Although I don’t mail a lot of letters these days, I do own some Forever stamps.
Forever. It’s one of those absolute terms like unique that never seem to be absolute enough, tempting us to say things like “that’s more unique than anything I’ve ever seen; or to claim that a piece of art is someone’s most distinctive work; or pronounce one building more symmetrical than another. I know it’s true—I say things like that all the time. And people probably will forever…and ever.
So when Pope Francis announced yesterday that the Catholic Church would not have women as priests forever, I didn’t pay too much attention. In light of all that’s going on politically in the Western world, a pronouncement that affects so few seems superfluous…very superfluous you might say. Yes, half the population of the world is composed of women, but only a small proportion of them aspire to be clergywomen, and an even smaller proportion will choose the Catholic priesthood above all other options.
But the Pope’s dogmatic approach bothered me because it’s what we hear in politics all the time. After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Republican Mitch McConnell promised to obstruct everything the new president proposed. Everything. Not just bad things or stupid things or dangerous things. All things. And the senator did just that. And Obama won a second term.
Now the same McConnell, fearful that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency, has vowed to deny every Supreme Court nomination she makes for her entire presidency. Not just the bad ones or the stupid ones or the dangerous ones. All of them. We’ll get by with eight justices, he says, thus formally abdicating his role as a senator because of personal bias.
If people are disgusted by politics, isn’t this a place to attack some of the problems—to impugn the acts of people like McConnell? After all, he took this oath:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Faithfully discharge the duties of the office. Not just the duties he likes. Can he be impeached for refusing? After all, taking the ball and going home is not the way to run a country. If nothing else it undermines the principles of a participatory democracy.
As for women in the priesthood, I’m neutral. Very neutral. But it seems the Pope could have offered a better response than never, maybe one that referred to other societal and attitudinal changes that have arisen with the passage of time. It took 150 years for women to get the vote, and another hundred for one of them to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. Maybe a hundred more for the priesthood? It’s not forever, but most things aren’t.
Better use up those stamps while you can.