Phyllis ZAGANO, Women & Catholicism: Gender, Communion, and Authority. Palgrave Macmillian, 2011, pp. 203. ISBN-978-0-230-11164-6.
Reviewed by Anneris GORIS, La Esperanza Center, New York 10032

Phyllis Zagano’s latest book on Women and Catholicism is divided into three main themes or case studies — juridical authority, sacramental authority, and women’s ordination —- which she eloquently and persuasively develops and carefully examines.

Zagano shows knowledge and insight in canon law, church practice, and ecclesiology in her exploration of the legal and sacramental issues when she argues on behalf of female priesthood and diaconate. She posits that each situation “has sociological, historical, practical, theological and ecclesiological implications…, reflective of problems in various parts of the global church” (p. xi). In the case of women’s ordination, both legal and sacramental aspects have been ignored (p. xi).

The first chapter presents a discussion on the position of Bishop Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, to excommunicate Catholics from his diocese who associate with groups challenging his authority. This bishop responds and reports only to Rome. He also “entered into contentious relationships” with the Conference of Catholic Bishops (p. 3); women were only permitted to fulfill liturgical roles late in his term, and he did not address many issues regarding women’s participation in liturgy and ministry and the inclusion of more married men as deacons (p. 46). This case study shows how a “Catholic bishop can act independent of the other bishops of [the] province… and of the Catholic bishops of the United States, [and how] authority within [a] diocese, can remain unchallenged” (p. 45).

Chapter 2 concentrates on issue of sacramental power, married priests, and how Archbishop Milingo embraced faith healing as an avenue to attract, include, and incculturate African believers into the Catholic faith. The now excommunicated Archbishop took the law unto himself, but he did not totally part from the Catholic Church and appeared to act in concert with the bishops of his province (pp. 46 and 51). However, his ministry was perceived as departing from established practices of juridical and sacramental authority, leading to the rebellion of white European clergy in Lukasa in Zambia. While he started “Married Priests Now,” a worldwide movement for married Catholic priests not approved by the Vatican, he appeared traditional in matters regarding women by supporting the Vatican’s ban on women priests (pp. 46 and 47). He got married, and ordained priests and bishops thus raising questions of liceity and validity (p. 70)

The third chapter is devoted to the ordination of women to the priesthood. The author argues that the current position against the inclusion of women to the priesthood rests only on legal and sacramental reasons. When Bishop Davidek ordained women, he “believed that he was in doctrinal accord with the magisterium, arguing that the matter of women’s ordination revolved around liceity, not validity” (p. 90). He also wanted to provide bishops, priests, and deacons to a clandestine community (p. 90), the underground church in Czech, where women were ordained as deacons and priests because of the need of pastoral care and sacraments (p. 85). These claims go against the Catholic teaching “that female gender is a diriment impediment to orders" that cannot be dispensed from (p. 98). However, Zagano argues that “the stipulation that the subject of priestly ordination must be male is essentially an argument from authority bolstered by the iconic argument” (p. 104).

Without doubt, women’s ordination would be a way for the Catholic Church to address issues of equality and human rights. Zagano proposes that “If the teaching on women priests is irreformable, Rome must clearly state the theological parameters and finalize the discussion;” otherwise, it will remain an open question (p. 135).

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