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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. Old Fuddy-Duddy

    I'm old and have always thought this way, so I'm not going to listen to you whippersnappers try to trick me into believing my irrational and unintelligible God does not exist. *thumbs in ears* I can't hear you, na na na na na!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  2. Nick

    Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    So much for that I guess...

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

      No, Baptism is still the same.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  3. Red State Gal

    The Catholic Church is giving the wrong reason. Eve opened the doorway to mortality and agency by giving the gift of the fruit of the first tree. She did not sin in doing so, and it was her foreordained destiny to do so.

    Adam is supposed to reciprocate in kind by giving the gift of the fruit of the second tree in the Garden of Eden–the ordinances of salvation. This entitles Adam to rule WITH Eve ("over" is a mistranslation).

    Two trees, two people, two stewardships. The Church is not supposed to rule over families–the Church was meant to be men's gift to the family, just as women give a great gift to the family (life and agency).

    So, in a way, yes–let men give their gift. But let men understand that the Church is subordinate to the family, and in the family men and women rule as COEQUALS.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Charly

    I believe Mary Magdeline was actually the 13th apostle, but in order to defend the dominance of men in the church the early church leaders created the story about Mary Magdeline being a prostitute, and deleted any reference to her as an apostle in the version of the gospels that were selected for inclusion in the Greek bible. The whole "Jesus chose 12 men" theory is supported by fables written by men, not by God.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  5. Rich

    You gotta admit though, men are more naturally equipped to molest altar boys without props.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
    • pius

      The extent of the catholic churches abuse was not restricted to boys, read the Irish investigation (Murphy report) into the institutionalised abuse of children. It would turn your stomach. What amazes me is not why women would want to be part of that oragnisation but why any moral person would want to have anything to do with the catholic church.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  6. Dogma

    Women know your place.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Rich

    So women aren't ABLE to stand in for Jesus, but it's not a matter of them lacking ABILITIES, he says. Huh?

    August 30, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  8. Matt Brown

    Religion across the globe has become laughable. People following primitive "rules" that were created hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It's 2010 and homosexuality is still debated and shunned?! A cartoon of Mohammad warrants killing the artist?! Countless numbers of molestations covered by the church?! Flying planes into the Twin Towers thinking you will go to heaven where there will be unlimited access to women and any luxury you can imagine?!

    Seriously people, take a cold shower, forget how you were raised for a moment and THINK with your own mind for once! Religion is a virus.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  9. cinta

    Well said, Bob Heles.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  10. Emmitt Langley

    And once they allow female priests, the Leftists will start whining about their "right" to preach topless.

    Man...you people are lost.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Jackme Hoff

    I'm officially Catholic – went to 8 years of Catholic gradeschool. The more I hear of the Church's reasoning for no marriage for priests, no female priests, no contraception, etc, the FURTHER DISTANCED I feel from it. (Anti abortion I certainly understand, however.)

    August 30, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
    • Emmitt Langley

      You should become evangelical...I'm with you on all those points.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
    • May

      Pray then, for wisdom.
      Know that the evangelicals only have 'make believe' when it comes to the Eurcharist. The Catholic Church has all seven sacraments that Christ gave us. The evangelicals don't. In that sense, they are a religion of convience, instead of 'God's will be done', it's 'I'll follow some, but then I want, I want, I want, and then it's no longer God's will, but theirs." Think long and hard, and pray even harder to understand your Catholic Faith, the church that Christ himself founded. Not another man, not another woman, but Christ.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Emmitt Langley,

      It sounds like he already is....

      August 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  12. Ron

    If they don't starting letting wopmen in or Priest the ability to marry there will be no priest in 50 years and no Catholic Church either. Things have to change NOW

    August 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  13. pippi

    Disgusting that gender apartheid/discrimination is still allowed today! The Catholic church is nothing in comparison to islam. These 2 cults with their boys clubs need serious reform. Women stand up and fight this male evil!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  14. MXD

    The BEST way the Catholic Church could turn around it's anemic Sunday attendance would be to get some attractive – no, HOT – female priests up on the alter! And shorten the robes a bit. And, for GOODNESS SAKE, UPDATE THE MUSIC – IT SUCKS!!!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  15. Observer

    Why shouldn't they? The Bible is loaded with statements about the inferiority of women, not to mention slavery.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  16. Adrien

    "It says something about the specific role of the priest in Catholic understanding – which is to represent Jesus, to stand in his place,"

    So much for all people being created in God's image....I guess this means women are not really in God's image....which would one could infer means they are not equals to men, which means they are just another one of God's creations for "man" to be master of.

    I'm a man and I think this is a bad decision by the church. The church can claim "well this is how it always has been" and "well this is how Jesus wanted it". Well, Jesus also lived 2000 years ago when slavery was allowed, women were subserviant, and ethnic cleansing was ok. Times change...and so do cultural norms. If the church wishes to stay relevant, it needs to move forward with society and technology otherwise it will continue to run into more and more cases of people not understanding "in this day and age" why it's rules are as they are.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  17. Julia-Gulia

    I can sum up Wang's argument in one sentence. "We think men and women are equal in Christianity....its just women don't have a penis." Seriously his argument just showed the Catholic Church's true ignorance of gender equality.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  18. Bob Heles

    I am 58 yrs old and went to a Catholic grade school and an all boy's Catholic High school...and a Lutheran College. I also had some pretty traumatic things happen to me that I let drive me away from the Catholic church for many years. During these years I was always frantically searching for "something" but I could not seem to find it regardless of my particular suucceses at that time or my failures. It has been in the last 8yrs that I have found what I have been looking for..a relationship with a power greater then myself. I don't know if it is being a little older and maybe a little wiser albeit maybe just life experiences but I really believe today that is only by the Grace of God.. However, I have reconciled myself to the Catholic church and I am grateful for the uncomprimising beliefs of the Catholic church on core principals and Doctirnes. Some things are not to be compromised..period. I am also tired of hearing the idiotic arguments that all priests are pediphiles or otherwise deviants of some sort. I know all about abuse..up close and personal so please those of you who are trying to "understand" or make judgements about something you have no real understanding of please speak to something you know intimately. Preists are men..flesh and blood made form the same father as are you who don't believe. Your belief system matters to me but only while on this earth...this to shall pass. We will all meet our maker regardless of what we believe. Mankind's arrogance has went so far as to start evry war, contnue to foster poverty and maybe the worst of all is to assume our way is the only way.What is the way's of God? I respect your right to believe in what you want to believe but it is your soul who suffers and it will suffer with every person who is naive enough to believe you stand for all doctrine and teachings. I am a Catholic who has earned their "stripes" and who by the grace of God has been given an opportunity to forgive so that I might be forgiven. If you are so "hell" bent on women Priests then simply change to a religion who adopts that and stop trying to change traditions and teachings that many of us value and would give up our lives for. If you don't stand for something you stand for nothing. Human life does have a beginning and an end but our soul lives on in harmony with our maker but for the Grace of God. No, I don't beleieve in abortion either but I also don't believe in hurting or killing those who provide it. My God teaches me that prayer, kindness and tolerance for all who want to walk in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ who said "you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church" and I am sure that some biblical scholars out there will argue that point as well as I am not a biblical scholor but I can read and think as well as most people. I have spent too much of my life denying this and what life I have left I will do my level best to practice my Catloicism as best I can and according to its teachings even though I come up short I do believe. I also don't expect this to be printed as it is much easier and more poular to print what is sanitized and conforms to popular opinion. God bless you all regardless of your beliefs.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • Petel2

      As a victim of rappppppes and sooddddoommies from ages 8 to 10, once gang sssooodddommizeed by 4 priests – one a bishop today. You can have your filthy religion. Your religion still denies those harmed. Yes many children committed suicide and others mentally ill, yet you church continues the destruction to these children and families by stopping justice. The Catholic church is a lie, nothing more and nothing less.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • May

      Thank you Bob, for saying it better than I could.
      I am just ever so thank-ful that we have a loving and merciful God, who has waited for some of us to 'catch up'.
      May God's Peace and Grace be with you.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
    • Petel2

      Well it's May, another priest.
      -
      No need to fib, even though cardinal oath tells you can if protecting the reputation of the church.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
    • PeaceMom

      Bob, what a wonderful statement of our Church. I, too, left for about 10 years and never found what I was searching for. I returned and gradually learned that it was in front of me all the time. I thank God every day for the wonderful Catholic faith that I love.
      We may not alwayts agree with everything. That's ok. What is important is to cotinue praying on it and studying why the Church teaches what it does. It's amazing how little people really know about our incredible faith. I continue learning every day.

      Peace be with you.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • May

      Petel2
      HA!
      I am the mother of several wonderful children, married to the same man for over 30 years. No. I am NOT a priest.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Bob Heles,

      After readng all the posts and finally coming to yours was a blessing. I think that the Catholic Church will always be hated by the world because the world does not know what is not of the world.

      This is hard for Pete12 to accept that the Church, Herself is Holy, but the people who make up the members are sinners. He has a right to be angry at the sinners who did terrible things to him. But some cannot separate the sinners from the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church. Those sinners used the Church just as children's coaches or teachers can use the school system to do their abuses to children. We need to be more vigilant in screening people who claim to have priestly vocations or teaching vocations, etc.

      Women who wish to use the Catholic Church to fulfill their personal goals of becoming priests will have to seek fulfillment elsewhere. I think that the reason they want 'the Catholic Church' is because they know about the Sacraments and have learned that ecclesial communities 'sacraments' are only symbols and are not real.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      May,
      It has been suggested on other comments that I am a priest also. I have only 3 children and will have been married to my husband for 49 years on September 16th.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
    • Patty

      Bob,

      Very well said. Thank you.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
    • Diane

      Petel2,
      That's awful. I don't blame you for views of the church. If that had happened to me and the church chose to cover it up, I can't even imagine how that would make me feel or what I might do. I was molested by my stepfather when I was 3-4 yrs old. I still struggle with even speaking to my mother because she did nothing to help me even after I told her what he did. If that had happened in my church, I definitely would struggle with hatred for the church. I hope you find some peace.

      September 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Bob Heles,

      When I read this I thought of you. I think you will enjoy it; I really enjoyed your post. Thank you!

      "If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches in the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church which is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and of never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of GOD as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to GOD. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself The Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine."

      Monsignor (at the time of writing) Fulton J. Sheen D.D..

      September 1, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      "If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches in the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church which is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and of never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of GOD as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to GOD. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself The Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine."

      Monsignor (at the time of writing) Fulton J. Sheen D.D..

      September 1, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  19. cinta

    In reply to the question of 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."

    The story of Adam and Eve is a myth that (like creation myths the world over) delivers larger underlying truths. We believe that the truth of this story is that humans are made in the image of God but are fundamentally flawed because we have the ability to turn away from God and sin. It's not that a baby has sinned; it's that all humans are born with the capacity to sin. This is in contrast to, for instance, angels, who according to Catholic belief do not have free will as humans do. The belief that unbaptized babies go to limbo instead of heaven was sort of an unofficial (folk?) teaching, not an actual tenet, and it isn't really taught anymore.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • Raymond

      Muslims believe as stated in the Quran, that Adam and Eve did sin but that sin was not sent down to every human being. The moral of the story was that God is forgiving and he knew Adam would eat from the tree and he already created the Earth for them to be placed in. The Quran also tells in the second chapter, that the Shaitan, or the devil, which in the Islamic view is an angel made from fire, rejected God's order to bow down to his new creation, Adam and Eve. In short, God is gonna send the devil to hell, but he has made a deal to take as many people to hell as he can. This is the test of life. The world is a cruel place as the Quran says and life is tough. Jesus also says that the father shall not bear the equity of the son and vice versa. Early Christians distorted this message and changed alot of things which is fact. The Quran which has no contradictions and has not changed is the final testament and the literal speech of God.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  20. T C

    Is part of the problem that this issue is viewed with human eyes not through Gods eyes. The main contention of people for woman priesthood seems to be, they are being denigrated or not allowed an equal position in the church. The Catholic chuches position is sexist! Don't Christians believe that we are being shaped and molded during our lives for an eternity in heaven. Does being a Priest or not being a Priest impact our path to God, No! We are all loved the same! Priest , Nun, Lay person, Non-Catholic, Homeless, Rich and Poor our current condition has no bearing on our fitness for heaven. So what is the goal of these groups? It seems contrary to the Christian ideal of humility and Christian principles in general since it would serve no purpose in God's eyes. Is it just based on a desire for status from a secular point of view?

    August 30, 2010 at 5:13 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.