The social media and even my local newspaper, the Star Tribune, are clearly enthralled with Roman Catholicism's new Pope. Francis, with his humble and authentic gestures from the very first minutes of his papacy, has both satisfied and stoked a yearning for Something Different. Wearing no gold, ermine, or red leather trappings, he bowed and asked for the people's blessing, eschewed the Papal Palace for a simple suite in the Vatican Guest House, and soon after washed the feet during a traditional Maundy Thursday liturgy not only of a female, but a female who is a teenager, imprisoned, and Muslim. Wow. And financial reform and greater transparency seems in the offing. Double wow.
While his humility and informality seem to be the main game changer, Pope Francis has also resurrected hopes for church-wide changes, such as the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood, potential changes admittedly dear to this writer's heart. As the various pro-change websites scour Francis' every word and gesture for possible indications of his good favor on this issue, stalwart defenders of the status quo seem oblivious to the general consensus that a new era is dawning. For example, the homily during last month's ordination service in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and Saint Paul quoted Pope Benedict two times. Pope Francis was not mentioned at all, even though it might have been a perfect occasion to utilize Francis' recent and vividly charming statement about priests that they, like all good shepherds, should smell like their sheep.
The trajectory towards recognizing God's call to women to serve as priests and deacons in the Roman Catholic Church is something that wizened observers believe will cross into reality--eventually. It seems likely that (dare I say) --when-- Roman Catholicism traverses this decision, it will benefit from other denominations' learnings in the matter. I believe that women are priests differently than men are priests, just the way mothers are parents differently than fathers. There's a fullness to the church's ministry when women stand along with men both behind the altar and among their sheep.
Whenever and by whatever means this important fullness is achieved, I suspect one thing will have become very clear. Women's ordination is not so much a matter of justice for the women ordained, but of justice to God's people who need and want their ministry, in fidelity to God's call.