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. BeckFastPaws

    @Patty, Then kindly explain why two books of the Bible are written by women?

    No women priests indeed

    August 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • ybs

      Perhaps these women were actually men with a gender change! πŸ™‚

      Or perhaps women were only capable of writing in those days! πŸ™‚

      August 30, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  2. Tim Bobbins

    So easy bash something you know so little about. Sort of makes sence the ignorant would comment or even write things like this. It's clearly written in the Bible and makes perfect sense for those who actually read it and believe what it says.

    Whoever said God was politically correct and wanted to do things just to make you happy? God makes rules just as any parent would. Just because you don't believe you had parent doesn't mean they didn't exist. Even if you never knew them.

    August 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • HistoryBuff a.k.a Patriarchic

      According to every scientific mind on the planet that studies the origins of life A.K.A our parents
      We are direct descendants of collapsing stars and other factors of production noted on the periodic chart that compose our chemical makeup. The spark of life as we know it is a chemical electrical process that has been re-created in a lab. So in a nut shell worship the cosmos or even energy. But not a made up god that has not made a guest appearance in a couple thousand years. It’s the facts even if you don’t like or agree with it something you just can’t make up.

      August 30, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  3. JH

    This should clear up women's roles.

    (Mt. 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18)

    It was also said, β€˜Any man who divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’ But I tell you that any man who divorces his wife, except for the problem of sexual sin, is causing his wife to be guilty of adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman is guilty of adultery.

    August 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  4. Patty

    How can they call themselves a "Catholic Woman's Group"? CATHOLICS SHOULD KNOW THEIR RELIGION! READ THE BIBLE...NO WOMAN PRIESTS!!!!!! NO WOMAN ON THE ALTAR!!!!!! Please do us all a favor and join another religion. To be a true Roman Catholic is to follow the Holy Father in Rome.

    August 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • ybs

      Right! Is there any doubt that Holy Father in Rome beats off? πŸ™‚

      Ask the next few priests that you run into before heading over to Rome! πŸ™‚

      August 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • FatBecky

      You can't convince that acid attacks are wrong in Islam either. If she wants to follow blindly, you have to let her.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • FatBecky

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

      August 30, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      You are talking about Baptism not Holy Orders.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:15 am |
    • Skerj


      you can see CatholicMom, who is probably a male priest, does not give a crap about you or acid attacks against women.

      August 31, 2010 at 2:45 pm |

    Now if they would just obey the golden rule, and marry, all would likely be well. We would have less children raped and molested. God said... if is not good for man to be alone, so i will make him a woman....for him to marry. Forbidding to marry is a sin. Read 1 Timothy.

    August 30, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  6. BeckFastPaws

    I find it interesting how many Catholics are willing to ask others to be tolerant of their religious practices, but when the issue of a building a temple to a different God comes up (like a Mosque near Ground Zero, or Pagan pentacles on the graves in Arlington), they are the most intolerant people in the world.

    You have the right to believe whatever you want. But when you show hypocrisy in your own religion, you demonstrate that your religion is not the true one, because it can't even get it's own agendas straight.

    August 30, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      I also find it hilarious that the same people who will defend women being in a secondary position because of Jesus' pen!s in Catholicism, will say Islam is horrible towards women. But then when women within their own church asks for equality, those women are just power hungry and should know their place. Hipocrisy in religion is one of the reasons I am an agnostic.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  7. Jesus Himself

    (Mt. 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18)

    It was also said, β€˜Any man who divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’ But I tell you that any man who divorces his wife, except for the problem of sexual sin, is causing his wife to be guilty of adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman is guilty of adultery.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  8. Norman

    I love this-this why religion dies. When the populace sees just how silly the rules are...

    August 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Have you found an ecclesial community without rules? No dogma?

      September 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  9. Les

    I am always astounded that intelligent people can continue to call themselves Roman Catholics when this kind of ignorance is displayed by their church leaders.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  10. Daws

    Yes this also is why US diplomats must all be men since they are currently representing a dude. If Hillary won, they'd all have to be chicks. >.<

    August 30, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  11. Curious

    Each religion to their own, but I am curious. There were female judges appointed over Isreal (i.e. Deborah), along with female prophets (i.e. Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron). These women were appointed by God and he found them worthy to present his judgements and speak his word to the people. What of them?

    August 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  12. Jonny

    Oh, Climb out of the dark ages already!

    August 30, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  13. Satan Himself

    @JohnQuest, try looking up Corinthians 11:8-9 :

    "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man."

    It is quite clear that god wanted women to be subservient to men.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
    • FatBecky

      "and woman from a man" – because men give birth to women. Your mother beat you when you were a child didn't she.

      August 30, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  14. Laura

    If God wants men to be HIS Shepherds, who am I to argue.
    Rom 9:21a
    21 Does not the potter have power over the clay,..
    A Woman who loves God.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  15. Barry

    That whole argument is lame. The real reason is that back in the, I don't know, 12th century, they made that rule because if a married priest died, his family inherited his stuff. That left the church out, which coveted his stuff. This way, the church loses none of it's wealth, which is what it's all about.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  16. Phillip

    I'm not Catholic and the church I attend has a female priest, but I do understand the Catholic position. In the Mass, Jesus Christ himself, in the person of the priest, is offering himself to God in an unbloody manner, presenting to the Father one and the same sacrifice he offered on Calvary 2000 years ago. It is understandable, within their theological framework, that the proper matter for a priest, is to be male, just as proper matter for Eucharist is bread and wine, not potato chips and Mountain Dew. That being said, this is a Church that honors a woman (Mary) as the highest of all God's creatures, above the cherubim and seraphim even, and may shortly be proclaimed co-Redemptrix, co-Mediatrix, and co-Advocatrix with her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a church that has 3 female Doctors of the Church: Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Sienna...giving them the same title and honor that Augustine and Aquinas have. This is a Church where there are abbesses that have sitten beside bishops in church councils, some answering directly to the Pope himself. This is a church where priests may administer sacraments, but the women on the parish council really run things around there. Hardly an anti-woman institution if you ask me.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  17. HistoryBuff

    God? jesus? Father? ruler? King? Overlord? read a history book and you will see that Leaders / Fathers are the true basis for civilization and control. a Priest repesenting jesus what a joke! Christians / pope's / church leaders have been killing and forcing their ideas on people thoughout history. But what i am very sure of is that Chritanity nor the old school judaism can be clasified as the first or original religion. I say we go back to worshiping many gods or maybe just the First true God of the sky that collected gold ($) from the Mesopotamians. I worship thee An (Anu).

    August 30, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  18. fuyko

    Personally, the whole priest thing is a bit out of touch. Time to modernize.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  19. Are you Kidding me?

    If he chose no women, then what was Mary doing by his side? The church has written her out, but that's just politics and... HiStoy...

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

      DaVinci Code does not qualify as true scholarship. How does one get "written out"? Who wrote her out? Which bishop, scribe? The Four Gospels were in circulation and accepted as authoritative by the Church, East to West, long before Constantine was an itch in his daddy's pants (though neither he nor the Nicene Council had anything to do with the canonization of the Scriptures). The way I see it, Mary Magdalene has an honorable position in the faith. She is the first to see the Risen Christ, and believes in him when all the men doubt and think she is crazy. Aquinas called her the Apostle of the Apostles and portrays her in way that the Virgin Mary is portrayed, as reversing the actions of Eve. Virgin Mary is the New Eve, undoing the first Eve's "No" to God, with her own "Yes". Mary Magdalene is similarly portrayed as such by Aquinas, that Eve spoke the words of death to the first man, and Mary Magdalene spoke the first words of life to men.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  20. FrankinNJ

    I am sorry which main stream ORTHODOX religion has female leaders? Female Rabbis? Female Imams? You will get the sects that are more liberal and DO have female leaders, but please dont push this as a Catholic only thing.

    August 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
    • Graham ASH-PORTER

      Salvation Army for one has women Officers (Priests) and even Somen women Generals (pope).

      September 1, 2010 at 2:36 am |
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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.