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. Suzanne

    Accurate history shows us that Jesus did, in fact, embrace women and spent a large portion of his time with young women who assisted him throughout his ministry; Mary Magdalen, Martha, etc. It wasn't until the gospels were written several centuries later that women were relegated back to a position of subordination in the church. And it is on those belated gospels which a majority of the Christian churches today lean on for support of their gender bias. Sadly, officials of the Catholic Church today have removed all humanity from Jesus who was half human...I have not doubt that if Jesus had a direct say in how "played his role," he would want the person with the purest heart and not the person with the prescribed genitals!

    August 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      Jesus was fully human, like us in every way except sin.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  2. johnnyhouse

    Maybe if we gold plated the capitol dome we could have some peace in the world. I said on 9-11 that we would hear the state of the union message in Arabic before most of us left here.We are so close.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  3. usa48312

    Dear woman want to be priest,

    Please give us your reasons on why do you want to be priest. May be:

    Equal right,
    Any other reasons

    Just follow Jesus like our blessing mother Maria did. And follow
    the holy father orders. May Jesus bless you.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • cajunlady

      Maybe God is trying to speak through these women who want to be priests. After all, he spoke through a burning bush.

      August 31, 2010 at 8:18 am |
  4. Da

    Boy, good thing Jesus was born a man. Just think of all those men in black suits without jobs. To bad these deep thinkers feel that God who is male/female/it/what-ever the greater of ALL is not capable of seeing through a gender "issue" that is made by man (err human kind).

    August 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  5. publicgirl

    I am very much a straight Christian woman. Women who continue to want these male roles screw things up because they get in situations they were not meant to be in (like marrying women). People, Christians are to live in the image of Christ (hence the name "Christian"), in which The Bible says Who (Christ) loved the church and game Himself for it. The Church is also referred to in The Bible as the bride awaiting the return of The Groom. If we live according to how The Bible teaches, we could handle much of life's situations differently and better. That's not to say that we (Christians) will not make mistakes, but we would be able to get through them better when we understand the whole big picture that The Bible has painted for us. And to the world (non-believers), we are not supposed to act like you do with upside down morals and confused roles. No Christian is to follow man, but the teachings of Christ. This is no different than your children learning in school, yet they do not follow in the footsteps of the teacher, but learn from the material being taught. For those of you who say that The Bible is outdated, if you truly read it, you would learn that over 2000 years ago, The Bible mentions the very events that are occuring today. By far, it is not outdated; it has just outlasted all of the other false religious doctrines that were made up by man.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • Rachel

      So * all * Christians (women included) can live "in the image" of Jesus, but women can't be priests because that would be a (gasp) woman assuming the role of Jesus? So, women can emulate Jesus sometimes, but not others? How, exactly, does that work? Particularly when your religious texts tell men and women to live in the image of your god, but human beings tell you it's impossible for you (as a woman) to do so?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
    • Carolyn

      The Bible also says it's okay to stone your children to death if they disobey you, that women who wear men's clothes (i.e. slacks) should be killed, and that it's okay to let a marauding mob rape your daughter to death (that would be Lot). Oh yeah, and it's okay to rape your own daughter, again according to the Bible. Come on. Wake up.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
    • cajunlady

      So you are saying that if a woman wants what a man wants they will eventually marry a woman? Interesting. Don't you have some housework to do????? Does your husband know you are using the computer????? Did you get his permission first???

      August 31, 2010 at 8:17 am |
    • Diane

      1. Why are they "male" roles? Why can't they just be HUMAN roles? We wouldn't have to confuse roles if we were all equal and were able to do the same things as anybody else.
      2. The Church as the Bride is a METAPHOR and in no way proves that a woman should not be allowed to be a Priest(ess).
      3. Yes, you are right about something, people do make mistakes. We make mistakes by taking small parts of the Bible out of context and using it for our own purposes, like refusing to allow women to have leadership roles in the church. We should learn from the material, like you said, and not blindly follow a man's interpretation of it. If you give me any Bible verse, I can tell you there is way more than one interpretation of it. People do tend to put their own spin on things.
      4. The God I know does not discriminate against people based on the color of their skin or the organs they were born with or for any other reason. Because God decided for me to be born as a woman does not mean that I am supposed to somehow be inferior to men. And letting men be the heads of the church and excluding women is definitely saying that we are inferior and somehow not able to do the job.

      September 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  6. Boog

    Why not just do away with a church that is guilty of major crimes against humanity? I, personally, don't understand why anyone would choose to be a Catholic in the first place. Why align yourself with a church that tortured and burned innocent people?

    Rumors of Pope John Paul II's pedophilia problem were swept under the rug by the "church" in the 1980's. The "Church" will always protect its own.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  7. worldiscrazy

    What is up with America? People are angry about everything. There are always 2 sides and usually ONLY 2 sides. People pick one or the other, and then fight vehemently about the issues. It's very depressing.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  8. johnnyhouse

    I think that anyone who has read any understands that most of our problems stem from religious beliefs.People die trying to force their will and religious beliefs on others.I think there should be more women in the church and maybe the men will leave our children alone until they are old enough to decide what they want. If there is a hell the child molesters will be stoking the fires.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  9. May

    To argue the point is to argue with God whose plan was Jesus.
    I don't think you'll win.
    Just as only a woman can birth a baby, so too, Jesus chose men to represent what a God is to all of us, 'Father'. Only a man can be 'Father'.
    Can we just accept that God knows best?

    August 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      That is not likely. People evolved with the desire to question. Eventually the Church will need to explain itself and provide adequate evidence in that explanation, as God himself is very unlikely to show up and speak for himself.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  10. boocat

    This relligion is no different than Islam. It's all b.s. And anyone who believes that book of fiction, The Bible, should be reminded that the RCC dropped books from their final "version." One being the Gospel According to Mary Magdalene and the Gospel According to Judas. Anyone one of us could take any sentence from this book and skew it and twist it to mean anything we want. The RCC is archaic and irrelevant!

    August 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  11. Jesus

    If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  12. craig

    I love how the Catholic Church is so critical of everything and everyone even though they are so screwed up eternally.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  13. juan

    the problem of this times we want to change everything the way we like it

    August 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • Debbie

      To argue the point is to argue with God!...what a silly statment...i must asume you are a man...and therefore are able to represent God..

      August 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • El Guapo

      More like argue with bronze age philosophy created by desert dwelling goat herders that was further filtered by countless humans. So in effect you arent arguing against god....cuz...ummmm.....he doesnt exist.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  14. gam

    The Bible is clear that the women are not to teach and usurp authority in Church and the analogy is given that Christ is the man that loved the Church and gave himself for it and Church is the bride of Chirst and is expected to submit herself to the Christ. Also Bible reasoned saying that Even fell inot temptation first.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      I would argue that while Eve fell into temptation first, it took Satan himself to convince her, while Adam simply did what Eve recommended. It seems the Church wants us to believe that Adam is less of a sinner because he was the last on the scene and was easier to corrupt.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • boocat

      gam- fiid me the passage where it specifically says women cannot be priests...prove it! And it don't mean what the RCC taught you as a child or the RCC's interpretation. Find it in the NT.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • gam

      1 Timothy 2:12-14 (King James Version)

      12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

      13For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

      14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • gam

      Ephesians 5:22-25 (King James Version)

      22Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

      23For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

      24Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

      25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

      August 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • Satan Himself

      Jackdraw, that is the only part of religion that makes sense. I could believe that a man (Adam) was so browbeaten by his wife, that he finally did what she demanded and ate the damn apple.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
    • gam

      btw, I am not an RCC nor belong to any chucrh. I believe that the institutional Church age is over and the only Church God is interested is in the one eternal invisible Church which is getting ready to be joined to Chirst.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
    • gamm

      btw, I am not an RCC nor belong to any chucrh. I believe that the institutional Church age is over and the only Church God is interested is in the one eternal invisible Church which is getting ready to be joined to Chirst.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      Not all things are in the NT......Do you believe in the Trinity? The word 'Trinity' is not in the Bible....

      August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Diane

      Here is one interpretation of 1 Tim chapter 2 for those that say women are meant to be silent and not teach.


      September 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  15. The Jackdaw

    The church promotes an archaic hierarchy and uses circular logic to prove that it is right to do so. It's fascinating to see otherwise logical and modern people, including women, defend its medieval views and dogma with evidence that it no more relevant than the rhetoric that caused the argument itself. The fact, however, is that the church has three options. It can chose to evolve, which it occasionally does chose do to, fracture into new sects, which it often happens, or simply fade away as the society it needs to support it begins to realize that it is not only archaic, but irrelevant.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  16. Izzy Roush

    Scene: New York City, man is going to jump off the building. Up rushes good Irish cop. Cop yells up to the man "Don't jump! Think of your father"

    Man replies "Haven't got a father; I'm going to jump."

    The copy goes through a list of relatives, mother, brothers, sister, etc. Each time man says "haven't got one; going to jump."

    Desperate the cop yells up "Don't jump! Think of the Blessed Virgin"

    Man replies "Who is that?"

    Cop yells "Jump, Protestant! You're blocking traffic!"

    August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  17. Alan

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

    ...And what was the status of women at that time? How convenient.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  18. El Guapo

    Hmmm....Well thats what happens when people make imaginary rules for an imaginary religion that worships an imaginary god.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Catie

      At least I dont have to imagine being worm food when I die.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jesus

      Imagine whatever you want, Catie. If you're wrong, you'll have wasted your entire life. If you're right, then you'll spend an eternity with a bunch of religious weirdos. I'd rather be worm food.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • El Guapo

      You can imagine cities in the clouds and streets of gold all you want but worm food will be exactly what you will be. Quick...wish real hard that its not gonna happen!

      August 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  19. Izzy Roush

    Speaking of Catholics...
    There are 3 fundamental truths about religion: Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Son of God, Protestants don't recognize the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, and Baptists don't recognize each other at the bar on Saturday nights.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  20. SCDad

    Since they are violating US laws on equal rights, they should have their tax exempt status revoked.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Barry

      excellent point

      August 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Catie

      Dont penalize the poor

      August 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • cadwl

      Catie, if they're a church that's truly as loving and sacrificial as they say they are, they'd cut some of their extravagant spending and make sure the poor are cared for in spite of taxation. Saying that it takes money from the poor is essentially a scare tactic. It's like when big businesses convince their poor workers that taxation will make them hire less people... that's not how that works.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • FastEddie


      Penalize the poor? The Catholic Church owns TRILLIONS of dollars worth of property and other valuables, including cash.
      But, yes, they will let people die an agonizing death from starvation to prove that God is punishing them. Yeah.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
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