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. butlerbulldawg74

    so men are closer to God, than women. I love good ole religious reasoning.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  2. Lee Oates

    The Catholic Church (from the viewpoint of one who has studied for the Priesthood) has always been demeaning towards women. Much of the persecution against women in the earlier middleages was an attempt to destroy the Druids and other ancient religions where women played an important role. Much of the Church's current problems are a result of their insistence on the non-marriage of priest, which is an administrative issue within the Church, and has nothing to do with religious dogma. The truth is that male domination in the Church is maintained by old men, sexually frustrated and childless, who grasp at the illusion of power by keeping women in their place, i.e., subordinate. The question is way does any woman put up with it?

    August 30, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  3. sgscalese

    Did anyone notice Santino's quote, i.e. I Timothy 3:2 – 2 It behoves therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behaviour, chaste, given to hospitality, a teacher

    "...the HUSBAND of one wife..." Bishops were married?! Another rule change? Supposedly, Jesus wasn't married. If bishops were married, then perhaps women were priests and the rules for that were changed later on as well. The bottom line is that spirituality is natural, but ALL religion is MAN-made. We can live lives like Jesus without all the rules. The rules are for those who still need a parent to tell them how to live their lives. The rest of us are free. Isn't that wonderful?

    August 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Lee Oates

      Priest in the earlier years of the Catholic church were married. Their are 14 branches of the Catholic Church under the rule of the Pope, 13 allow marriage, and only the Roman rite is banned from marriage.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • LadyMiniMe

      According to historians, they have strong reasons to believe that Jesus was married.

      August 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      You don't like rules much, that is plain. You don't like parents telling you what to do.....How do you handle Our Father and His Commandments?

      August 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  4. LouAz

    Was jesus a pedophile too ? Besides, priests should not have to share the little boys with anyone else.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  5. mat

    Why dont all of you go tell the Muslims how to follow their religions? F&^%$*G COWARDS.

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

      People question Islam all the time

      August 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  6. April

    First of all – there were women disciples. No women in the 12 disciples, but Jesus had LOTS of followers who were women. That's a lame argument. Secondly, if they want the priest to stand in for Jesus, that is fine, but I am thankful that isn't what people think I do as a pastor. In protestantism, we believe all believers have access to Jesus through the Holy Spirit and prayer. A pastor is just someone who helps others understand the Bible and who helps out in times of spiritual need. That can be done be both men and women. If the Catholic Church does not believe that all believers have access to Jesus other than to go through the priest, then I can see their point, though I have to disagree with it theologically.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  7. Katan

    Hierarchy is my its very nature a system built on domination. Theology is just an excuse for this particular power structure. Nevertheless, if all the women who work for RC churches and schools, either as religious or as volunteers, stopped doing so, even the Roman church might change its tune about ordination.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  8. God

    I am not real. That is all.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • AwesomeBob

      Man, then I guess all that war, hate, discrimination, persecution, closed-mindedness, corruption, manipulation, and annoying pamphlets at my doorstep were for nothing. That sucks...

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

      Excellent, but I already knew that. It's good to see that religions are gradually becoming obsolete and it seems to be mostly a result of self destruction. Every time I hear comments coming from the catholic bureaucracy I cannot help but laugh at their ineptitude. You would think that the god thingy would make sure that didn't happen. Is it asleep at the switch or what? Jesus!

      August 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • Zeus

      You stole my thunder.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  9. jad31

    I left the church after finding out that one of my friends had been molested by our parish priest. I was 14 years old. I refused to raise my children in the catholic church and have never regretted that decision. I believe the bible is a man-made book of fiction, however, I do believe in a higher power. For centuries the bible and the church have been manipulated by insecure men. Wake up people...you're being taken for a ride!

    August 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Lola

    Does anyone else find it ironic that a guy named Wang is saying that women just can't do the same things men can do?

    August 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Brian

    I wish the Holy Church in, their profound wisdom would ban pedophile priests. At this point the just move them from parish to parish so they can have fresh boys to play with.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  12. Wholly Mary

    HA! What would you expect from a male dominated cult the defends, albeit secretly, child molesters?

    August 30, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  13. Lisa Marie

    And these types of messages will continue to perpetuate the view that the Catholicism is no longer relevant in today's culture – and explains why so many people are moving towards SBNR (spiritual but not religious) frameworks for their moral guidance. Thank you for making it so easy for others to see the church as a power hungry, male dominated business, no longer connected to reality.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      There is a huge difference between "religious" and "spiritual". I know many people who do not attend church on Sundays, who are more Christian than most people who do attend church. Christianity is ALL about Jesus...... period! I am a Christian, who chooses to worship in then Catholic tradition. I pray for a big change in my church!

      August 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Jose

      In reality the Catholic Church is growing world wide, it is now over 1.2B. This past weekend I was at a Mass that was completely filled with people standing outside. I have met many poeple that have experienced life transformations once they really understand all that the Church has to offer. People often say you need to have a personal relationship with Jesus, what the Catholic Church provides is a way to have an intimate realtionship with Jesus, but again you will only experience this if you take the time to understand what the Church teaches.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Ryan

      Jose, the catholic church is spreading.....only in south and central america. Is it coincidence that these are poor and undereducated areas? Great recruiting ground huh?
      The fact is, the catholic church is SHRINKING in modern areas. I wonder why......

      August 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Lisa Marie,
      ....you said.....'people are moving towards SBNR (spiritual but not religious) frameworks for their moral guidance'......

      From where do these individuals get their moral 'guidance'? Is it 'me, myself, and I'?

      August 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  14. Pax Vobiscum

    The vocation of the Priesthood is for men. Women can do every bit as much good (sometimes more), as Nuns.

    You don't see men protesting for the right to become nuns, do you? Would any of these women who are whining about The Church ordaining women actually pursue a vocation in the Priesthood? Doubtful. Anyone seriously considering this vocation would not behave in such a manner as this, because they would KNOW that The Church has NEVER allowed female priests, and to question Tradition is very un-Catholic-like. If these women want to be priests/ministers, let them seek out a Protestant church.

    It is very poor practice to join a club specifically with the intent of changing its rules.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  15. John3

    I have never made an entry in a blog, but feel I have to make a comment to this one.
    I notice the Christian churches are cruised but no other religion. Islam does not allow women as clergy, but that is never brought up. We are the Catholic Church – We follow the original truth for two thousand years without change. You can hate us, we will still pray for you.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  16. justagirl

    Really cool that he compared the idea that priests should be men because we wouldn't be concerned about a man playing a king in a movie. In Shakespeare's time men dressed as women because women were not to be on stage. Old Asian (not sure of the nationality so I won't use a specific) theater was performed by men only as well. It's a good thing the arts have evolved past the church. There are many female actors that we would have missed if not.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  17. justjohn

    My father plays dominos better than your father plays dominos (sung in Gregorian chant)

    "Hey young fellow, I'm standing in for Jesus. Wanna see my orb and scepter?"

    August 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • LouAz

      Don't pedopriests have orbS ?

      August 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  18. cajunlady

    Weak argument Father Wang...now go shave your back!!

    August 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  19. Peacemaker

    The reason Jesus did not have women disciples is that He was a religious Jew; were Jesus to be around today, preaching, healing & proclaiming the Good News, He would have women disciples! As a Roman Catholic, I doubt we will ever have women as priests! The Vatican is a "good old boys" hang out.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  20. CJ

    Catholic and struggling

    If the priest is "inpersona", then they also need to be of middleeastern dissent, speak aramaic, and be Jewish.
    You can't claim that maleness is any more important to the Jesus of history than his being Jewish.

    We are Christians because we have faith in Christ. Humanity is not male and female, it is human. Last I checked, men and women were human. Jesus' humanity is critical to Christian belief, that God loved the world that he became human, not Jesus' boy parts. To say otherwise is just ignorant and stupid.

    God created human beings with brains we are supposed to use.

    If in Catholic theology Jesus is sacrificed each and every mass (eventhough the human lived in a sepcific point in time only), why can't "inpersona" also be a woman? The answer is of course they can.

    Don't argue history or Bible. People can find support for every position they want. We need to apply the brians God gave us.

    Jesus fought agaisnt religious institutioins when he was alive. Time for him to come back and do it again.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:20 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.