24 December 2008

Answers to supporters of women's ordination (UPDATED)

I recently received an email from a young religious asking me to help him answer objections to the Church's infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

Here's my stab at it. . .

First, notice the origin and ground of the objections. All of them are based on one or more of the following mistakes:

a) Priesthood is about power
b) "Access" to the priesthood is about rights and justice
c) The "exclusion" of women from the priesthood denies humanity of women. . .
d) . . .and it denies their proper place as potential "Christs for others"
e) All exercises of Church authority are excluding
f) Tradition is always about male privilege
g) Women would make better priests because of their natural empathy and compassion
h) Jesus' exclusion of women from the priesthood was culturally based and therefore reformable
i) Scripture is silent on the nature of the priesthood b/c it is a third century invention of males
j). Women report feeling called to the ordained priesthood, therefore the Church ought to ordain them.

Let's answer (briefly) each in turn.

Priesthood is about power. No, it's not. Priesthood in the Catholic Church is about service. Do priests often mistake their office of service as a privilege in the use of power? Yup. But that's an abuse of the office and in no way changes the actual nature of the office. Men are ordered to Christ, Head of the Church, to serve his people as he did: sacrificially in leadership. When supporters of women's ordination (WO) claim that women must be allowed to share in the governance of the Church as priests, they mistake the office for a political one.

"Access" to the priesthood is about rights and justice. Wrong again. The only right a Catholic has as a Catholic in the Church is the right and duty to serve others. Justice is getting what one deserves. No one--not even men--"deserve" to be ordained, to serve as ordained priests. To claim that ordination is a right is bizarre given that men are called by God and confirmed by the Church to be priests. This use of democratic rhetoric is attractive but misplaced. You cannot be the subject of an injustice if you have no right to that which you have been denied. I am not being treated unjustly b/c I cannot vote for the next Italian presidential election.

The "exclusion" of women from the priesthood denies their humanity. In fact, the Church's teaching on ordination reaffirms the humanity of women by clearly laying out what it means to be human, male and female. To be fully human as a creature is to submit one's will to the will of our Creator and cooperate with His grace to achieve our perfection AS men and women; that is, I am perfected as a male creature. My mother is perfected as a female creature. Often this objection is rooted in a modernist notion that one's sex is socially constructed. We are MADE male and female by our Creator and not pieced together sexually by social forces.

The "exclusion of women from the priesthood denies their proper place as potential "Christs for others." This would be true if the only means of being Christs for others was to be a priest. Fortunately, our Lord had to foresight to make sure that there were other means of becoming the sons and daughters of the Father in His service for others. Ordination is one way that some men are called by God and confirmed by the Church to "work out" their salvation. No one is denied their perfection in Christ b/c they are not priests. All the baptized serve the Father by being priests, offering themselves in sacrifice for others.

All exercises of Church authority are excluding. Wrong. If an exercise of Church authority excludes, it does so in order to liberate through a declaration of the truth of the faith., thus including everyone in the knowledge of truth. To be excluded is not in and of itself an injustice or a violation of human dignity. There are many perfectly beautiful options open to all Christians to which I am excluded in virtue of my ordination, e.g. marriage and biological fatherhood. In the case of WO, the Church has used her authority to recognize a limit of her own power. In effect, the Church has recognized that she is excluded from considering the ordination of women.

Tradition is always about male privilege. Tradition has certainly been misused to prop up abusive practices that privilege males. That we have seen these abuses in no way changes the fact that Tradition is the handing on of a living faith, the "living faith of the dead." The faith of the Church never changes. It cannot change. Our understanding of the faith can and does change. However, WO is not a change in understanding but a radical revision of some of the most basic threads of the Christian narrative. To alter these threads does more than "open the priesthood," it unravels the faith whole clothe.

Women would make better priests. I concede this readily. But we have to be clear about what we mean by "better priests." The objection assumes that the vocation of the priest is simply about empathy and compassion. It's not. Sometimes what the priest must do is show firmness, rectitude, and unwavering direction. . .even if empathy and compassion seem to be set aside in doing so. If the only vocation of the priest were to be empathetic or compassionate, then women should be ordained. However, as we have seen in the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, women priests and bishops (at least for now) seem to be more inclined to the destruction of the living faith than its preservation. Each time a stone in the catholic faith has been removed by female clergy and their male supporters in these ecclesial communities, it has been removed on the grounds of justice, rights, empathy, and compassion--all understood in strictly secular terms. The results have been disastrous.

Jesus' "exclusion" of women from the priest was culturally based and therefore reformable. This objection assumes as true a number of false premises. First, it assumes that Jesus was not who he clearly said he was and is: God. God is not constrained by cultural prejudices. Second, it assumes that Jesus was disinclined to break social taboos. In fact, he broke any number of cultural taboos in teaching and preaching the Good News, causing a great deal of scandal. Why not break the taboo against women as priests/rabbis? Third, this objection also assumes that cultural change should guide Church teaching. Cultural change should and often does guide our understanding and application of the faith in the world, but the world is irrelevant when it comes to determining the content of our faith. A danger for WO supporters here is that the way they understand many of the Church's cherished social justice positions are undermined by this objection to the Church's teaching. If we can alter the faith to follow cultural change and ordain women, why can't we examine many of Jesus' legitimate justice teachings in the same light and alter them as well? Maybe our modern culture and social norms should be used to override the historical Christian concern for the poor. Surely, the recent collapse of the economy can be blamed in part on a misplaced concern for the poor and homeless.

Scripture is silent on the nature of the priesthood. This is a particularly odd objection for faithful Catholics to be making. It is largely a Reformation objection and ignores volumes of Patristic teaching on the origins and development of Christian priesthood. It is simply false to say that the Catholic priesthood is an third or fourth century invention. There are elements of the priesthood as it is enacted in the world that came about in later centuries, but the core nature of the priesthood was infallibly established at the Last Supper when Christ commissioned his apostles and friends as those who would lead the community in prayer and the breaking of the bread, to "do this in memory of me." He had every opportunity to include women in this moment, but he didn't. The key here is to understand that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, a family meal, one that reinforced the bonds of paternal authority in the ancient Jewish tradition. of liberation from slavery. Even with women present at a Jewish Passover, the men are commissioned to perform the rite. Does this mean that women are excluded from the liberation Moses brought and the Passover celebrates? Hardly.

Women feel called to the priesthood. In the paragraph directly below this one I note that all of the objections to the Church's teaching on WO are rooted in modernist, feminist ideology. This objection is a perfect example. What this objection assumes is that the call to priesthood is a subjective experience immediately deserving a positive response from the Church. What can be more modernist than the triumph of personal experience over objective truth. The truth of the matter is that the call to priesthood comes from God through the Church, who is the Body of Christ. To say that a particular person (male or female) receives a call outside the Church assumes that Christ speaks to a member of his Body from outside his Body. However, all calls to serve the Body come through the Church and are therefore verifiable by the Church. Most of us believe we are called to all sorts of vocations for which we do not have the requisite gifts or authentic vocation. I feel called to be a regularly published poet, yet my poetry is regularly rejected. The poetry community (i.e., the Church of Verse) regularly rejects my claims to being a poet. Years of personal experience, strong conviction, earnest effort, and multiple academic degrees cannot make up for the lack of consent by the poetry community to my alleged call. I can call myself a poet. I can rail against the perceived injustice of not being regularly published. I can even accuse my tormenters of bias, hatred, and lack of taste. I'm still not a poet. Think for a moment of the implications if the Church bowed to the "I feel called to priesthood" objection and answered these claims positively. On what grounds could we reject anyone from the ordained ministry? My application to be made a postulant for ordination in the Episcopal Church was rejected. Had the vestry of my parish not done their job of proper discernment and oversight, I would be an Episcopalian priest right now. Thank God they listened to the Holy Spirit!

It is important for faithful Catholics to understand how many of these objections are based on modernist, feminist theories of justice, gender, the social construction of reality, and postmodern identity politics. None of which have a place in the faith of good Catholics. All are deeply rooted in 19th and 20th century liberal democratic ideas about freedom, liberty, and rights. None of them pull from the tradition of the Church or her ancient philosophy and theology. None of them are scriptural or magisterial. I have yet to read a single objection to the Church's infallible teaching against WO that does not rely exclusively on ideas and argument entirely alien to our faith. The canonical objections I've read are little more than legalistic sophistry and grounded in a "hermeneutic of suspicion" that starts with an antagonistic attitude toward truth and quickly devolves into relativism and subjectivism--little more than minute loopholes.

Probably the best book on this subject was written by Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church, Sr. Sara started her life as a religious as a supporter of WO and has since looked carefully at the scriptural, tradition, magisterial, and archeological evidence for that position and changed her mind. This book does a much better job of defending the Church's teaching than I ever could, and I highly recommend it.

It is vitally important that women understand that the Church's lack of authority to ordain them to the priesthood is not based on the notion that they are inferior or damaged or in any way "less than men." Yes, some medieval theologians, including Thomas Aquinas, put forward certain metaphysical explanations for an all-male priesthood that few of us will applaud now. But these are merely explanations of any already existing teaching and their dubious nature in no way detracts from the truth of the faith. In other words, Aquinas, et al did not invent the all-male priesthood based on medieval notions of biology and metaphysics. They took up the question in light of the sacaramental theology then current and the already existing reality of the all-malle priesthood and attempted to explain the truth of the priesthood in the light they had. Demolishing Aquinas' argument for the all-male priesthood does not demolish the Church's infallible teaching against WO.

A note on the question of the infalliablity of Pope John Paul II's document, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. This 1994 document was issued by the Holy Father in order to settle forever the question of whether or not the Church has the authority to ordain women. Drawing on scripture, tradition, and centuries of papal magisterial teaching, he concluded that the Church does not have the power to ordain women. It is very important to understand that the Pope did not say that the Church will not ordain women or that the Church does not feel like ordaining women. He wrote: "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women. . ." The Church CANNOT ordain women. The Church also cannot declare that Jesus is not the Savior. The Church cannot declare that Mary was not the mother of Jesus, etc. In other words, the failure of the Church to ordain women is not based on a lack of will or inclination or patriarchal prejudice. If every bishop in the Church, including the Pope, laid hands on a woman, performing the entire sacrament of ordination on her in St Peter's Bascilica in front of the College of Cardinal with their wild applauses, she would still be a laywoman. And she would be a laywoman if every Catholic in the world believed that she was a priest.

Is this teaching infallible? Yes, it is. The Pope wrote in full: "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. Luke 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."

Now, some theologians claim that this teaching is not infallible. They want to make a fine distinction between the content of the teaching and this declaration of the teaching. They want to say that OS itself is not infallible; in other words, they want us to believe that the Pope's declaration that the teaching is infallible is not itself infallible. This is typical modernist sophistry and a confusion of terms. All the Pope did in this document is repeat an ancient truth: women cannot be ordained. This is not new. Imagine the Pope issuing a document tomorrow declaring that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a document would be pointless because the Church has always believed this. There is no need for an infallible teaching on the question. How odd would it be then for some theologians to assert that the document is not infallible when it asserts that the teaching that Jesus is the Messiah is infallible. Simply bizarre.

Reread the highlighted phrases above. Those are the words required for an infallible teaching. Period. OS as a document, OS per se does not have to be infallible, just as a document declaring Jesus as the Messiah would not have to be infallible. The content of the teaching is without error regardless of the magisterial/canonical status of the document. What the supporters of WO want us to believe is that the Pope is not interpreting the ancient teaching correctly. That he is merely repeating what has always been the case in the Church seems to be irrelevant to them. It seems odd to me that the Pope would issue this document "so that all doubt might be removed" and then have some claim that he did so in order to set the stage for future women's ordinations! We had a professor in my seminary who taught exactly that. Fortunately, none of us fell for the deception.

Fr. Joseph Fitzmeyer, quoting a supporter of WO, Rev. Herman Pottmeyer, "According to Pottmeyer, 'O.S. is an instance of ordinary (i.e., non-infallible) magisterium, declaring that the church’s unbroken tradition with regard to ordination is irreformable.' In saying this, he may be right, even though the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith subsequently explained that the doctrine about women’s ordination belongs to the deposit of faith and has been constantly held in the church’s tradition and infallibly set forth by the ordinary and universal magisterium." Fr. Fitzmeyer concludes his critique of Rev. Pottmeyer, "Pope John Paul II stated in O.S. that 'the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women' (No. 4). He did not mean that 'he could not himself change tradition in this matter.' He spoke rather of Ecclesiam facultatem nullatenus habere. If it is so, that the church has no ability to change it, then the Pope cannot invite everyone to prayer and dialogue as he would summon 'a council to make a final decision.' If 'the church' cannot do it, then a council cannot do it, no matter what 'signs of the times' may be or what 'faithfulness to Jesus' might seem to call for in Pottmeyer’s estimation."

Best book on the history and theology of the Church's teaching authority: Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ.

This link from the USCCB helps to clarify a number of issues.

NB. This post will be revised and updated.


  1. Anonymous9:55 AM

    Fr. Philip,

    Is that passage in OS a dogmatic statement? If so, this would be the most recent dogma since the 50's, wouldn't it?

    Merry Christmas.

  2. Fr. Philip - Perhaps I am merely repeating what you have said here; I understood the infallibility of the Church's inability to ordain women to the priesthood was a teaching that was already set forth by the ordinary universal magisterium, such that it doesn't necessarily require an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium.

    In OS, the Holy Father is merely reiterating a teaching that is already infallible.

    In the USCCB's Ten Frequently Asked Questions About the Reservation of Priestly Ordination to Men, they write regarding OS: "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the authority of this teaching by stating that it is founded on the written Word of God, has been constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, and has been set forth infallibly by the universal ordinary magisterium."

    I think this is also where a lot of confusion arises - the role of the magisterium, and the supporters of WO try very hard to muddy the waters, as you say.

  3. Alan,

    Yup...you're repeating what I have already said. However, it always bears repeating! :-)

    I was trying to explain the infallibility issue w/o using the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary magisterium.

  4. Augustine,

    This is the confusion...

    The statement is not infallible. The teaching is. So, no, OS is not the most recent infallible statement since the 50's. Like I said, there is no need for an infallible statement on the issue b/c there is no issue. Just as there is no reason for the Pope to teach infallibly that Jesus is the Messiah, there is no need for him to issue an infallible statement on the impossibility of WO. OS merely restates what has always been the case.

    That these two have been confused is part of the opposition's attempt to muddy the waters.

    I will revise my post to include another helpful distinction.

  5. Anonymous10:31 AM

    Fr. Philip,

    Please clarify what constitutes a declaration of a dogma.

    Take the last one, the Assumption of Mary. It was a (infallible?) belief held by the whole Church since its beginnings, yet doubt was cast on it, thus the need of declaring it a dogma.

    If this is so, why isn't that statement in OS a dogmatic declaration either, when it's restating an infallible belief that the Church has always held?


  6. TIA,

    There was no debate over the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception at the time of their infallible declaration. However, a Pope can have any number of reasons for issuing an infallible teaching of an irreformable doctrine. Sometimes the motivation comes about from social and cultural need, like the Assumption, or from theological controversy like Pope Benedict XIII's settlement of the issue of eternal judgment with "Benedictus Deus" in 1336.

    From what I know of the history of OS, JPII wanted to issue a straightforward infallible declaration but was dissuaded from doing so by the bishops he consulted. I don't know their particular reasons for arguing against the move, but JPII agreed and did what he did.

    What I'm saying is that a belief of the Church can be "always and everywhere held" and still declared infallibly by the Pope to be irreformable. Or, as in the case with OS, he can use the ordinary magisterium to simply repeat an irreformable doctrine. Regardless, the impossibility of the ordination of women is part of the deposit of the faith and cannot be changed.

  7. It's refreshing to see an explanation that does not rely on arguments that are at their root disparaging of women (women should not be ordained because: they can't keep secrets, they have no taste in vestments, they will be heterodox, they are goddess worshipers).

    Using the polarity between male and female is probably not a solid spot to sit, however, since it's based on a false biological premise. Genetically there are not just two genotypes (XX and XY) but a wider range of possibilities (and we are not talking about the occasional mutation).

  8. Anonymous12:39 PM

    I'm not Catholic, but that was brilliant. Ever since someone pointed out that churches that ordain women tend to die out, I've been following this subject. When churches allow themselves to be feminized, men lose interest and if men lose interest, then families stop going as families, and then there's nothing left, just a few people in a big cold building talking to themselves.

  9. Carol,

    The problem with churches that ordain women is that they tend to ordain feminists, including feminist men. Had I been an apostle I would have urged Christ to include women among the 12. I don't think the problem is women per se but the ideologies of women who end up ordained. I know any number of religious sisters who claim that they are called to the priesthood and I cringe to think what they would do as priests. However, there are also many religious women and laywomen who would make excellent priests...better priests than most men I know. They are theologically orthodox, pious, strong leaders, and hard working. I think of the Nashville Dominican sister, for example. If women were allowed to be ordained, I'd be at vested and ready when any of these sisters came up for ordination!

  10. Michelle,

    If we set aside the issue of legitimate Church authority, we can still make excellent theological arguments for not ordaining women. Mostly these arguments have to do with the nature of the Incarnation and the necessity of the sacraments. As I note in my comment to Cathy, I don't think that we can rely too heavily on male/female differences that come about from cultural practice. Women are not genetically more compassionate than men nor are men genetically better leaders than women. Though it is certainly true that some women are better leaders and some men more compassionate, these differences can be toted up to nurture rather than nature. This says nothing about the real differences between men and women that are not culturally conditioned. I had to laugh when we noted the stereotype of women not being able to keep secrets. The best gossipers I know are men!

  11. NB. "Benedictus Deus" was written by Pope Benedict XII not the XIII.

  12. As I read your posting I kept thinking of Sr Butler's book - then you referenced it. It's very good.

    One thing you left out, and I've noticed as I study the OT, is that God has always been very definite about who He wants as priest. And guess what - it's always been men. ALWAYS. Even when priestesses were familiar to the culture in question.

    That's another brick for the pile.

  13. Anonymous9:13 AM

    You fail to address one really big reason women believe ordination is an important right: society grants priests power. The bishop's conference and the Pope issue hundreds of statements on public policy issues, even though only a tiny number of priests have any expertise on those issues. Women, even non-Catholic women, can be harmed by priests exercising political influence. It is not just for a group that will never admit women to affect public policy that women suffer under.

    The fact that the Church never uses its influence to advocate for policies that benefit women makes this even more galling. The Church refuses to endorse requirements for paid maternity leave, aggressive enforcement of domestic violence laws, or laws against employment discrimination.

    If the church really wants women to believe it isn't denying ordination because it still thinks we're inferior -- and I note that the church put forward no other reasons for the denial until the end of the 20th century - you might consider using your enormous political influence to support public policies that benefit women.

  14. Karen,

    So, the Church should defy the wishes of Christ and 2,000 years of unbroken tradition and ordain women to the priesthood so that they can use their newly gained clerical power to advocate for "paid maternity leave, aggressive enforcement of domestic violence laws, [and] laws against employment discrimination"?

    I would refer you back to my responses to the first three objections of WO supporters. And would add that you simply do not understand the true nature of Catholic priesthood if you think the job of the priest and bishop is social and economic advocacy in an issues-driven political arena.

    Also, are you seriously claiming that the Church has no clear teachings on the absolute value of motherhood; the centrality of mutual love and respect btw husband and wife; and the need for justice in the relationship btw workers and their labor?

    Come on...

  15. "I know any number of religious sisters who claim that they are called to the priesthood and I cringe to think what they would do as priests."

    As do I. And I am very much bothered by the implication: if they are so sure of their vocation to be priests, what does that say about their vocation to be religious sisters? That is its own vocation that should entail a full and rich life of service. Yet, to them, it is more or less a stepping stone to priesthood, or a position for pending priests.

    They are using it selfishly to gain something else rather than actively seeking to live out the vocation they have actually responded to. And, like you, I am very grateful for our sake and theirs that some of these women will never be ordained priests.

  16. Karen, a few quotes from the Catechism and other Church authorities...

    CCC 371: God created man and woman together and willed each for the other...Man discovers woman as another "I", sharing the same humanity.

    CCC 372 Man and woman were made "for each other" - not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be "helpmate" to the other, for they are equal as persons...and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming "one flesh", they can transmit human life...By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique way in the Creator's work.

    CCC 2209: The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family's prerogatives or interfere in its life.

    CCC 2210: The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society13 entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty "to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity."

    CCC 2333: Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.

    CCC 2334: "In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity." "Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God."

    CCC 2433 Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants.219 For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment.

    From the 2002 USCCB document, "When I cried for help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women":

    As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form"—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal"—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims—men as well as women.

    The whole document is available here: http://www.usccb.org/laity/help.shtml

    From Pope John Paul II's work, Familiaris Consorto: In the conviction that the good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible to ensure that families have all those aids--economic, social, educational, political and cultural assistance--that they need in order to face all their responsibilities in a human way.

    This passage is used by the bishops of Australia to advocate for maternal leave.

  17. One or two more sites for you to visit:








    Yea, you're right...the Church never does anything on these issues. Must be all those male priests...

  18. Anonymous11:19 AM

    This is in response to Alan.

    I wonder what you would have women who truly in their hearts believe they are called to the priesthood do, however mistaken you might believe them to be. If they choose to be married, that is also it's own vocation, "a full and rich life of service"; as is the single life when chosen as a vocation. They cannot be priests and remain in the Roman Catholic Church, so they must choose one of the three possibilities open to them: marriage, vowed religious life, single chaste life. You cannot be suggesting they leave the Church?

    I believe that God does call women to the priesthood, even in the face of a Church that is not authorized to ordain them. And I believe that God does not issue calls that cannot be answered, lived out fully and richly. How do I reconcile these?

    Perhaps God is asking these women to be visible witnesses of humility and obedience, witnesses to the truth found in the one Catholic church. They remain - they are obedient, they are often humiliated for the sake of the Gospel (read the recent article in The Telegraph if you'd like a view of that).

    Why? Because they believe that the truth is here - in the Catholic Church, because they will serve Christ in His Church despite any humiliation that comes their way (and any woman who works in the Church, particularly in any role with authority, will face the moment when someone thinks she's "trying to be father", regardless of what she actually thinks), and because she is obedient to the Pope and his teaching authority. It's easy to do these things when it seems to be "going your way", harder to do it when things are not to your liking. And will be for all your life.

    There are a lot of women out there, I suspect, who feel called to the priesthood and have silently proceeded to live out God's call to them , with the strength he has given them (they must do without the graces of ordination in their work).

    Perhaps it's not always about power. It's not about the things of this world, even ordination. It's about being a witness to powerlessness, obedience, humility and truth. It's about putting on Christ. Which we are all called to do. By God.

  19. Anon Responder to Alan,

    Thank you for reminding me of the objection I left out. I will revise to include it.

    Briefly, if, as you argue, God calls women to priesthood and at the same time does not give the Church the authority to ordain them, then we have a cruel God indeed.

  20. "You cannot be suggesting they leave the Church?"

    Um, no. I'm merely suggesting that if they, in fact, do not have a vocation to vowed religious life, then perhaps they should take more care to consider what their vocation really is. If their vocation is one of service, that's great. One doesn't need to be a priest or vowed religious to serve.

    "Perhaps God is asking these women to be visible witnesses of humility and obedience"

    I'm sure God asks every Christian to be visible witnesses of humility and obedience.

    "It's about putting on Christ. Which we are all called to do."


  21. Anonymous12:47 PM

    The Church says a lot and does a little. The sites you linked are nice, and I'm glad they exist, but do really argue that the Church uses its prominence principally to reduce domestic violence? Equal employment opportunity? I am aware that priests aren't politicians, but the Church does have an enormous amount of power, which no female will ever have.

    I'm not Catholic. From the outside, I see a big, powerful organization with lotsa cash and no oversight that uses its power to require rape victims to bear their attackers' children and to prohibit women from divorcing their abusers. This metastatic bureacracy will never have anyone like me in any position of authority.

    If being a priest really is only about service, then stop taking political positions. No more excommunicating people for voting for any particular politician, no more opinions on any political issue -- including the ones I agree with. The Pope won't condemn either abortion or the Iraq war. No more discussion of economic policy or gay marriage. Priests will certainly continue to vote, but take your collar off if you attend a protest of any kind. No more use of the Church hall for political meetings or as a polling place, either. If you completely renounce all uses of secular power, you can ordain horses for all anyone would care.

  22. Karen,

    First, I never said that the Church never takes political positions. The links I list here are evidence enough of that.

    Second, the Church's principal mission is the salvation of souls not issue-driven political advocacy.

    Third, women in the Church have tremendous power. In my formation I was supervised at every step by several religious sisters. Most of my theology profs were sisters. All of my ministry supervisors were women. When I was a campus minister AS A PRIEST at UD, my boss was a woman. My dissertation director was a woman. With the exception of my time in Houston, all of my bosses in my adult employment career have been women. Religious sisters far outnumber priests, bishops, male religious combined. Just one Dominican sisters' congregation in the U.S. has a net worth of $900 million dollars! And there are probably 50 or 60 of these congregations just within the Dominican Order. Sisters owe and operate hospitals, universities, school, clinics, service agencies; administer parishes, non-profits, retirement facilities, insurance companies, and on and on. Please don't tell me that women have no power in the Church simply b/c they cannot be ordained.

    Fourth, the Church has no power to require anyone to do anything. We're a voluntary organization. No one is in any way required to join or remain a member. If a rape victim wants an abortion, she'll get one. Maybe not at a Catholic hospital but somewhere. You obviously didn't read the CCC quotes I sent you. The Church in no way requires a woman to stay with an abusive husband. In fact, physical separation is suggested in the CCC in cases of domestic violence (CCC 1649).

    Fifth, service is much, much larger than taking public political positions and advocating for particular political solutions to social problems. If everyone followed Church teaching, we wouldn't have employment discrimination, domestic violence, rape, or unfair wages. The Church's advocacy is her overall teaching on the innate dignity of the human person.

    Sixth, I'm amazed that you think the Church has such tremendous influence. Despite the efforts of the US bishops, 52% of Catholics voted for Obama. Most Catholics use some form of birth control. Most Catholic ignore our teachings on divorce and remarriage when they need to. Most Catholics do not attend Mass regularly, go to confession, or support the Church financially. If the Church has so little influence over her own members, why in the world would you think that she any influence on anyone else?

    Now, what's your real beef the Church?

  23. Karen,

    Let me add here that I worked with three religious sisters during my time in Clinical Pastor Education, a required summer field work assignment for all Catholic seminarians.

    Interestingly enough, these sisters, one in particular, daily abused their power over me. Knowing that I could not be ordained w/o a positive CPE report, she regularly excluded me from training sessions, refused to let me interact with patients, ridiculed me in front of our pastoral colleagues, and refused to give me floor assignments--a necessary part of the course. Why? I wore my Dominican habit to work everyday. One time, she told me outright that she would not accompany me on a death call to a family b/c of the way I was dressed. In the end I had to threaten to file a formal complaint with the archbishop and the hospital for harassment and a refusal to comply with contractual obligations before she relented and starting giving me floor assignments. She never stopped ridiculing me in public. Let's not get moist-eyed and romantic about the democratic utopia women priests would bring to the Church. I know better.

  24. Fr. Philip, I'd like to buy you a beer. Thank you for your service as a priest :)

  25. Anonymous2:24 PM

    Ad hominem comments don't count in this discussion - nasty nuns, insensitive priests, power abusing bishops are not evidence for or against. Nor are faithful nun, caring priests and firmly teaching bishops.

    And Father, I think I would object if you put "cruel" on the list. I don't think God is cruel if indeed he is calling women to the ministerial priesthood and simultaneously not authorizing the Church to ordain them, thereby putting them in a difficult and uncomfortable position. John the Baptist didn't have a comfortable life answering God's call, but a joyful one, not reveling in victimhood, but in his particular (and sometimes difficult) role. Pick a saint...pick Christ.

    I feel the same. God calls, I cannot fail to answer. God's ways are not our ways.

  26. Anon.,

    I'm well-aware that AH attacks do not constitute discussion. That's why I have made no AH attacks.

    I told the story of the abusive sisters as a counter to the assertion made above that women do not have power in the Church.

    I find it odd that you ignore my reasonable responses and counter-examples to the assertions in your post and focus instead on an imaginary fallacy of mine.

  27. ...and Alan I would most certainly let you do so!

  28. Anon.,

    As you requested, I am not posting your latest comments.

    I think I see the problem now. I am responding to three different commenters here as if they were two and probably confusing the responser to Alan's comment to boot.

    This is why it is best to leave a name. And best for me not to comment on comments this late at night!

  29. lively debate I've been missing here.

    should I speak up? or keep my peace??

    I wonder........

  30. Fr. an additional comment on the social constrictions argument...not original with me though I've forgotten where I read it. As someone here's pointed out, the pagan societies of Christ's time all had priestesses. If Christ had wanted to go with the flow, culturally speaking, nothing would have been more natural than to ordain women once his ministry spread beyond the Chosen People.

    Think, too, of the role of women in much of the world brutal suppression of women exists even today. That fellow who chucked a shoe --a grave insult in the Middle East-- at President Bush in Iraq made me think of the significance of Christ's washing the apostles' feet. A low and disgusting job that no one of any dignity or standing would perform. What is countercultural about putting a woman in such a role? I suspect that in much of the world a woman washing feet --in a vocation of service-- would draw no notice.

    What's dramatic and startling is the idea that a man should voluntarily serve in this way.

    You've aleady pointed out the inadequacy of the argument from cultural limitation; I only wanted to add that particular argument is one only a wealthy Western woman could seriously make. Our sisters all over the world who know what real oppression is --through machismo in the global south and outright 2nd-class status in Africa and the Middle East-- probably understand better how the male priesthood actually suggests and protects the equal dignity of women -- even culturally speaking.

  31. RC2, one of the defining moments in the history of feminist theory was the so-called class critique of bourgeois feminism from "third world" women. These women rightly pointed out the embedded Enlightenment assumptions of western feminism, particularly its reliance on western notions of liberation, freedom, and choice and noted the absence of any real attempt to address serious cultural differences beyond the west. You can see this playing out most explicitly in the debate over women's ordination. The movement to ordain women is a dead letter everywhere in the Church except the US and western Europe. African sisters, Asian sisters think the idea is absurd.

  32. About people who refuse to accept the plain meaning and intention of JPII's teaching. If the teaching had the same form, same exact wording, but you remove the "no authority whatsoever" and replace it with "full authority", I guarantee you that all its critics would instantly become defenders, and absolute defenders, against any knuckle-dragging traditionalists who suggested otherwise. Roma locuta causa finita would have a rebirth.

    As for the metaphysical and sacramental reasons WHY the priesthood is only for men...perhaps feminism has so deeply infected even the orthodox that they cannot allow themselves to think or speak about such a thing. I point out the following: each of the sacramental signs has a natural connection to what it signifies and effects. Water for baptism, bread and wine for Eucharist, a male and female pair for matrimony, etc. The maleness of the humans who are ordained priests is not some arbitrary whim. It says something about a particular masculine capacity here, as much as the particularity of male and female is required for the sign of marriage.

  33. Your noting of the "embedded Enlightenment assumptions". One of those assumptions is human equality on every level. Although that is a cherished American value, it is currently understood in a way which would have horrified the Founding Fathers, for whom it was A value, never THE value. Egalitarianism is an entirely Western liberal value with no grounding in the Church's 2000 year old tradition.

    If the 20th century showed tragically and horrifically that a classless society is impossible, I see no reason to believe that a genderless society or a raceless society has any other hope of doing anything different, ie, finally producing far more grief and damage than any superficial and short term benefits. IMHO, communism (and its Gramscian child, "wealth redistribution") will, after much destruction, lead feminism and multiculturalism into the dustbin of history. Because, to paraphrase Aquinas, both divine grace and any viable human benefit must perfect nature, especially naturally specific and hierarchical human nature, not erase it.

  34. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Don't want this to be an attack on sisters, but when I was a seminarian I had a similar experience. I had an assignment where everything was going great, go on well with the clients and staff etc. Then one day the sister in charge gave out to me for refusing to receive communion from the visiting Anglican priest. I told her why I couldn't and she shouldn't. This somehow lead to a discussion on abortion. Before I knew what was happening my bishop had a letter saying I was intransigent, judgemental and intolerant of others and he kicked me out.