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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. bmr

    Let's face it – Christianity, Islam, Judaism and most other religions out there were created by and for MEN. Women are mere objects or property in these religions, as evidenced by what is written in their "holy" books. Why any woman would choose to and continue to be a part of a religion that views them as chattel is beyond me. Why women would worship a god who supposedly prefers men is also beyond me. Ladies, WAKE UP! Don't let chauvinists, who use the mask of religion, tell you your worth (or, in this case, worthlessness).

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

      Would it be too much to say "Amen brother"? LOL. Joking aside, well said.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  2. Don't Distort

    The struggle to keep the masses under control continues. As long as there is organized religion in the world, there will be oppression. Free yourself from these evil institutions that brainwash you into believing that you are not good enough to do anything. It's sad that people like catholic mom just roll over and accept that someone who has never met her can decide if she is smart enough, intelligent enough, or strong enough to 'do something'. It's shameful that they do this to her and others like her, and sad that she doesn't have the will to stand up to the fallacy that it represents.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  3. Lachapelle

    "something that has been such a fundamental part of Christian identity from the beginning."......But does it make it right? ..........Have they truly read and studied the bible...Seriously....Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, Tabitha – All leaders (deacons – not to be confused by deaconess, apostles, and leaders of congregations)....The truth is in black and white and to deny any woman the right to lead a church is pure sexism!! The Catholic church should be ashamed of itself

    August 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  4. Frank McGowan

    Methinks the good father takes his name a bit too seriously

    August 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  5. jubei3

    main controvery with the theory of "standing in for jesus christ" is thus...If Jesus is still alive what authority is given to men to "stand in his place" we do not need an Idol to look upon..we are tought in corinthians to not look upon Idols..so why place even a "well meaning" idol in front of the faithful?
    Next, Woman is "out of MAN" therefore a man is both male and fe-male, If all man are presented with reconciliation, and all man are indwelled with the spirit of christ through the holy ghost...then all man are enabled to speak the words of christ as preachers, teachers deacons and to administer both congregational and governmental gifts of the spirit.
    Explain to me why Women who have under paul the apostle unto the gentiles fully supported the function of females to lead churches yet the catholic church does not?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      All priests of the Bible have been men, O and NT, not held as idols, and they are considered SERVANTS. The Pope is the Servant of the Servants.

      August 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  6. shecallsmepeanut

    I think that they should allow women to be a priest if they want to. It shouldn't be men only. I'm not Catholic so I don't know how the religion works with men versus women. I just think everyone shoudl be created equal. Jesus didn't die for men only. He died for all and that means he stood for all. So why can't a woman stand for all?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  7. L. Taylor

    Aquilla and Priscilla were bishops, in the early Church.... which... by the way, was begun (officially) by Jesus BROTHER, James. ( It is recorded.) The Bible also says that there is neither male, nor female... all are "one in Christ Jesus".

    August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Yes, we are all one in the Body of Christ through Baptism but not all gifts are the same.....not all are eyes, not all are hands,...can the ear say it is more important than the foot? No. Not all are priests, not all are mothers, etc., etc.. etc....

      August 30, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  8. BibleRulez

    How do you know you are not talking "personally" with Satan instead. Or just following your lower desires and not following the will of God?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  9. Tutuvabene

    "Standing in the person of Christ" would also appear to mean that the priesthood would only be open to caucasian, middle east Jewish males. Yet, the church seems able to get around that restriction without a problem. The Catholic Church's male gender only arguement doesn't make sense and is hypocrasy.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  10. Nina

    The bible says that all spiritual leadership is the responsibility of men – that goes for in the home (husband) and in the church. There are many other denominations that do not believe women should be the leader of a church, based on what the bible tells us, not because they are s exist. The Catholic Church just takes all of the heat.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  11. Tom English

    My three year old grandson can think more clearly than Fr Wang! Can a woman play a man's role? Tell that to Mary Martin who played Peter Pan! Christ's message was that God loves us. Is God a man? I don't think so! If his statement holds any truth then why are there women ministers or for that matter female rabbis. It all gets back to gender domination. That is the reason, the only reason why females aren't allowed to be catholic priests. The sooner the catholic church admits that, the sooner it can be changed

    August 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • Nina

      Do you have any biblical facts to back up your statements? I think you first need to educate yourself on how the various denominations that allow women to be minister actually came to exist. Many of their beliefs are not in line with what scripture says. Just because they allow women, doesn't make it right. There is no "gender domination" in the Catholic Church. It's not an issue of "men are better than women and therefore only men can be priests." No one is saying that only men are worthy. Scripture tells us that men are to be the spiritual leaders. Women have their own roles too, but not the leader. Our society is just wired to believe that every little thing is s exist, r acist, or whatever. This isn't a s exist issue.

      August 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Nina: So men and women have different s-exual anatomy = man and women have different s-exual roles = men can be leaders, women cannot ... Sounds pretty s-exist to me.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • Ryan

      Nina you poor brainwashed woman. You might wanna try thinking for yourself at somepoint in your life.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • Kelly G

      NINA: Repeat after me:

      Not Everything A Man Says Is True. Especially If He Is Holding A Bible Or Is In Bed With You!

      August 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • northbayteky

      Nina, here's one for you to consider:
      God made man in the image of himself. If that is true (and the bible tells us it si) then where did women come from? Didn't God make women too? Your arguments fail, as do all those who would profess that women can't be leaders.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  12. Squeezebox

    John's dead wrong! The first apostle was the Virgin Mary!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  13. Wolftrader

    Seems to me that the Muslim religion also has women in lesser roles and not being leaders. Caholic or whatever religion one may follow is just that, a belief in a philosophy. The Catholic religion (once being one) is locked in control by men for men and until they modernize their purpose, are locked in archaic beliefs and excuses. They failed in controlling child abuse by blaming the victims. They failed in finding a way to accept sexual behavior as a normal human function. They continue to fail in adjusting the philosophy of Jesus to the modern world, quite simiilar to many radical Muslim beliefs.
    Perhaps John Lennon was correct in versing "Imagine no religion!"

    August 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  14. brandonj

    Something else to consider: Jesus was a Jew whose skin was the color of "brass." So why are all these white european gentiles priests? Shouldn't they be Jews with middle eastern origins? The only criteria for standing in for Jesus is that he be male? There's more criteria for being an Elvis Impersonator! I say they follow their own policy-only men of color with jewish middle eastern origin can be priests!

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

      @ brandonj "BURNT BRASS"

      September 2, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  15. me, Philadelphia, PA

    What I don't get about this is why this group would fight so hard for this despicable "church" to ordain women instead of just encouraging women to distance themselves from the organization altogether. Why support a "church" that hates you? Same reason I don't get why gays support Catholicism, when absolutely everything they stand for involves hatred. What, we get some women priests in the Catholic Church and suddenly we get the right to choose? No, just more stupid rhetoric about abortion and how we don't have the rights to our bodies.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  16. bmr

    So basically he is saying that Catholicism all boils down to anatomy? The Stone Age would be proud!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  17. steve

    Unfortunately this issue is not limited to the Catholic Church. The more fundamentalist sects of both Judaism and Islam do not allow women pray with men or to become Rabbis or Imams. Those sects further believe that any sect that does, is not part of the religion. It would be blasphemy to even suppose that God is female.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  18. Protestant

    Religion has been, to me, always been a "take it or leave it" situation. If someone feels strongly about an issue, and the powers that be refuse to budge, there are plenty of other denominations that do condone ordination of women. i realize that these women are trying to reform their faith from within, and I respect them for it; but until the Pope is young enough to have been raised with more tolerance, it ain't gonna happen.

    I suspect that, if the Catholic church saw a major move to other denominations, their stand on ordination of women would change.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Kirstyloo

      Actually, the Catholic church in the US and Europe is seeing their faithful leave in droves to other churches or no church at all. The only places that Catholic church is doing well is in Central/South America and Africa.

      August 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  19. maine liberal

    Thru-out church history Priests have been married, have been women.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  20. Dana

    It's very selective editing to premise an exclusion on 50 percent of "humanity" on the notion that Christ was a "male." As many texts state that "Christ-Sophia" was a blend of male AND female, that there were actually femaile disciples, that angels are both male and femaile as there are texts saying that Christ was "male." It's just that any female postitions of power were carefully suppressed throughout the evolution of the "Christian" faiths. So, if we are going by the number of texts that exist, there is an equal rationale for priests of both genders. In western cultures, however, the notion of patriarchal control is something many men AND women don't want to give up. As for the acting analogy–lmales played both male AND femaile parts in all theater in Europe for centuries. But I guess many westernized folks are OK with males being able to be both genders than with females.doing so, in the same way that it's OK for a female to have a "male" name and not the othe way around. But don't delude yourself into thinking that only males being able to represent "Christ" is anything more than a patriarchial group not wanting to relinquish any of its control.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:27 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.