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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. Hmmmmm

    So if you have to be just like Jesus to be a priest, you can't be a woman. . . or an asian, or black, or european. . . .Only men of middle eastern decent who were raised Jewish need apply. . . just as silly of an arguement.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  2. Ben

    The Archbishop of Canterbury is in fact NOT the head of the Church of England. The queen is.

    CNN, get your facts straight.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  3. Debinsea

    That's the most ridiculous argument I've ever heard. A priest is supposed to represent and live by the philosophies of Christ. If the Catholic Church feels the need to have priest represent Christ exactly, in his human form, then they need to do the research to find out how Christ actually looked and require that a man can be a priest only if he could be mistaken for that look. Ridiculous? Yes, just like their argument against women as priests!

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

      Debinsea,

      You may not know that Jesus Christ is our high priest, and He is to be a priest forever....how is He to do this if not by human men priests who stand in Persona Christi?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  4. JohnR

    So women can't stand in the place of Jesus. Nuns can be the wife of Jesusm, as they are symbolically wedded to him, so why can't they stand in the place of Mary? From what I see of Catholicism, she's more important than Jesus.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  5. Another Catholic Mom

    Thank you for your post Catholic Mom from another Catholic Mom! Jesus church ain't going nowhere! Sorry folks. Do you think your ideals an opinions mean anything to we TRUE Catholics. For 2000 years the Catholic Church has withstood and overcome any crisis within or outside the church. I won't let anybody within or outside of the church run me away from God's one and true apostolic church. Keep on rambling and we shall keep on standing until the END of time as Jesus promised.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Adiani

      Your true church is scary. Witch burning, the tortures of the inquisition, the execution of men of science? Decadent and murderous Popes. The holocaust of the the crusades. Your true church has blood dripping from it's hands. It is centuries behind the times and the age of women of freedom has arrived and once again the true church is out of step with the enlightened world. 90% of people who belong to a religion are born into it and are brainwashed from childhood to follow it's credo. It is time to reject this suppressive organization and free your mind.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
    • abby

      Let's see - in its history the Catholic church tortured and then burnt "witches," "heretics," and anyone else who didn't agree with them. It destroyed the cultures in South America and enslaved the indigenous people while "converting" them. They tolerated Hitler and his Final Solution to protect their property and place in Germany. They protected pedophile priests.
      Thanks, but no thanks - I'm a Christian but I'll stick with Christ - not the CC.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
    • Ryan

      Another Cath Mom-
      You clearly dont know your history. Read a book......no, not the bible. Something else for a change.
      You dont need the catholic church to have a relationship with your God.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Most religions crumble when faced with something larger than itself. Catholicism is lucky because it was the favored religion of imperialists. Eventually, however, reason and science will grow larger than it, and it will go the way of the Dodo.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Nina

      @Ryan – actually being a member of a community of believers is a huge part of your relationship with God. Nowadays, people try to create their own religion that fits within their lifestyle to make believing fit within their own terms. That's not how God intended it to be.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Ryan,
      Yes, to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ you DO need the Catholic Church. Denominational ecclesial communities cannot bring you the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. You can follow Jesus Christ's commandment 'to eat His Body and drink His Blood' only by the hands of an ordained priest, through the lineage of the Apostle's. When those protestants decided to go their own way they left Authority behind, look where it has taken them....it is a man-made mess as the Holy Spirit would not be giving out 35,000 different Truths.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  6. GoodNatured

    Why are there so many non-Catholics who are concerned what the Catholic church does. What does it matter to you if only men are priest, if Catholics venerate Mary, if the Pope is an old white German. Fact: the Catholic church is not passing by the way – it is growing (over 1 bilion members) in countries where people know that the only love they will receive is from the Church (Africa, India, China, South America just to name a few); people who are tired of their tyranical governments blocking charity that comes from the Church. Why don't all of you use your powers for good...stop the wholesale outsourcing of all the good jobs from America, do something about human trafficking, share a little joy instead fo bile.

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

      Actually, the real reason the CC continues to grow is because it denies Catholics the right to use birth control - they want babies, babies, and more babies - it doesn't matter if the parents can't afford to feed, clothe, or shelter them - just more babies so the church can grow and grow and keep contributing more and more money to the richest church on earth - look at the riches of the Vatican and all the trappings that go along with the church - it's a money making, patriarchal society bent on domination....

      August 30, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • Nina

      Well said! It's good news for the church that the emerging countries are now growing Catholicism. That's the whole point of being a Christian – to spread God's word and grow the church – even Protestants will agree on that point. If you are not Catholic, or even Christian, I don't think you really have the right to even comment on this topic. If you're not a believer, then you're clearly uneducated on the topic and therefore are adding no merit to your arguments.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Katie

      @Nina, you commented that if you are not a beliver you are uneducated on the topic and therefore unable to add anything of merit to the conversation. Can you (or anyone, really) please elaborate how being a nonbeliever = uneducated on the topic of Catholocism?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • Nina

      I find it hard to believe that non-Catholics (or just non-Christians) know much about the beginnings of the church, bible, Jesus, etc. If you were truly educated on Christianity – and by educated I mean reading many non-biased materials – then you would think differently about the church. It's easy to criticize something if you don't have all of the facts. I was raised Catholic and there was a period of my life that I wasn't sure if I believed what the Catholic church taught. However, instead of quickly turning away, like many do, I began reading more about its history, as well as the history of the Protestant church, in order to make an informed decision. Most people turn away from religion because it does take discipline to put God first. It's a different lifestyle and many people would rather continue their lives as they are. But until you really understand the history of Christianity and the church, you can't possibly have a good argument.

      August 31, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  7. Shari from Madison WI

    It is sexism. The most faithful followers of Jesus were women. Who was at the cross, other than John? Women. Who were the ones who attended to his body? Women. In the Gospel of John, who did Jesus first appear to after the resurection? A woman!

    August 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  8. verify

    The Catholic Church is withering on the vine. Additions to their membership and new priests are coming from third-world countries; and former members numbers are vastly under-counted. People don't formally 'resign' from the Church - they just walk away, but are still counted as members on the rolls. I haven't set foot in a church as a worshiper in over 15 years, but I'm sure they continue to count me as 'theirs' (I still get mail from them, asking for donations, of course).

    I can only hope that their demise will usher in better thinking skills and a better grip on reality for all.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Ryan

      Good comment. The church realizes that most people in modern countries either are already members or dont have any interest (most). So they go to third world countries, where unfortunately people arent as educated and are easier to "convince." The Mormons have been doing it for years. Go to a poor area, one that preferrably has been hit with a natural disaster or some other terrible event, help them rebuild.....and try to recruit them to the church. I will say that it is very admirable (Mormons are very nice people), but what is the main reason for helping these people? Is it to in fact help them, or is the number one goal to convert them? hmmmmmmmm

      August 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ Ryan/verify: I'm not sure it is because they are less educated as much as it is the economic situation that pushes them towards people who live in better facilities and wear better clothes. The signs of prosperity are strengthened by the knowledge that these missionaries often come from richer countries. Given that possibility of a "better life", no wonder people jump on their bandwagon, unfortunately equating economic stability with religious conversion.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  9. Kelly G

    So what the Cathloc Church is basically saying, is this simple mathematical formula:
    Having a Schlong=Being like Jesus

    Hell, at least the Cathloc Priests have ONE thing in common with Jesus.
    LOL

    August 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  10. HumanistinNY

    Religion is a sham, and the Roman Catholic church is the biggest perpetrator of fraud ever. Once we prove that the Bible is just a perverse fairy tale, let's throw the whole College of Cardinals in with Bernie Madoff, and order restitution to the billions of victims out there.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  11. vegas01

    It is sad the explanation is based on man's logic and edicts. God, who is the one they are supposed to be serving, establishes the criteria, not man. As man, we need not and must not adapt, adjust, omit, add to or otherwise tamper with God's instructions. Doing so, is like changing KFC's recipe for chicken, and expecting it to please the Colonel and have him call it 'his' chicken. If it is going to be his chicken, it must be by his recipe. God has given mankind the recipe for pleasing him and being accepted as 'his' people. Trying to change it, improve it, etc. will result in nothing more than an end result that is not what it should be.
    If God said women could not be priests, then that should be what is offered in explanation of that practice. But, since God has not forbidden women from being priests in Christ's kingdom, (God only prohibited women to take teaching authority over the man; to avoid confusion as the bride of Christ -Christians- are not in a position to teach Christ, but instead are to learn from him.) Catholicism has altered the meaning of priest as Christ established it, and traded it for the meaning of priest in the Mosaic (Jewish nation) period. Those priests of Israel were required to be men, of the tribe of Levi, and only they could offer service in the house of God. Under Christ, that law and those ordinances are done away, as Christ nailed them to the cross, and the priests of Christ's kingdom are a "royal" (reigning) priesthood wherein all (men, women, Jews, Gentiles, bond, free) can offer service in the house of God which is the church. (not a building made with hands, but the body of Christ; a lively house built by Christ himself as he adds to it daily those who should be saved.)
    One error, compounds to cause need for another, just as one lie usually requires another to cover for it.
    Frankly, it will matter little whether there be women priests in the Catholic church, because using a flawed recipe renders mute the caliber of any remaining elements such as an operational stove/oven, proper cookware, etc. Whether those elements are good or bad is of no consequence as long as the recipe itself is flawed, the end result will be flawed.

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

      ...... 'Christ's kingdom are a "royal" (reigning) priesthood wherein all (men, women, Jews, Gentiles, bond, free) can offer service in the house of God which is the church'.....you are talking about the Sacrament of Baptism...which brings the Baptized into the body of Christ; this is not the Sacrament of Holy Orders by which priests are ordained and SENT to administer the Sacraments to the members of the body of Christ who are members of the Catholic Church which is the pillar and foundation of the Truth.

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

    One more thing, until the 13th century priests in the Roman Catholic church were allowed to marry! Until the Vatican realized how much money it was losing because of their large families! Augustine and others promoted celibacy, and thus it began. BTW....... there are many priests who do not represent Christ! And many women who do!

    August 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Kelly G

      The Cathloc Church did not want the rule of Cathloc Priests to be lineal (son inherits father's position) but rather chosen by the Church; also, the Church did not want an inheritances from the father priest to son. Thus, to protect its material goods and right to choose a leader for themselves, Celebacy was required.

      August 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Navy wife

      PEACEMAKER (?) You are such a hypocrite.

      August 30, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  13. GeorgeBos95

    Wouldn't it be better to get them to ban pedophiles than women priests?

    This is an archaic organization that lives tax-free and discriminates against women, yet has a long and rich history of protecting pedophiles. What's wrong with this picture?

    I know I know!! It's that they have tax-free status.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  14. Lee Z

    Using the same argument that "standing in the place of Jesus," can not be done by a woman, it can also apply that since Jesus was a jew, a non-jew should not be able to be "standing in the place of Jesus".

    August 30, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  15. TripleM

    The truth is that the Roman Catholic Priesthood is a haven for self-loathing, closeted homosexual men. No girls allowed. I know this from experience.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  16. Ed - Spring, Tx

    I'm a Catholic male but I have to admit that women couldn't possibly screw up the church as much as the present system of male priests.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  17. Amadna

    So, an organization that believes that bread is physically transformed into the body of Christ needs a biologically intact man to administer the magic? Cool, I was wondering how that worked.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  18. Jim

    Quakers believe that everyone is a priest, since there is that of God in everyone. Quaker women have been priests for 350 years, since their founding. It is the Spirit of God that makes one a priest, not one's physical characteristics.

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

      Once Baptized we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but we are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, which is the Church that Jesus Christ founded, the pillar and foundation of the Truth.

      We now must 'show' Jesus Christ to the world because we are now temples of the Holy Spirit. But we are not ordained priests which is a necessary Sacrament that Jesus Christ instituted so we would have priests who have been SENT to preach the Word to us and be servants to us, administering the Sacraments to us for the health of our soul.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Ephesians 2 talks about Baptism and how it changes us into the Body of Christ, the priesthood of believers. But it does not ordain us as priests; we cannot administer the Sacraments as an ordained priest does. He is the servant of us lay people.

      August 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  19. James

    He Lives. He Reigns. End of Discussion!

    This is typical. This is a statement not a discussion. How does a sign of any kind entail a discussion? I suppose perhaps to the church statements are 'discussions' but churches aren't known for discourse really. More like 'here's the way it is' LOL

    Discussion. Read a dictionary. At least write the sign correctly. I realize THAT would actually sound arrogant but. it is.

    To start with "He" ? How would an omnipotent entity have sex/race or anything like that? If it's a white human.. it's most certainly not a deity. Except perhaps in its own mind. LOL

    August 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  20. AwesomeBob

    k, if religion wants to be discriminant within its own confines, I don't care. If you don't like it, don't subscribe to that faith. Jump on the band wagon and create your own denomination. Everybody is doing it.

    August 30, 2010 at 1:41 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.