Rev. John Shea, OSA, an adjunct professor at the School of Theology and Ministry (STM), has recently caused a stir in theological circles as a result of a letter he wrote to Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, published in The Heights on Mar. 19, 2012, concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.
“I am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained in the priesthood in the Catholic church,” Shea wrote. The letter has been met with criticism from conservative Catholics, who claim that Shea’s letter is heretical and unnecessarily undermines Church teaching.
Adding to the controversy, Boston College has recently announced that Shea’s contract will not be renewed for the coming year. Shea is in the final year of a three year teaching contract as an adjunct professor, and the University has stated their hope to make Shea’s current position a tenure-track to full professorship.
“Fr. John Shea is an adjunct professor in the final year of a three-year contract at the School of Theology and Ministry,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn. “The school has long planned to utilize his slot to create a full-time, tenure-track position. As he was aware, this decision was made in advance and independent of the publication of his letter.”
The University has maintained that not renewing Shea’s contract was a decision made more than a year ago as part of a restructuring of the faculty position at the STM.
On the other side of the coin, many point out that Shea’s letter was intended to ask for a theological explanation, not to undermine the teaching of the Catholic Church, and that the University’s response is an attempt to stifle Shea’s questions before he brings too much negative press.
In his letter, Shea emphasized that he did not hope to contradict the Church’s teachings. “I write not to challenge the teaching of the Church as set forth in the 1994 Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, concerning priestly ordination,” Shea wrote. “My concern is the theological explanation of this teaching.”
He criticized what he believes to be “a rule of silence” in the Church concerning women’s ordination. “In all of my study, in all of my training, in all of my counseling experience, and in all of my 30 years of teaching, I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are not fully able to provide pastoral care,” Shea wrote.
Shea said that he has brought the issue up every four years since 1986 in order to encourage “open discussion of women’s ordination.” He summed up his letter with a question to O’Malley.
“Cardinal O’Malley, is providing a serious theological explanation of why women are not being ordained in the Church something you can do as part of your teaching responsibility as a bishop, as part of your caring and your justice?”