I subscribe to the Monastic Way, a monthly newsletter published by Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun from Erie, Pennsylvania. Sister Joan is progressive, a writes prolifically, supports prison ministries, and travels around the world making the good news good and women relevant.
The July 2018 issue of the Monastic Way was about Mary of Magdala. This Mary is my favorite lady in the Bible!
I believe she was married to Jesus. The noncanonical Gospel of Mary (14:9) says, “Surely the Savior knows her quite well [code for intercourse]. After all, he loved her more than us!” Why wouldn’t Jesus be married? Back in those days, almost all men were, not necessarily for love but for practical purposes.
Many of Jesus’s closest followers were women, and they were the foundation of his success. Mary of Magdala was one of those women. She is mentioned fourteen times in the Gospels. Only Luke 8:2 and the controversial longer ending of Mark accuse Mary of suffering from seven demons before joining Jesus’s ministry.
Part of me wonders if the seven demons idea was added later to Mary’s story as the church grew increasingly patriarchal and downplayed the importance of women. Mary was a powerhouse, so the men in charge made her either a prostitute or crazy. The message was clear: men were to be in charge and women had to be subservient.
Then the leadership of the church started portraying sex as dirty and discouraging priests from having any. Economic factors influenced this: Celibate priests cost next to nothing. Married priests had to support their wives and children. That cost the church a lot of money!
So, the church made Jesus celibate and destroyed or hid any documents that showed how important women were to the early church. Slowly but surely, the church degraded women and sex until sex was only permissible for procreation, never recreation.
In the early fourth century, the church said a priest could not have sex on Saturday night before Sunday Mass. Huh?
In 385, a priest by the name of Siricus left his wife to become pope and then issued an order prohibiting priests from sleeping with their wives.
About two hundred years later, another papal edict decreed that any cleric found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated.
In 1074, the church demanded that priests be celibate. This reinforced the mindset that sex was only for procreation and women were subservient.
When I was ordained in the late fifties, women were still barred from church leadership positions, but in 1976, the Episcopal Church saw the light and started ordaining women.
The Roman Catholic Church is still stuck in the old mindset, but with the recent epidemic of priests getting outed as gays or pedophiles, maybe Pope Francis will consider allowing married and women priests.
A few nuns have demanded ordination and are being priested by renegade bishops. Yippee!
Sharp-thinking Roman Catholic clergy know a backdoor way to be married and a priest. Ordained Roman Catholic priests fall in love, leave the church to be married, and are then accepted as priests in the Episcopal Church. Next, they find a Roman Catholic bishop who is so desperate for priests that he will accept married men, and voilà—we get married Roman Catholic priests.
Mary was a powerful figure as the wife of Jesus. My own wife has been powerful in my ministry.
I’m hoping that before I die, I will see more married Roman Catholic priests with wives and children—maybe even women priests with husbands and children.
But I still have this burning question: Why do women go to churches that don’t allow women clergy? Ladies, don’t support churches that make you second-class citizens!
Mary Magdalen by Andrea Solari is in the public domain.