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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. Petel2

    CatholicMom, the priest. Watch his lies spew. He hates victims of clergy abuse because they expose the truth about his religion. The truth is his hierarchy threatened small elementary children from telling and pays lobbyist to stop laws that would help all victims of abuse, no matter who did it.

    Quite a self-centered and dishonest group.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • CatholicMom

      The Church is in a cleansing process and these priests who do harm will be removed and vocations will be screened closely. Everyone suffers when anyone in the Church does harm......

      August 31, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
    • George

      @Petel2

      Did you notice how "she" did not apologize in any way and avoided anything that might appear like admitting the guilt of the Church? "She" is truly evil. There is no condemnation black enough that I can bring against those who hurt children and other helpless people. I wish I could do more to stop their evil.

      August 31, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • ybs

      And the cycle repeats itself over the years, decades, centuries, millenniums!!! 🙂

      September 11, 2010 at 7:42 am |
  2. Petel2

    Well folks.... CatholicMom, the priest. Watch his lies spew. He hates victims of clergy abuse because they expose the truth about his religion. The truth is his hierarchy threatened small elementary children from telling and pays lobbyist to stop laws that would help all victims of abuse, no matter who did it.

    Quite a self-centered and dishonest group.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  3. CatholicMom

    The Catholic Church does not discriminate against women. (My husband told me to write that)

    August 31, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  4. CatholicMom

    I refuse to believe that the bible is wrong even though it was written by men, manipulated by men, interpreted by men. If my church tells me that I am to believe that I am inferior to men, then so be it.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • CatholicMom

      And by inferior I mean that lesbians are inferior to gay men.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:30 am |
    • CatholicMom

      These dirty thieves are stealing my good name on these boards! Do not read these truthful posts!

      August 31, 2010 at 10:31 am |
    • nachooooo libre

      catholic mom : keep spewing your pro catholic rehetoric.... a bunch of made up paganistic traditions that arenet biblivcal.... uhmmm cult

      August 31, 2010 at 10:48 am |
    • CatholicMom

      And by gay men, I mean the ones that have been Consecrated.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • CatholicMom

      And by Consecrated I mean those who have taken Holy Orders.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • CatholicMom

      And by Holy Orders, I mean those who follow the Teachings of the Church and the positioning directions of the Holy Fathers.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  5. CatholicMom

    I can only be led by someone with a penis.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Fraud.

      August 31, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • CatholicMom

      That fraudulent post is completely wrong.
      I cannot be led by someone with a penis because I am a lesbian. "She" is my pet name for the Catholic Church. (Big "C")

      August 31, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  6. CatholicMom

    So, someone else is trying to be CatholicMom but the readers can tell who is who. The last 4 posts by CatholicMom are frauds. So readers just be aware, if the post is negative towards my beloved Catholic Church and any of Her teachings the person who is a thief is the one who wrote it. Satan never sleeps and he has his workers, it is so plain.....

    August 31, 2010 at 9:54 am |
    • CatholicMom

      This posted in the wrong place but the truth about 'another' CatholicMom is real.....just be aware as you read......

      August 31, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Petel2

      Yep.. CatholicMom, the priest. Watch his lies spew. He hates victims of clergy abuse because they expose the truth about his religion. The truth is his hierarchy threatened small elementary children from telling and pays lobbyist to stop laws that would help all victims of abuse, no matter who did it.

      Quite a self-centered and dishonest group.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • laughing

      LOL

      This is great!
      "CatholicMom Tells All"
      LOL

      August 31, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • CatholicMom

      This is an outrage! Fraud can only be done by the Holy Fathers! Whoever is out there doing this, you have no authority!

      August 31, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • CatholicMom

      I would never say anything negative about the Church no matter what was done, so just be aware of that as you read these posts...

      August 31, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • Kate

      @CatholicMom

      Unfortunately the moderators seem to be on vacation, but I think it's pretty obvious who it is posting under your name.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Kate

      @CatholicMom

      And by obvious, I mean that in an anonymous blog everyone's names are unknown and unseeable, so use your faith as I have.

      August 31, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Kate

      @ybs

      No faith involved – sorry.

      August 31, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ the real CatholicMom: You would NEVER say anything negative about the church? Never?! That's where the religious and I part company. That kind of a blanket statement is just an example of following blindly without personal reflection or responsibility. That, to me, is the problem with the religious in a nutshell.

      Also, it's just juvenile to hijack someone else's name to make fun of CatholicMom. Can we be a little more mature?

      August 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Frogist,
      I think you know by now, it was not my comment.

      September 2, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  7. Lawrence Bannon

    If the Church is able to take the chalice, the blood of Christ, away from the fiathful for centuries... defying Christ's command to drink his blood. Banning women from the prieshood is a very simple issue Not logical but simple.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  8. Petel2

    CatholicMom, the priest. Watch his lies spew. He hates victims of clergy abuse because they expose the truth about his religion. The truth is his hierarchy threatened small elementary children from telling and pays lobbyist to stop laws that would help all victims of abuse, no matter who did it.
    -
    Quite a self-centered and dishonest group.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  9. CatholicMom

    Another example of men using ancient "holy" writings to justify discrimination of women.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  10. Tired

    It's amazing how willing everybody is to fight over things they have absolutely no evidence for. I admire people who are willing to die for a belief, but it often seems that they confuse the willingness to die with the willingness to kill. Good luck humanity. You will continue to be the Galactic Pariah until you sort this mess out.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  11. Mario

    The Pope is a tired old bigot and the Catholic Church spends far too much time and money working to deny people civil rights. They have no respect for women, they're against all forms of birth control. They typically think women are good for only one thing, making babies (and obeying their husbands). Why are people so surprised when the Catholic Church treats anyone who isn't a "straight white wealthy man" like garbage?

    August 31, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  12. CatholicMom

    Here is the real reason I don't want female priests. For years we've been taught that women are so inferior to men that they can only occupy inferior roles in the Catholic Church. Allow a woman to vote for pope? NONSENSE! If a woman were to lead my parish, my husband would never accept her as a leader. Since I am subservient to my husband, I can only think what my husband allows me to think and he would not allow me to be led by a woman. Plus I spent my life caring for this house and breeding more chauvinistic Catholics and now I am an uneducated, fat cow. What if the female priest is hotter than me?

    August 31, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  13. Al

    I'm not a catholic (anymore), but...

    Setting aside the merits of women as priests, I find the church's logic unsound. Saying that "Jesus chose 12 MEN" thus all priests must be men sets aside the similar truth that jesus chose WHITE people (or whaetver color they were back in the day).

    The church (rightly IMHO) understands that priests can be of various ethnic flavors, but can't get beyond gender, and is choosing some pretty shaky intellectual justifications to cover for for what is simply sexism.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  14. Kay

    As a woman, I think it is an issue of pride if women want to be priests. They can do so many other, equally important roles in the Church. One of the greatest vocations in the Church is a "spouse of Christ" which is a nun! Who wouldn't want that vocation! Or just being a mother and having children. God loves mothers very much. Mary is a woman and she is the greatest saint!

    August 31, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • Diane

      Equally important, really??? There has never been a woman Pope, women cannot be Bishops or Priests. Men are allowed to be in leadership roles and women are only allowed in support roles. How can you call that equal? Why do they need separate roles? Why does it have to be male and female roles and not human roles? Separate is not equal. I think the Supreme Court proved that with the ruling on Brown vs the Board of Education. I do want to be a mother very much and have children, but that should not be my ONLY role in life when I have many other things to offer. How is wanting to be seen as an equal pride? I think those that want to keep others in inferior roles are protecting their own pride.

      September 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Jessie

    Did anyone else laugh at the phrase "Catholic thinker"?

    August 31, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  16. Rick

    It's not just the Catholics, check out stop baptist predators dot org or mormon abuse dot com.

    August 31, 2010 at 7:02 am |
  17. lr

    a lot of well-meaning church policies were put in place 2,000 years ago – in this case, assuming that there would always be a sufficient number of well-meaning, non-paedophilic, supposedly celibate males who would, in the likeness of Jesus, carry out his word and serve the "flock" accordingly.. reality is, 2,000 years later, that these ideal candidates don't exist in today's (dwindling) catholic population in the numbers required.. the church chooses to ignore this reality, holding onto the 2,000 year-old assumption, while turning a blind-eye (unless forced to confront) to many priests, born with the same hormones as every other man, continue their "work of the lord" while ruining countless innocent trusting youths' lives.. wouldn't it better serve the church, its future, the "flock" and the lord to have clean, loving, dedicated individuals (married or not, male or female) performing this important function today?

    August 31, 2010 at 6:39 am |
  18. oneStarman - Walla Walla, WA

    Tabitha (Dorcas in Greek) Lydia and Phoebe were leaders of the early Church. Paul commends them to the readers of his letters as Diakonos – meaning Server or Pastor – it is the same (interestingly masculine form) word he uses to describe Timothy and Titus. Although a celibate life was encouraged by Paul for ALL Christians most early church leaders were married. It was not until the Middle Ages when the Church became concerned about an heir claiming the wealth the priest had 'Acquired' that celibacy for Priests was mandated.

    August 31, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  19. Graham ASH-PORTER

    So Catholic Priests, being male, are just like Jesus? Is that why so many of them molest, rape, and bully small children? I think not! Women priests would keep an eye on their perversions, that is what worries them as they wouldn't be able to cover up their sins... Bronze age biblicals morals are not suitable for 21st century, which is why most of the Bibles awful rules are ignored.

    August 31, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  20. ANGRY RANT

    TO ALL WHO READ THIS BLOG

    The shaming of the Catholic Church in this thread has not touched the Catholics at all, it seems.

    Consider: Throughout the whole thread, the crimes against children have been mentioned many times.
    And in all the thread, did any of you see ANY Catholic acknowledge these crimes in a humble way? NO
    Did you see ANY Catholic apologize or show any shame for what the Catholic Church has done? NO

    There was even a professed VICTIM of the Catholic Church in here posting OPENLY. Did any Catholic show any consideration for their victim? NO
    Did he (the victim) receive any APOLOGIES? NO!
    And yet anyone else would have been horribly ashamed of their church and faith for letting these things happen.
    Did you see anything like that in here?
    ANYWHERE??

    They refuse to admit it honestly. They squirm away from honest questions. They could care less, I guess..
    Maybe Catholics are secretly proud that they abuse children.
    Maybe they are proud that the Catholic Church is known throughout the world for murder and torture and greed and child abuse, among other things.
    Maybe Catholics need to be driven out forever, for they surely feel no shame.

    DOWN WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
    ARREST THE POPE
    PUT THE CHILD ABUSERS IN PRISON
    STOP THEM FROM HARMING CHILDREN

    August 31, 2010 at 1:32 am |
    • Nina

      I think we aren't acknowledging the comments because this article doesn't have anything to do with the molestation scandal. Catholic haters would still bring up the "pedo" priests, no matter what this article was talking about in regards to the Catholic church. This article has to do with the church defending biblical principles of the man as the spiritual leader. It is not defending or even mentioning the "scandal." It's sad that the whole church gets put down because of what a select group of leaders chose to do. No one is saying what they did was right. But it's also not right to accuse the Catholics on this post of being inconsiderate or even condoning these actions. That's such a ridiculous comment and I'm sorry that you truly feel that way.

      August 31, 2010 at 8:55 am |
    • Frogist

      @Nina: While Angry Rant's rant was just that... angry. It does beg the question: Would Jesus have justified that kind of callousness because it wasn't the right thread? I doubt it.

      August 31, 2010 at 4:59 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.