In Gateway City, Temples Divided
Sure, the story isn't an unfamiliar one, but the latest iteration brings something of a twist: in a change from the usual in-house spatting, a good bit of the traditional pre-game flak is being taken not by the "candidates," but the rabbi of a local synagogue, who'll be hosting the event. What's more, feeling among the local Jewish community is split as a result of the venue.
Noting that ordaining women is forbidden by Catholic canon law, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke wrote to Rabbi Susan Talve, senior rabbi at Central Reform Congregation -- the synagogue host -- urging her to revoke her offer of hospitality. Meanwhile, the director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Fr. Vincent A. Heier, has excoriated Talve for her role, likening it to a Catholic pastor inviting a Holocaust denier to speak, and describing Talve’s action as a major setback to the area’s strong, hard-won Jewish-Catholic relations."Are"? Er... not so much.
The president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, Rabbi Mark Fasman finds it inappropriate for a synagogue to host an event no Catholic parish would allow and, though stressing that he speaks only for himself, acknowledged that among rabbis he is not alone. He is worried that what should be a Catholic issue -- whether women can be ordained -- will provoke a backlash against Jews.
Responding to Catholic concerns, the Jewish Community Relations Council released a statement Oct. 26 distancing itself and other Jewish congregations from Talve’s decision, stressing that Judaism is non-hierarchical and congregations are autonomous. “It is our hope that an isolated act on the part of a single congregation will not be allowed to disrupt the long tradition of continued dialogue and mutual respect between our Jewish and Roman Catholic communities,” the statement said.
The fracas is one that Ronald Modras, professor of theological studies at St. Louis University, finds both fascinating and profoundly symbolic. “It’s a remarkable demonstration of sisterhood,” he said. “You have women of two faiths, Catholic and Jewish, standing together against patriarchal exclusion.” He referred to Talve’s risking the ire of Catholic officials and rabbinical colleagues, both groups predominantly male, and the Catholic women’s bucking Catholic law.
Talve, founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation, a former president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association and herself active in interfaith affairs, is the most prominent female rabbi in St. Louis. Her urban congregation is noted for its inclusiveness and commitment to social justice. While Talve said she regrets the pain her action has caused to Catholic and other Jewish leaders, she is not backing down.
“These two lovely women who say they want to serve their community approached us. One of our core values is hospitality and providing a shelter of peace for those who are looking for a safe place. It seemed in keeping with these values, which come right from the Torah, to provide a space for them,” she said.
This isn’t the first time Heier, the archdiocesan official, has found Talve’s values misguided. “She has done a number of things in the past few years that I think are borderline in terms of sensitivity, pushing an agenda I don’t always agree with.” In this latest action, he said, “she has moved beyond the bounds.”
For Talve, the surprise is not such anger, but the number of positive responses she has received. Just as St. Louis Jews take differing stances on Talve’s decision -- she secured the unanimous vote of her board and the support of her congregation before agreeing to serve as host -- many Catholics have come forward to thank her for sharing her sacred space. “I have received dozens of letters, scores of e-mails and many phone calls from Catholics -- women religious especially -- who are in support of our hosting the ordination and understand the values that are guiding us,” she said. “It is painful and sad for me that there are people in the Catholic community who are offended by this.”
The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement dates to 2002 when seven women were ordained priests [sic] by an Argentinian bishop. Since then, according to members of the movement, other male bishops “in full communion with the pope,” have ordained three women bishops [sic], including Patricia Fresen, the former nun. By the end of this year, more than 40 women will have been ordained [sic] by the movement.
And more are in the pipeline. Roman Catholic Womenpriests presently has about 150 women in various stages of formation around the world, according to Gerry Rauch, vice president of the Women’s Ordination Conference board. “Every time there is a public ordination [sic], the numbers grow,” she said.
The movement’s leaders contend that the ordained [sic] women stand in the apostolic line descending from Jesus and his apostles -- a succession that the Catholic church regards as a hallmark of clerical authenticity. So their ordinations are valid, they say, if illegal under church law.
Catholic officials don’t agree. Lawrence J. Welch, professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and spokesman for the St. Louis archdiocese on the upcoming ordinations, told NCR that as far as the archdiocese is concerned, “it isn’t a Catholic service, or ceremony or liturgy, because it is not in unity with the church.” As for the male bishops who performed some of the earlier ordinations, “they were not acting in union with the pope,” so any claims to women in apostolic succession is wrong, he said....
Beginning Dec. 1, McGrath and Hudson will lead a faith community, celebrating Saturday evening liturgies at First Unitarian Church in St. Louis, across the street from Talve’s synagogue. “I don’t know what kind of attendance we will have,” Hudson said, “but I know there are many people on the margins of the church, and we think they will come. If they want to attend their own parish as well, they will still have that option on Sunday.” She added: “We are not calling our community a Catholic parish. We don’t want to be schismatic. But we will not hide the fact that we are Roman Catholic priests.”
PHOTO: Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette