As Catholics, we are taught that men and women are created equal: “There is neither male nor female. In Christ you are one” Galatians 3:28. While Christ did not ordain any priests himself, as the Catholic scholar Garry Wills has pointed out in a controversial new book, the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, stressed that the all-male priesthood is “our tradition” and that men and women are equal, but have different roles.
Yet the church of the Southern Hemisphere offered an intriguing parallel universe. Free of the social uncertainty that plagued the Roman faith in the largely Protestant United States, the majority Catholic nations of Latin America seemed to have reached an accord between the pious and the practical. From missionary friends we heard tales of how different the situation was in Peru, for example. Married Catholic clergymen may not have been canonically sanctioned, but the existence of families made up of a priest, a wife and children was an acknowledged part of the culture — a “widely accepted outlaw priesthood,” as an Associated Press story once called it.