- Incompatible with God’s Design: A History of the Women’s Ordination Movement in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church by Mary Jeremy Daigler
This book is not an exploration of the theological, canonical, and social issues surrounding the question of ordaining women to Roman Catholic ministry. If this reviewer reads the author correctly, it appears that the ordination of women in the Catholic Church is, for her, a settled issue, a current reality waiting to reach full bloom, [End Page 805] and a matter of justice. These are all givens in the book. What the reader will find is exactly what the author describes in the title: a history of the women’s ordination movement in the United States.
Given those parameters, a few issues need to be raised with the work. First, the author seems to be at her weakest when trying to “connect the dots” in order to carry the women’s ordination movement back through the centuries to the ancient Church. Based primarily on one archaeological work about Mediterranean frescos, she accepts that women were ordained to Catholic ministry throughout the Mediterranean world up to the ninth century (pp. 134, 187). In trying to weave a broad tapestry of cultural acceptance for women’s spiritual leadership, Mary Jeremy Daigler may have painted with too broad a brush. A lot of interesting movements and individuals—Salem witches, the Great Awakening, Anne Hutchinson, the Quakers, the Iroquois, St. Joan of Arc and St. Thérèse of Lisieux—all seem to be co-opted onto the women’s ordination movement. There are factual errors. Her statement that
[i]n 1704 the public practice of Catholicism [in America] was banned, churches were locked, priests dispersed and Catholic families began to rely on their women as spiritual guides, prayer leaders, and organizers of the very rare services of underground priests,
is not backed up by any sources and is misleading on several fronts (pp. 4–5). She has the Ursulines arriving “in the colonies” tangential to the Great Awakening, although it was French Louisiana, not the English colonies, that welcomed the sisters in 1727 (p. 5). She describes Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, appearing in 1891 “at a time when papal encyclicals were rare” (p. 10), even though there were, in fact, 127 papal encyclicals in the nineteenth century, with five in 1891 alone. In a discussion of a controversy in St. Louis between Cardinal Raymond Burke and Sister Louise Lears, S.C., Daigler describes the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, as “the Vatican’s department that oversees the nominations and appointments of men to be bishops” (p. 76), inaccurately assigning to the Signatura the competency that belongs to the Congregation for Bishops.
All that being said, Daigler has still provided a genuine service for historians, because in this work she pulls together and preserves for the future a great many American initiatives and individuals in the area of women’s ordination. Individuals working alone, and small organizations with a brief lifespan and no identifiable headquarters or archives, are the bane of the historian’s craft. Although she does not allude to it in the book, Daigler’s own immersion in the women’s ordination movement in the United States over the past quarter-century has given her a unique knowledge of the players and how they are connected, as well as a perspective on “who influenced whom,” that helps to piece together the broader story. When this reviewer was writing a diocesan history spanning 250 years, the early-twentieth century was the hardest period to research. It was maddening to see how quickly the material just beyond living memory was slipping away. It is likely that many of the individuals mentioned in Daigler’s work would have similarly slipped away [End Page 806] except for their inclusion in this book. Daigler has done her...