Q — Regarding “Welcome progress between Lutherans and Catholics,” (Nov. 20, page 19 and posted online Nov. 18): If this continues to move forward, what do the Catholics want to do with the many women who have been ordained, including the current head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? If Luther followed his Catholic training, apostolic succession would have been followed in ordinations and these ordinations, first of men then later to include women, would have to be viewed by the Catholic Church as valid, albeit illegal.

A — There really is no way to answer this question. On the one hand, I cannot see ordained women simply disappearing and yet, on the other hand, from Rome’s point of view there is no obvious way ahead. Recently I have been reading a number of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s books on ecumenism and ecumenical theology. Kasper had been for a number of years in charge of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and he is therefore a seasoned ecumenist. At the same time he is an outstanding systematic theologian. One of the things I admire most about Cardinal Kasper is his ecumenical realism. He remains absolutely committed to the enterprise of Christian unity, where Christian unity means some kind of reconciled diversity, even as he recognizes the apparent impasse of some present questions. One of these questions — but not the only one! — is the ordination of women, something not recognized by Rome or the Orthodox Churches, but accepted in various Christian traditions, for example, Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. Ecumenical dialogue is ongoing in respect of these questions, but it is slow.

No one knows the future, the future shape of reconciled diversity, or when reconciled diversity will be fully in place. Either one abandons the ecumenical enterprise, which would be in my judgment not only ecclesially irresponsible but sinful, or one keeps going with great patience and absolute confidence in the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Kasper once wrote: “What we have achieved after centuries of fruitless polemic is brotherhood, and that is really not nothing. There is therefore no reason to give up dialogue… When we do what we can in faith, we can be sure that God’s Spirit does its work too, leading us together as one flock under one shepherd (John 10:16).” [Walter Kasper, That They May All Be One (New York: Burns and Oates/Continuum, 2004), p.53]. I stand with Cardinal Kasper.