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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. Beth

    Ezra F...you are the reason we are having problems in the Catholic Church, I pity the diocese you are sent to....

    August 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  2. Chris

    Those of you that think man and woman have to be doing the exact same thing to be equal are idiots. Aside from the Catholic church being totaly false, the priesthood is for the benefit of others, not the one holding it.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  3. JohnQuest

    And they wonder why they are losing their young to more secular causes, religion is losing power everyday, soon most of us will realize that we don't need God, God needs us.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  4. Angett

    You know, I got in serious trouble in Catholic school for asking the perfectly logical question of "if our god exists, why don't the other gods?" I mean, we all get our information from ancient history, mythology and personal experiences. But the way I got in trouble for an innocent question, you'd think I'd asked for the devil's home address!

    And the main reason why I left the church: because I am a woman. I felt like I would never be able to be a full member, or in any leadership role.

    Sorry guys, even if you fix up your ways, I'm never coming back.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Chris

      There are other gods, but our God is the only one that we worship. There are worlds without number.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Satan Himself

      @Chris, if your god is all loving and benevolent, why does he demand that you worship no other gods ? he sure seems narcissistic and demanding.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Angett,

      So where did you find your fulfillment....in one of the 35,000 ecclesial communities? How could you find just the right one in all that? Or was it easier to just start your own under your personal leadership? Or are you just 'spiritual' now so you don't have to chose? Just curious, if you don't mind.....

      August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  5. PJ

    This is a ridiculous argument. 2000 years ago nobody would take a woman seriously; however that has changed. I'm a male Catholic who often refers to God as She. Jesus should be considered gender neutral too. This argument clearly discriminates against women. We all know that Mary Magdalen was an Apostle and of course His mother more than one. Benedict should look closely at himself before passing judgement on women.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      PJ,

      Jesus taught us to pray.....'Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be HIS name,...'.....did you forget?

      August 30, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  6. CSD

    Here's what the framers thought of christianity in general, and catholicism in particular:

    Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires. - John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

    I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits.... Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola's. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.
    - John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 5, 1816

    Creeds have been the bane and ruin of the Christian church, its own fatal invention, which, through so many ages, made of Christendom a slaughterhouse, and at this day divides it into castes of inextinguishable hatred to one another.
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Whitmore

    The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
    - Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  7. mark

    Some of you are so dumb...enjoy hell morons...repent you fools.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  8. Colin in Florida

    Typical of the church. Make up an arbitrary rule, like celibacy or no female priests, then make it 'dogma' via some convoluted logic. The history of the papacy is one of murder, power grabs, sex, and more shenanigans. Research Pope Benedict IX, who SOLD the papacy (yes, he resigned the office) and was pope three times-yep, look it up.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  9. John

    Maybe they are afraid that women might interfere with the horrible way some of their Nuns are treated.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  10. acolone3

    I am Catholic, and I am amazed at the negativity in these previous comments. Most religions all pray to the same God (maybe a different name), but in the end, it is still God. Humans are fighting about all the inbetween stuff that everyone is fighting about (whether or not to pray to Mary, women can't be priests, is there a purgatory, etc.). We all choose our own paths and believe in our religions....but we are all working towards the same goal....to get into heaven. I find it very disheartning that people cannot just accept a differnet religion....they don't have to join if they don't agree, but accept the difference and move on and be a good CHRISTian. Don't you think that it is the devil that makes people fight? Quit giving him small victories and letting him letting him relish in the misery he brings people.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • CdnJim

      THe issue is not why others cannot accept a different religion, why are Cathoilic women being denied the right to fully use their God-given gifts in the service of the KIngdom, (That's God's Kingdom, not the Pope's Empire – two different things you know)

      August 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • acolone3

      men can't be nuns...chill out

      August 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      acolone3,

      You said....We all choose our own paths....that is the problem.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  11. Pamie

    What else would you expect from the church when the Pope goes into 3rd world countries (example..Haiti, Africa..) and tells the people not to use birth control! Those same people who can't feed themselves let alone their children! Very, very sad..

    August 30, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  12. Sergio

    I guess when you dont have a good argument, any argument will do

    August 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  13. CdnJim

    Neither can a pedophile stand in the place of Jesus, but the Catholic Church seems to be a little more forgiving on child-rape. I guess the penis rules all for Catholics. Now about the pointy hat that makes the pope look like a big phallus...

    And by the way, little note to the Vatican, when the 23rd Paslm says, "thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me" it doesn't mean that innocent children are comforted by being buggered by a dirty old man in a frock.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  14. Scott

    Women can't perform the sacraments all pregnant and leaning over the altar!

    August 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Satan Himself

    How the hell can millions of people believe in this magical man in the sky when 1st grade logic knows better ? Are you all that blind that you can not see religion as a crutch for the week minded (thanks Jesse) ? Did the whole world really flood except for Noah and his animal farm ? Did Sodom & Gomorrah burn because of thievery and debauchery ? (watch out Las Vegas ) Or are these old fables used to keep society in check ? How come these floods, burning bushes, miracles, parting of seas, etc... never happen in modern times ? You just dismiss all of this with the god works in mysterious ways mantra ? We now know that the Shroud is man-made. Humans have a long way to go before they can collectively be considered an intelligent species.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • Liz

      And you're part of the human species, I'm assuming? Are you the one and only intelligent human? Satan as man .......alive and well. You do keep us on our toes.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Satan Himself

      @Liz, did you not understand the word 'collectively' ? But now that you mention it; Yes, I am smarter than 2.2 billion christians.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Dan

      How does this happen in modern times?? ....Flooding in Pakistan, Earthquakes in Samoa, Chile, and Haiti, Katrina....just to name a few recent ones for example. (Although these places do have good people in them, there is much wickedness today as well and the obedient will be blessed)

      August 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Satan Himself

      @Dan, my point exactly. geological seismic activity – not an angry god.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  16. Bobby

    If you don't like the sexism of the Catholic Church, change churches!

    August 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  17. Robin Bray

    The four Gospels of the New Testament do not even agree with each other when it comes to who Jesus' followers were. The church is just a club that charges fees to belong to and denies admission to those that it does not want in positions of power. Or in other words The Old Boys Club.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  18. slacker

    I think they are all gay and could not stand having a woman tell them they are wrong.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Oleg

    Early church chose to only include writing of four apostles, all of them male, into the Bible in the fine tradition of old testament family trees making no mention of mothers and daughters. Writings attributed to both Marys (the mother and an apostle and possibly wife), Jesus'es baby brothers and sisters and even Jesus himself were excluded and labeled heretic because of provocative tidbits like God not needing a house. So yes, I think a male priest is the best stand in for early Catholic church but weather the later is an adequate substitute for really trying to understand God is doubtful.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  20. Jim X

    I was raised catholic, over 60 years ago. With all the BS I was told, I was never once told by anyone that the Priest stood in for Jesus. I was told that the Pope was God's representative on earth. What foolishness that is too. The church has so much wrong, yet is so unwilling to even try to fix it. Thankfully, I grew up and walked away from this organization. I do not need someone else's opinion on how I must view God.

    August 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Jim X,
      Your view is just another protester view of someone who doesn't like authority. Are you still wandering out there searching for the Truth?

      August 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
    • ChathamChad

      @CatholicMom

      Beware the Truth, CatholicMom, for the Truth condemns you and your Catholic Church. You cannot deny the Truth.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:35 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.