visited July 17, 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Church of England votes to allow women to become bishops, ABC News, July 15, 2014,
  4. Cf. Unitatis redintegratio, no. 3 (2d Vat. Co., 1964).
  5. See Article of Religion 25.
  6. See Arts. R. 28, 31.
  7. See Simon Dodd, The Church of England rejects women bishops, 2 MPA 253 (2012).
  8. “[F]or the brand stamped by ordination remains forever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination permanently mark him.” CCC ¶ 1583 (“quia impressus ordinatione character manet semper. Vocatio et missio receptae die eius ordinationis eum permanenti modo signant”).
  9. Cf. Dodd, “The whole thing is preposterous, and not just for unbelievers who can’t quite get their heads around the notion that this is being debated at all.”, 2 MPA 48; Dodd, Altar girls, redux, ante, 4 MPA __ (2014).
  10. See, e.g. Gal 3:28
  11. Rev. Alexander Lucie-Smith, The Church of England’s vote for women bishops has created an insurmountable obstacle to unity, The Catholic Herald, July 15, 2014,
  12. Dodd, Church of England rejects, supra note 6.
  13. Indeed, bishops are priests. The Catholic priesthood is a participation in the one high-priesthood of Christ, which is “made present” in the world “through the ministerial priesthood,” CCC ¶ 1545, and the episcopate is the fullest degree of participation in that endeavor. See CCC ¶¶ 1555 et seq.; Apostolicæ curæ, supra, no. 29; see generally, e.g., Rev. Benedict Joseph, The Bishop Participating in the fullness of Christ’s Priesthood, Our Sunday Visitor, May 2, 2014,
  14. Church of England’s Approval, supra note 1.
  15. Naturally, the Ordinariates are busily taking steps to hoover up Anglicans fleeing the sinking ship. See Ordinariate reaches out to Anglicans after women bishops vote, The Catholic Herald, July 15, 2014,
  16. Apostolicæ curæ, supra, nos. 23 et seq., 33, 36 (citations and internal numbering omitted). It should be noted that what might be characterized as a dissenting opinion was filed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, titled Sæpius officio.
  17. Cf. Dodd, The Conservative Premise, 2 MPA 50, 53 (2012) (“the progressive mindset is an ever-present geological force. Like plates grinding together, in every age it presses to be in motion…. The job of the conservative is not to win, but to lose as little as possible at a time, to preserve as much as possible for as long as possible without risking a sudden and violent rupture”).
  18. Church of England’s Approval, supra note 1.
  19. You may recall that when the 2012 motion was defeated, we knew that “under the Church’s rules, the no-vote has effectively killed off the prospect of women bishops for another five years.” Richard Alleyne and John Bingham, Women bishops ‘in my lifetime’, insists Archbishop John Sentamu, The Telegraph, Nov. 20, 2012, Events have shown that what we didn’t know (because we are numerate) is that 2012+5=2014.
  20. Percy, Women bishops: a failure of leadership, The Telegraph, Nov. 21, 2012,

Thoughts re the Hobby Lobby decision

The notion that a person should be forced to purchase a product that they believe to be immoral is a charmless one for which no eulogies should be read nor requiems composed. Had the Supreme Court actually killed the so-called “contraceptive mandate” in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, decided today, 1 we should say “good riddance.”

Joyous rumors of its demise, however, are greatly exaggerated. In fact, the court’s decision did little more than observe that, having riddled the mandate with exceptions, the administration’s insistence that one more exception couldn’t be made is laughable. “Laughable” isn’t the test under RFRA, but if you can barely make the argument with a straight face, that isn’t a good sign; what RFRA actually requires is that a federal regulation that “substantially burden[s] a person’s exercise of religion” must be “the least-restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” 2 And how could a mandate be the least-restrictive means of accomplishing such an interest (assuming it exists) when so many are excused from that mandate?


At any rate, one of the themes advanced by critics of the Hobby Lobby decision is that favored whipping-boy of the left, the “corporation.” True enough, the case does present that as a threshold question: RFRA applies to “persons,” so: Is a corporation, even a closely-held corporation, a valid RFRA plaintiff? But the “corporations aren’t people” argument, emaciated at the best of times, doesn’t even leave the gate here. It is emaciated at the best of times because no one seriously doubts that “corporations have rights” (a euphemism, but one that will do); had the Bush administration raided the headquarters of a left-friendly corporation—say, Apple—without a warrant, no one would suggest that Apple was unable to raise fourth amendment claims against the raid because it is a corporation rather than an individual. 3 And it is a non-starter here for two reasons: First, because the Dictionary Act expressly includes corporations in the definition of “person” where a statute does not more narrowly define it, 4 which RFRA does not, and second, because the government (and the dissent) concede that corporations can be RFRA plaintiffs, instead advancing the specious theory that a non-profit corporation (such as the O Centro Espirita plaintiff, or, in a non-RFRA context, the Church of the Lukumi plaintiff) is a person capable of exercising religion yet a for-profit corporation is not. 5

What’s more, one must ask the critics whether, in a case brought by different and unincorporated plaintiffs, they would concede the answer to the second question. Remember, Hobby Lobby presents two questions: Can a closely-held corporation be a RFRA plaintiff, and if so, can these plaintiffs prevail on these RFRA claims? Unless one concedes that an unincorporated plaintiff would prevail on the second question, what difference does the question of the plaintiffs’ identity make? It’s tough to see the rhetoric about corporations as anything more than, well, rhetoric—an attempt to sweep the case into an existing political narrative, and a smokescreen to disguise the real sentiment, viz. “the wrong side won.”

The last critics’ theme worth mentioning is the notion that the owners of these companies are “deciding for each individual employee what’s right or wrong for them.” Poppycock. Faced with such nonsense, one might think that these were wrongful-termination cases or discrimination cases à la Ledbetter v. Goodyear. The issue is whether an employer should be forced to purchase for their employees a good or service to which the employer has a serious moral objection, not whether employees can choose to use those goods or services. Notably, the critics have been unable to identify any person, ever, anywhere, who has been terminated by Hobby Lobby for using contraceptives. That failure dooms this line of argument.

A variation of this theme is a lie advanced in Justice Ginsburg’s dissent: The decision will “deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs  access to contraceptive coverage.” 6 This rhetorical flourish is at war with the basic timeline of the cases: The court is not cutting back on a right, it is, at most, restraining the government from forging forward. To the extent that the cases might be (mis)characterized as involving the rights of employees at all, they involve a right created by the government on April 16, 2012. 7 At its outside boundary, then, even if the decision were so sweeping as Ginsburg believes (which it isn’t), the absolute most that it could possibly do would be to roll things back to the status quo ante of April 15, 2012. And so, unless one can say that “women [lacked] … access to contraceptive coverage” on April 15, 2012, one cannot comprehend how restoring that regime could “deny” them access to it. Ginsburg’s statement rests on a false equivalence between “I’m not paying for that” and “you can’t do that,” a notion that the court has always rejected, 8 and that no serious person would entertain for a moment. The statement is therefore false and Ginsburg isn’t stupid enough to believe otherwise, which makes it nothing less than a lie.


What lies beneath all these criticisms, I suspect, is a failure of empathy. Perhaps I can help. Imagine that the administration decided that insofar as meat is good for one’s health, all employers will be required to provide meat to their employees or face ruinous punitive fees amounting to tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars every year. 9 The administration then hands out generous exceptions to its donors and favored constituencies while insisting that it neither can nor will make exceptions for vegetarian employers who have an ethical objection to the production and consumption of meat.

When the vegetarian employers sue, the administration and its defenders wheel out crass populist rhetoric to complain that the vegetarians are trying to deprive their employers of a federal health benefits, that the vegetarians are trying to impose their meat-free ideology on their employees, and are improperly trying to make choices for their employees that properly belong to the employees. If the vegetarians don’t want to eat meat, that’s up to them—but they have no right to “force” that choice upon their employees, which they do, of course, by refusing to buy their employees meat, notwithstanding that the employees can still buy meat with their own money and no one has ever even alleged, let alone proven, that they were fired by one of the vegetarian employers for buying meat with their own money.

When the courts rule for the vegetarians, the administration and its defenders squeal about judicial activism.

That hypothetical is the gravamen of Hobby Lobby. If you don’t see a moral problem in that hypothetical, then (and only then) might you be at liberty to side with the government.


  1. The opinion is available online at this link:
  2. 42 U.S.C. §§2000bb–1(a), (b).
  3. Yet that is precisely the catch-22 in which the government would ensnare the plaintiffs. As the court puts it: “HHS contends that neither these companies nor their owners can even be heard under RFRA. According to HHS, the companies cannot sue because they seek to make a profit for their owners, and the owners cannot be heard because the regulations, at least as a formal matter, apply only to the companies and not to the owners as individuals.” In other words, the plaintiffs cannot bring suit in their corporate identity because the corporation (unlike the owners) do not have RFRA rights, but nor can they bring suit in their personal identity because the owners (unlike the corporation) are not the immediate target of the penalties. If that argument has any force in any context, a closely-held corporation is not it.
  4. See 1 U.S.C. § 1.
  5. See slip op., at 20-21.
  6. Slip op., at 8 (Ginsburg, J., dissenting).
  7. See 77 Fed. Reg. 8725 (Feb. 15, 2012).
  8. Cf. Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980).
  9. If the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs “do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.” Slip op., at 2.

Altar girls, redux

Traditionally, altar service was a male-only business, 1 but females have been permitted to serve the ordinary form since the early 1990s, subject to the general approval of the bishop and ad hoc approval of the celebrant of the particular Mass at which they are to be employed. 2 “Altar girls” have remained controversial ever since, especially in conservative/traditionalist/Trad circles. 3

Against that backdrop, Father Zuhlsdorf notes a new survey that finds some 82% of ordinands of the class of 2014 once served as altar boys. 4 That is good, and it certainly supports the suggestion that if you want to foster vocations to the priesthood in your parishes, encourage boys to serve. But Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s suggestion is, instead, “[i]f you want to foster vocations to the priesthood in your parishes, have all-male service in the sanctuary,” which is a leap of logic: It makes sense only if we assume that permitting girls to serve diminishes the number of boys who serve. That is an unexamined assumption, as I have said before, and a counterintuitive one.

Received wisdom has it that a moderate is someone who, being in the middle of the road, is apt to get mowed down by traffic heading in both directions. By that measure, I suppose, I am a moderate on the question of altar girls, although I prefer to think, for reasons that will become clear, that I am less moderate than undecided. Two years ago, I offered support for Fr. John Lakeit, Rector of Phoenix’s Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral, who incurred the wrath of liberal catholics by returning the Cathedral to the traditional male-only altar service. 5 Fr. Lankeit did so because we need more priests and vocations flourish in dioceses, parishes, and religious orders “where they have the clear honoring of the distinction and the complementarity of men and women….” 6 And in turn, I did so because it is clear that altar service is apt to encourage boys to recognize a vocation to the priesthood, it is arguable that female servers might discourage boys from serving at the altar, and because we need more men to accept their call to the priesthood, we should support (or at very least defer to) any means that seem reasonably-calculated to serve that goal. One would expect, I wrote at the time, that “early returns would appear within a matter of a few years if not a few months,” which is precisely what happened. 7. The program continues to bear fruit, which suggests that it works. 8

Nevertheless, I do not reject altar girls on principle, as some do. 9 Nor am I convinced (yet) that substantial evidence bridges the gap jumped by Zuhlsdorf et al. I support Lankeit’s program and defer to his judgment that suppressing female altar service will help, and I stand ready to offer deferential support to any priest who makes the same decision. But I am unwilling to fault a priest who allows altar girls, so long as the decision is reasoned rather than reflexive.

Truth to tell, I retain some doubt on the point as an original matter, which is to say that were it my decision (that is, were I a priest or bishop: God help you all!), I would not necessarily suppress female altar service within my bailiwick. On the one hand, if the progressives’ arguments from things such as Galatians 3:28 and Gaudium et spes have any force at all, it is at least this: Lay ministries should, generally and all else being equal, be open to all who wish to serve. On the other hand, principled opposition to the use of altar girls is possible, grounded on the facts that they fly in the face of the Church’s constant tradition and that those who advocated their introduction were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to overturn the Church’s teaching on the ordination of women.

I have not previously resolved these competing considerations, and decline to do so today. For now, what matters is this: If one seeks to ground opposition to altar girls not on the facts just mentioned but rather on their effect on vocations, one makes the question conditional on the empirical question of whether that effect is negative. And on that question, good empirical data is scarce—which would be fine, except that, all too often, and not wanting to acknowledge that that question is empirical, we argue by competing anecdote. (I say that when I was that age, I wanted to be where girls were; you say that when you were that age, you wanted nothing to do with girls; we both shrug and assume that the other person is aberrational, absolutely nothing of use to the debate emerges, and the debate remains precisely where it was when we began.) Accordingly, a drop of Lankeit’s experiment is worth an ocean of the unjustifiable and condescending certainty that we see in other quarters, precisely because such experiments produce real data, useful data. Other priests can (and probably should) look at Lankeit’s success and rationally conclude that they should try it too.

(Digression: One might think that all this would be of interest to USCCB or Pew, which might helpfully do some systematic empirical work on the point.)

I would close by reiterating what I said in my original post: “In my view, the Church should, as a general rule, welcome the talents and contributions of women in every way that is appropriate and possible,” but that this general rule must give way if it “clash[es] with other general rules and create[s] a competition of needs.” If altar girls drive out altar boys, the need to foster vocations supplies an overriding imperative that they be removed, and if they attract altar boys, there is an overriding imperative that they be allowed. And because the data do not yet persuasively answer the question, we should support and commend experimentation and empirical work, notwithstanding personal misgivings.



  1. See Inæstimabile donum, no. 18, 72 AAS 331, 338 (CDW, 1980).
  2. See Redemptionis sacramentum, no. 47, 96 AAS 549, 565-66 (CDW, 2004); Letter regarding admission of girls, adult women and women religious to serve alongside boys as servers in the Liturgy, 37 Notitiae 421 (CDW 2001) (prot. n. 2451/00/L), available at (last visited May 21, 2014) (episcopal approval “may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers”).
  3. The distinctions between those groups, as I understand them, is explained in Simon Dodd, Conservatives, traditionalists, and Traditional Catholics, Motu Proprio, May 19, 2014,
  4. Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, Key stats for vocations to the priesthood – POLLS, Fr. Z’s Blog (formerly WDTPRS), May 18, 2014, In 2012, it was 75%. See The Class of 2012:Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, p.24, available at (last visited May 21, 2014).
  5. Straight talk on altar girls, 1 MPA 60 (2012).
  6. Phoenix cathedral’s policy change on altar servers ignites discussion, The Catholic Review, Aug. 25, 2011,
  7. See An update on Father Lankeit’s vocations program, 2 MPA 24 (2012).
  8. See Simon Dodd, Another update on Fr. Lankeit’s vocations program, Motu Proprio, May 23, 2014,
  9. Critics often perceive a nasty strain of gynophobia in some Trad and conservative circles; to the extent it exists, I do not subscribe to it.

Still Alive

Musicam novam præsento. Cued by my post here about the resurrection of the ISEE3 probe, I thought I’d take a shot at Still Alive; if there’s any context in which my reedy voice seems appropriate, it’s GLaDOS’ plaintive narration to this, Portal‘s endsong.

There are some new friends on this one and a couple of new techniques, too. The new friends are Minimal Systems’ take on the 1176, the Punch, Variety of Sound’s take on the LA2A, the Thrillseeker LA, and AXP’s Fender Frontman softamp, the FM25. (Lurking in the background of the guitar track is a bit of Aradaz White, a VST that has lurked in the inventory for a while without hitherto making it into the mix.) I also tried a couple of things in tracking and mixing that I haven’t done before. I tracked the acoustic guitars with two mics, a condenser aimed at the twelfth fret and a dynamic aimed at the bridge, and blended in the latter to pep up the former. The new (to me) mixing technique is how the bass track is handled. Everything else having been done to it, the final bass track was printed to a stem and cloned into two tracks: “Bass notched” and “bass notch” The former track has a notch filter to exclude much of the frequency space occupied by the kick drum, and, unsurprisingly, the latter is bandpassed to include everything that’s missing in the former. When both tracks are on, you have the whole sound of the bass; mute the “notch” track and you carve out room for the kick. We then sidechain the notch track, keyed to the kick drum, so every time the kick hits, the level is reduced just in those frequencies. The result is that we’re carving out of the bassline only the space needed, leaving most of it intact and limiting any pumping effect from the compression.



Another update on Fr. Lankeit’s vocations program

In 2011 and 2012, I noted and voiced support for the decision of Father John Lankeit, rector of the Cathedral of Ss. Simon & Jude in Phoenix, AZ, to end the cathedral’s two-decade experiment with allowing female altar servers. See Straight talk on altar girls, 1 MPA 60 (2012). The idea was to stimulate vocations, and initial returns were promising. See An update on Father Lankeit’s vocations program, 2 MPA 24 (2012). But the internet has a short memory, and I haven’t heard anything more, so I thought it worthwhile to contact Fr. Lankeit and ask how things are going.

Good news, everybody! With his permission, I reproduce his reply. He writes:

We have definitely seen an increase in the number of boys serving, particularly at our school Mass. Prior to the change, it felt like pulling teeth to get a half-dozen altar boys to serve the school Mass. During this past school year, I had 23 altar boys at one Mass. But it’s not only about numbers. I am confident that we have the most reverent, most well-trained altar boys in the diocese. There are “sparks” of interest in vocations among some of them. But you are correct to suggest that what we are doing is preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Vocations are not a direct result of “programs” or policies, but rather, a call from the Lord. To the extent that we can pave a clearer pathway from the Lord to the heart of a young man by helping him discern the full gamut of vocational possibilities, we are on the right track.

Some other wonderful developments:

1) We have a girls intercessory prayer group for young ladies aged 11-18 called the “Little Flowers of St. Therese”. These young ladies intercede regularly for me, for the parish, for the Church, etc. They were instrumental in supporting my efforts to establish Perpetual Adoration at the Cathedral. The past couple of years, they are the only representative group of laypeople (aside from those serving in the sanctuary) who participate in our (small, modified) procession during our televised Corpus Christi Mass. They are also part of the representative group (aside from those serving in the sanctuary) who venerate the Cross during our Good Friday televised liturgy (along with professed religious sisters). I had one little girl who made it very clear to me in the three months leading up to her 11th birthday that she couldn’t wait to join. So, it has not just been an effort to put the possibility of a consecrated vocation in the Church on the boys’ radar screen. The Little Flowers does the same for girls, without violating God-given sexual differentiation. These girls are truly prayer warriors (see below).

We have a very large diocesan event each October called the “Arizona Rosary Celebration”. The event begins with a very large procession of “altar servers” followed by the minsters and the bishop(s). There were hundreds of “altar servers”—boys and girls—processing in together. To see many of the girls in surplice and cassock (a clerical vestment), next to many boys in plain albs—all mixed together—was truly a picture of confusion. But here was the beautiful thing. Following the “altar servers” and immediately preceding the bishop(s) and ministers, was a group of our Little Flowers in black tops/skirts, white veils, with hands folded in prayer wrapped in Rosaries. The exaltation of feminine dignity could not have been clearer.

At one point, just prior to the procession, it was reported to me that a female “altar server” approached our Little Flowers and said something along the lines of, “Like, is that, like, what you wear when you, like, serve at the altar?” One of the Little Flowers responded politely, “We don’t serve at the altar.” The female “altar server” said, “Then, like, what are you?” The Little Flower responded, “We’re prayer warriors!” I wasn’t there to witness the exchange, but could not have been prouder of the Little Flower.

2) In addition to the increase in boys serving at the altar, we have also had an increase in adult men, including fathers of some of the altar boys who serve with their sons, and college students from a nearby university. There has been an emasculation of the Church in so many places in recent decades, which is, frankly, unfair to the wives/mothers who must assume spiritual leadership in the family when there is a (spiritually) absentee father. The fact that men are attracted to serving at the altar is an antidote to more than just the priestly vocation issue. It encourages men to be true men in the family as well.

So, we simply provide the avenue for the Lord’s still, small voice to reach more of our boys and girls by providing them ways to serve the Lord in ways that honor who they are. Whether or not I am here to share in the harvest is really out of my hands. But I have a duty to till the soil and plant the seeds. And, so far, some of the seeds are showing signs of sprouts.

It’s a thing of beauty.  God bless you, and please pray for us.

This is delightful to read! Hats off to Fr. Lankeit, and let us pray for the continuing success of his work.

“That is what you call a bishop who’s not afraid to bishop.”

Because the Church has no authority to ordain women, and because of active resistance by those who dissent from that teaching, the Church provides a canonical response to simulations of the sacrament of Orders: “[B]oth the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incur an excommunication latæ sententiæ reserved to the Apostolic See.” 1 Such excommunications take effect ipso iure and need not be declared, 2 but on occasion it proves helpful, to do so, and his excellency Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield has seen fit to declare that Mary Keldermans, a laywoman in his diocese, has incurred one. 3 She did so when she carried out—over a warning from Bp. Paprocki that she would excommunicate herself by doing so—her publicized intention to be “ordained as a priest for Roman Catholic Womenpriests Inc. in a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Springfield.” 4 (The person who simulated the ordination, Ms. Joan Clark Houk, a laywoman of the diocese of Pittsburg, remains excommunicated from her own simulated ordination in 2006. 5)

While I do not find the snide tone pervading much of the commentary to be helpful, I applaud Paprocki and find all this quite refreshing. Excommunication is not a punishment, but rather a medicinal penalty, a call to repentance—poen[a] medicinales is the underlying Latin. 6 It is medicinal in the sense that it calls a person back to the Church. People are not excommunicated in order to banish them from the Church, but because their conduct has already placed them outside of her; indeed, to the extent that they have placed themselves in a state of mortal sin, they may well be heaping far greater judgment upon themselves if they are receiving certain sacraments. When a man dreams that he is running in a meadow while he sleepwalks through a minefield, it is no kindness to let him sleep.

And far from being a relic or museum piece, excommunication is an old idea well-suited to modern times. In this age, words are ignored, bishops are dismissed, 7 and the notion of authority—the overweening authority of the state excepted—is non-existent; we live in a radically-individualistic cultural mileu in which people find it very hard to wrap their heads around the idea that they are subject to a criterion other than their own judgment. In such circumstances, people need to be accosted by dramatic action that breaks into their lives and shakes them up. Excommunication is, in the argot of therapy culture, an “intervention,” intended to bring a person to their senses if they can’t or won’t awaken by themselves. Think about it: Why would a man who believes that he is right with Jesus seek to get right with Jesus? He won’t. Indeed, he will resent being told that he has any such need. Only a dramatic intervention can break through and make that man realize the peril in which he has placed himself. (This is also, presumably, why God quite often uses crises to break through to the unchurched.) It may not work—but nothing short of it is likely to work. The care of souls requires more than mere talk! The enemy is playing for keeps; we must realize that this is a deadly game with eternal consequences, and there is nothing charitable or loving about letting a person walk blindfold into hell for fear of her taking offense if we should tackle her to the ground.

Would excommunication make the schismatic priests of the so-called “Pfarrer initiative,” for example, realize how serious their actions are? Perhaps; perhaps not; but nothing short of it will. And perhaps it will make the watching laity realize that something is very wrong, that this is the wrong crowd in which to get mixed up. And while it’s easy to be cynical about entrenched dissent, it sometimes works. For example, in 2010, Sister Margaret McBride, RSM, incurred a latæ sententiæ excommunication which was announced by his excellency Thomas Olmsted (D. Phoenix), but, despite initial resistance, deo gratias, Sr. McBride reconciled with the Church and her excommunication was lifted. 8 Will excommunication shake Keldermans awake? Probably not. You never know. But it isn’t just about her; it’s also about the watching laity; it’s about sending a message, about sounding the alarm. Like the excommunication of Greg Reynolds, 9 it sends a message.

So three cheers for Paprocki; it may be outré to say it in this climate of gathering storms, but we need more bishops like him. Bishops who know who they are to judge, if you take my point. 10 Bishops who are obsessed with what the Church teaches and who know that it very much is necessary to talk about it all the time. Bishops who will give a Catholic blessing. Bishops who don’t want people to make a mess and who see the risk in scandal. Bishops who don’t think that the truth of the faith isn’t conditional on one’s parentage. Bishops who care about those small-minded “rule” thingies. Sacristy bishops.


  1. Decretum generale, 100 AAS 403 (CDF, 2008), available at (last visited May 21, 2014); see generally Ap. Con. Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 86 AAS 545 (John Paul II, 1994).
  2. Rev. Ethelred Taunton, The Law of the Church: A Cyclopedia of Canon Law for English-speaking Countries 330 (1906) (imp. +Johnson, 1906). They are disfavored, see Beal et al, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law 1538 (2000), but the 1983 Code does impose them for some situations.
  3. See John White, Dear Woman Priest, You’re Excommunicated, Catholic Vote, May 22, 2014, (last visited May 23, 2014).
  4. Steven Spearie, Local woman to be ordained as Catholic priest, State Journal-Register, April 12, 2014, visited May 22, 2014).
  5. See Marylynne Pitz, Despite excommunication threat, McCandless woman plans to become a priest, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, July 12, 2006, (last visited May 22, 2014).
  6. See 1983 CIC 658 § 1
  7. Cf. Simon Dodd, Episcopal authority and the abuse crisis,, 3 MPA __ (2013).
  8. Compare Dan Harris, Nun Excommunicated After Saving a Mother’s Life With Abortion, ABC News, June 1, 2010, (last visited May 22, 2014), with Mercy nun at hospital that allowed abortion ‘no longer excommunicated’, CNS, Dec. 9, 2011, (last visited May 22, 2014).
  9. See Brian Roewe, Australian priest, advocate for women’s ordination excommunicated, National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 24, 2013, (last visited January 4, 2014).
  10. Cf. Simon Dodd, Of Humanæ vitæ and the approaching Synod on the Family, n.11,, 4 MPA __, __ n.11 (2014)

Look at me still talking while there’s science to do!

Like GlaDOS, it turns out that the ISEE-3 probe is still alive!

Full story.

Notice: Site update

Next week, I plan to upgrade the WordPress engine that powers Motu Proprio; during that time, the blog may become unavailable for a short period of time.

Update: Upgrade complete. I’m going to leave this notice in place for now because upgrades do have a tendency to break things that don’t get noticed at first!

Conservatives, traditionalists, and Traditional Catholics

In the Remnant, Chris Ferrara contemplates the question “What exactly is a traditionlist?” 1 The nub of it is that a man who is, by Ferrara’s label, a “traditionalist,”

is a Catholic who lives the faith as if the ecclesial calamities of the post-Vatican II epoch had never happened—indeed, as if Vatican II itself had never happened. And the astonishing truth about the traditionalist is that no doctrine or disciplinary rule of the Church whatsoever forbids him to believe and to worship God in just that way, even though the great preponderance of Catholics no longer does. ¶ That Catholics who have simply gone on believing and worshiping as Catholics always did before the Council have come to be called traditionalists—quite suddenly in historical terms—that the very word tradition now distinguishes these relative few Catholics from the vast majority of the Church’s members, is the undeniable sign of a crisis like no other the Church has ever witnessed. Those who deny this would have to explain why it is only within that transformed vast majority, … described [by some] as neo-Catholic, that the faith has been steadily losing its grip on the people, with many falling away completely into the “silent apostasy” John Paul II lately lamented after hailing for so many years a “conciliar renewal” that was actually a massive collapse of faith and discipline.

I would think that Ferrara is describing what is often called a “Traditional Catholic” or “Trad.” To my way of thinking, a (small-t) traditionalist is more closely-related to a conservative—those whom some Trads dismiss, prissily, tendentiously, and unhelpfully, as “neoconservatives” or “neocons.” 2

Let me offer a partially-baked taxonomy. In a Catholic context, it seems to me that the difference between Trads and conservatives/traditionalists is that the former, as Ferrara perceptively suggests, seeks to “live[] the faith … as if Vatican II itself had never happened,” while the latter accepts what she regards as legitimate postconciliar developments. The differences between conservatives and (small-t) traditionalists are more subtle. I might suggest that it breaks down something like this:

  • The former is more normative and positivistic: Postconciliar developments are legitimate because and insofar as they are correct, reasonable, and promulgated by legitimate ecclesiastical authority. (To put it more critically, they are taken for granted because nothing else exists in living memory.) The EF is okay, but they see no real problem with the OF beyond a vague and often unguided preference that it be “done reverently.” Their (recent) hero is apt to be John Paul II.
  • The latter thinks in terms of the hermeneutic of continuity: Postconciliar developments are legitimate because and to the extent that they harmonize with preconciliar tradition. She acknowledges legitimate development in the postconciliar world but insists that it has been encrusted and obscured by abuse and illegitimate accretions, and hopes to fix those problems. Thus, for instance, the EF? Good. The OF? Problematic, but capable of being good.  Our (recent) hero is apt to be Benedict XVI.

If the conservative has one over on the traditionalist, it’s that he is more flexible and capable of growth whiles he can be too rigid and hidebound; if the traditionalist has one over on the conservative, it’s that she has a criterion external to herself while he is too wedded to his own judgment.

Both positions, by themselves, have limits and difficulties.But just as in the political arena, most (American) conservatives cut our conservatism with a measure of libertarianism, and vice versa, and both are healthier for it, 3 I think it fair to aggregate conservatives and traditionalists because most of the conservatives and traditionalists that I encounter in person are somewhere in between. Cardinal Dolan and the EWTN people might serve as high-profile exemplars of unmixed conservatives, but certainly I would say that there is a constructive middle ground.


  1. Ferrara, What exactly is a traditionalist?, The Remnant, May 3, 2014, (last visited May 19, 2014).
  2. Or rather, have done since that became a fashionable term of abuse in political discourse, regardless of its aptness.
  3. See The conservative premise, 2 MPA 50, 51 (2012).

The role of the ordinariates

Elsewhere, the Anglican Ordinariates are criticized: “If you want to belong to the Catholic Church then be a Catholic; if you want to be an Anglcan, be an Anglican. If you want a bit of both then you need to find a church with a bit of both. A foot in 2 camps doesn’t work.” This criticism, while common, misses the mark.

I once saw a neat formulation from someone who had gone the opposite way from me; let’s call her “Lisa.” Lisa was “Episcopalian by confession, Catholic by disposition.” Disposition maybe too narrow a word (“sensibility,” “culture,” “attitude,” “praxis,” “taste,” and so on all go into it), but I understood what she was driving at: Lisa believed (i.e. confessed) what the Episcopal Church teaches, but she is disposed to (i.e. prefers, needs, is nourished and sustained in faith by) the external forms and incidents of Catholicism. What’s the problem? There’s no inherent contradiction in that. Certainly there can be; if Eucharistic adoration was Lisa’s bag, that isn’t going to work. That’s a Catholic sensibility at war with an Anglican confession insofar as it’s a pious action that conflicts with substantive Anglican doctrine—articles of religion 25, 28 and 31. But while Anglicans don’t generally pray the Angelus and the Rosary, they could. Anglicans don’t generally pray the hours (and if they do, they use the BCP not the Breviary) but they could. One would not be a bad Anglican if one did so. If Lisa finds her faith nourished by those things, what’s the problem?

So, likewise, the other way (and setting aside the ordinariates for a moment). I would invert Lisa’s phrase and adopt it as my own: In many ways, I am “Catholic by confession and Anglican by disposition.” I confess the distinctive truth-claims of the Catholic church, ergo I must be in communion with that church. But if I choose to pray before Mass “Almighty God unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no Secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name through Christ our Lord,” 1 why is that any more objectionable or problematic than the traditionally-inclined Catholic who chooses to pray before Mass (mutatis mutandis) the prayers at the foot of the altar from the usus antiquior, as some do? If I am as happy to use the BCP minor hours as those supplied in the breviary, what’s wrong with that? If I choose to use (mutatis mutandis) the BCP act of contrition rather than the (to my Anglican-formed sensibility) maudlin and difficult one often posted in confessionals, what of it? What’s the problem?

And so also likewise, it seems to me, the Ordinariates. If Rome sees no difficulty in dressing the Roman Mass in an Anglican garb by adding to the words and music of the Anglican patrimony a valid priest and such words as are needed, what’s the problem?

Much of the current puzzlement is simply because it is as yet unclear how the Ordinariates are going to work. In time, that fog will clear. It would help—because I understand the Ordinariates not simply as a lifeboat to bring Anglicans across the Tiber but rather a permanent part of the Church—if Catholics could join the Ordinariates. It would also help if there were greater clarity about exactly what the Ordinariates are, where they are, how they operate, what their liturgy is, etc., and about the correct vocabulary. Much could be solved if Rome said straightforwardly what is in fact true: that there is now an Anglican Rite celebrated by what amounts to personal parishes within the Latin Church.


  1.;;,; cf. The Anglican Use, 3 MPA __ (2013).