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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. Philippe R.

    The pity is that when staying away from evolution and keeping a defensive attitude about the past, the Catholic Church is less and less credible. Morality and rules from the past turn up to some kind of obsession amongst the Monsignori.
    Jesus was a man of his time and culture. He had no idea about how fast the world would evolve in just a few hundred years time nor had he the slightest idea about the origin of mankind. What would he really say today about global warming and overpopulation which lead us to some kind of collective suicide?
    Science and culture change definitely the deal. For sure sooner or later women will be priests and other dogmatic sentences will fall apart for evolution has time and is always right.
    Vatican 4 Council should be called right away now as Vatican 3 never arose in spite of its cruel necessity and hopes of milions.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  2. Michael

    Then God said, "No penis, no ordination !!!"

    August 30, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
    • Kate

      @Michael

      Ummmm ... so what does that imply about all those castrato choirboys?

      August 30, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  3. smb2115

    If the church hierarchy can change fish days and the day of worship from Sunday to Saturday, it can change anything it wants or doesn't want.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • Me

      I'm Catholic and kinda have to agree with that point.
      And to those who INTERPRET that the Creator's intention was in creating distinct gender roles, that's also based on interpretation.

      August 31, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  4. cinta

    MXD: Catholics do not believe that non-Catholics go to hell. People are saved by a combination of faith and good works. All people, even those who were not exposed to Christianity and even those who reject it, have the innate desire to know God and the ability to follow Him, even if they don't explicitly acknowledge the foundation of their good works. Also, Catholics do not generally interpret the Bible literally.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  5. Mike of Vancouver

    The church treating people equal? bah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!

    August 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  6. Sheryl

    Well all's i have to say about this is, apparently they don't care how many priests are sexually assaulting boys out there. Atleast with a woman, the molests arent going to be there like they would with the male priests and GOD does not state anywhere in his teachings that a woman should be banned, barred and turned down to preach his word, no matter what the religion

    August 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  7. JohninTampa

    That argument is absurd on its face. It boggles the mind. I try to imagine:what is it to stand in the place of Jesus? If it is a function of divinity then human males cannot qualify either. If it is a function of embracing Jesus' values, I cannot think of one that males inherently can grasp while women cannot. The church is full of –it. This is voodoo for the sake of voodoo.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  8. skeptic

    Jesus was also Jewish – so only Jews can be priests?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • SanFranGal!

      Exactly. I would like to start a movement so that only Jewish Carpenters are allowed to be priests.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
    • Kate

      @SanFranGal

      But then you'd end up with a schism between the Framers, the Cabinetmakers, the Carvers, and Ikea

      Just sayin'

      August 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • May

      Christ = Christian, because of him, and our belief in him he transformed from being a Jew, into a Christian.
      While he chose Jews to follow him, once they were chosen, they became Christian.
      Not such a hard thought to follow.
      With Chirist came the New Testament.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  9. May

    CatholicMom:
    Thank-you for standing up for our faith.
    Stay strong.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • Kate

      @May

      Difference between someone who is religious and someone who is dogmatic – someone who is religious can actually stand and defend their faith coherently and intelligently and not resort to blindly quoting something.

      I might disagree with CatholicMom on some stuff, but she qualifies as religious – which in and of itself is rare in a Catholic πŸ™‚

      August 30, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • May

      Kate, Kate, Kate, why are you so full of hatred? Why ?

      August 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • Kate

      @May

      Where is the hate in preferring someone be able to rationally discuss their faith rather than rattle off writings like they're baseball stats in response to genuine questions?

      August 30, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
    • Abiding Dude

      Standing up for Faith is like standing up for your favorite fantasy novel. Stop wasting your F^*()ing time and employ that brain you were bourn with to fight for something real.

      August 31, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • CatholicMom

      May,
      Check your posts. Someone has taken my CatholicMom name and is posting horrific things that I would never say. I hope the moderators can find out who is doing the devil's work. Beware and God bless you.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:16 am |
    • May

      CatholicMom:

      Thank you for your kind posting. And for that locket with the picture. I will think of you every time I bend over. XOXO

      August 31, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  10. Tolerance?

    Hatred abounds on this comment sequence? Tolerance is preached by many to silence others and then abandoned by the preachers to denegrate chosen ones.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  11. eldono

    Get serious, its the Catholic Church. Its a bunch of men, mostly old men, trying to dominate and control women. Women need to understand this and stay away from the Church.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  12. SanFranGal!

    Well since Jesus excluded women as apostles, that should mean that women should not allowed to be Catholics or any sort of Christian too. So let's just not allow women to be Christians at all by that logic. I mean, if Jesus wanted women to be his followers he would have female apostles right?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
    • John Lane

      Those who criticize the practice of not choosing women priests also implicitly criticize Jesus for not choosing women apostles. Yet Jesus is the incarnate Son of God – equal in deity to the Father. Can they conceive of the idea that there just might be a difference in role between the genders as envisioned by the Creator?

      August 30, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
    • Kate

      @John Lane

      What if the Magdalene really was an apostle? It's hard to tell at this stage – look who edited the Bible in antiquity, those with a personal agenda in making it tell the message they wanted it to tell to benefit *them*.

      Can you say she wasn't?

      Just sayin'

      August 30, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • smb2115

      Yeah, but Jesus was a Jew, contrary to what fundamentalist Christians believe, and so were his apostles. Temple priests weren't women.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • John Lane

      @Kathe: you wrote "look who edited the Bible in antiquity, those with a personal agenda in making it tell the message they wanted it to tell to benefit 'them.'"

      You are attributing bad motives to those who wrote or compiled the Bible, i.e. the New Testament. But as Christians, don't we have to believe that these were the Holy Apostles – holy people – saints – people who were kindhearted and compassionate, just as Jesus was? Also the writing and compilation of the New Testament was guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. That's the faith of the Church. The Holy Spirit would not have ill motives.

      The answer is just that the Creator planned different roles / jobs for males and females.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
    • John Lane

      I am not defending the Roman Catholic Church. I am an Orthodox Christian.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      John Lane,

      You are so right about the Bible. When people undermine the Bible they undermine their faith [Christian].

      September 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  13. sybaris2222

    This just proves that the Church really is out of touch, and is becoming more and more irrelevant as time goes on. Such a flimsy excuse that Male priests stand for Jesus in their functions. Unless Jesus used his man parts, to do miracles, or bless people I don't understand why women could not be priests.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  14. MXD

    Just wondering – if God DID come into Humanity as a man, in the form of Jesus, will God even the score when he next appears by coming back as a woman? (and I STILL feel for those 5.5 billion IGNORAMUSES who don't BELIEVE in Jesus. The fools. The stupid FOOLS!

    August 30, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  15. Tyler V

    Two thoughts:

    1. Just wondering why no one questions the assumption that the church, in its theology and not just methods, must be modern? If the church must conform to modernity, then it will cease to have anything to offer to the world that is distinct – something prevelant in my own Protestantism.

    2. I'm not a Catholic, and correct me if I am wrong, but is not part of being a Catholic mean a reliance on the teaching of Rome? This does not mean that Rome should be blindly followed – thus the outcry against abuses of the church should come FIRST from Catholics. But I always found it strange when people say that they are Catholic but demand Rome to change in its THEOLOGY to them. That seems very UNcatholic.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
    • Dogma

      Agree 100% if people do not blindly follow any faith, they should not be part of that church. Though if that was the case no one would be part of any organised religion.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • MXD

      Tyler V – you raise some great points. I think it's that most of us who were born and raised Catholic do see great value in most of the Church's teachings and philosophies. But when we see things that seem counterproductive or are social injustices or are rooted in antiquated, and possibly, self-serving thinking, and, when our questions of reformation are met with narrow-minded answers (as in this issue), and when the atmosphere of the Mass feels like you're at a funeral, we're disenfranchised. Many stop attending church altogether. You yourself make the distinction between "following" and "blindly following" the Church. I think Catholics USED to blindly follow the Church (see "The Bells of St. Marys" – but we've grown up a bit since then. Common sense tells you that women would be JUST as good priests as men.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • Kate

      @Tyler V

      One of the arguments leveled against Islam on a regular basis is that it's medieval, archaic, and out of date and must be modernized. Shouldn't the same criteria apply to all faiths?

      Just sayin'

      August 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      MXD,
      I do not see a fence running down through the middle of Catholicism. How did you get on one?

      August 30, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      MXD,
      Blindly following means you do not know your faith. Get to know it and you won’t feel so blind to it.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  16. John Lane

    God did become a male, after all, when he became incarnate as the male human being Jesus. A priest in his person represents Christ to the people and represents the people to Christ. The former role only a male can do. The latter role either a man or woman could do.

    As the article rightly notes, Jesus chose only males as apostles. Had it been his will that there be women priests, he could have chosen his mother or one of the myrrhbearing women as an apostle. (When he wanted to he didn't hesitate to overturn custom in regards to gender – surprising his disciples, he spoke to the Samaritan woman – the woman at the well, John chap. 4.) As the incarnate Son of God, all of his actions were perfectly just – it would have been unthinkable for him to discriminate unjustly. From this we can conclude that his choice not to choose a woman apostle was because of a difference in gender roles.

    This of course does not change the fact that as Christians men and women are equal. As St. Paul notes (the context is when he speaks about baptism): "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female ... but all are one in Christ Jesus."

    –By an Orthodox Christian

    August 30, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • Arius

      You must be great fun on a night out.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
    • sybaris2222

      According to Christian Historians, i.e. Belizekian and Coates, the reason why Jesus chose men was most likely utilitarian. The mission of the apostles back then was simply to spread the word of God. Women automatically were at a disadvantage because people will not listen to them, as they have no standing in that society. If we are all going to be using Jesus' criteria for apostles as our requirements for todays priests, then the Church will have an even bigger problem recruiting priests, given the fact that they are already having ordained priests every year. Jesus got apostles who were Male, Jews, and from the Arab-Israeli stock. So yeah, no women, no gentiles either (though they were numerous back then), but if we extend this, no Caucasians either, No asians, no africans. But obviously times are different now, have the same rights as men do, and are equal not just in religion but also in law. Jesus was a figure not just in religion but also in the fight for human dignity and equality. I just find it so fascinating that "believers" nowadays would use his choices back then to reinforce prejudice instead of fighting it.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • John Lane

      Sybaris2222 – the problem with your reasoning is that it implies Jesus willfully kowtowed to the unjust discriminatory practice of his day, rather than rising above it by doing the "right", "fair" thing by choosing half a dozen female apostles and half a dozen male ones. It would be as though Jesus had been born in Birmingham in 1950 instead of in Bethlehem 2000 years ago – and had chosen only whites as apostles, and you excused it by saying "it served a practical purpose, no one would have listened to a black apostle at that time and place." The fact is that neither did Jesus unjustly discriminate nor did he discriminate so that the mission would be more successful as you suggest. The reason he discriminated was because as Creator he planned a difference in gender roles. Women and men each do some things that the other does not do. Women do not become apostles / priests / bishops etc.

      Arius, your screen name is interesting – it is the name of one the worst heretics in history. He preached that Jesus was a creature, not divine.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • GDawg

      My goodness John, what a silly line of reasoning. You don't know why the apostles were all guys, you just make up an explanation that fits your ideology/theology. The bible doesn't offer an explanation for 12 guys and no women, it only offers the fact of 12 guys. Everything else is pure speculation on your part. So, lacking facts you resort to some hocus-pocus and reveal the complete lack of thought in your arguments. You want to invoke literal interpretations of the bible? Does that mean you support stoning for adultery? How about death for idolatry, cursing, witchcraft or a woman not being a virgin on her wedding night? All punishments god demands through his infallible, compassionate unerring "prophets" in the bible.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  17. SanFranGal!

    This is the most ridiculous and contradictory argument I have ever heard! If the argument is that a priest is supposed to represent Jesus and Jesus was a man ergo...than the argument should also follow that only jews should be allowed to be Priests since Jesus was a Jew! Or only allow Jewish Carpenters to be priests! Ugh! And why does Jesus only choosing men as his disciples equate to only men being allowed to be priests specifically? Why not use this as an argument to only allow Christians to be men? So freaking absurd another example of cherry picking facts from the bible to suit their asinine agenda!

    August 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  18. Piooous

    The Murphy report by the Irish government all Catholics should read this document.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  19. bazza

    all woman should leave the catholic church and faith, There is no need for them

    August 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  20. MXD

    To Kevin – "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." So we're to "kill" anyone who doesn't believe in "our" God? This quote would be right at home on the wall of a Taliban bedroom. And do you REALLY think that anyone who wasn't baptized Catholic is going to HELL? So 5.5 billion of the world's 7 billion people are DOOMED for eternity? Or is it only the 300 million (or so) people who take the Bible LITERALLY who are "saved"?

    August 30, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • skeptic

      Sorry, you missed his point. He was referring to someone else's post that the Bible should be totally and literally accepted. Kevin quoted this passage to illustrate that indeed we do not (nor would we want to) follow everything directly as the Bible says. Evidently, you agree with him that this behavior would not be condoned today even if it is what the Bible orders.

      It's tough being a Catholic! So many contradictions/rationalizations/lame excuses. At least we're no longer supporting the 9th century French fishing industry – we can eat meat on Friday!

      August 30, 2010 at 6:41 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.