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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. Ben Cooper

    Let me reduce this controversy to a single statement - if anyone here can explain why women should be priests when Jesus specifically excluded them from his apostolic ministry, please say so. Perhaps we cannot see the reason for this but He did. If that was the judment of God's son, then so be it.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • nOT Trash

      Because the misogynistic s0b's who wrote the bible had zero respect for women save for as breeders.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • K

      Men wrote the bible not God or Jesus.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
    • MXD

      Ben – he picked men because women were second-class (if that) citizens in society 2000 years ago. Hell, in much of the Middle East they still ARE. Or do you support that position?

      August 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      K,
      Yes, men wrote the Books of the Bible but God breathed the Truth in them.

      August 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  2. K

    I don't believe for a moment that God believes males are superior to women. And that they represent him better than women do.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  3. Randy

    No one can stand in for Jesus – not even a Catholic priest. Jesus didn't ask his disciples to do it, and the Catholic Church took it upon themselves to separate the people from God saying they must go through them to get to God. Jesus, the son of God, came down for that purpose, to bring us closer to God – not the Catholic Church.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Randy,
      Jesus did so tell his disciples to become His priests…..Matthew 16:19 As the Father had SENT Jesus, so He was sending His Apostles.
      Jesus also instituted the Sacraments and commanded the Apostles to go out to all nations, teaching them everything that He had told them; and to Baptize everyone.
      Jesus founded His Church on Peter which is how He planned for us to receive the graces from the Sacraments…..through His Church by the hands of priests.

      August 30, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Randy,
      Jesus did so tell his disciples to become His priests…..Matthew 16:19 As the Father had SENT Jesus, so He was sending His Apostles.
      Jesus also inst…tuted the Sacraments and commanded the Apostles to go out to all nations, teaching them everything that He had told them; and to Baptize everyone.
      Jesus founded His Church on Peter which is how He planned for us to receive the graces from the Sacraments…..through His Church by the hands of priests.

      August 30, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  4. Patti

    Every Catholic woman in the world should stop supporting the church until the church stops practicing and preaching chauvinism in Jesus' name.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • MXD

      You got THAT right, Sister!! (no pun intended...)

      August 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  5. tati

    I do not consider myself a religious person at all. I was actually raised as an atheist. However, the bible is very clear on the role of women – and it does not include being priests. I think women in this country went a bit crazy with their fight for equality and feminism. We ARE different from men and have (or had ) diff role (much more important, if you ask me – raising kids and taking care of the family). Now most of us have to work, kids are taken care of by strangers and we have to pay men alimony. Good going. If I could stay home with my son, you can have my right to vote.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
    • Dogma

      Your the sort of women the catholic church is looking for, you know your place. Crazy looking for equality, tati for pope, oh wait....

      August 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Patti

      If you're an athieist, why on earth would you believe in the bible?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • tati

      I am a sort of a woman who wants to stay home and raise my son. Who wants to have homecooked meals and cookies for him when he comes home from school. I do not have to prove that I can do things that men can do. Men are better at some, women are better in others. I just wish that I understood that when I was younger.Catholic church will not accept me, I have been divorced. I never said I believed in the bible, I just stated that the bible is very clear on the rose of women and if someone decides to follow this religion they should accept it instead of trying to change it to please feminists. I personally hate feminism now – the day I had to go to work after my son was born.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      tati,
      You are mistaken; you are very welcome in the Catholic Church. Please, go and talk with your parish priest and he will be able to help you understand how very well you are a part of the Catholic Church if you are Baptized; if not, receive the Sacrament and Baptize your son, too. You are never too old or too young to become a member of the Body of Christ! It is a gift from God and will help you grow in your love of Christ.

      August 30, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      @tati: You seem to be mistaken on what feminism is. You might want to know that feminism allows that you pursue whichever life you as a female wish to pursue. If you feel fulfilled staying at home with your son, feminism wants you to just as much as if you wanted to be a construction worker and work with a forklift. Feminism does not MAKE you go to work and be away from your child. Feminism doesn't ask you to prove you can do things as men do. It asks you what you want to do, and then says, no one can stop you from trying just because you are a girl.
      This idea that men are better at certain roles and women are better at others is a point of contention because you are making huge unproven generalizations. Beyond basic biological function, women have the same capacity to do many things men have throughout history. The effect of political, cultural, economic and religious factors have prevented women and men from enjoying different roles than were traditionally prescribed. In other words, I'm sure many fathers would love to stay at home with their sons too. But being a non-traditional role for men, you are saying he won't do as good a job as a woman just because he is male and not because of his skills, capabilities or desires. That is the opposite of feminism which only asks that you are allowed the opportunity to do what feels right for you as a person first.

      August 31, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Kate

      @Frogist

      Well dayum! I thought I was the only one on the planet who understood that!

      Frogist++

      August 31, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ Kate: It does feel like we're a dying breed, doesn't it?

      August 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  6. david mortimer

    Any woman that is a true catholic would not embarass the Pope with this type of advertising , if they want to be priests just go and join one of the many protestant sects if not then just accept the word of the Pope who is christs representitive on earth.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  7. InlandEmperor

    How disappointing...as a lifelong Catholic it continues to be disappointing to hear these proclamations from the so-called leaders of thge Church. It is absolutely a no brainer that woman would make marvelous priests...especially given our recent challenges. It is ludicrous that Christ chose men only to be priests. Too many references are made of his respect for women. Mary Magdaliene is reported to be the first person he appeared to after his crucifixion. Maybe these so called leaders should be pray for little guidane... .

    August 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  8. MART

    And we still think the Catholic Church is not sexist? How lame and stupid can one be. This is not what Christ intended, for he created mand & women equal.

    To the church, keep it up and if you think the church is going through a rough time and has very little participation in the priesthood, with this ridiculous and out of context position, you will loose more catholics. Not because they do not believei n God, but because this is not the word of GOD. I am ashame and embarrased to be a catholic.

    The church is openely stating that women do not deserve to be priests and that our role in the eyes of GOD are to be used as reproductive machines. I don't think so!!!

    August 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  9. pious

    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 organisation but why any moral person would want to have anything to do with the catholic church.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  10. Miriam

    What does being male have to do with fulfilling the role of Jesus? According to the Catholic Church, Jesus never was a husband or father...They portray him as sexless person with nothing about his role tying to sex. But now that women want to be priests, they act like his sex was a central part of his life. Makes a whole lot of sense.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  11. Kevin

    This just in, God is a white, male, human being, and he's a catholic. Oh, yeah, and despite the enormous size of the universe, despite the fact that earth will eventually be sucked into the gravitational pull of our dying Sun, this whole place was made for us.

    and women should be treat their husbands as if they are God.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  12. Bruddah In hAwaii

    Just wondering if this is the same Church leadership that hides priests that sexually abuse children, precludes divorced people from partcipation in Holy Communion, opposes equal rights for gays, etc etc etc. Why actually would any smart, dedicated woman want to be among them.. Don't even attempt an arguement that Saint Teresa would not have been a good priest.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  13. Jack MeHoff

    It's scary that the Church does not see how weak, ridiculous and outdated this line of reasoning is. Just MORE evidence that the Church is out of touch with modernity. Sad to see it push itself faster into it's own tailspin.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Kevin

      It's sad to see reason prevail?

      Hardly, the faster we replace dogma the better.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Jerry Seltzer

    I think the bible is very clear on this issue. If one isn't willing to defer to the bible then they really should find another religion or just invent one. Christianity can't be what you want it to be. It is what God made it and He made it that way for a reason so I'm not going to alter it to suit my own whims.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
    • June

      Exactly Jerry! We should look only to the complete, inerrant, infalible word of God for the answers. The Bible prohibits women from leading in the church. Not from serving as Christians. There is a seperate but equal role for men and women that God has ordained.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
    • GDawg

      Nothing in the bible identifies the priesthood as the permanent domain of males. You're just making stuff up. Grab this verse when it's convenient, that one when it sounds right. It's a bunch of malarkey.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • Kevin

      "If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God."

      - Deuteronomy 13:7-11

      Make sure you don't alter this to suit your own whims.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • Jack MeHoff

      Jerry – that rigidity is exactly why church attendance has been in a nosedive for 30 years. Times DO change – slavery is now against the law, women and minorities now have the right to vote, beating children is no longer looked on as normal and acceptable, women (at least in civilized countries) are EQUAL to men. The Constitution has amendments. But, for some reason, the Church should be exempt from social progress??

      August 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  15. Sophie

    Defend pedophiles, ban females. The Catholic Church marches on.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • May

      Sophie:

      The Holy Church is filled with pride and used rubbers. We do not need to tell the truth if we get absolution beforehand. Whatever the Church requires of us, we do. And that includes hiding pedophiles and other child-abusers, for they have been specially forgiven by the Church. That is why we do not allow secular authorities to take them from us.

      August 31, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  16. May

    I agaree. Well said Bob Heles. Thank-you

    August 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  17. GDawg

    What a mindless bunch of crap. So let's see, 2000 years ago, a bunch of guys follow some traditions that may or may not have made sense at the time. Then, 2000 years later, another bunch of guys who can't see beyond the tips of their d**ks pass the buck (or something else) and say, "well... Jesus didn't have any chics". OMG. That's just plain stupid. Better to say nothing at all or to be honest and say "this is it, too bad" than to say something idiotic and based on tortured logic. If people can get past that "eating the body" and "drinking the blood" business (cannibalism anyone?), surely they can imagine a female priest with a member if that is somehow important.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Yes, you are just like some who heard Jesus speak about His Body and Blood and turned away; there are some who believe by the grace of God, believe His words....
      53
      Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Catholicmom: Sounds like canibalism to me. Just another peice of folklore borrowed from pagan religions to ease conversion.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Eric G,
      If you would spend as much time reading the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church instead of myology books and science fiction, you would be so enlightened about the Truth!

      August 31, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  18. Larry

    Someone wrote that Catholic priests aren't allowed to own much nor do they get paid much. That would be in a religious order. Diocesan priests are allowed to own, inherit, and pass on to their families their material goods. Nuns, on the other hand, apparently have to take a vow of poverty. Go figure.

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

      @Larry

      I guess the perks get better if you get promoted – Vatican really look all that humble to anyone?

      Just sayin'

      August 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  19. PeaceMom

    In 1967, I wrote an essay while in junior high in a Catholic school...I wanted to be a priest. I didn't know I was such a rebel at the time. I would have loved to become a priest though. I don't agree in not allowing women to be priests but that's ok. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. It may change someday. Until then, I will try to be the best Catholic I can be.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  20. OyeVey

    Shame the logic and benefit this would bring to the Church is passed aside so easily.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:33 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.