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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. Darwin

    If JESUS' religious/social message had REALLY been advanced for his time, he would have had 6 women apostles, one gay apostle, one black apostle, one handicapped apostle, and one Chinese apostle (magically flown over from China), which would have eliminated or at least reduced 2000 years of discrimination against these groups. Goes to show how clueless Jesus actually was of the consequences of his choices.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • Albert

      Kind of like science and the Big Bang theory. A bunch of white scientists made it up, can't prove it (and never will since they cannot create something from nothing), and yet it is force fed as fact. Science is just another fanatical religion with its own share of lies, sheep, and false prophets. Bottom line is that people have it built in to follow something as a higher thought or being.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • Darwin

      Hey Albert! I hope when you get really sick, you won't call the doctors and the wonderful advances of medical science a bunch of lies, sheep, and false prophets. FUNNY how religious zealots quickly change their tune when their lives or their children's lives can be saved by all those atheist scientists!

      August 30, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  2. Dave in Louisiana

    I quit the Catholic Church and I don't know how anyone could subscribe to it after its poor excuse for defending pedophiles all these years.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  3. sense4sure

    Genesis 3:16b Read it. Women have their place, just as men do. 1 Timothy 3, another fine example I didn't write the book only try to follow it.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Mystery

    Being a woman is freaking me out. We get to make all the choices we want why are so many of us making terrible choices. All these women fighting constantly to be a man. They are missing out on being a woman, a desparately needed portion of the ying and the yang. These woman that fight to be a man have driven men to start making terrible choices. What is wrong with these women?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • AED

      We do appreciate being women. W don't appreciate being number 2. Saying we have our place is not saying it is as number two following men. A woman today works a career and then raises the kids and makes the dinner and so on. They do more than many men do in a family. Some women have taken our freedom and abused it to embarrass us. Some of us have worked hard to be a strong and wonderful lady. We are not wrong for wanting to take on this position in the church.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
    • Diane

      For your information, I have no desire to be a man. Saying we need ying and yang would imply they are two opposite, but equal parts. Excluding women from leadership roles and only allowing them the support roles makes us second class citizens.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      AED,

      How could having your husband love you as much as Jesus Christ loves the Church make you feel like #2?

      September 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  5. ybs

    To sum up the sentiments here... "all" religions are one big pile of dung surrounded by sheep that pontificate about its virtue or lack thereof! Most are still trying to justify having eaten it!

    Christianity is no exception!

    August 30, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  6. ybs

    Let sheep be - I.e. take it up theirs! 🙂

    August 30, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
    • Albert

      I am sure a Priest caught with a sheep would simply say that he was just trying to help it over the fence. 🙂

      August 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
      • Petel2

        I believe if you look up canon law, it specifies the size of the animal to protect the priest.

        August 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  7. Tabu

    Are the priests afraid that the women are gonna cut in on their action?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  8. Wake-Up

    They want all of the little boys and girls to themselves.This church needs to be shut down......

    August 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  9. RAFka

    "The bottom line is that Jesus chose 12 men – and no women – to be his apostles, Wang argues."

    The bottom line is that he only chose Jews to stand in his place too!

    August 30, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • May

      They were Jews until chosen, then they became Christians, and the New Testament started.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
    • Albert

      Good point, but very week argument. They followed Christ, thus the name Christians.

      The Bible says that women are a large army and can teach about Christ in their ministry. They just can't hold positions of authority in the church.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • Siferm

      It is Ironic that the Romans crucified Christ, a Jew, and yet it is in Rome where God Built his Church. Jesus came to this earth to save all people and to teach us the way to Peace and Happiness. God loves us all and race does not play a role in his Plan. May GOD bless you all.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  10. ybs

    To sum up the sentiments here... "all" religions are one big pile of dung surrounded by sheep that pontificate about its virtue or lack thereof! Most are still trying to justify having eaten it!

    August 30, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  11. Katie

    I'm a firm believer in equal rights...but I'm an even firmer believer in free will. The Catholic Church retains the right to withhold certain delegations from women. Even though I may disagree with that stance they are not beholdened to change it.

    Now, here's where things get tricky in my book. While this isn't necessarily the case in other countries, the US constitution states that organizations may not refuse employement on the basis of sex/gender alone...which is clearly what the Catholic Church (and many other religious organizations) are doing. It seems to me that the US government is required by our doctrine to penalize the religious organizations for such blantant discrimination. Perhaps by, say, denying tax exemption.

    Ok, but then aren't we just punishing all the people those religious organizations help by restriction the resources of the church?? Well, that argument doesn't hold water with me because the church doesn't seem to be too concerned about how their doctrine restricts women so why should the US or any other government that guarantees equal rights be concerned about how their doctrine may restrict the church?

    The response from the Catholic congregation seems to be, if you don't like the rules...leave. Well, the government law is that you can't discriminate...if you don't like our rules – leave. How does that sound?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  12. ybs

    Father Stephen Wang & Pope Benedict are right – women can't beat off like Jesus and men do! 🙂

    August 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  13. mlongnecker

    I wanted to be a priestess when I was young. Back then we were not allowed to even be an alter girl. We now have alter girls. Times will change. For me I'm now a recovering Catholic.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  14. Robert

    I'm not Catholic but the New Testament says a woman is not allowed to teach a man in spiritual matters to that pretty much nixes women from any pastoral role.
    Men and women were created equal but with different biological, social, and spiritual roles to fill.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • smb2115

      Do you mean from the Catholic Bible? I didn't know until two years ago, being Protestant and all, that there even was a Catholic version with some chapters eliminated and some added.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
    • Diane

      Here is one interpretation of 1 Tim chapter 2 for those that say women are meant to be silent and not teach.

      http://www.churchofgoddfw.com/monthly/women-teach_printer.htm

      So you believe that separate is still equal? Is that what you tell African Americans about Brown vs the Board of Education? If God gave me the talent and knowledge to lead a church, I don't see why he would want me excluded from doing so simply because I wasn't born with make organs.

      September 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  15. Albert

    Ok, first of all, if you are looking for Bible truth the Catholic church doesn't have it. Look elsewhere. Secondly, if any church does not allow female priests or teachers, and you are adamant about finding a church that does, the solution is very simple, Look elsewhere. This isn't rocket science people.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  16. sofrito

    A woman can never stand in the place of Jesus. But any degenerate pedophile can do just fine. Great cult if you're into that sort of deviancy.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  17. Surthurfurd

    Priests (being male and unable to bear children) have no say in regard to a childbearing?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  18. Siferm

    If you do not agree with the Catholic religion not accepting women as priests, simply go to the religion that does. I am a Catholic and I STAND with my church on this. The Catholic way has been for thousands of years. I do not think that people who are so accustomed to their freedom with much disrespect to centuries old doctrine now can change that. No one can stop you to create a believe in your own way, just leave us Catholics be. May GOD bless you all.

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

      Right! Keep pontificating about moral values and keep beating off! 🙂

      August 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
    • Albert

      But that doesn't change the fact that the Catholic Church introduced many pagan teachings into the church as Bible truths. They will be held accountable for these lies as well as all of the blood guilt for it's role in wars. Your church did after all support Hitler. And at the same time encouraged American and other Catholics to fight the same war on opposing sides.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • ChathamChad

      @Siferm

      Leave you Catholics be? When have you ever let anyone else be?
      I tell you, if I had a way to wipe you from the Earth without hurting anyone else, I would do it without a second thought.

      Are you treating others the way you want to be treated? Oh, you don't want to be held accountable for your crimes?
      Yeah, we know already. And it causes plenty of truly righteous anger, too.

      Don't think that matters? It does. Will you now sound all hurt and defensive? Probably.

      The Catholic Church is definitely EVIL, blasphemous by their own reckoning, and unworthy of existence.
      If Jesus ever shows up, I fully expect the Pope to be one of the first people sent directly to HeII by Jesus Himself.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  19. Chuck W..

    By the way Ezra, I hope you rethink what you said: women just want to become a priest to gain power? Why do you have such an attitude? Are you sure you have a priestly vocation?

    August 30, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  20. Thugliest

    there is no god, the bible is fiction.

    August 30, 2010 at 6:32 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.