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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. Mary

    Mark 3:31-35 Proves women would be accepted in the church.

    August 30, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  2. Awoman

    There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35, emphasis added Women can serve

    August 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  3. AWoman

    Here is your proof that God does not care if women are in the church..
    “There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35, emphasis added)

    Pretty plainly said!

    August 30, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  4. Bill

    Wonder if the Pope wrote and produced the movie The Stepford Wives,lol? All the women were perfect little programmed puppets.....personally I think the pope and his pals are afraid to let women in the church, they would clean house and make it a nice place to go and worship the Lord without all the lies. Not to mention they would have the highest number of followers of any religion, women have a good way about them and know how to take care of things. I say go for it...women will bless the house of the Lord!

    August 30, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  5. Curt

    I think this guy would be better off if he didn't respond to this group. They obviously didn't take the time to understand the beliefs of the Catholic church they are criticizing. They are disrespecting the Catholic church and they deserve no respect or response.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • Phinger

      pointing@Curt

      ....said the shameless and clueless troll...

      August 30, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  6. BrazenOne

    Who are you people praying to, when your praying to dead saints? Purgatory does not exist, so that lets out "prayers" for then to, as in praying them into Heaven Sin is Sin..no mortal and venials..too late for that! The bible says:

    Death is a Sleep
    Job 14:12 The dead “shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” until “the heavens be no more.”
    Psalms 13:3 “Lest I sleep the sleep of death.”
    Daniel 12:2 “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”
    Acts 7:60 When Stephen died, “he fell asleep.”
    John 11:11-14 “Lazarus sleeps … Jesus spoke of his death.”
    1 Corinthians 11:30; 15:6, 18, 51 Paul said death was “sleep.”
    1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 Those “which sleep in Jesus” will be resurrected.

    Do the dead haunt their house?
    Job 7:10 The dead “shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.”

    The Dead are Unconscious
    Psalms 115:17 “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”
    Psalms 146:4 When a man dies, “in that very day his thoughts perish.”
    Ecclesiastes 9:5 “The dead know not anything.”
    Ecclesiastes 9:10 “There is no work... nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave.”
    Some more stuff the Councils and "pope" thought up I guess.
    ?
    Let us not forget the pope kissing the Quaran http://www.garykah.org/popekoran.htm
    Really!

    August 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
  7. Paul

    All this anti-women in the church post. So fellow Catholics...... were does this leave Mary? not Mary Magdeline BUT Mary Our Blessed Mother . The true first Taberbnacle? was man the first Tabernacle? did man give birth to The Church? and if women are not significant then why would God send us the Virgin Mary through out the ages at Carmel? Fatima? in Guadalupe? to name a few. Women play a very important role as seen in Christ Mother, Mary.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  8. God

    This church is run by dopes, not popes.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  9. Tom

    Jesus travelled on donkey, not a pope mobile. So why isn't the Pope using a donkey?
    Jesus did not use air conditioning and other modern conveniences. So why is the pope indulging in all these luxuries?

    August 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  10. soravia

    It's been like this since the beginning. But excuse that a woman cannot represent Jesus is weak and irresponsible. It is as if saying women are spiritually weaker. Maybe it isn't about spirituality. I know Buddhism allows women to be monks in same spiritual level as men. The only explaination is sexism. Just owe up to it.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  11. ybs

    There is no doubt that Father Stephen Wang beats off!

    So far, every priest I've talked to does! 🙂

    August 30, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
    • Curt

      Your conversations with priests are far too intimate. And even if you did get a couple of priests with a poor sense of personal boundaries to tell you about this that doesn't mean you can generalize it to other priests or the pope.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  12. Reformed Catholic - I'm Atheist Now

    Oh, now it makes sense. Is THAT what the priests were doing as they exploited the trust put in them by young boys and their families? They were "standing in the place of Jesus" Hmmm was Jesus a pedophile?

    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.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  13. William

    There were numerous gospels which actually refer to Mary Magdalene as one of the most important apostles: The Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, etc. etc. etc.. Some of these writings also refer to "God the Mother" as well as "God the Father." It wasn't until the Council of Nicea in the 3rd century, that many of those gospels and writings were decided not to be included in today's canon of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Before that, many churches in the middle east had various/bickering points of view on the role of women and the church, the role of laity and hierarchy, even the hierarchy of God itself. It is absolutely NOT true that women were not disciples and apostles in the mythical days of Christ; it is true that it has become tradition (decided by a council of men) that only Peter and Paul were to be the foundation of the priesthood.
    see, for instance:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Magdalene, or read, perhaps "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels, or read any number of books translating the Nag Hammadi library.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
    • Curt

      The gnostic gospels are not real gospels. That was a cult. But the Bible does refer to other people as apostles than just the 12 men. However the point this guy is making is that the 12 disciples or apolstles that Jesus chose to teach and travel with him were all men, no women.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  14. Sensible Joe

    If Roman Catholic priesthood is restricted to males only because they "stand in the place of Jesus," does Roman Catholicism only ordain circumcised men, since Jesus was circumcised? Or only Jews, since Jesus was a Jew? If not, its claim of the necessity of a physical similitude falls flat.

    And what of when the priest stands at the head of the congregation of the church, which is the Bride of Christ, addressing its divine Bridegroom? Does his physical maleness interfere with that?

    August 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  15. SUP FOO

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

    Uh, this was all decided like 300 years after Jesus existed. Accounts were made into canon based on political motiivations, there was a concerted effort to marginalize women.

    August 30, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • ybs

      History repeats itself... our founding fathers are one homogeneous white-male-chauvinist-pig club!

      I like it & let's keep it that way - 'cuz I'm a white male! 🙂

      August 30, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
    • Curt

      There was no attempt to marginalize women. The books of the Bible were chosen to be in the canon because they were the books had been accepted as truth since Jesus was on earth and they were written by people with a direct relationship to Jesus. There were no political motivations involved.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  16. Mary

    Dozens and dozens of posts about women wanting to be priests. I understand how unjustly women have been treated in the church, I was raped by a priest when I was a kid and revictimized as an adult woman who exposed their crimes.
    I fear these women (and yes Pope, woman are people,) who have been likened by the Vatican as criminals, like pedophile priests should support those abused by the clergy, instead of those they join with in the priesthood. I suspect the Vatican issued that horrifice statement to deflect attention from their sex crimes and cover-ups. Please don't be a victim to that and be used as a tool to help these criminals. Lead by example and protect and support the victims and those at risk of the Vatican's abuse/cover-ups. I'd like to think that that's what Jesus would do. And Jesus didn't want to be work with the saduccees and pharisees anyway. Why would you? Try posting on some supportive comments on articles that exposes the pain of victims and the perpetrators that caused it. Help those trapped in these holocaust churches to get out, instead of looking to run one. That would help everyone.

    August 30, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  17. Chris

    I'm such a fool. All this time I thought that my church simply discriminates against women :)) I'm so relieved there is another explanation for it. I'm sure there are also good reasons for maintaining priests' celibate and for campaigning against condoms in Africa.

    August 30, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • Curt

      If that all you know about the Catholic church I am surprised you would even call it your church. I think you need to find out what the Catholic church actually does believe and then make a decision about whether that is going to be your church.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  18. erin

    Pathetic.
    Go ahead, Catholic church, keep trying as hard as you can to make your religion obsolete.
    In fact, there is extensive evidence that Mary Magdelene WAS one of Jesus's closest advisors, that the other apostles were jealous of how much input she had. Seems like the Jesus the church claims to represent had more egalitarian views towards women than the church does, even in the 21st century.

    August 30, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
    • Curt

      Sorry but if your "extensive evidence" isn't in the Bible then it isn't true. But you still messed the point this guy was making. Mary Magdalene wasn't one of the 12 disciples that traveled with Jesus whom he personally taught. That doesn't mean she wasn't a disciple or apostle. Even today we are expected to be apostles or disciples of Christ. Which means studying your Bible to find out what it says.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  19. Ec1warc1

    People who claim to believe in the bible clearly don't read it much. Perhaps they just choose the parts that they like the best. I like the part that says I can sell my daughter into slavery: Exodus 21:7 ""When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go free as male slaves do." The bible is page after page of hatred, slavery and murder. Churches just make the rules that give them the most political and economic power. Those who follow along are fools who don't take the time to read the handbook.

    August 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
    • ybs

      Right! As posted previously, "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 9:54 pm |
    • Curt

      It might make more sense if you would take the time to read and understand the Bible before making stupid comments. It is you who is filled with hate.

      August 30, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • ybs

      The bible is one big pile of dung! Most are still trying to justify having eaten it!

      September 11, 2010 at 7:32 am |
  20. Blessed Geek

    I have evidence that Jesus was a woman. That was why she had no offspring. She was a virgin. Died a virgin.

    August 30, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • ybs

      What a shame! I'd be happy to sacrifice and be at her service! BTW, was she cute & available? 🙂

      August 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
    • Curt

      So what is your evidence? Did some alien come down in a spaceship with this great revelation?

      August 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ Curt, ybs: Be ye redeemed! The prophet Blessed Geek has written the word of the Lord and it is good. Are your eyes so blind, that ye cannot see how his keyboard has been blessed? He has been possessed by the Holy Spirit and so his words must be the word of God herself!

      August 31, 2010 at 4:42 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.