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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. sbg

    Ah, but if I were to follow up on actions over words and consider to whom He revealed himself first after having left the tomb, it was a woman, and not just one. So he started it with men, but he wrapped it up with women and thus the need for the Catholic church to change.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  2. Wendy

    How in the world could I ever support an institution as backwards-thinking as the traditional Catholic church... a church that teaches blind obedience to a politically-elected – and very human – Pope: a church that holds on to so much wealth instead of distributing it to those it professes are in need: a church that has so disgustingly protected child molesters for years... a church that holds fast to (a very illogical and sexist) position on women's inability to become priests... I could go on and on.

    IMHO, the Catholic church became a modern version of the Pharisees along time ago. I don't believe it would not recognize Christ if He came knocking at the Vatican's front door.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  3. Thomas

    It is my understanding that the term 'priest' is used once in scripture (Hebrews) and was in reference – specifically – to Jesus and was not to be continued. It is also my understanding that Jesus indicated that there were no other fathers except our father in heaven, but still the term 'father' prevails as another term for a priest. So, an even larger issue to me is the existence of the 'temple' or church and these so-called 'priests'. Not exactly what Jesus meant in my estimation, much less what sex a priest is.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  4. Luci

    it is sad that this is happening, considering that MAN wrote the bible and churches DECIDED which books to include, they selected those that THEY wanted to say was the only ones, what happened to all the other religious texts that were written but not included in the bible because some MALE decided that it was not "worthy"

    August 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  5. cinta

    I just wanted to point out that we as Catholics do not base our beliefs solely on the Bible. We believe revelation comes from a variety of sources, including scripture, tradition, and personal spiritual experience. On points of great theological and moral significance, particularly where there are multiple perspectives, we rely on Church authority as the final arbiter. This is a difficult concept for us in a modern democratic country, but Catholics choose to submit to the authority of the Church for the sake of unity and continuity. We believe that the Church as a whole is led in every era by the Holy Spirit. Practices within the Church do change, but they change slowly because we choose this style of leadership for ourselves – a style that is inherently conservative because we look constantly to tradition.

    I am a practicing Roman Catholic woman. When I was a teenager, I felt stongly that women should be priests, but I have since come to believe that what we really need is a different role of equivalent status for women. Women and men are different, and my understanding of the Mass requires that men assume Jesus's place during the Eucharist. There is no reason, however, why sisters of high standing shouldn't have a role equivalent to that of cardinals. Many great female theologians contribute to academic conversations within the Church; there just needs to be a formal recognition of this and a new (voting) role for such women.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Petel2

      So instead, you are a priest pretending to be a woman to manipulate others. Hey, it wouldn't be the catholic church without the lies and deceptions.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  6. guineapig

    One of many reasons I'm no longer a Roman Catholic.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  7. jstmyview

    Based on the "Vatican" actions, it’s ok to be gay as long as you are raping little boys. Otherwise it's unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

    For years the Vatican has been running its fingers thru piles of gold coins and just busting out laughing while their pedophile priests were abusing kids. They knew it and now that they got caught with their pants on da ground, it's all about damage control and protect the $$$$$$$$$$$. Any questions?

    Republican Conservatives are against abortion until their daughter comes home from school knocked up by someone of another race.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  8. Susan

    They dont want women because women would expose the pedophile priest and they cant have that!

    August 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  9. Dan

    This is the problem with Organized religion. They create rules like this that have NO backing in the bible at all. The fact that he had 12 men as apostles does not prove that he did not want women to teach the word of God. It also does not prove that priests should not marry. Making observations like this and then saying that it is God's will is crazy. A priest's role is to teach the word of God to a congregation and to perform various ceremonies. The role of standing in for Jesus Christ was supposed to be reserved for the Pope.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  10. May

    Because God said so, through Jesus.
    Remember 'God's Will, not my will, or your will.
    We women can serve in other ways.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • Lisa in Ormond Beach

      Yes, we can cook, clean, and have babies.

      I'll pass. Thanks.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • May

      And men go deep into the earth to retrieive gold and silver for you to wear as trinkets. No thank-you, I'd rather stay above ground and cook and clean and have babies.
      You know of course, that in having a baby a soul is born, and is the only thing (the soul) that lasts an eternity.
      What ever happened to gratitude. What ever happened to Love. Why oh why have so many people listened to the devil to the point of being disgruntled over even the simple acts of life, cooking (which is necessary to sustain life) and cleaning which is also necessary to help stop the spread of disease? Are we all that lazy?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      What did God say about women serving, I don't recall reading about any spiritual restriction placed on women, where are you getting your info, if the Bible please point it out.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • mikeinNY

      Give it a rest May your words are as hollow as your soul

      August 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Satan Himself

      @JohnQuest, try Corinthians 11:8-9 :

      "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man."

      It is quite clear that god wanted women to be subservient to men.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  11. CdnJim

    Jesus had to be born male or female – those are the only two choices unless Jesus were born a hermaphrodite, in which case the Catholic Chruch would say only Hermaphrodites could be priests. Now for Jesus to be a man, a Y chromosome had to come from somehere, becasue Mary had only X's, one from her mother and one from her father. Mary's parents had sex and either Joseph and Mary had sex, or Mary had sex with someone else. THe Catholic church has such a problem with that glorious act of procreation, and just playing around, that they try to bury it wherever they can. (No pun intended there priests)

    August 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  12. billp

    Organized religion has been one of the greatest oppressors of women in the history of mankind. This is one area in which Christianity and Islam do agree – women are 2nd class citizens. It's incredible to me that for over a thousand years European doctors (all male, of course) accepted as medical "fact" that women had 1 more rib than men, since God took a rib from Adam to make Eve. None of them would bother to check, of course.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  13. Lisa in Ormond Beach

    Women will always be considered second class citizens in the Catholic church. Which is why I ended my religious affiliation with them over 30 years ago. The Vatican – Just a bunch of scared old white men who know the end is coming

    August 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • May

      No Lisa, that is not why you ended your affiliation. You ended it because you had some sin that you felt was so great that you felt unsure that God would forgive you.
      That put too much emphasis on you and not on a loving God, who died on the cross that we might live with him in eternity, if we are but remorseful and ask for his mercy.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      May seems that you are good at reading other peoples mind, what do you think my major malfunction is. I have never been a believer.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Lost and Confused

    Can a Catholic please explain to me ....

    Why babies are born 'with sin' because of Adam and Eve ? Talk about holding a grudge too long and misdirecting it at others. So because of this grudge, newborns that die are not granted access to heaven ? Does this really make sense in your minds ? Yes, I know.... mysterious ways.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • McCluck

      It doesn’t make sense in your mind because god didn’t give us the gift of understanding his mysterious ways.-Ways that are, conveniently, too complicated for us to understand until we are too dead to hold anyone accountable for the lies they have told us. Now just put money in the basket like a good little child and I won’t give you another spanking.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • McCluck

      It doesn’t make sense in your mind because god didn’t give us the gift of understanding his mysterious ways.-Ways that are, conveniently, too complicated for us to understand until we are too dead to hold anyone accountable for the lies they have told us. Now just put money in the basket like a good little child and I won’t give you another sp@nking.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • McCluck

      Really? The word "sp@nking" was too much for you eh autofilter? I think someone is trying to protect the pedaphile protectors lol. I believe that makes cnn pedaphile protector-protectors.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Lost and Confused,

      There is much about this to help you understand the Church's teaching on it but to try to pull it into a sentence or two would not do right by you. Here is where you can get help on the subject in question...google...'original sin usccb'.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  15. johnnyhouse

    9-11 was a warning about religion, period. It shows what man has done to a perfect world.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  16. steveacan

    This is another reason to change religions or give the catholic freaks no money. I can't even believe women would be catholic after reading about the sexist priest that run the church. Everyone knows that women are not included in priesthood because back then women were considered nothing but slaves & weak. One day people will see the catholic religion as the male dominent sexist group that they are & the number of followers will decrease. Bunch of pedifiles.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  17. Jackie

    A few people have said that a woman who wants to be a priest should just go to another church. For many Catholics, the sacraments may not have a profound meaning. But for many of us, especially someone who has come far enough along in her theological education to consider herself "called" to the priesthood, they are an important part of our relationship with Christ. I am leaving the Church for other reasons and trying to find a new spiritual home, but this is something I will have to leave behind, because it really isn't fundamental to any other church I have found (Lutherans, maybe. And maybe that will be my new home. But I don't think they ordain women either). Anyway, the point is, it's not that simple.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      I am sorry your theological education has caused you to think you want to be a priest in the Catholic Church. You know the importance of Sacraments but perhaps haven't studied Holy Orders yet. There is so much you could do with your life to be a blessing to your Church without persuing the priesthood.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
    • Diane

      Jackie, I suggest you check out the Episcopal Church. Women are allowed to have any role a man does in the church, including priesthood. I have only been to a Catholic Church once, but from my observance and from what others have told me, the services and some traditions are similar to the Catholic church.

      September 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  18. johnnyhouse

    We should pray for all the South American original natives who died because of religion and disease brought to them from the church representatives. Same happened right here in the good old us of a.Lot of explaining to do when everyone arrives at the gates demanding their dues.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      The church has a long history of justifying its imperialistic attitudes. They operate like a business. Every decision they have made is related to money and power.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  19. Ed in Toronto

    The Catholic Church should read their prayers "...Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven".
    Announcement of Birth" Angel spoke to a woman, no men present.
    Birth: Women delivered baby...no men present.
    Annointment before death" Done by a woman.
    Death on cross" "Women watched from afar"...no men mentioned in bible
    Ressurection" First appeared to a Woman (Mary Magdalene).
    Yep...sounds like an all male show, as interpreted by the male priests. "Thy will be done?"
    You betcha.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Nina

      great examples to show that the Catholic church DOES value women. you are actually proving the point that the church ISN'T s-exist even more. women have a very important role in the church, but it isn't to be the leader. this is not based on what men are telling me but what GOD says.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  20. Rick McDaniel

    That's nonsense. It's male domination at play, and nothing more.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Exactly.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:43 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.