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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. Chuck

    Jesus may have taken the form of a man while sent to this earth, but can anyone prove that God is a man?

    August 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  2. sanjosemike

    Hungarian nun Sara Salkahazi saved at least 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. She was murdered in 1944 for hiding Jews. She has since been beatified. Isn't that "standing in place of Jesus?" If that isn't. What is? sanjosemike

    August 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  3. jobin

    no matter what one says...the Church was, is and always will be...no matter who comes or leaves...if you dont agree with the doctrines of the church...you are welcome to leave...but the church will still stand as it always has.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Katie

      There was, is and always will be suffering...that doesn't make it right.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  4. Mike of Vancouver

    Could you just imagine the chaos if women were allowed to be priests? Luckily for us the church knows what best for us.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  5. technosean

    The Pope himself cannot stand in the place of Jesus. He has more bling-bling than Mr. T. If he was standing in place of Jesus, why does he not wear humble clothes as Jesus did? Instead he accumulates wealth, gold, power.

    If he were truly to walk in Jesus' footsteps, he'd dress and act more humbly. My favorite Catholic history student says "Follow the money." Sadly, that is the real history of the Catholic religion.

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

    Just another reason to bring back the Catholic Church of pre Vatican II. All those that "feel" the need for women priests, dancing in church and other irreverent practices can break off and leave. Vatican II started the whole non-sense of humanistic "feeling" where everything is man centered and not God centered. This is just the latest MANifistation...women priests...ha

    August 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  7. Arp

    How did this argument derail so quickly without notice of a self-evident issue: God is not a man. The Trinity is not made up of men, but of God who is without sex. God is neither male nor female; it becomes the simplest logical error to engage in anthropomorphism and to conclude that God looks like Charlton Heston. With this idea in mind, any priest would have to be asexual entirely to qualify for the role as the Church seeks to define it. Whatever the argument, the notion that only men can be priests is a desperate stab by the old-boys' club to keep the girls out of the clubhouse. The presence of women means sharing power, and rethinking an 1100 year-old tradition that began with the attempt to keep priests from leaving parishes to their children, nothing more. The argument against women is pea-brained nit-picking upon the flimsiest of evidence. By the way, wasn't it the body of a woman who bore the Christ? Wasn't it her breasts at which he was nourished, and wasn't it by her hands that he was fed, chothed, and reared, the Church having conveniently killed off St. Joseph since having a perpetual virgin with a living husband is a bit of a problem? Wasn't it Mary Magdalene who has the single-most legitimate claim to being the first Christian, having first discovered that he was no longer among the dead? The official Church for years has striven mightily to marginalize women, all the while piously proclaiming that women "are special," which is nothing more than thin code for "women are second-class Christians." It's time this foolishness was put to rest. With the coming change in the Church - married priests, women as priests,etc. - the old-boy theology in this regard is mostly dust on the windowsills . . . .

    August 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  8. Tomz

    Weak argument. Okay. Following that logic, if Jesus was dark skinned, that means that light-skinned people (like current pope) should be ineligible. If he was light-skinned, that means that dark-skinned people should be ineligible. Did he have long hair? That nixes short-haired priests. Brown eyes? There goes another group. Bottom line is Jesus was many things. Why is the church saying that this one characteristic of Jesus is what they key off of in deciding who can be a priest? Not that I care as I'm Agnostic. Just don't see any logic here.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Katie

      Did you happen to catch Bill Mahr's 'documentary' on religion? He makes a pretty solid point at the end of the film that, as an agnostic, you might find interesting. Thank you for your logic...it's more logical then some of the rest :o)

      August 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  9. Mark

    does anyone even care what these bunch of sick child molesters think anymore? If you do, you are no better than they are and are just a culpable in their actions.
    Eradicate religion from the human race and you will eradicate the majority of problems the human race has to deal with.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Angett

      While I agree with you that organized religion causes many problems, even if we do away with it, humans will be humans and corrupt other institutions and organizations to play our personal power games... Eliminating religion isn't the answer, neither is elimanating humanity. Maybe religion or no religion on a personal level...

      August 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  10. RinMaine

    Maybe having women priests would reduce the abuse of young boys.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  11. LadyMiniMe

    I was raised catholic, but these last couple of years many things happened which distanced me from the church. I can't believe that in this day and age, people can say "man and woman are equal" just not in all areas...... like in the church. I disagree that the priest stands in Jesus' place. Nobody stands in his place. If someone is humble, living according to his teachings thus deserving, they can transmit his messages. That's how I see it. So, anyone (women or men), who are living according to his teachings can become a priest. And, i agree with the comment that the goal, for the Roman Catholic church or any other religion in the world, should be to guide, coach, teach human beings about being decent, humble, helpful, human beings who want to protect their race (the only one: the human one!) and the world.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Dan

      Many people who were "raised Catholic" share your views, particularly about the unfortunate incidents that everyone on here loves to rehash, especially our non-Catholic onlookers. You are correct that anyone can pass along Jesus' messages, and they should. The priest's role of "stand-in" is different than just reading the Gospel at Mass. They are the ones that Jesus himself passed along the baton to deliver the sacraments which provide us much needed grace. Each of our sacraments were initiated and consecrated by him. He had many followers around him, both men and women. But it was to his disciples that he instructed to these in his name. And they have. When John Paul II said that he didn't have the authority to ordain women, it was because Jesus didn't ordain women. Through the years, the church has tried to accomodate changing times, but when it comes to the teachings of Jesus, it quite simply, cannot.

      Some of the people on here will clearly bash what I've said to discount it, but I'd recommend one site to you. http://www.catholicscomehome.org . There have been issues. Severe issues. But the faithful work through them, because our faith is in God and in Jesus.

      I hope you take this within the spirit with which it was intended.

      August 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      LadyMiniMe,...you said....'the goal, for the Roman Catholic church or any other religion in the world, should be to guide, coach, teach human beings about being decent, humble, helpful, human beings who want to protect their race (the only one: the human one!) and the world.'
      That is exactly what the Catholic Church does plus it is the font by which we recieve grace through Sacraments....and still, people complain.....

      August 30, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  12. Bob (Illinois)

    Three words come to mind regarding this idiotic stand by the Catholic Church: Stupid, stupid and STUPID!

    August 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  13. Ezra F.

    If you don't like what the Catholic Church teaches...why are you still a Catholic? Why would you be apart of something that you do not agree with their doctrines and standings? So either take what they give you and accept it, or find somewhere you feel better fits your world. But isn't that the problem with the world today? We keep trying to have God conform to us...when it is us who have to conform to Him. I MUST decrease so that He may INCREASE!!!

    August 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  14. Hope for the future

    As for his argument, Jesus also was Jewish so they need to excommunite all the priests as they're not Jewish.

    Let their small minds persist. Their building their own extinction anyway. Hope for a day when people are encouraged to think for themselves. And if you're too weak for that...then go on being part of the Sheeples.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  15. mark

    Some of you are so sad and funny. You won't enjoy hell. ha ha hah aha hhaha haha. So, sad. There are wolves in sheeps clothing-so yes, there will be people mascarading like they speak for the Lord of Hosts. They do not. I agree wholeheartedly with what many of you have mentioned about abuses.

    The Bible says "...many will not believe and many for trivial reasons..." Don't let anothers sin prevent you from believing.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  16. cadwl

    I honestly don't know how the Catholic church can stand firm on some controversial, gray-area issues saying that it's "the way it's always been" when they've changed other longstanding beliefs, such as deciding that the earth is round or that Limbo doesn't exist. Either you are or you aren't fallible... and if you're not fallible, then did Limbo pop in and out of existance because the Church changed their mind? Did the world suddenly become round?

    I've translated many books in the Bible from ancient Hebrew into English myself, and it's shocking what connotations have been stuffed into the book. I imagine that translating the NT from ancient Greek is the same way. For people who are trying to get to the root of what the Bible says, I think the experience of translating is a good eye-opening experience. Reading the apocryphal books is another, because it's interesting to see what almost got voted into canon. How different would the world be if the Book of Judith were standard canon and not in just the Septuagint!

    August 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  17. Frederick

    Critics of the Catholic Church save your breath. This is one hopeless intellectual quagmire that will require decades if not centuries to sort out. The only hope is that common sense will eventually overcome the silliness of dogma, the pomp of authority, and the abject fear of promised hellfire. There is a lesson to be learned from the fact that in developed countries the pews are emptying while the Church is prospering in those areas where the typical world view is extremely limited. We are being dragged kicking and screaming by painfully small steps into a promised land of greater intellectual freedom.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  18. Liz

    There are certain things that are abandoned by the Church because the march of time has proven them to be anecdotal such as leprosy being a punishment for sin and thank goodness we no longer follow literaly many things that appeared pleasing to God in the Old Testament. My point is there are some things that are easily seen to be time sensitive and literal interpretation is moved beyond.The message is what is timeless and devinely inspired and can never be an issue.The picking and choosing of what to abandon and what to sustain will always be a political issue within the Church-Example-Jesus was a man who spoke in Hebrew, the language the Last Supper was celebrated in-we keep the Last Supper in the celebration of Mass but toss out the Hebrew.Why? Because it now makes sense to use another language.Jesus was a man who had no use for wordly goods-this theme pervades all his teachings-we still stick with that he was a man....but can anyone say Vatican Treasures?

    August 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  19. Nostromo45

    So conservative hard-line narrow-minded catholicism is in the same medieval dark ages as Islam....

    August 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  20. Irish

    Can someone please explain to me why a penis is important for ministry? Seems like all that a penis has done for priests so far is to get them into trouble.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:53 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.