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. Paul

    for all you true followers of the Bible 1 Corinthians 14:35 should explain it.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • Stephen

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

      Why does the church always choose to defend and implment passages that denigrate women over passages like this one that uplift radical equality and equity?

      August 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Terry

      Can you direct me to the section of the bible that addresses why priests are pedophiles?

      August 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Kirstyloo

      This poster fails to recognize is how radical this statement was!!! Prior to Christ, men and women weren't allowed to worship together. They were always separated. This statement suggests that Christ welcomed them into their worship services; however, because of their recent introduction to the church, they were told to ask their husbands in the same way that someone new to the faith would be encouraged to ask someone more experienced in their faith. The key question is how you want to interpret this letter. Was it written to address a new issue in the church or was it to speak to generations to come? I personally believe it was the former. Much of the rest of the letter was about how to bring the church back from chaos and towards love and understanding.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      That verse is describing Baptism.....not Holy Orders.

      September 1, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • ICEMAN

      @ stephen hey then men could mary men, hey what about men having babies. It's talking well nevermind you will just disagree anyway

      September 2, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  2. Brickell Princess

    How can anyone, in the year 2010, still believe in all these religions? Seriously, people, come on and wake up for once. For starters, Jesus never existed. History, facts, documentation more than prove that. Christianity was invented by the Jews to rid Paganism. Paganism that was enslaving the Jews through the Egyptians and the Romans. The Jews had the knowledge and the means to conjure a religion that would be so mythical and so frightful and filled with punishments and penance that Pagans would have no choice but to convert and, fearing this new God, leave the Jews at peace. So why are you still falling for this made up religion? Why are you still following all these false prophets? Set yourself free from ignorance!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  3. NamVet

    Headline implied the article was about a defense of Vatican "doctribe." I did not see one. I did see a bunch excuses and rantings about non-Biblical policies. Most Christians resolved the women in ministry issues years ago. For some blasphemous reason, the RCC and some wingnut factions of Protestants cling to purely (make that impurely) outmoded cultural rules which treat women as chattel. Since Christianity predates Islam, it appears the Taliban used previous "Christian" policies to develop their perverted beliefs in regards to women.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  4. brandonj

    Um, Yeah, maybe they ought to come up with a better explanation than that. Did it ever occur to them that the only reason Jesus was put on this earth as a man was because had be been a woman at that time, no one would have taken him seriously? Really, this priest could have made a better argument by simply saying women can't be priests, because "we say so." Your holy daddy in Rome has spoken, now do as he says, or you'll get an eccesiastical spanking! What a joke!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  5. Daniel

    A woman run Catholic Church with a Woman Pope would be awesome! I'd join that church in heart beat! Woman can carry man and deliver him into the world. They nurture and teach our children. Women are the true rulers of the world! The Catholic church has tried to shut women up for centuries and now its time for them to speak and be heard!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  6. Joel

    Jesus only chose men to be apostles. He also only chose poorly educated Jews from Palestine who spoke Aramaic. So, no black men, no English speakers, no educated people, and so on and so on.

    We're having a crisis of priestly ordination in our Church, and the answer is sitting in our own pews. We just don't have the courage to admit it.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • ICEMAN

      Hey Joel did you know the original JEWS were Black......history

      September 2, 2010 at 6:39 am |
  7. Paul

    Nice to see some Catholics are as dogmatic as your average Taliban.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  8. bmr

    Just another reason why religion is disgusting.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  9. JEM

    Who cares what this group thinks in light of the pedophile priest scandal?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Nina

      unrelated and irrelevant argument

      August 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • BR

      Nina-really? An entire organization who insists, wholeheartedly, that men should simultaneously lead the church...abstain from sex in any form...give advise on said sex, etc. Sound pretty related to me.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Kelly G

      Nina: How is JEM's argument unrelated? We ARE talking about the Cathloc Church and priests, did your little mind forget that? I notice on several of your replies, you keep saying the same word: Irrelevant.

      And the more you argue, the more you sound just like your buzzword. Have a nice day=)

      August 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • Lisa

      @KellyG – Nina keeps using that word because she knows the church is being irrelevant.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  10. Randy Piscione

    This is what happens when you follow the letter of the law and forget the spirit of the law. Given the attitudes of society when Christ showed up, picking men as his leaders was the prudent thing to do. The Catholic church (and many others) have picked up on so many minor biblical points (often out of context) and turned those into doctrine that it is ludicrous for us to focus on this one (supposedly) major point. The person who suggested just going to a different church had the best advice. There is really no need for popes or bishops or priests or any of that in the teachings of Christ. Pick up a Bible and show us where any of that is mandated by Christ. If you don't agree with the Catholics, move on. The end of "religion", as invented by man, is near, focus on Christ and don't sweat the man-made stuff.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  11. JimK

    the church's reasoning is flawed. NOWHERE does it specify a priest must stand for christ. If christ were alive today and choosing apostles, he most certainly would have chosen a mix of men & women. During his lifetime women had no rights, and men NEVER associated with women, so to say that he chose men over women specifically is a joke. There will e entually be women priests, or the church will die

    August 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  12. vbscript2

    Perhaps a better route would be to stop ordaining priests at all, as it is not a Biblical teaching. However, bishops/overseerers/elders/shepherds/whatever-you-want-to-call-them (the appointing of which is a Biblical teaching [see 1 Tim, among other places,]) are required by God to be men. 1 Tim is quite clear on this point, also. Women obviously have many roles in the church, but leading the congregation isn't one of them.

    As for previous commenters saying that men and women aren't equal in Christianity, well, that depends on what type of equality we're talking about. Men and women are equal in value. We're equal in ability to accept Christ and be saved by Him. However, our roles are not equal. For that matter, no two people in existance have the same role in the church. God has a unique plan to use all of us for His glory, but He loves us all equally regardless of which roles we may have.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  13. wholetruth

    Why anyone needs to defend the Catholic church and its teaching is beyond comprehension. We currently have seculars creating their own personal Jesus, their own interpretation and moral relativism. This is man creating religion for man and angry that there is no tenant for this in the Catholic faith. The Catholic church was, is, and will continue to be the most accurate reflection of Christian teaching in the world. This criticism is pointless because it comes from a lack of understanding and acceptance of Catholicism. Catholicism does not accept the relative moralistic ranting of those who falsely claim Christ

    August 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • BR

      In my experience, it's the faithful who have the least understanding about their own religion...which is typically why they still accept religion at all.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Kate


      Religion is between you and God. It *might* fit into a tradition, but at the end of the day, it's the believer's conscience that will answer to God in the hereafter. Insulting those whose consciences lead them to diverge slightly gets you nowhere.

      Just sayin'

      August 30, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  14. Thenextstep

    If ya don't like whats going on in the Catholic church, then DON"T let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • verify

      Last one out extinguish the votive candles!

      August 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • DavidMichael

      I didn't let the door hit me and left with my spouse and children. My sisters left with theirs as well.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • Mexican Catholic

      You are so right!!!!

      August 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • northbayteky

      I agree. That is why I have left the church. I only hope that all the other women in the church will see and understand that they are seen as and treated as second class citizens and leave as well. When there are only men left in the biggest and richest of the "Boys Only" clubs, perhaps they will get a clue. But I'm not holding my breath.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • Lisa

      Be careful thenextstep, people are leaving the church in droves in this country, membership and – more importantly for the Vatican – MONEY is way down. Let it continue and the church will become even more irrelevant.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
    • Amrita

      If every female parishioner would get up and leave, the Catholic Church would fall apart in a nano-second. Whenever you have a male group talking about the "special" place of women you know she's being put one tier down. Men have a real place – women have a "special" place – yeah, hon, we'll make a little room fer ya.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:54 am |
  15. Chaos

    >>>If you are loosing parishners this is what you should be looking at not an out dated only men can be priest line.<<<

    It's spelled 'losing'. Loose means not tight or snug. To lose, in this context, means there is less than before

    August 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  16. Evil

    why can't they just cook the Eucharist and poor the wine?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Michelle

    Jesus chose men because in that time women were not equals with men. Hell, women are still not equal to men as shown by the unequal pay in the U.S. It took an amendment to the Constitution to give women the right to vote in this country. Yes we have made progress, no we are still not equal. For the Catholic church to state things are the way they are because it was God's preordained plan is simply piffle and poppycock. It was a sign of the times. If Jesus came now I would dare say his choices would be different because our society is different. Women no longer are for child birth and rearing only. I would think he would have 6 male apostles and 6 women apostles. Additionally, the dogma of a priest symbolizing Jesus Christ during mass is part of the service's symbolism just like turning a wafer into the body of Christ. Does it really have to be gender specific? Besides who says God is a man?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  18. Chaos

    The Catholic Church is a cult thriving on people's irrational reaction to the psychological inability to accept that we are incapable of know the answers of why life exists.The cult is not perceived as as cult because it has so many followers. My ability to recognize the Catholic church, and many other religious organizations, for what they are make me genius-like compared to the followers but, in reality, its very simple once you apply critical thinking to reality.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • richunix

      a-MEN LOL

      August 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Ryan


      Your first sentence says it all.
      Well done.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • Victory Gin

      R-Amen, Chaos, r-amen.
      -The Flying Speghetti Monster.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  19. Janna

    If you want to move forward as a faith you need to move into the 20th century. Priest can be men or women and they should be allowed to marry this would solve the abuse issues. If you are loosing parishners this is what you should be looking at not an out dated only men can be priest line.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  20. Wiener

    The catholic church and Jesus went their separate ways about 1800 years ago. Just the way I see it.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • AwesomeBob

      Pretty much.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
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