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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. Enceph

    Good. As a Catholic priest myself, I do not want little girls convincing little boys to stray from my holy rod. 😉

    August 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  2. Dee Dee

    Did Jesus wear Versage shoes or live in a palace? A woman is just as capable as representing what Jesus stood for as any man. Let's face it Pope Benedict, where would you be without a woman involved. Didn't you have a mother?

    August 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • LouAz

      jesus wore Prada and JimmyChoos

      August 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  3. Josh

    Jesus himself selected Mary Magdalene to head his Church upon his death. Who is Father Stephen Wang, Pope Benedict XVI, or Archbishop of Canterbury to now declare that Jesus was being too STUPID to have done so.

    Plus, the analogy of never picking a woman to play the role of a male character doesn't stand up either. Everything from Sandy Duncan (a woman) playing the role of a male Tinker Bell, to Katee Sackhoff (a woman) to play the role of a male Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica. Both proved they were more than up to play such roles.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Navy wife

      Jesus selected Peter as his successor .....The DaVinci Code is a work of FICTION

      August 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  4. Ron Nospam

    This won't satisfy or convince anybody but the church's already faithful sheep.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  5. Eric

    What is up with women these days? They have to do everything a man does? As our society crumbles into the ground, women are having more babies out of wedlock (Oh, that's really great for kids!!!), women keep working and seek more and more independence from men, and this is leading our world into a better position? If the Catholic church allowed women priests, the Catholic church would SPLIT again, guaranteed!!! So they'll end up like the Protestants, with 35,000 demoninations. "Yeah, that's really great for unity!!!" If women don't like the church's stance on the subject, go somewhere else, period. As I tell my kids, it is what it is. Get over it!!

    August 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Ron Nospam

      I've long wondered why women would want to be Catholic (or Republican, for that matter)? That's akin to African-Americans wanting to join the KKK!

      August 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Gee Eric! You totally do not understand. First of all, God created us ALL in His image, this includes women! You are judging all women because a few choose unwisely. You do not know whom God is calling! You do not know what's in a woman's heart, and to assume that ONLY men can be priests is incorrect. I do agree that our church, the Roman Catholic church will split in our lifetime, as we, Christian Catholics break away from the hypocrisy of the Vatican. Its just a matter of time.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Ryan

      Yeah Eric, what is up with these women nowadays? Demanding equal treatment and the such. You are a dope. Im sure you would love to see the world revert back to 700 AD, but the rest of us.....not too much.

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

      The Catholic church is the only true religion. Women need to be cooking dinner!!!

      August 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Navy wife

      Peacemaker you are a Catholic imposter.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
    • Kate

      @Navy wife

      Donut feed the trolls, they start thinking people notice them 🙂

      August 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  6. RT

    The Catholic Church is protected by the Catholic Church and they make and defend their own rules. They are sovrien and until that is understood, the common folk will continue to waste their own time trying to change what cannot.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Ron Nospam

      One of these days the CC will see how little its sovereignty really means.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  7. Mary

    The women who are pushing priesthood are not basing their actions on a love for God's word, but rather on society's standards, which has taught women to demand their rights and to go on a war path of words. These women are not seeking God's interests, but rather their own selfish desires and lack the humility that Jesus taught as essential for salvation in His Sermon on the Mount. As such, they are in rebellion against God and are on their way to Hell.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • Susan

      How do you know what motivates these women?

      August 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Ryan

      Another brainwashed catholic woman. Hey its a free country, do as you please.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Acroyear

      Someone claiming to speak on the Almighty's behalf, saying that other are going to hell for not being humble. The irony is so thick you could walk on it.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • LadyMiniMe

      Turn it the other way around. And, what interests are the male priesthood of the Roman Catholic church seeking? Isn't it selfish of them to keep women away from serving God as priests? Why don't you find that selfish?

      August 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • northbayteky

      Mary, like Susan said, how do you know what motivates these women?

      Judge not, least ye be judged yourself.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
  8. Patrick

    In truth, Emperor Constantine's conversion is what changed women as priests. Prior to this women were priests, held land and positions of authority. If Constantine was to convert and give 1 million catholic followers overnight then he was to have it his way. Women removed from office, stripped of land and title and he would become their "Catholic Emperor". Didnt take long for the church to change their 'dogma' did it? As a true catholic, I find this hypocrisy to be rampant in the Rome driven church. When did it become about money and power instead of ministering to the flock? I guess forever.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  9. whatsthebigdeal

    Okay. So they don't want women in their priesthood. Are you really that shocked and surprised? This is really news? Or is this more of a confrontation between the establishment and what people deem to be fair?

    Look, you have other churches. You have the freedom of religion. If you keep it up at this rate, the church will have to start censoring the bible to keep some of your lunatics happy. Next we will need to revise parts of it to suit everyone's belief systems. Next we will have to make sure it is politically correct. That it is gender neutral. That nobody is offended by anything they want to believe.

    You have how many different religions and faiths in this world? Pick something else. Period. I'm sure the big man upstairs will completely understand and have your back.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  10. Kana

    Unfortunately religions are "private" clubs and get to set their own rules and by-laws. The Catholic church say no female priests. Other Religions allow women and men to share those lead roles. Some religions allow thier church leaders to marry other don't, Some religions embrace homosexuals into their lead roles others don't.

    Fortunately in the United States we still have the Freedom of Religion. If you don't like the rules of the "club" you can go elswere.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  11. RT

    We all know the Catholic Church is the richest org in the word. Hence, you cannot fight, dasgree and expect to win against the holly dollar. OJ. is a great example of this.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  12. Sue

    Funny...if the justification for refusing women ordination is that they can't 'play the part of Jesus', I would think that that reasoning would extend to males of different ethnicities. Wang- an Asian Jesus? Seems like a casting stretch to me. I wonder what Wang would have to say about that.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  13. Nabor636

    What truly shocks and disturbs me is the number of people in this country who continually bash Christianity. It truly disturbs me what I sometimes read on these postings. Our forefathers and grandparents' generations have to be rolling in their graves. I DO NOT like the direction in which this country is headed. Godlessness is prevailing in this world.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
    • Ryan

      I wouldnt bash Christianity, it has done a lot of good in the world. I WOULD bash some of its followers, especially the ones in charge. Quite a few of these people – GASP – dont follow what Jesus preahced. That is the problem fool, not Christianity in itself.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Acroyear

      "Godlessness is prevailing in this world." One can only hope... but I really don't think as a species we are that smart. We will keep tying ourselves to this barren desert dogma of hate and intolerance until we use it as the justification to destroy ourselves. I just hope I'm long gone and moved on to whatever REALLY awaits us (whatever that happens to be) when you follows of the lunatic known as Abraham destroy the planet.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  14. CSh

    If you read one of the older translations of the Bible – NOT the KJV, which is a TERRIBLE translation – women are given equal standing to men and there are even mentions of women as apostles. Of course all that was 'translated' out of the Bible in later versions. Not to mention the part about women not speaking up – which is well known to be a later addition. There are also several mentions of the women who followed Jesus. Just because the men who wrote down the stories years later didn't mention their names (except for Mary M) doesn't mean there weren't any.

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

      And that is why it is called HISstory. Not HERstory, or even THE story. It's what HE said. Not necessarily the truth, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  15. Jose

    The Church is the kingdom of God on earth, it is not a democracy where people get to vote what truth is. So if you prefer a democray where truth is whatever you want it to be then join some other denomination where you can vote on whatever you want to believe or start your own denomination.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  16. Susan

    Men and women should both represent the teachings of Christ. Allow women to be ordained; referring to Stephan Wang, his defense is "weak".

    August 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  17. Acroyear

    Men and woman are equal in the Catholic Church?!?! That's the same kind of BS that sprouted when they say "The indivisable oneness of the trinity..." Bald face lie on the face of it.

    The saddest bit is, if Jesus every really existed, he was probably a loving and gentle soul on the level of Ghandi and would be horrible saddened by The Churches continuing misogyny.

    Still, one can hope its increasing crisis of credibility and relevance will hasten the day when this barren desert dogma has no more influence in world politics than the Elks Club.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  18. Robin

    If you don't like the Catholic Church, don't follow it. Tell me which church, group, belief is much, much better, and that tons and tons of people flock to century after century and that stands against the changing humanistic views that exist in the pin points of time?

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

      Robin,

      You want me to compare your fairy tales and "scriptures" with other religions? Compare them to other fairy tales? Which ones are better....thats a tough one.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  19. Mary Indy

    Sorry, but not very many of the men who are priests actually understand or act like they are "standing in the place of Jesus." There are so many things wrong with this that I don't know where to begin. But they all point to why I don't belong to any church, although I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.

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

      Mary Indy,
      If you wanted to find a Church that is the true Church today, I’d look for one that the world is always picking on….you know, one that people like to hate. Why, you ask? Well, if I wanted a Church that is the true Church it would have to have Jesus Christ in it and since Jesus Christ was hated back then, He certainly is still hated today by the world. This Church would be the one that they say needs to ‘get with the times’, one that people don’t understand because they think it is out-dated and inferior to modern communities; I would look for one that is accused of having a devil, just like Jesus was accused of ‘being possessed’.
      It would have to be a Church that claims infallibility because Jesus claimed He was Truth. This Church would have members who love the Church because they hear the Word of God spoken and respect the Word as if spoken by its founder; it would have all the Sacraments mentioned in the Bible, and a holiness about it.
      Well, for Heaven's sake....you'd be right back in the Catholic Church!!

      September 2, 2010 at 12:12 am |
    • Peter F

      Catholic Mom,

      So are you denouncing all other branches of Christianity as being unfit for God? We are a diverse community. The Lord made us diverse. There are aspects of many different denominations that reflect characteristics of God himself. You mentioned something along the lines of 'because Jesus was hated back then, His church is the one that is most hated today.' Correct me if I am mistranslating your thought. But it is also worth noting that Jesus went TO the people of the world. He humbled himself by being born into a world of sin and death, and then meeting, talking to and even TOUCHING prostitutes, thieves, Samaritans. Today, the church is trying to meet people where they are... I am an evangelical. And I don't consider myself conforming to the ways of the world as not to be hated, but making myself a part of this world – which demonstrates how Jesus Christ and his Church are applicable and important for today's world. The traditions of the past are not what is important here, it is being the hands and feet of Christ where the work needs to be done.

      September 2, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  20. Johnny

    Why is this news? Why are we so concerned about women's rights in the Caltholic church yet we run all these stories on Muslim mosques? Should CNN demand their be women clerics?

    August 30, 2010 at 1:00 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.