Why can't women be Catholic Priests?
NOTE: The Church's position on a female clergy is doctrinal. Whereas, its position on a married priesthood is canonical.
The Catholic Church believes that talented women should be able to hold important roles in companies, governments and in the Church.
In their closing message of the Second Vatican Council, the council fathers said:
The hour is coming, in fact, has come, when the vocation of woman is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women impregnated with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.
(Vatican II, Closing Speech, December 8, 1965 )
The Church declared Mary the most important human being of all time. The Mother of God is a woman. The Catholic Church has put more attention on Mary than any other denomination. Pope Francis has called for a "deeper theology" for women.
"Nobody can be a better priest than Our Lady, and she remained only the
handmaiden of the Lord."
Mother Teresa to an Indian journalist, 1984
When it comes to the ordination of women the Church has to approach this question the same way it approaches every other important decision; with prayer, the Bible, the Tradition of the Church and the wisdom of theologians. The Church wants to know what God has to say about this, and She (the theological pronoun for the Church) believes God has an opinion on this. Pope John Paul II has said:
"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."
Some may say the Pope was old, chauvinistic and conservative. Although he was old, it would be a difficult to say he was chauvinistic given that he has canonized more women than all the other Popes in history combined . He named St. Thérèse of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church (only the third in history), and declared Sister Faustina a Saint, with a special feast day to celebrate the Divine Mercy.
Many traditionalist Catholics wanted to throw the Pope out because he was "too liberal". He also consistently stood up for women's rights in every instance where they did not interfere with the primary right to life. Pope Francis, who is as left leaning as any pope in history, confirmed the pronouncement.
This issue is not about discriminating against women, but rather it is about following God's wish for the Church. Other denominations have discerned differently in order to stay "relevant" to our culture. They honestly thought that ordaining women would bring modern women back to Church. They are now on the brink of extinction (United, Anglican, Methodist, etc.).
There are those who argue that the Pope did not declare this from the Chair of Peter and therefore the statement was not "infallibly" made. It is clear that the Pope intended it as a teaching statement on morals, and he made it binding on the whole Church. The Magisterium also stood behind him and there is 2000 years of unity among the Bishops on this. This has all the qualities of an "infallible" statement. At the very least, it is highly unlikely that this will change in the next century. There are many theological reasons why the Church believes God has chosen a male priesthood. Those who argue that it isn't tend to be the same crowd who would like to see same sex marriage and contraception accepted also.
One of the main reasons the Church has this position is that Jesus himself chose 12 male apostles. There were many women available that He could have chosen, but He only chose 12 males. There were several strong candidates, including his own mother who is recognized as the holiest of all human beings.
The priesthood is not a job, it's a vocation given to us by Our Lord.
Some have said that the conventions of the time dictated that only men should have positions of power and therefore Jesus followed the conventions of the time (John 5:1-18). That statement is problematic because Jesus was very quick to break social conventions. For instance, He healed a woman on the Sabbath. He spoke with the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42; 8:3-11), which was forbidden to Jews. He dined with tax collectors, He welcomed a Mary Magdalene, from whom He cast out 7 demons, as one of his best followers and revealed his risen body to her first, He freed the woman caught in adultery from being stoned, He said the Roman soldier (a gentile) was more faithful than anyone among the people of Judea, and so on. So Jesus was clearly not afraid to break the conventions of his time. In fact, He was crucified because of that.
Another thing to consider is that there were women performing similar roles to a priest in other religions, at the time of Jesus so it would be inaccurate to say there was no historical precedence. Fr. Mateo writes:
... the lands around the Mediterranean teemed with religions with priestesses. The famed Vestal Virgins of Rome were priestesses. There was a priestess functioning at Delphi. The Sybil was a priestess and the many temple prostitutes were priestesses.
The overarching theme in Scripture is the Bride and Bridegroom. The Bible opens with the marriage of Adam and Eve, and closes with the marriage of Christ and his Church (Rev. 21:9-10). Ephesians 5:22-33 compares the union of husband and wife to that of Christ and the church (see also John 3:29). We find this matrimonial language in the Old Testament also, where the people of Israel are the bride and God is the groom (e.g., Isaiah 54:5, 62:5, Jer 3:14). Many of the early Christians and Saints confirmed this relationship including Ambrose of Milan, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179),Teresa of Avila (1515–1582), Gertrude the Great, John of the Cross, etc... In these analogies Jesus is always the groom, male, and the Church is always the bride, female.
The priest represents Christ "In persona Christi" when administering the Sacraments, and as such is the groom, which is male
In persona Christi - a Latin phrase meaning "in the person of Christ" - is an important theological concept which refers to the action of a bishop or priest while celebrating a sacrament. The priest acts in the person of Christ in the pronouncing of the words of the sacramental rite. There are essential moments in the rites where the priest's words and gestures confect the sacrament.
These words are spoken in persona Christi capitis. Two
examples include, "This is my body" and "This is my
blood" during the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. This is
also true during reconciliation when the priest says, "I absolve
you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit." It is interesting that most advocates of a woman
priesthood don't believe in transubstantiation,
or in absolution,
which kind of defeats the whole purpose of having
St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies 79. 304 wrote: "If women were ordained to be priests for God or to do anything canonical in the church, it should rather have been given to Mary... . She was not even entrusted with baptizing... Although there is an order of deaconesses in the church, yet they are not appointed to function as priests, or for any administration of this kind, but so that provision may be made for the propriety of the female sex...
In 49. 2-3 St. Epiphanius tells of the Cataphrygians, a heretical sect related to the Montanists. The Cataphrygians pretended that a woman named Quintillia or Priscilla had seen Christ visiting her in a dream at Pepuza, and sharing her bed. He took the appearance of a woman and was dressed in white. "Among them women are bishops and priests and they say nothing makes a difference, 'For in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female'.'' [Gal. 3:28]
St. John Chrysostom, in On the Priesthood 2. 2 points out that Jesus said "Feed my sheep" only to Peter. "Many of the subjects could easily do the things I have mentioned, not only men, but also women. But when there is question of the headship of the church... let the entire female sex retire." And in 3. 9 St. John wrote: "Divine law has excluded women from the sanctuary, but they try to thrust themselves into it."
Some authors, such as Mary Ann Rossi and Professor Giorgio Otranto have pointed to Pope St. Gelasius (circa 494 AD) who wrote a letter of discipline to an area that was allowing women to serve at the altar. Ms. Rossi claims this proves precedence of female priests. This is not much different from situations today where the Magisterium has had to step in when people try to take liberties with the Eucharist. Nor is it different from when Saint Paul stepped in to correct mistakes in the administration of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
This in no way indicates that the Church accepted women priests. This was never accepted by the Church and even the most militant advocates of female priesthood have not found one magisterial document supporting their position. In his Epistle 14: 26, March 11, 494 AD, Pope Gelasius addresses a very specific area, Lucania, Bruttium, and Sicilia, which clearly demonstrates the limited nature of this abuse. The Pope cites earlier magisterial declarations against women at the altar.
There was never an accepted order of female priests. This is a myth put forth by those who would like to undermine the Magisterium, and who would like to bring about what they call the French Revolution to Catholicism where the common people take the authority from the Magisterium, much like the Reformation of the 1500s, the fruit of which is 33,500 different denominations. The Magisterium is necessary for unity, and Jesus knew that when He gave it full magisterial authority (Mat 16:18).
This is a myth that was in circulation from the 13th to 17th centuries. It claimed that Pope Joan reigned from 850-870 AD. French Protestant Hugh Blondel (1590-1655) disproved the myth with a scholarly refutation. The legend goes that a woman named Joan impersonated a man so that she could enter the clerical life and rise through the ecclesiastical rank. She eventually became a Pope until one day, while riding a horse, she gave birth to a child and was exposed as a fake, only to be stoned to death by an angry mob. Not even those who were against the papacy in the years around 1000 A.D. make any mention of this. The legend didn't show up until 300 years after the incident allegedly occurred. It is the equivalent of today's "urban legends." No serious secular male or female historian accepts this legend.
A woman wrote:
... is there freedom for a person to do something that perhaps wouldn't fit into the traditional Catholic mold, esp. being a woman?
Many women Saints did not fit the "mold" of Catholic women of their day. There is a very important role for faithful holy women.
Video faithful Catholic women lay leaders
Women have held important roles in the history of the Church:
In days gone by, Pinsent and Holden describe as perhaps most surprising" the claim of Catholic civilisation to have produced many of the first women scientists. Trotula of Salerno is the credited author of a book on diseases for women in the Eleventh Century, Dorotea Bucca taught at the University of Bologna for over forty years, and Maria Agnesi, who died in 1799, was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to become the first woman to become a mathematics professor at any university. Footnote 1
How did the experiment of women "chaplains" in Catholic High Schools work out?
There are faithful women all over the Church today, particularly in the blogsphere, prolife, and strong women who organize large Catholic events. Diane of this site is one of them. There are more women in Church than men, and in general women are the backbone of a parish. But one area of ministry that has us scratching our heads is the situation with female "chaplains".
Women with theology degrees are now "Chaplains" in most Catholic high schools and universities. (Although the term "chaplain" can only be used for a priest, Canon Law 564-572). Some of these women say it's as close as they can get to realizing their aspirations of becoming a priest, and kind of a "proof of concept". So one would expect them to be extra careful to uphold the teachings of the Church the way a priest is called to do. However, challenges to Catholic Dogma and Doctrine are common in this field.
Examples of challenges to doctrine by female chaplains
- Scripture is not inerrant, and only parts of it are the Word of God, it should be read with a critical eye. Many of the miracles can be explained in natural ways, like the miracle of the loaves came from people sharing what they already had.
- Purgatory is an invention of the middle ages to keep control of the masses and keep them obedient to the Church.
- There is no hell, or if there is a hell, it is not forever and there is a way to get out of it once you are there.
- The Church should not be so firm against abortion in hard cases, and pregnant youths.
- Contraception is the only real way to reduce abortions. Chastity is unrealistic.
- Sexuality is complicated and we should not be so firm on the requirement of no sex before marriage.
- The Magisterium is an "old boys club", not the institution put in place by Jesus to guard and direct the Church.
- Mother earth is not only a creation of God, but it is god (this view is less common than others listed here, but more common than you would think).
- Calling God "Father" is sexist, never mind that Jesus called him that. (Note: God is without gender, but Jesus was clear and not "sexist")
- Same sex attraction is very complicated and the Church should not make an absolute pronouncement that it is disordered to act on it.
- The Eucharist is a great unifying symbol, and a tool to remember Jesus, but that's about all it is. The only true Eucharist is the assembly of the people.
- Mary Magdalene is a better symbol of femininity and truth than Mary, who they perceive to be overly docile.
- Confession is a good psychological cleansing, but that's about all it is. A priest isn't necessary to reconcile with God
- Baptising is a good tradition that fosters belonging, but it is not the means of salvation. God is Love, and will save every well-intentioned person.
In short, just about every sacrament is questioned, most dogmas denied, and moral teachings undermined. Most people who are in favour of a female clergy would not see any problem with the list above, which basically means they propose the Catholic Church follow the Anglican or United denominations, which have been devastated by a mass exodus, since they liberalized. Our prayer is that high school chaplaincy offices will focus on teaching the Word of God, rather than challenging it.
The Da Vinci Code - Did Catholics re-write the Bible?
Some women (and men) think that the male dominated early Catholic Church rewrote the Bible to suit themselves. The "New York Times Best Seller" the "Da Vinci Code" has made these theories popular. The book is questioning the martyrs who died at the teeth of lions to protect the Truth and the integrity of "the Word" (Bible) in the first centuries of Christianity.
Dan Brown got rich and famous rewriting church history in the "Da
Early Christian martyrs died penniless making Church history.
We cannot imagine these martyrs putting their salvation and the salvation of humanity at stake to cover up Mary Magdalene's "claim to the Papacy" like the Da Vinci Code claims. More about the Da Code here including an outline of its historical errors.
Did the Church rewrite the Bible to subvert women?
If the Church rewrote the Bible to subvert the role of women, we doubt they would have confirmed the inclusion of the book of "Judith" at the Council of Trent in 1545 when the Protestants threw it out. Judith was a heroine who saved the Jewish people by cutting off the head of Holofernes, king of the Assyrians (Jud 13:7). If the Catholic Church rewrote the Bible to subvert the role of women I doubt they would include the book of Ruth in the Bible. Ruth wasn't even a Jew yet she plays a key role in salvation history. Why did the Church not put whiteout to the book of Esther who saved the Israelites? And why did it not rewrite the story of Mary herself? And there are all the great women of the New Testament. There is Martha, Mary Magdalene, Anna in the temple (Lk. 2:36) described as a prophet, Elizabeth and dozens more.
The evidence makes it clear that the Catholic Church did not rewrite the Bible to subvert the role of women. Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code, re-wrote Church history to sell books, and it worked. Everybody loves to hate the Catholic Church. Mr. Brown has made millions of dollars selling these books to women. Ironically, it has been a terrible to disservice to women because it has turned them away from the Church which could help them so much.
Dan Brown ignores all the hundreds of great Catholic women like St. Thérèse de Lisieux, and St. Teresa of Ávila, who are doctors of the Church and have had a major influence on Catholic theology. There is Catherine of Siena who gave the Pope a blast and told him to move his office back to Rome from France in the 1377, and he did. There is the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, a mystic nun (1774-1824) who received visions of Mary and Jesus' life that inspired Mel Gibson's Passion.
The Dead Sea Scrolls clearly demonstrate the integrity of the Church's transcription of the Old Testament. They were found by a Muslim and they predate the Church and Christ by 250 years and they blow away all the claims the Catholic Church wrote the Bible to suit itself. They are word for word what the Church transcribed from the Septuagint (Old Testament). Why would I believe that these men and women who died for the faith would put their souls in jeopardy by re-writing the Word of God. The Gnostic texts were messed up and that is not hard to understand considering all the convoluted versions of spirituality we see today (many of which I followed).
In 2005, several women were "ordained" on a boat in the St. Lawrence. Apparently dioceses don't have any jurisdiction over some water areas. It was the follow-up to a 3 day "women's ordination" (WOW) conference that attracted about 300 attendees from all over the world (we believe they did the same thing in a river in Venice two years earlier).
Topics of the conference at Carleton University included:
- Erotic Justice: Commitment to Personal and Global Transformation
- A Better Sexual Ethic: Challenging Patriarchal Mores in Priestly Formation
- Listening for the Echo: Giving Voice to Lesbian Spirituality
- Ecofeminism and Ministry: The Sacred Earth Calling Us Home
- Maintaining a Political Presence: A Lobbying Presence in Rome
More about the conference and its participants
Many in this crowd don't believe in dogmas such as Purgatory, Original Sin, the exclusiveness of Jesus' salvation, or that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ (yet they refuse to leave), and they are definitely against the idea of infallibility of magisterial teaching. It's OK for anyone to partake of communion, regardless of their state of sin or religious affiliation. They believe that Jesus embodied the sacred feminine because He was “wise” (“wisdom” is given a female pronoun in Scripture). They are into the Da Vinci Code, and into Mary Magdalene as the first Pope. They think VAT II was about relativism.
Ironically the conference didn't spend any time on Mary the Mother of Christ, (the greatest human being of history) because they think she was too obedient to be a role model for women, and because she wasn't into sexual expression like Mary Magdalene (before her conversion), the former prostitute; they think Mary Magdalene hung onto her love of sex and that she had it with Jesus. In 46 sessions over 3 days, not one session discusses Mary, the Mother of God. Even the session about Revelation 19, presents the woman clothed in the sun as a bad example of womanhood. That same session talks about a women’s “right to control her own body” which is a code phrase for “abortion is a woman’s right”.
There are some of their crowd who are into Mother Mary but they see her as a world traveler and a radical, they doubt that she remained a virgin. They call her the high priest. Gay marriage is fine with this crowd. They think the Church needs to be more inclusive. Like the New Agers, they are into the idea that creation *is* God (rather than earth as a creation of God). So a walk in the woods for them is better than praying in Church, they don't see the Church as something set apart. The pagan goddess mother earth (Gaia) is cool with them, as the feminine side of God. They think the Church shouldn't have squashed paganism. They are pretty wishy washy about whether there is a devil, like the New Agers, they think it is more about ignorance and "unhealthy choices." Of course contraception is unquestionably right and good in this world, as is any other kind of sexual pleasure with a person with whom one is “committed” depending on the various definitions one might have for “committed.” Masturbation is a matter of personal freedom, to them. They call the conference an ecumenical conference which means women ordained in Anglican, and United Churches will be presenting.
They think the witches of the middle ages were simply midwives who used herbs as cures...and that the church killed 5,000,000 witches to suppress female spirituality...even though the best secular historians attribute no more than 6,000 total deaths to the inquisition, many of which were men. The world’s best secular historians prove no more than 500 witches died directly as a result of the inquisition. Many of this crowd are quite open to Wicca as a viable spiritual path and think the Church should lighten up. They refuse to call Jesus Lord because it invokes suppression of women, so they often call God, “She who is” after a famous feminist book. More about witches here.
Divorce is fine in their world if a couple can’t get along. They don't think it’s about annulment because they are not into the insolubility of marriage. Scripture is allegorical, but not to be taken too seriously, and certainly for them, it is not without tons of errors because of the chauvinist men who wrote it. Every Catholic doctrine and dogma is up for grabs, and should be revised at will. They think that Constantine was the start of wide scale oppression of female spirituality from the 'Magisterium.' They think that women had a huge role in the early Church leadership, but were suppressed by men, even though all the Early Church Fathers abundantly prove this was not the case at all.
Many in their crowd call the Magisterium a bunch of "pip-squeak", little old men, who are in a fantasy ivory tower world of control, manipulation and domination, and who need to be overthrown in a sort of a French revolution people’s revolt. They think the Church should be a democracy where the people dictate what should be taught. Clearly they are not into the infallibility of magisterial teaching. They hate Pope Benedict XVI. They think he was the source of all the bigotry of JPII and now that he’s Pope, they can’t wait ‘til he dies.
They are terribly upset at the Bishop of Ottawa, where they are having the conference. He has instructed faithful Catholics to have nothing to do with them. These feminists think he's a narrow, controlling bigot for denouncing them.
We hope this gives an idea of what the Church would look like in their hands. The press loves this group of radical feminists.