Another Occasion to Be Glad to Be Protestant, Alas

The non-story of the week in religion was the Vatican’s announcement that anyone involved in the ordination of a woman to the priesthood would be excommunicated.

It’s a non-story because anyone who has paid the slightest attention to the last, oh, two or three decades of Roman Catholic leadership would have been able to predict with confidence approaching certainty that Joseph Ratzinger, once made pope, was not the guy to reverse the policy against female clergy.

So the fact that he felt it necessary to stamp out a little fire or two in the United States—the country in which there is the largest number of supporters of the ordination of women—is no surprise and hardly worth all the news attention it received.

Why comment on it here? Because Tony Blair has become a Roman Catholic, and so has ethicist Francis Beckwith, and so (further back) has philosopher and Buddhologist Paul Griffiths–all eminently intelligent, modern, progressive, and admirable people.

And here’s what I don’t get: not the resistance to female clergy, which I understand (although I disagree with it pretty soundly—and at length).

Okay, I don’t really get that, either.

But what I really don’t get is such people belonging to a church in which disagreement over women’s ordination does not only cost you your membership in good standing—we’re going to boot you out if you participate in ordaining women—but your soul.

For the penalty in Roman Catholicism, unlike in Protestantism, for dissent on this matter is excommunication. And the “communication” that you no longer enjoy when you’re “exed” is communication with Christ, not just with his One, True Church.

(Addition to original post: Not all communication with Christ, or his Church, is forfeit in excommunication, let’s be clear. One can always repent. But until one does, one is judged to have left the communion of the church and its sacraments. And that’s a mortally perilous thing to do.)

That seems to me to be theologically absurd, as well as odious. The sex of clergy just isn’t a gospel issue. Disagreeing with church leaders, even the Pope, isn’t one, either. Even disagreeing with God on the issue, if you do so meaning to agree with God, isn’t one.

I’ve studied the Roman Catholic Church off and on for thirty years. I have a great admiration for it in many respects. But this past weekend, I simply had to shake my Protestant head and say, No: You go too far.

And why anyone would convert into such a system makes me shake my head further. Protestantism has lots and lots of faults—I’ve been studying them for thirty years, too. But not this one: not sending someone to hell for disagreement on such an issue.