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. CatholicMom

    Our prayers are needed for these poor souls. Let not the devil have even one of their souls. It is the only reason to post....every soul is worth it. God bless everyone with the grace needed to persevere to the end....

    August 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  2. NL

    Sounds like CatholicMom's been possessed, but I guess it's more likely that one of her kids found her account open on the home computer. Somebody's gonna catch Hell for this and, of course, I don't mean that in the supernatural sense.

    August 31, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  3. NL

    CatholicMom, the real CatholicMom, I'm assuming that this isn't really you so I'm choosing to ignore these posts in your name, OK?

    August 31, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  4. CatholicMom

    @Prairie Home-deviI's Companion

    Did you bring the lube? It's all dry and itchy down there now. And no, I will never admit to the truth because I'm a "good girl".

    August 31, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  5. Diane

    Your point seems very contradictory to me. What is a church but a gathering of people to worship? Surely, you are not referring to the building the people are worshipping in. All people are sinners and they all make mistakes. Since the church is made up of these people, the church is not going to be perfect. Here is another thing I'm sure you don't want to hear: The Pope is not perfect either! He is not Jesus Christ, so he cannot be perfect. He is a sinner, just like you and me. Believing everything he says as the Word of God would make him a false prophet. Yet, I'm sure you follow every word he says blindly just because he has the title of Pope. Sure, the Catholic Church needs a leader and the Pope is that appointed leader, but you have to realize he is going to make mistakes too. You don't have to agree with him just because he is the Pope.

    August 31, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  6. CatholicMom

    You might think it is funny, but it is not. I wish people would stop using my name here.
    Yes, Satan does touch me often. I fight it. Satan has the most powerful pee thingy, it is harder than you could imagine. To fight off. I am down on my knees. Praying that is.

    August 31, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  7. CatholicMom

    Only the Catholic Church is the true religion. All other religions are run by Satan. Mothers, quit your jobs, go home to your masters and let them rule your home. Give to your husband and let other women also give to your husband. You are doing God's work and will be rewarded with many more children, who will also become Catholic.

    August 31, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  8. MaryG

    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 when I exposed their crimes.
    That's why I'm not surprised that the Vatican likened women wanting to join the priesthood as crimianls, like pedophiles. I suspect the Vatican issued that horrifice statement to deflect attention from their sex crimes and cover-ups. The Vatican would rather piss off woman wanting to be priest to deflect attention from their sex crimes and cover-ups. I hope these women who want to be priests in the Catholic will support the most vulnerable, kids and vulnerable adults raped by the Catholic clerics and their would be bosses who cover it up. I hope these women will help those still trapped in this sex crime holocaust in the Catholic church. It's just difficult for me to understand why anyone would want to work for the Pope, the King Pin of abuse.

    August 31, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  9. Frogist


    August 31, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  10. Faust

    I have just made a deal...

    August 31, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  11. ominiverse

    The bible is CLEAR as to the role of god, jesus, man and woman. There is no room for interpretation. Go ahead and cite scriptures from the old testament about eye for an eye. The fact and subject of the matter is: a woman can't fill that role. It doesn't say why, so you womanists can make up anything you want and go write your own bible and include the aprocifical books and make your own church if you want, nobody is stopping you. Bible cannon states a woman can't fill that role: take it or leave it.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • SillyString

      You are right. Women should write our own bible since men already got to write theirs.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Diane

      There is no room for interpretation? Seriously? I don't even know where to start with how wrong that statement is. There are tons of interpretations for all the verses in the Bible.

      Here is just ONE interpretation of 1 Tim 2 where some people say that women are not allowed to teach and should be silent:


      September 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  12. CatholicMom

    I resent it when people insinuate that woman do not play an important role in the Catholic Church. So untrue. If not for women, how else would the toilets get clean?

    August 31, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  13. Frederick

    Many responders have rightly remarked about the instances of child abuse in the Catholic Church. There is a far more widespread and consequential history of child abuse in the Catholic Church which is rarely mentioned. It is a dirty little secret that most find uncomfortable to discuss. To tell a 14 year old child that he or she will roast in a non-consuming hell for all eternity because of masturbation represents a fundamental evil and an abuse of children with long term consequences which do not appear to be on anyone's radar screen. This "doctrine" is an outrageous abuse of a child's mind and is only a part of a comprehensive brain washing most Catholic young people receive as part of their "education." As you can see from many of these postings, few overcome the brain washings received as a youth.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  14. JohnQuest

    If the job of the priest is to guide and help the believers, why women can't do, after all they make up most of the church. What can a male priest do that a female cannot? Or am I missing something?

    August 31, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  15. JohnQuest

    If a priest roll is to help the congregation, then what difference does it make if the priest is male of female? what could a male priest do that a female priest can not do? Perhaps CatholicMom can explain or anyone with an answer (hopefully an answer that makes sense).

    August 31, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • CatholicMom


      The Church is the Bride of Christ, priests in Persona Christi, take the Church as their Bride. Marriage is between a man and a woman, not between to women [or two men].

      August 31, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  16. Fred

    I love how the article is titled "Catholic Church defends male-only priesthood" but only barely talks about the defense, and instead focuses on the protesters.

    This is a theological issue. If you're not Catholic, there is no reason why you should understand the male only priesthood. And if you are truly Catholic, you should know that when the Church defines a dogma like this it will never and can never change, and that accepting this is part of being Catholic.

    It's not that we won't explain it to you – we will, but it's hard to discuss something when people scream "sexism!" in our face every 5 seconds.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  17. Adele

    I happened to peek in on this thread, and noticed a "CatholicMom impersonator".
    CatholicMom(real one) and I have debated issues alot under other threads, but had to stop as posts were too much in moderation.
    I am in agreement with the majority here about the Catholic Church.
    However, I can assure you the person impersonating is NOT the real CatholicMom. Whether you agree with her or not, she is just holding her own, where her beliefs are concerned.
    It is really sad that someone felt it necessary to attempt to demean her in this way. We did not agree on most things, but I am content now in my beliefs that I am in Gods true church, and I am sure she is just as content in her beliefs. So be it. No need to go to that level, just because you hate the Catholic church.
    Believe me I detest the Catholic church and its lies. But let the woman at least have her say..everyone else is it appears. If you are happy and content in the Lord, no one elses beliefs should bother you.
    Remember the words of our Lord, "Love one another". That is the greatest gift.
    John 15:12
    This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (NKJV)

    August 31, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Petel2

      More games from CatholicMom, the priest. Now with a handle supporting his "CatholicMom" handle.
      Where does the deceit end???

      August 31, 2010 at 11:47 am |
    • SillyString

      You are right. CatholicMom should have her say here. God nows she has no voice in her church.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • CatholicMom

      It was great seeing your post again. You are a busy person with family who are fortunate to have you around to give a helping hand; we are blessed to be grandparents!
      Thanks for writing....

      August 31, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  18. CatholicMom

    Only men can read Holy Scripture and administer secret rites. Nuns are limited by having to use their fingers.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  19. Faust

    Most Catholics should read some Abelard.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  20. The Jackdaw

    It really is 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 10:16 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.