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August 30th, 2010
10:58 AM ET

Catholic Church defends male-only priesthood

Barring women from being Catholic priests is not the result of sexism 2,000 years ago, it's because women cannot fulfill a basic function of the priesthood, "standing in the place of Jesus," a leading British Catholic thinker argued Monday.

"This teaching is not at all a judgment on women's abilities or rights. It says something about the specific role of the priest in Catholic understanding - which is to represent Jesus, to stand in his place," argued Father Stephen Wang in a statement sent out by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

It's rare for the Catholic Church to defend its fundamental positions in this way.

Wang was responding to the announcement that campaigners for female priests will plaster posters on London buses next month during the pope's visit to London.

The ads read "Pope Benedict - Ordain Women Now!" and will be on 15 double-decker buses running in some of London's main tourist areas, including Parliament and Oxford Street, said Pat Brown, a spokeswoman for Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO).

The group spent "in excess of 10,000 pounds" ($15,500) on the ads and is hoping donations will help make up at least part of that cost, Brown told CNN Friday.

Wang rejected both the tone and the content of the ads, saying that while an atheist ad campaign last year was "hesitant and ended with gentle exhortations," this one ends "with a shout."

And it's based on a fundamental misunderstanding, said Wang, the dean of studies at London's main seminary for Catholic priests, Allen Hall.

Pope John Paul II declared in 1994 that the church has no authority to ordain women, a position confirmed a year later by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. At the time, Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the arbiter of Catholic Church dogma.

Wang called the late pope's position "surprising," saying John Paul had meant he did not have the power to change "something that has been such a fundamental part of Christian identity from the beginning."

The bottom line is that Jesus chose 12 men - and no women - to be his apostles, Wang argues.

The choice was "deliberate and significant, not just for that first period of history, but for every age," Wang says.

Men and women are equal in Christianity, he continues, but "this does not mean that our sexual identity as men and women is interchangeable. Gender is not just an accident."

He compared the role of a priest to that of an actor playing King Arthur or British soccer star Wayne Rooney in a movie.

"No one would be surprised if I said I wanted a male actor to play the lead," he said, admitting the analogy was "weak."

But, he said, "it shouldn't surprise us if we expect a man to stand 'in the person of Christ' as a priest, to represent Jesus in his humanity - a humanity that is not sexually neutral."

The Catholic women's group says that in addition to its bus campaign, it plans to hold a vigil September 15, the day before the pope's visit, outside Westminster Cathedral.

The group also plans to demonstrate at Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury - the head of the Church of England - during his meeting with the pope.

And members plan to hold a banner along the route of the popemobile, the secure vehicle which carries the pope, in London.

Pope Benedict plans to visit England and Scotland September 16-19. It will be the first state visit to the United Kingdom by a pope, according to the British Foreign Office. John Paul's trip in 1982 was officially a pastoral visit.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Anglican • Catholic Church • Leaders • Pope Benedict XVI • United Kingdom

soundoff (1,334 Responses)
  1. Petel2

    Good reason to keep kids away. we don't need another generation of freaks who are unable to reason. Ritual behaviors as the RCC cult cause blocked reasoning, fact.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  2. Photal

    Why do we as humans put ourselves in such a ridiculous position? Why ask a man, or anyone else, what a woman should be or not be? Now that women do not have 16 children to tend to, maybe some of them could very well contribute to the spiritual health of the members of Catholic Church. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is the problem. The goal of the Catholic Church should be the spiritual edification of it's members. It should be helping its flock to be as good human beings as possible. Now why they get stuck playing around with the plumping is beyond me. If a man is willing to contribute to the spiritual welfare of his community that's fine. If a woman is so inclined that's fine too. How is it possible that God would create a complementary couple, man and woman, and then demand that only one of them act as spiritual guide. That is not my God. That is what is known as Spiritual Red Tape and Spiritual Bureaucracy enforced in the name of Tradition. Is it not a human trait to be able to decide which traditions are upheld and which traditions are put aside?

    August 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Photal,

      God doesn’t demand that a married man act as a spiritual guide.

      Every person who has a vocation to the priesthood is SENT; sent as in Jn 20:22 …as the Father SENT His Son, so Jesus Christ sent His Apostles and their successors.

      No one can send himself. Someone has to do the sending. But without the Apostolic succession, protestant pastors send themselves….

      August 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  3. McCluck

    Thanks for the threats. I’m scared enough now that I will start being Christian so that your "loving" god doesn’t burn me for an eter nity...

    Oh but I forgot, I hear that the great pink unicorn will turn you into a cotton candy coco on and drink your blood through curly-fun-straws like in that "killer clowns from outer space" movie. What do do?!

    August 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  4. jn555

    This from the same church that imposed the spanish inquisition. I guess that was justified in the bible too. It's always interpreted to benefit someone, in this case a penis.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  5. Holier than Thou

    Jesus didn't own a car, use any electronic devices, or even US dollars as currency

    Guess nobody can be a priest

    August 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Petel2

      But the vatican wealth,, Those riches stolen and swindled off people could be used to feed the hungry. Naw, JC would have kept the riches too. Likely covered up the rrrraaappppesss and ssssoodddoommiiies of small elementary school children, and blamed it on gays.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  6. samanta

    l5DfoL http://djb3jDdmjckow30cnjcmd61l0dy.com

    August 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  7. Objective Realist

    Scribbling written 2000 years ago by socially and educationally inadequate people whose collective knowledge is less then that of the average 4th grader. I think that makes sooooo much CENTS . OH YEA PLEASE pass the collection plate this must be the answer to all the mysteries of the universe. This is defiantly a step up from Crystal Aura Cleansing and Holographic imagery meditation.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  8. Petel2

    First of all, celibacy is a freak show. Abnormal life style that means zero. I prefer my kids around women than a bunch of freakish liars who lied and covered up the abuses to small elementary children.
    -
    That alone should tell us something.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  9. vov

    To put this explanation in print is an affront to women everywhere. Putting oneself in Jesus' footsteps is a primative (simplified) explanation of the church's position. Using footsteps as a sexist tools destoys the menaing of Christ's teachings. The institution uses many such explanations on a variety of issues. We are a developed people with developed ideas and do not simply accept. It must be explained logically and inteleligently for our acceptance.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  10. Joe Lansing

    Mother Church again shows itself a poor interpreter of Christ's message and mired in its original misogynist cultural setting. Many thelogians have noted that Jesus walked some fine, almost radical, cultural lines such as even dining openly with women. But surely an "entourage" that brazenly included women as equals to men would have made Jesus so culturally anathema that no one would have even bothered to listen to his message at all. During Jesus' time there were probably few if any women carpenters, architects or metal workers either. How dare they to stand in in those places today!

    August 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  11. iknow

    The bible was written by a bunch of hypocrites just out of the stone age. Current church teachings follow suit. I believe in God, but I have no use for the idiots who think they represent her.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  12. mark

    So, many of you think this is some sort of issue of social justice for women. It is actually a concept of freedom of religion. The Bible clearly indicates that men are the head of the joined married body of a real & normal male & female marriage. This is intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church (all believers). Many of you are really saying, we don't believe in Christ do it our way–if you don't do it our way we will call you bigots. Well very well then from your unfaithful perspective. Men and women have equality before God. Read Genesis "... in the image of God, He created them: male and famale he created them..." That doesn't mean we have the same roles. An image is not the same as the original–do you think you interact with your moveis and tv shows? So, as we were made as images of God–we are not the original and have different roles. Much like a TV and the VCR have different roles. Each equally valuable in its role.

    So many of you use human arguments against God. I hope you know you are going to hell if you do not confess Christ. An atheist & apostate believe the word of God is true for certain when they are in hell. Confess before it is too late.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • McCluck

      Thanks for the threats. I’m scared enough now that I will start being Christian so that your "loving" god doesn’t burn me for an eternity...

      Oh but I forgot, I hear that the great pink unicorn will turn you into a cotton candy coco on and drink your blood through curly-fun-straws like in that "killer clowns from outer space" movie. What do do?!

      August 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • Petel2

      You are right mark, we couldn't argue using human common sense against your religious delusions. You just keep making stuff up.
      Your clergy abuse is a good example.
      If there is a hell, I hope every catholic who spoke out against those who protected children, the children abused and used excuses as gays were the cause – go there. If there is a god, as a victim, I will demand catholics be sent to eternal damnation, they have sinned the worse. They have denied small children who suffered at the hands of the RCC hierarchy – the denials and the rapppperrrrs.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Nina

      Well said Mark.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Petel2

      Mark, sorry to say – you are delusional. I"m sure you will see posts here from other priests pretending to be moms and/or women agreeing with you. It wouldn't be the catholic church is there were no lies and deception.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • ChathamChad

      @mark

      Do not think you can hide your crimes behind this "freedom of religion". It was not made that way. You are responsible for what you have done, directly and indirectly. There is nowhere to hide. Turn yourself in. Do the right thing.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
    • Frogist

      @McCluck: I'm with you. Clowns are way more scary than Jesus.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  13. M13

    Jesus also had a beard and was allegedly white (according to all the paintings). So does that mean that unless you are a bearded white man you can't be a priest? Jesus also alegedly stood on water. I would say thats much more important of a detail than his gender. I'd like to see someone stand in his place, on water. In anycase I can't say I expected an explination that made any sense coming from people who run an organization that embrace ignorance and intolerance.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • Petel2

      and JC didn't have the capital the vatican has,$$$$. In fact the vatican's riches would solve world hunger, all they care about is a freakish mens club with cardinal oath allowing them to lie to preserve their churches reputation. Yep, children raped, riches accumulated – guess JC was like that, women aren't right for this dishonest group.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  14. McCluck

    Wow, you can justify anything you want when logic and reason have been completely ruled out and avoided. Just say whatever you want, mr Pope, and the majority of the people will follow without question. You could have found scripture or historical evidence to justify whichever side of the argument you indended on taking. Some monkeys are smarter than other monkeys and have learned how to take advantage of their environment. Kind of reminds me of the sattelite male frog.-The one that lets his big, manly, deep vioced, frog friends call in the females only to intercept them before they get there. That one figured out how to cheat the system too...guess cheaters are a part of nature.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  15. KPA

    Simpe put "1 Cor 14:34 Let your[d] women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says." No man can stand in the place of Jesus so all that goes to the so called priest to ask for forgiveness that is like putting another man before him, go directly to Christ if you want you prayers answeredand your sins forgiven.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      You are forgetting.....Mt 16;19 -..... give you keys of the kingdom; power to bind & loose

      August 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  16. AGeek

    What a bunch of backwards, misogynistic cretins. With each passing action and statement, I'm so glad I disowned this group over 25 years ago over their hypocrisy.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  17. Neil

    By the same logic used by this guy.. Jesus was a child molester.. gives new meaning to suffer the children unto me..

    August 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  18. Richard

    In the Catholic Church, women are the property of men, and they need to be kept in their place. Trying to whitewash church doctrine through this crap is just plain foolish. The church is a private club, and they are free to make the rules as they see fit, no matter how inappropriate normal people may see it. Making excuses in this matter is helpful to no one.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Eric

      Richard, that is just plain wrong and you know it. If the Catholic church really believe that women are the property of men, site the page and reference number in the Catholic catechism on that issue. You can't do it, because you just made it up. Who is talking bull here? I think you are.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  19. wilson

    So, what they are saying is that you are required to have a penis? That makes perfect sense.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  20. Lisa

    I MUST post. What about St. Paul who says that in Christ there is no man nor woman. Here is the other thing that makes me angry about the Church's position on this. We are getting second career convert priests because of the shortage. At our church, our new priest is a convert DIVORCED man whose wife is still living. Yet women who have spent their lives IN the church and following the rules are denied priesthood. I refuse to call this man "Father". It's not that he's a convert, but alot of these second career convert priests are the ones who want to take us back to the Latin Mass when they have no experience of it and have no real idea what they are talking about. We are ALL called to be Christ-like. ALL OF US! The final point I wish to make is that Mary Magdelene was most assuredly an Apostle of Jesus, and Paul mentions female deacons in his letters. The Church CHOOSES to turn a blind eye to these truths. They turned Mary Magdelene into the prostitute when the woman isn't even identified as Mary Magdelene just to keep her from being seen as the Apostle she truly was. We also have to remember that the first person who said YES to Jesus was his mother Mary. If that does not make her an Apostle I don't know what does.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.