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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. Matt Davis

    No man or woman is able to 'stand in the place' of Jesus Christ, nor is there any need for a 'stand in', as Peter tells us from 1 Peter 2:5 – "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ".. Peter again tells us that all christians are indeed priests in 1 Peter 2:9 – "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous ligh".

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

      Yes, there is a need for properly ordained priests; they administer the Sacraments that Jesus Christ institute; no one on earth can rightly do this but a Catholic Priest.

      August 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      You are talking about Baptism here. We become members of Christ's Body through Baptism. He is our high priest and we still need ordained priests to administer Sacraments to the lay people who make up the members of Jesus Christ's Church, the Catholic Church. [Which is the pillar and foundation of Truth].

      August 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  2. Former Catholic

    I agree with the commenters here who say those who disagree with the Catholic stance on ordaining women should leave the church. I did in my 30s and I am so happy to be in the Episcopal church now.

    But I predict that as people become more educated and aware that women were actually among the first admired and beloved leaders of the early Catholic church, and as current generations of church leadership are replaced by younger people, these false constructs about "in persona Christi" will be abandoned as both historically inaccurate and spiritually untenable.

    I think our young people will feel less strange about having women as priests, and much less threatened by women contributing to the life of the church at that level. Jesus certainly welcomed and honored women, including in positions of authority. Someday the Catholic church will, too.

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

      The Episcopal church is dying. I guess it would be good if everyone did things like them. As they become more a more liberal in their teaching, they are coming back to the Catholic church, just like the TAC of the Anglican church merging in with the Catholics.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  3. Chris

    Pope: "[T]he church has no authority to ordain women."

    Me: The church has no authority.

    Father Wang: [W]omen cannot fulfill a basic function of the priesthood, "standing in the place of Jesus."

    Me: How arrogant and presumptious of the church to suppose that its priests do any such thing.

    Father Wang: [A]n atheist ad campaign last year was "hesitant and ended with gentle exhortations."

    Me: It wasn't hesitant, it was humble, in that it did not express the smug, wrongful certainty of Catholic dogma. And it was gentle because atheists are perfectly capable of being kind, caring, gentle, and even moral.

    Protesters: "Pope Benedict – Ordain Women Now!"

    Me: What does it matter? Why do you care? Put the church in your rear view mirror and smile.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  4. TamarS

    Father Stephen Wang is wrong. It is that simple. The idea he supports comes from centuries ago when "leaders" indeed thought only men could do so. we know today that isn't true. A woman can certailny "stand in the place of Jesus" and Jesus, being the intelligent and wise man that he was, would be the first to agree and correct Father Wang's statement!

    August 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  5. Free thinker

    What a bunch of BS! Hypocritical Catholic church, frozen by 18th century standards and ways.

    If you don't not change with the times, the times will roll past you! Letting Priest marry and procreate along with ordaining women as priests tells me the church is practicing what they are trying to preach...which is family and god!

    Any pundit who does not practice what he/she preaches is not worthy of my attention...every priest fits in that box!

    I dare not let my sons alone with any priest...sorry....it is simply the way of the world now and the church, arrogant as ever, simply refuses to modernize their clergy.

    In the end, I'm tired of the church, their views, their nepotism and their hypocrisies...I have actually moved to a more SBNR approach to living.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      It looks like the trend is.... if you don't like Authority, [forget about God and His Commandments] leave the Catholic Church, go join in a more fellowship-type [less Mass -like] community, then become 'still searching' so leave that behind, too, and say to heck with religion....I will just be 'me and Jesus'.

      How broken up is the Body of Christ when Jesus Christ prayed we all be ONE IN HIM?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • Kate

      @CatholicMom

      Technically, according to the Inquisition, that "one" is reserved for men, which means there's another "one" for those unlucky enough to be catholics born with an innie instead of an outie.

      Does that make it "One and One in Him" or "Two in Him"?

      Just sayin'

      August 30, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • northbayteky

      FreeThinker: If only the RCC were in the 18th century, we'd be much better off. I'm afraid it is stuck in the 4th century with Constantine. 🙂

      To CatholicMom: Principle based values are not exclusive of religion. I walked away from the church, but that doesn't mean I walked away from the 10 commandments, or the teachings in the bible. Their "authority" dictates what they want. When the RCC starts actually teaching the ways of Jesus, and not the ways of men, greedy, selfish, hypocritics, will I ever return.

      August 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Kate,
      When Jesus Christ prayed that we all be ONE IN HIM, it is by Baptism and it is a gift from God. As always, there are those who do not know about the Sacraments. This is why Jesus commanded the Apostle's to go out and bring Truth to all nations. How were they to do this? Through Apostolic Succession.

      August 31, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  6. GoodNatured

    Hey does anyone remember on SNL Father Guido Sarducci: Join the Peoples Catholic Church were everyone can be Pope. He even offered a Papal Pantsuit.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  7. GoodNatured

    Vegas01: You comment: "Under Christ, that law and those ordinances are done away" is not true. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said ""Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill."

    August 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • vegas01

      Yes, and he then explained in Luke 24:44 and following how he had fulfilled the law, and his apostles were to go and teach "his" commandments. Hebrews 1:1-2 also explains how in times past and various ways God gave his commandments to men, prophets and Moses, but in these last days (now) he has done so thru his Son. This mirrors what God said when Jesus was baptized of John..."this is my beloved Son, hear ye him:...and on the mount where he was transfigured and Elijah (prophet) and Moses (law giver) joined him. Peter thought it was proper to build a monument to each (keep them all) but God took Elijah and Moses away, and declared again this is my Son, hear him. Later, it is expressly stated that the former law not longer in effect. Romans, Hebrews and more all declare this same fact. In Galatians the scripture states those who would try to please God by following the law of Moses, are fallen from the grace of God found in Christ.
      In the sermon on the mount, Jesus began to introduce this transition with several illustrations of "it hath been said" or "ye have heard" and then given his command as introduced with "but I say unto you."
      Whether on likes it or not, if true to the scriptures, one will accept God's replacement of the old covenant (law thru Moses) with the new covenant (perfect law of liberty) instituted upon his death. As Hebrews shows, that will is of force after the death of the testator. Christ is the testator, and after his death, he arose and returned to his apostles and then sent them to declare that new covenant (gospel) to all beginning in Jerusalem unto the uttermost parts of the worlds.

      August 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  8. abby

    The Catholic Church can use any rationale it wants - it's a old man's power club and they don't want to admit it - they would rather protect pedophile priests and keep women pregnant than do anything to upset their patriarchal, antiquated ways...
    Not interested.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Judenson

    Why not go start your own catholic church and have a woman pope and all this problem will be gone. Soon the women will want to be called husbands instead of wives!

    August 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ Judenson: I prefer partner.

      August 31, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  10. palermo

    If male priests can pretend to be young boy's girlfriends, why can't women pretend to be Jesus?

    August 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  11. Cletus

    Because the priesthood, as it exists now, is a haven for secret homosexuals, supplied with a steady stream of fresh, unsuspecting altar boys. They don't want anyone messing with that sweet arrangement.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  12. Chris

    I am not a Catholic, but my church has the same stance on the Priesthood. People are very selfish and look at it for themselves. The responsibility of the priesthood is to bless the lives of those HE is around. Having the priesthood isn't for yourself like these activist think.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  13. Emile Zola

    People with political and religious agendas always cherry pick The Bible for their own selfish interests and forget the obvious. When Christ founded the church, no one was more qualified, religiously speaking, than His Mother, the virgin Mary, yet, He chose instead Peter, not necessarily the best candidate, nor the bravest. Every institution, every organization, every nation has to have an order to function and that order has to be be based on what is best for the orgtanization to succeed. Catholics have, always, had the same rules and Bible to function, regardless of the times. A sin, in the Jesus' era, is still a sin and forever will continue to be a sin. Religion is not something that you adjust for your convenience, but rather, the individual has to adjust to religion and the basic motor that runs the church and any institution has to be obedience and none better to give us that example that Christ. He was obedient even til His death. Catholics as confuzed sheep as we all are, should let the doctors of the church to guide us in this valley of tears. If women and homosexuals are so disappointed with the teachings of the church, they should leave and go to the Anglican or other "Christian" churches that pay more attention to the mores of the times than to religion. Nobody can force religion on others and others can force their ideas, as ridiculous as they seem, on to the church. The Vatican has to follow Christ, not viceversa.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  14. Dina

    It's all voodoo.

    August 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  15. LouAz

    "standing in the place of Jesus," ? What crap ! It is clear from the beginning of the catholic church that male illusions of grandeur dominate the priesthood. There is not a jesus like person among the lot of them. Typical Charman of the Board power hungry egomaniacs have run the world's oldest and largest for profit corporation. Pope ? poop ! All the mumbo jumbo and smoke mosquito repellant and drinking at the altar bar are part of the dazzle that allow them to terrorize (and fiddle) children so that when they grow up they are powerless to reject that god will not accept their "soul" into the heavens unless you put $5 in the collection plate and drop off your little boy after the "meeting". Thank God I'm an athiest !

    August 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  16. Preacherman

    The reason why Jesus chose men to be his followers was based on Jewish laws that restricted intra gender mingling. Women could not join the covenant unless through their father or husband so Jesus understood that his ministry would be circumspect if he chose women disciples. But truth is that during that ministry, women were important stakeholders and teamplayers who cared for Jesus and were faithful to the end. It is disappointing that someone would find cause to alienate women in ministry. Where there is no room for change, the system will perish. Shame!

    August 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  17. beeman

    Who decided what books to put into the Bible. I bet it was men. Based on arguments above Jesus was a child molester and the church will protect them and allow children to be molested. This is why I am running from organized religion. I believe in God but I do not believe that any priest,pastor, has the insight to tell me how to interpert the bible. They can only twist it to confirm to church beliefs. When a church covers up molesters because it may hurt their pocket book it is time to take a long hard look at your beliefs. This is not unique to one religion. Others just call it something different

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

      you're absolutely right - men decided what went into the Bible and and what did not - they set the rules, regulations, and made all the decisions -

      August 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      beeman,
      Yes,
      You best do your own 'twisting' of the Bible so you get it 'right for you' instead of joining in with the 35,000 ecclesial communities. By the time everyone who wants to do their own twisting and has left religion behind, and are now 'spiritual', how many ecclesial communities will there be? They are getting smaller and smaller except for the 'mega' ones who preach nothing about sin.

      It looks like the trend is.... if you don't like Authority, [forget about God and His Commandments] leave the Catholic Church, go join in a more fellowship-type [less Mass -like] community, then become 'still searching' so leave that behind, too, and say to heck with religion....I will just be 'me and Jesus'.

      How broken up is the Body of Christ when Jesus Christ prayed we all be ONE IN HIM?

      August 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  18. Inland Empire

    The bottom line is that Jesus chose 12 men – and no women – to be his apostles. Therefore, there can not be any Africans or Americans as priests since Jesus did not chose Africans or Americans. I don't think he picked an Irish either!

    August 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  19. Adiani

    The Roman Catholic Church has always been centuries behind the times. Run by out of touch old men in drag who pontificate about marriage, yet non are married. Discriminate against woman and gays yet indulge themselves in it's pleasures. The churches attitude against the use of condoms has condemned thousands in poor countries to keep on having children they cannot afford to raise in a healthy life style with a minimum education. I for one cannot understand how any free thinking person would want to align themselves with such an institution. Unless of course, they have been totally brainwashed

    August 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  20. GoodNatured

    JohnR: Spoken like 98% of those who don't like the Catholic Church; you just don't know what you speak of. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are the Church...we are all espoused to the Living God (I am sure that will titilate some of you sickos out there).

    August 30, 2010 at 1:57 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.