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. Daws

    "This teaching is not at all a judgment on women's abilities or rights", so they're just as able to be priests but are disallowed because of their sex. Isn't that the definition of discrimination? And on that note would this possibly legally affect their tax status?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  2. oneStarman - Walla Walla, WA

    ISN'T IT ABOUT TIME that the leadership of the Catholic Church are people who don't think women are icky?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  3. Josh

    If gender is what prevents women from serving in the priesthood (because women are not like Jesus since Jesus was a male), I wonder if all priests should also be more like Jesus as far as race, ethnicity, age group. Let's face it, Jesus was a Jew. Priests of Anglo-Saxon, East Asian, Latino or African origin are not like Jesus either and therefore should not be serving as priests either. Or why is gender the only thing that they're picking on? Is it because the Church is really sexist institution???

    August 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  4. Zombie Jew

    Please dear skywizard protect me from you followers of the Jewish Zombie. I can't stop laughing & it's killling me.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  5. King Henry VIII

    The Church of England should give England back to Catholicism and allegiance with the Pope of Rome.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  6. DfromthePeg

    But consider this. Is it fair to condemn the entire Catholic religion for the sins of a few corrupt priests? Also, would it not be liberal to permit the Catholic church to continue its male-only priesthood, in tradition of "separation of church and state"? I mean I don't hold ALL Muslims guilty for the sins of a few imams. But I will hold anyone of any faith guilty if they agree with their corrupt leaders.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Terse


      You see the difference between the religion and those who are members of it? Good. So do I.

      In my opinion, religion is a criminal scheme whether or not it is followed by anybody.
      I hold the Catholic Church responsible for what "it" has done, just as I hold the criminal scum responsible for their individual actions.
      And just because good people are fooled into following it does not make a religion "okay".
      Real crimes are committed by individuals regardless of their excuses for doing so.

      To pursue justice in this area of human activity is one of the great challenges of our existence today. I doubt anyone expects to see the end of it anytime soon.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
    • Terse


      You see the difference between the religion and those who are members of it? Good. So do I.

      In my opinion, religion is a crIminal scheme whether or not it is followed by anybody.
      I hold the Catholic Church responsible for what "It" has done, just as I hold the crIminals responsible for their individual actions.
      And just because good people are fooled into following it does not make a religion "okay".
      Real crimes are committed by individuals regardless of their excuses for doing so.

      To pursue justice in this area of human activity is one of the great challenges of our existence today. I doubt anyone expects to see the end of it anytime soon. I sure don't.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
    • Frogist

      @DfromthePeg: While I do not condemn the all priests for the acts of a few, I do condemn what seems to be the catholic church dragging its collective feet on resolving that issue. Also while other religions have problems too, there is no singular governing body which can tackle these issues head on. This is not true of the Catholic Church whose leadership is easily found in Rome. This should make it much easier to take on big issues swiftly especially matters so sensitive and illegal.

      As for the separation of church and state... Luckily no govt is taking your land or saying you are not welcomed to worship in this country. As a matter of fact, it is people within the RC church (namely the Catholic Women's Ordination) that is asking for this change.

      August 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Pedro

    "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.'"

    I use to think that what it was more important was his teachings, and the ability the messenger has to be the most honest about it. And about that, gender means nothing as the latest scandals demonstrates - and the quickly response of the church not to make justice, but to cover everything up.

    It amuses me how hypocritical and intolerant people can be to defend the status quo as long as it benefits them.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  8. Stefanie

    So having a penis makes you more like Jesus? Since when? Where in Jesus' teaching does it say you have to have a penis to be a good person?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
    • Petel2

      Vatican law you know

      August 30, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  9. Fran

    Well, this is interesting. The ones who love The RCC can't acknowledge The Church's very big problems, and the ones who hate The Church can't acknowledge all the good The RCC does. But, overall, for me, The RCC has too many problems, far more than I want to deal with. So I left, and I'm happy that I do not have to deal with this 'stuff' anymore. Don't we all have better things to do than defend or bash The RCC?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
    • Chuck W..

      No one should bash the RCC!! All of us lay people should work with each for change moving forward, instead of backward! History is past!! We can do it!!

      August 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Petel2

      And make sure you blame the rraappes of children on gays and ignore the worst crimes of all were children denied help, threatened instead. All about the RCC's reputation over the lives of children.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • ChathamChad


      This is a blog thread with the Catholic Church as the topic. I take great pleasure in "bashing" the Catholic Church and the slimy people who wh0re-ship the power it has over the weak-minded.
      They knew what they were doing was wrong, over and over, time and time again, down through the ages. There is no excuse anyone can bring to absolve them of their crimes, for they are legion.
      Humanity suffers under their "tender" mercies as it has suffered under other forms of madness. They cannot keep this crap up forever. Justice must be served, even by posting a few angry paragraphs at a time. I am not the only one in the world who knows these things. Someday...

      August 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  10. Chuck W..

    you know what people think of attorneys!!

    August 30, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  11. Linda

    Well, most of the disciples were married. Why is that not seen as significant? The church chooses to ignore that, for the most part.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • Chuck W..

      Good for you Linda. I teach RC Bible study and have taught CCD besides being a Lector, Eucharistic Minister. I also was a Salesian of St. John Bosco.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  12. Dee

    The most religious are women. Christianity mainly consists of women. Christianlty would not be where it is today unless women were involved.

    Mary of Magdalene was Jesus' favorite and the one that had the most faith compared to the disciples. Since the beginning there were women prophets and judges that lead and taught the Jewish people. The people respected their authority under God. When Christian churches first began in house churches, the women were the leaders. It was only when churches became public that male dominance took over in the religion.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • Daws

      Interesting... do you have stats or surveys to back that up though? Or is that just your impression?

      August 30, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  13. Old Hag

    Before He was crucified, Christ chose 12 men, who followed him, with varying degrees of devotion until his death. After he was crucified, buried, and rose again, Christ sent a woman to tell his disciples the news. This exhibits the break between the old and new covenant - the traditions of the Jewish culture versus the Christian deliverance from those bounds. Where we lived in bondage, unable to keep from breaking the laws, continually falling in sin, dead to eternal life in the power of our flesh, now we can rejoice in the freedom of the new age of forgiveness bought and paid for by the blood of the savior, and be free to enclose all who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior in that New Covenant.

    Glory be to God, and to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost. Amen

    August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  14. vince

    Bottom line is that the Church as represented by the Vatican is not accomplishing their task to shepherd the Christian community - the lack of priests is in crisis mode and is declining. Allowing women to serve in the priesthood would make a huge statement that would reverberate around the world - and there is biblical basis for it in the letters of Paul to the women leaders of various church communities. It would replenish the ranks and allow women to serve their communities as the Anglican, Lutheran and other catholic offshoot churces do in the role of priest. There are certainly enough martyrs and Saints that were women that speaks volumes to their ability and holiness. At the same time, male (and female), molestation scandales have rocked the Church to its core. A breath of fresh air would do it good.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      How to make the Catholic Church into an ecclesial community: get rid of Sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders.....call the other Sacraments 'only symbols' and say they do not convey God's grace to us; get rid of the Altar and Mass; take away the crucifix and candles, get rid of the Confessional, and statues of our family members now in Heaven [so we are no longer reminded of them]; get rid of the kneelers because there will no longer be any knees bending; take away the organ for the music of hymns, remove the holy water, and the Priest who can bless us with it...... and what do you have.....just a meeting hall....we have one of those, where we hold get-togethers, dinners, etc. and enjoy fellowshipping; but we need our Church and Priest and Bishop and Pope; and I pray it doesn't change in anyway from being Catholic.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:01 am |
  15. GinCas

    There is no god; the existence of an actual jesus character is, at best, highly questionable, and women who continue to embrace beliefs that relegate them to a "less than" status are a disgrace to real women!

    August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  16. Chuck W..

    John Paul II did not pronounce the idea of no women priests ex cathedra (infallible), dogma! The canonical books of the Bible were agreed at the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. by the bishops of the known world.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
    • Phillip

      It was actually the Council of Carthage, Synod of Hippo, and final ratification and closing of the canon by the Council of Trent. Nicea dealt with the divinity of Jesus and the date of Easter mostly, and some questions on the Meletian schismatics, those baptized by heretics, and those who apostasized during persecution. The canon was not part of the Nicene schema.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  17. John

    I am a Catholic and an attorney who donates quite a bit to the Catholic Church. Therefore, I ask all of you who are bashing the church for a few favors,

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

      If you attended a Catholic school, give your diploma back. If your children attend Catholic school, take them out. If you are hungry, don't go asking for food at Catholic Charities. If your elderly and cannot afford a place to go, don't show up at the Little Sisters of the Poor looking for a home. If you are in the ambulance, ask not go to the Catholic Hospital. You're costing me and the Church far too much... Stay away!

      August 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
    • John

      correction... if you're elderly...

      August 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
    • What?

      So it's all about money for you, then? Just like Jesus, always denying help to people who didn't live up to his standards. Oh, wait...

      August 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • John

      What? You've missed my point. My point is that the Church does quite a bit of good in the world and people should think about how it has benefited them in their own lives before they knock it and call it an evil institution...

      August 30, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
    • ChathamChad


      A Catholic AND a lawyer? Good grief. I wouldn't help you if you were on fire – which will happen when and if Jesus comes back. So you might get away with your twIsted schemes...who knows?
      Take your buIIshf request and go to HeII. You sound like the biggest piece of shtt in your post.
      Just put yerself in my hands, little man, and I'll show you the "mercy" of the Catholic Church as expressed in your post.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Petel2

      And what if you were a victim of violent rapppppeeessss and sooodddooomies by catholic priests, gang sodddddommized by 4 on one occasion – one is a bishop today.
      A life of trauma and an awakening from that trauma later in life to realizing the mental illness caused. Denied justice.
      What should I give up?? A promising student until these men destroyed my life. Then find out the popes, bishops and cardinals orchestrated the cover ups, to deny me again.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
    • John

      ChatchamChad, if you ever catch on fire, make sure they don't take you to the Catholic Hospital

      August 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • ChathamChad


      Come here, little man, and let me give you a kiss.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  18. What?

    Galatians 3:28 - "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither servant nor free; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus."

    The ridiculous political and dogmatic line of thinking that the Catholic Church uses to defend their position is exactly why I quit going to Mass. I honestly will never understand how anyone could deny someone else spiritual equality because that person lacks some extra skin in a specific area of the body. How ludicrous would it be if we denied love to someone because they didn't have a nose? Or forgiveness to someone who lacked a pinky finger?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • sense4sure

      I believe the context there is for being saved and we all, that are born again, will be in the kingdom of heaven. There are none excluded. I don't think Paul was referring to the structure of the church.

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

      That verse is talking about Baptism not Holy Orders.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  19. AED

    Well Jesus didn't deliver himself. Mary ( a woman) sacrificed public embarrassment and shame for appearing to be pregnant out of wedlock...and she STILL did it...and she is still a strong image in religion so I think women deserve to have a chance. Catholicism is old fashioned but they are losing a lot of younger Catholics because they refuse to make any attempt to adapt and modernize to fit our society. I appreciate tradition and the old feel of the religion but i feel staying too far in the past will end in the failure of this religion as younger generations take over as adults in our world

    August 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  20. john

    The amazing thing is not that women can not be priest, but that there are some women that still believe in the church. It's XVIII century sexism that women can not priest.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:06 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.