Dear Pope Francis,
I hope you are well and that you are allowed to receive this letter. I pray for you and I am inspired by your obvious concern for the poor and the environment.
Enclosed again are two letters about the ordination of women: the first is sent to each member of the Council of Cardinals with whom you are meeting; the second is a letter for background that I mailed to all the ordinaries of the United States at the beginning of Lent in 2014.
When you talk about the need for honest dialogue on the issues that we face as a church, I am somewhat heartened. You keep insisting: “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” In fact, you say: “dialogue fearlessly.”
Unfortunately, however, there is not now, nor has there ever been, any fearless—let alone gender inclusive—dialogue on the ordination of women, although this is arguably the most crucial issue in the church.
Can the sea-changing collaboration of bishops and theologians at the time of Vatican II serve as a model for what needs to happen today? Can you empower that kind of thoroughgoing synod-like collaboration as part of your concern for honest dialogue in the church?
How can our church become whole if women are “not fully in the likeness of Jesus”? Not to address the body-and-soul wholeness of women—to leave this wholeness ignored, denigrated, and denied—is a missing-the-mark scandal that continues to disgrace our church.
Is it wrong to hope in anticipation of Lent that the archaic structures of the church—clung to so fiercely as unchangeable yet skewed so inordinately in patriarchal privilege—can be seriously addressed?
Pope Francis, will the day come when the church’s recognition of women rivals the mercy that is the cornerstone of your papacy?
John J. Shea, O.S.A.
Copy: Members of the Council of Cardinals