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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. Raymond

    The problem is that Christians are not following Jesus, they are following Paul's teachings as well as other men's teachings over time. The religion has been built and fashioned and edited and reworked many times to the current status. Jesus said very little in the bible, and most of what people believe about him are contradictory to what he preached. He was as Jew and he preached only to the Jews as he says and he did not come to die for the sins of the world. I encourage you to read the Quran to get a better sense of Jesus and see how the Quran corrects the Bible. This is why priest and ministers are entering Islam.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
    • May

      Sorry buddy boy. Muhamad came over 600 years after Christ. What could he possibly have known about Christ? The Quarn could not possibly correct the Bible - it happened too long afterward.
      Thank God, we have a merciful God, he may forgive all the foolishness of doubt and self prophicy if we ask for forgiveness and mercy. If we don't ask, well? When the gates of Heaven close, which side will you be on - and not because the Quarn says so, because it does not have Christ's basis. Christ being the son of God, who is God.

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

      The Quran is right for those who believe it is the word of God. But there is a big difference in the Bible and the Quran. The Quran gives its author and name of the book. The New Testament does not say it is from God. We do not even know some of the authors who wrote some of the books in the Bible. The gospels do not say they are from God or the inspired word of God. Human beings claimed that it was.

      Also, we Muslims believe in Jesus as the son of Mary and the Messiah. Will Jesus send us to hell?

      If Jesus paid the debt to God by dying for our sins, than the debt is paid for whether we believe he died for our sins of not. If somebody pays my VISA bill, than its paid, I do not have to believe that somebody paid it. This is the flaw in the law of atonement. Jesus never preached this law.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • May

      Good point Raymond. The VISA bill was paid - until another charge was made, now there is a balance due again.
      So, while Christ died on the cross that we might be saved, we still must abstain from sin and ask for forgiveness and
      mercy if we sin.
      The devil seems to be working over time these days.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
    • Raymond

      I agree with your point there May. And one thing I like to point out is that the Quran does not mention that a believer in God will go to hell, regardless if they are Christian or Jewish or living in the jungle and never heard of religion. The Prophet Muhammad also gave many examples of people who would enter paradise based on their good deeds, regardless if they believed in God or not. In short, it is God who decides salvation and nobody can be sure. We do our best in this world to be good people.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  2. Dennis

    I don't expect different from an organization that gets its values from the bronze age.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  3. UncleJohn

    Bwahahahaha!!!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  4. mikeinNY

    So homosexual men who are pedophiles fulfill a basic function of the priesthood, "standing in the place of Jesus"?

    Wow...

    August 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  5. ZipCode

    What difference does any of this make? The catholic church is a bunch of make believe nonsense anyway. People continuing to believe in this bronze age hooey is asanine.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  6. Rachel

    To those of you who think that the Church is beyond question, and that we must "love it or leave it", can you answer this? How do you know that the Church is currently at a point of "perfection" where no changes need to be made – in light of the fact that the Church's ideas have changed tremendously throughout history? Remember that the church used to let priests marry; then it changed that due to inheritance complications. The church used to declare that the earth was flat; but it doesn't now. The church used to burn people at the stake for not believing church dogma, but it doesn't anymore. Etc., etc., etc. Things change, even in the church. Someone, some time, somewhere, said what you're saying now about the earth being flat, about people being burnt at the stake for heresy, etc.. They were wrong. You could be too...

    August 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • PeaceMom

      No one ever claimed the EARTHLY church is perfect. Perfection is only found in God, in Heaven. As humans, we all sin and mess up. That can carry over into our actions as a Lutheran, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist, or athiest. Traditions, practices, language (ie: changing from Latin in the 60s), etc can change. The Church stands for its doctrine and that doesn't change. There is a huge difference between practices/traditions and doctrine. Doctrine doesn't change. Doctrine hasn't changed since Jesus began the Catholic Church.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  7. ted

    How come Catholic Priests aren't Jews? They were Jews when Christ made them aposltles, Christ didn't make them Catholics. The Catholic Church and Benedictus the Enabler are STOOOOPID!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • May

      Before using caps, maybe you should go to websters.com and learn to spell the word.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  8. vpstbv

    "Pope John Paul II declared in 1994 that the church has no authority to ordain women"

    The truth is the church (aptly in lower case letters) simply has no authority whatsoever.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      The church, that is 'us' is small 'c'. Catholic Church, the Kingdom of God on earth...big 'C'.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  9. Johninnova

    Totally disgusting! The folks who wrote the bible believed that the world was flat. They believed that "god" lived about 2 miles above the clouds, and that the fire and brimstone from volcanoes was proof that hell was just below us. We've learned a lot in 2,000 years, unless you're a Christian, Jew, Muslim or other religious fanatic.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  10. RVG1

    I have a catholic heritage but I am of another faith. The catholic religion is not centered on Christ as much as it is centered on Saints and other idols. The higher authorities know they are not on the right pass but are too caught up in it to admit it. Christ's true church is a church whose principles do not and will not change. If you want to find Christ's true gospel, open the door to those two young men riding on their bikes, but don't take their word for it...pray to GOD for the answer.

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

      Sorry, those two boys riding the bike have been duped. The Jehovah Witnesses are a cult that is just over 100 years old.
      A cult? Yes.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • RVG1

      To May, I wasn't referring to Jehovah's Witnesses! LOL....Let me give you a hint: Go Glenn Beck!!! Go Romney!!!!

      August 30, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  11. Me

    Basing anything on centuries' old "law" doesn't hold water.
    Women didn't have any power back then, so obviously, anything written in the Bible that tells women to shut up and listen, just goes with what the times happened to be.
    There are so many gospels of Jesus that refer to "walking" like him and NOT creating big, fancy churches.
    If all religions seriously focused on His words, or Allah or whomever, the world would be a much better place.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  12. Diane

    Separate is not equal. Not allowing women into the priesthood is obviously prejudice. I don't believe that excluding half the population from being leaders in the Church and spreading the Gospel is what Jesus would have wanted. Seeing stories like this makes me happy I am an Episcopalian. To all the female Catholics, I wish you luck in your quest to become equals in your Church. No Church is perfect, because nobody but Jesus can be perfect, and the Church is run by people. However, this is just plain wrong.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • T C

      Why don't they join your church which is more aligned with their beliefs? Does the Catholic church have to change itself to align with this standard of "sexism"?

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

      Diane,

      The Catholic Church is perfect...She is the Bride of Christ without stain or wrinkle or any such thing. The people are the sinners who need the Church.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
    • George

      @CatholicMom

      The Catholic Church is full of filth so dIsgusfing and viIe that God surely knows all about it. Do you suggest that God is evil? Or that he wants to protect criminals? Your vision of the Church hides the most foul evil underneath that "perfect" cover. A cover made of a tissue of lies and misdirection.

      Please get out while you can. The Truth needs you more than the Church, which spurns the Truth every day.
      Do it for the children, please CatholicMom! They are defenseless! They need your protection, not your collaboration with their abusers! If you have any love for children, seek the Truth within your heart. God loves children, too, doesn't he?

      August 30, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
    • Diane

      CatholicMom,
      Your point seems very contradictory to me. What is a church but a gathering of people to worship? Surely, you are not referring to the building the people are worshipping in. All people are sinners and they all make mistakes. Since the church is made up of these people, the church is not going to be perfect. Here is another thing I'm sure you don't want to hear: The Pope is not perfect either! He is not Jesus Christ, so he cannot be perfect. He is a sinner, just like you and me. Believing everything he says as the Word of God would make him a false prophet. Yet, I'm sure you follow every word he says blindly just because he has the title of Pope. Sure, the Catholic Church needs a leader and the Pope is that appointed leader, but you have to realize he is going to make mistakes too. You don't have to agree with him just because he is the Pope. Don't drink the Kool-Aid CatholicMom.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Diane

      Your point seems very contradictory to me. What is a church but a gathering of people to worship? Surely, you are not referring to the building the people are worshipping in. All people are sinners and they all make mistakes. Since the church is made up of these people, the church is not going to be perfect.

      September 1, 2010 at 8:51 am |
    • Diane

      The Pope is not perfect either. He is not Jesus Christ, so he cannot be perfect. He is a sinner, just like you and me. Believing everything he says as the Word of God would make him a false prophet. Yet, you probably follow every word he says blindly just because he has the position of Pope. Sure, the Catholic Church needs a leader and the Pope is that appointed leader, but you have to realize he is going to make mistakes too. You don't have to agree with him just because he is the Pope. Don't drink the Kool-Aid CatholicMom.

      September 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Diane,

      Mt. 16-18 tells us that the gates of hell will never prevail against Jesus Christ’s Church. Is this verse talking about the mystical body of Christ of which He is the Head or is it talking about 1Tim 3:15, the House of God in which we need to know how to conduct ourselves in, which is the pillar and foundation of Truth? Jesus gave His Kingdom on Earth, Luke 22: 29-30, to His Apostles, which is the Church of the Living God, the Bride of Christ, without stain or wrinkle or any such thing.

      We all are children of God; we become members of His body at Baptism at which time we are made pure as driven snow; but we are still sinners in need of our Savior as we live our lives on this journey home; we must confess our sins, one to another. [James 5:16] [John 20-23] and we must do the Father’s will, or the Father will prune us from the Living Branch, Jesus Christ.

      We are not a house [House of God] and we are not the pillar and foundation of Truth; it is the Church, the House of God. It is this House of God which is the font from which all graces flow; it is the Catholic Church where Jesus Christ’s Love is made manifest to us by the Sacraments.

      It is where Perfection Himself resides…He and His Bride are One by the grace of God.

      So you see, Diane, the Catholic Church is not just a hall where the body of Christ meets to worship God and fellowship, it is where the body of Christ comes to worship, yes, and to partake of the gifts Jesus Christ wishes to bestow on us through His Sacraments. It becomes for us a most intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, especially through the Holy Eucharist.

      None of the members of the body of Christ are perfect, that includes everyone who is Baptized, me, you?, Priests, Bishops, and the Pope. The Pope is only infallible when speaking about faith and morals. He is not impeccable. He may say that beans are more tasty than peas and I would have to disagree with him.

      September 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Diane

      CatholicMom,
      Yes, I am baptized. I am a Christian, just not a Catholic. I am glad you can admit that priests can sin, even after being baptized. To me, that means someone can lead you astray, even if they are ordained in the church. That is why I don't believe you can follow the Catholic Church, its Pope, and its Priests blindly and not use the intelligence that God bestowed upon you. You will never convince me that the Pope is infallible, especially after covering up child abuse in the Catholic Church. Or do you not consider child molesting an issue with faith and morals? I have noticed that you won't even touch that subject in any of your comments, even after one person here said he was a victim of rape by several Catholic priests. Not to say that the Catholic Church has not done good works and lead people in their faith, but you cannot lecture to people about faith before acknowledging that atrocity. I'm sure it is a difficult subject for Catholics, because you cannot possibly defend those actions.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Diane

      CatholicMom,
      Yes, I am baptized. I am a Christian, just not a Catholic. I am glad you can admit that priests can sin, even after being baptized. To me, that means someone can lead you astray, even if they are ordained in the church. That is why I don't believe you can follow the Catholic Church, its Pope, and its Priests blindly and not use the intelligence that God bestowed upon you. You will never convince me that the Pope is infallible, especially after covering up child abuse in the Catholic Church. Or do you not consider child molesting an issue with faith and morals? I have noticed that you won't even touch that subject in any of your comments, even after one person here said he was a victim of r-a-p-e by several Catholic priests. Not to say that the Catholic Church has not done good works and lead people in their faith, but you cannot lecture to people about faith before acknowledging that atrocity. I'm sure it is a difficult subject for Catholics, because you cannot possibly defend those actions.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Diane,
      Obviously you haven’t read every comment blog CNN has posted and neither have I, but there was one where I did write a lengthy apology to this person who posts on all the blogs I have been on concerning the terrible abuse he suffered. He knows how I feel about it….and I don’t think he expects me to write further….my heart goes out to him in hopes of peace, the peace that only God can give.

      September 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
    • Diane

      CatholicMom,
      I am glad you have acknowledged it. You shouldn't have to bare the burden of apologizing for your entire church. That should be the Pope's job, which I don't think he has done very well. Since you are so adamant about defending the RCC and its perfection, I had to be sure you acknowledge this. I saw one of your other posts that did address it.

      September 1, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
    • Hob-yair

      @CatholicMom

      "peace that only God can give"

      Meaning he'll get no peace from you or yours, is that it? No justice, no rest!tution, no apology, no nothing because it was done by a "holy" priest. Who was no doubt given a "holy" dispensation to absolve him of any guilt as far as the Church was concerned, am I right?

      So as far as the Church is "concerned", it is magically "absolved" of any guilt of collaborating and protecting a criminal, because the "criminal" has been "absolved" – therefore there is no "crime" any more. It has vanished into the Church's "holy authority" given by "God" who gladly helps protect EVERYONE involved.
      I think you've missed a little detail. There is a difference between "secular" and "spiritual" absolution. One does not automatically cause the other, does it?

      The only stain-free part of the Church I can see is the fact that it is the absolutely **perfect** cover for a criminal enterprise. That is the only way any Church could be without stain or wrinkle...as a way of hiding criminal activity and glossing it over while consolidating and wielding immense worldly power. Everything else fits like a puzzle piece.

      And I have my doubts about that distant "apology". Can you provide a link? Because I'm not going to waste my time looking for what you should give freely and often. Once may not be enough, and it may be too far in the past for him to have seen it.
      Maybe you went back where nobody posts anymore and wrote something. Is that the way apologies are supposed to happen in this blog?

      Think of all the people that have been murdered by the Church. Men, women, and children – millions of 'em.
      And that's just the murder part. Two thousand years is a long, long time to be a successful criminal enterprise.

      For crimes against humanity, the Catholic Church should be eradicated – if only out of simple human decency.
      Remove the secular "power" or lose any argument or defense. Prove the Church is not just a cover for an on-going criminal enterprise bursting with excuses.

      September 1, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
  13. Ignatius

    Leave it to this site to post another anti-Catholic slanted article. Hey Cee eNn eNn, I see you didn't cover Harvard's valedictorian choosing to become a nun? An uber-liberal school producing a *female* who likes the Church and isn't a feminazi. Who would have thought!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Jose

    To have 400 plus postings in less than 4 hours.... it points to three things ...
    1) People are thirsty of God but of a God that is convenient to follow and make Him conform to ones own ideology.
    2) People hate the Catholic Church because it is following faithfully the truth for over 2000 years.
    3) People just have too much time in there hands to post blogs ... spend that time better in prayer so God may open your eyes and heart and accept that you are His creation ... not the other way around.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • El Guapo

      Or we are flabbergasted and fed up over the fairy tail drivel that is served up from your evil institution. What a beautiful day it will be when your religion ends up alongside greek mythology and atrology where it belongs.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • Petel2

      Naw. We just don't like child rrrrappppists, liars and deceivers. The worst crimes of all are the cover ups by the pope, bishops and cardinals. Many children committed suicide and others mentally ill today thanks to your church protecting its reputation first instead of helping the child. Instead your popes and bishops issued threats to these small children already traumatized.
      -
      Now you have the truth.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Awakening

      Or there are a lot of us seeking a religion that doesn't tell us we need some priest to be saved. Awaken to your infinite potential. Practice Buddhism!!

      August 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • McCluck

      Three things I see that it means.

      People who follow the RCC have a really hard time accepting that their organization is the opposite of what they claim and that they are not special.

      The people who are affected by what they consider Unjustified religious influences" are fed up with it and prepared to argue logically against religious nonsense in hopes of a better world.

      People are spending more time on message boards and less praying to the deity that was created out of man/women’s desire to explain the unexplainable (and later down the road, to use that explanation to control others).

      🙂

      August 30, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  15. Awakening

    The catholic church is an evil institution that spreads fear and deception. I encourage everyone to leave the shame and guilt behind. Awaken to your infinite potential by examining how karma operates in your life. Whether by Tolstoy's christianity, Gandhi's Hinduism, or Ikeda's Buddhism, discover that you don't need priests anyway.

    Stop believing in fairy tales and start believing in yourself!!!

    August 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  16. Fantastic Manly Man Who Rules

    Oh, I suppress women because the book God wrote himself (the Bible) says that I can, and doing what that book says makes me feel really really good about myself, so I'm going to keep doing it, and I can keep doing it because a lot of those women that I oppress also believe that its okay, and that makes me feel even better! Too bad we are all living a lie, but who cares, I'm powerful and I feel good!

    August 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  17. dcon

    Only a current priest could actually buy into such clap-trap. Any hooligan with even a brushing familiarity with biblical and church history sees the gaping holes in the argument. First, Jesus did NOT institute the Catholic priesthood as we know it today. Indeed there was no Catholic Church until many decades after Jesus' death. He was a practicing Jew who instituted the priesthood of all people, men and women. If anyone instituted the Catholic Church prior to Constantine, it was Paul, who clearly considered women among the apostles.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  18. leftlongago

    I really believe that Father Wangs statement just demonstrates the ego of the Catholic Church. To think that anyone could fully "stand in" as Jesus is pure ego. I feel it takes a large amount of ego to believe that we could ever truly fill Jesus' shoes. So many of Catholic priests have sinned, large and small, and to say that a penis is essential to representing Jesus is just ridiculous. I say give me a teacher/preacher/priest that lives his or her life fully in Jesus' footsteps, and God would be proud to have that person represent Jesus' teachings. It is the absence of sin and abundance of love that Jesus stood for.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      It is through the Catholic Church where sinners are cleansed of their sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Anyone who says he is not a sinner doesn't need a Savior.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  19. Liz

    Probably many discussions like this when the Christian Church was formed out of the Hebrew Faith.If Jesus had kept his head down and not challenged existing beliefs-What a scandal those Christians were-If the Jews did not challenge the popular multi god beliefs of paganism-What a radical concept- One God- And the long painful evolution continues. I hope my use of the word evolution does not anger anyone. Anyone with eyes to see can see that this is what is happening.The time when our spiritual growth stops as a species would be the most heartbreaking of all-Some stay were they are–And some move on-If there is any way that any human can stand in Jesus' place , an important example to follow is that he challenged the existing mindset of his day.He was a breakthrough.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  20. Paul

    The Catholic Church is not a democracy. If you don't like it's policy, leave the religion. There are numerous religions that allow female Leaders. They are a private institution and do not have to bend to popular thought. I am not Catholic, but I admire their strong stance. They do not compromise their beliefs just because its unpopular with modern society. This is a useless protest. Join another church.

    August 30, 2010 at 4:55 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.