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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. holly

    Perhaps these whining women should spend less time holding vigils and paying money for ads and use their resources and time to help those in need.... the poor, the sick, the hungry .. if they are truly dedicated to doing Christ's work. Mother Teresa did more for humanity than most of these people can even imagine. Never heard her whine and complain.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @holly: I guess stopping the treatment women as second class citizens is not a worthy enough cause for you. Hope you're not female, Holly.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  2. Mesa Mick

    It's interesting that the die-hard catholic hieracy – all men – argue the perpetual urban legend that the 12 apostles were all men and that they were chosen as such becasue they were men.

    It is so easy to forget that the 12 apostles were coified as "official" when Constantine ordered the bishops (all men) of the various christian sects in the 4th century to come to Nicene and agree on one bible.

    And you guessed it – They were the ones who chose all men to be the apostles, not Jesus. And it's a fact that Mary Magedalen really pissed off the other follows 'cause she was a woman – And you know how women were viewed 2,000 plus years ago. It seems as thought the RCC hasn't progressed much since then either....

    August 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  3. catholicsham

    Let's go over what will happen to the Roman Catholic Church, as said by your Bishop, Sheen in 1950: Father Connor, you probably know him, said that the catholic church under the heading of "sacred tradition" teaches that the final pope will defect from the faith! Now here is what Bishop Sheen said. "The false prophet will have a religion without a cross, a religion without a world to come, a religion to destroy religions. There will be a counter church, Christs church will be one, and the false prophet will create the other. The false church will be worldly, ecumenical, and global. It will be a loose federation of churches and religions forming some type of global association. A world parliament of churches, it will be emptied of all divine content and will be the mystical body of the anti-Christ. The mystical body on earth today will have its Judas Iscariot, and he will be the false prophet. Satan will recruit him from among OUR Bishops! The false prophet will be a bishop, and like Judas, he will sell the mystical body to the anti-Christ".-

    Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1950)

    Then, let's go over the book "The keys of this blood" by Malachi Martin with re to what will happen to the Roman Catholic Church. I would imagine catholics are in denial of this, however let me enlighten you.

    "Roman Catholics will then have the spectacle of a pope validly elected who cuts the entire visable body of the church loose from the traditional unity and the papacy oriented apostalic structure that the church has hitherto always believed and taught was divinely established. The shudder that will shake the Roman Catholic body in that day will be the shudder of its death and agony, for its pains will be from in itself orchestrated from its leaders and its members. No outside enemy will have brought this about. Many will accept the new regime, many will resist. All will be fragmented. There will be no one on earth to hold the fractuating members of the visible Roman Catholic body together as a living compact organization. Men will then be able to ask for the first time in the history of the church 'where is the visible body of Christ that Christ founded?' and there will be none." Revelation 13:11 would prove this. And Revelation 20:2.

    This is what is going to happen to your church, and to further bolster that point; Archbishop Morgair in 1133 AKA St. Malachi had a vision of the next 850 years, and the 112th pope would be the one Sheen spoke of that would betray the Christian faith, the priesthood, and the church.

    Your church is in serious trouble, what is happening, and be honest?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  4. Babak From Los Angeles

    Of courser we can not have women prists. They may actually care for the children instead of molesting them! The church is a sick place. Having a woman in there might improve it, but they would never go along with that. They are still denaying "F"ing our kids.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  5. Kevin Eric Smith

    Once again there appear to be some using "alarm" words to center the world around orgasms. What does an ALLEGATION of abuse mean? What does justice mean? I don't know...maybe there were many deaths from AIDS in Africa...when do they receive Hillary justice.

    I agree with the Pope's position. In any event, there is risk inherenent in woman being "priests" as opposed to "nuns". I could have sworn some nuns teach Catholicism..or maybe I imagined it.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  6. Grondahl

    Are we only debating this because post-modern egalitarian ideals are in vogue? Seems like nobody gave a hoot until the late 19th and 20th centuries. Who knows when we'll cease to care again?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • AwesomeBob

      I don't care.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  7. rockysfan

    Ironic a MAN made that statement for the MALE dominated church. Did the MAN forget that a WOMAN gave birth to Jesus? Must be. Jesus did not suddenly appear full grown sheeple!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  8. I'mJustsayin

    another option is to allow Priests to marry. If Wang wants to use the argument that Jesus picked 12 men to to preach his word-not women,well guess what? 11 of the 12 apostles were married. Allowing priests to marry would greatly increase the number of men that would consider entering the priesthood and would be no different than how the original 12 men that were hand picked by Jesus.

    By the way, you gotta figure when your last name is WANG, you may lean towards siding w men.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  9. Brother John of Dallas

    It's really simple as to how the male and female sexes represent a symbolic in the spiritual realm (but this is not for everyone to understand unless you are a believer). The biggest mystery Jesus revealed was that He is coming to marry His Bride, the Church. Males symbolize Jesus, women symbolize the Church. Jesus says there is no male or female in the kingdom, so spiritually, we are all equal. There are physical differences, and those physical differences are by design. Thus, having a male figurehead ministering to the church body parallels Jesus ministering to His Bride (the Church). Having a woman as the head of the Church is like saying the Church does not need Jesus. But there are many ways women can serve, including the teaching of missionaries and evangelists, which has a precedent in the New Testament Bible

    August 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  10. Pete Bogs

    Some women wear their hair more like Jesus than men do.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  11. Stephny

    I cannot say how thankful I am to be Episcopalian!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  12. Kirstyloo

    While I agree, leaving the church is clearly an option and one that many Catholics are taking everyday. That being said, the fundamental argument is flawed. None of the original 12 was gentiles; however, priests can be gentiles. Christ, as a person, needed a gender...and based on the time and place...it needed to be male. After his death, he became the resurrected Christ and we became one in him. Once he was here certain divisions became meaningless...There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

    If a priest is supposed "to become Christ" during the mass, I would point out that a man (or woman) is a very poor substitute. I feel that saying a man is better than being a woman when you are trying to represent the God of the Universe is really shortsighted. Our human failings (and history thought time shows that priest clearly have these) make us a much poorer representation of Christ than gender ever would.

    If you go by the rules that Peter and Paul used to bring gentiles into the priestly fold, you'd say...anyone who is given a gift from God to lead...let them lead. If God gives a woman the gift to lead…as a priest…who are we to say no?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  13. Terry

    How ironic, men wrote the bible, men edited each rewrite of the bible, men run the Vatican, men become priests, and men turn out to be pedophiles who like altar boys. Can you understand why I left the Catholic Church? Talk about a church held captive by a cult.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  14. Steve C

    In defense of the church doctrine – men get nagged and badgered and preached to enough at home by their wives – why would they want another earful at church? Better let us buy liquor on Sundays then.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      The Catholics I know dont care what their wives have to say at home either.

      August 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Steve

      Yeah... Plus PMS and a confessional booth probably don't mix 🙂 Sorry ladies... just kidding. Besides, I already worship you ladies far more than Jesus so y'all don't need to represent him.

      August 30, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  15. Paul

    Sure, only try to change Christianity when it's conveinient for YOU! Keep gays from getting married, but damn it, let females be Jesus.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  16. Practical

    They sure represent Jesus very well, don't they? How many women would sexually molest little kids? Yeah Catholic priests are like Jesus...NOT!

    August 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  17. fitzpat

    "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," 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[.]"

    So Jesus chose 12 men at a specific time in history and this choice was specific and deliberate. At it is to these men we must look to for our models... our representitive of Jesus. Therefore, if we follow this logic to its conclusion, then all priests must be from the middle east of arabic descent and they must all be less than thirty four years old. I mean if we need a phyiscal representative of christ, then he must look him completely correct? So a beard is probably a must as well in addition to being from the middle east. And as Jesus died early in his life, then no priest can be older than Jesus was when he died. Certainly if the issue is a deliberate choice, then Jesus coming to die for sins was a deliberate choice and this choice was fulfilled at roughly the age of 33. No priest can represent Jesus older than that. .... that might break this old white man syndrome issue we have.

    In addition to the above, in the old testament we are told, in a few places, that God has both male and female characteristics. Perhaps Jesus too had both male and female characteristics. Perhaps he was a hermaphrodite and no one at that time thought to look. Perhaps the only people who can be priests are hermaphrodite otherwise they cannot representive God who is protrayed, again in the old testament and sometimes in the new testament, with both male and female characteristics. Just saying....

    " argued Father Stephen Wang

    August 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  18. Ben

    I would not doubt that had women been "in charge" the last couple thousand years, there might be some better leadership, and the religion may not have strayed so far from Christ's originial church (but that's a different discussion). I think the argument put forth in this article is difinitely weak at best. To me, it comes down to what you believe about your church. If you are a devout Catholic, which I assume someone wanting to become a priest would be, and therefore believe that the Pope is God's mouthpiece (I'm not Catholic, so I may be wrong on that?), than who are you/we to think we know better. What do you believe about God? Wouldn't you think that He has your best interest in mind? Wouldn't you be willing to be patient and choose to be happy with what God has given you? If you truly believe that God is in charge of your religion, than necessary changes will be made by Him in His own time. If you don't believe that God is in charge of your religion, than why are you a part of it?

    August 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  19. Melissa

    I think the nuns do a better job of "standing in the place of Jesus" than any priest could. They practice what the priests only preach.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  20. Steve

    I guess Jesus was a pedophile too. Because it's ok for them to represent him.

    August 30, 2010 at 12:42 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.