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The Pope has no power to change the nature of the priesthood. It’s hard for non-Catholics to understand this

The Church is not against women priests ‘because the Pope says so’

By on Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Venerable English College in Rome (Photo: Mazur/

The Venerable English College in Rome (Photo: Mazur/

It was interesting to read the comments following my blog about the recent Anglican Synod vote against women bishops. For instance, I did not know that Nytor had once been an Anglican who had become a Catholic when the C of E decided to ordain women as priests: welcome, Nytor, even if my greeting is a little late.

Friendly commentators on the question of women’s role in the Church but who are not members of the Catholic Church sometimes pity us because (as they see it) we are subject to authoritarian edicts from Rome, devised by elderly celibate men who are determined to suppress our right to free debate and a free vote on this matter; they think we are somehow against women priests or bishops simply “because the Pope says so”. We within the Church know the question of rightful authority – not authoritarianism – is not like this at all. The Holy Father has no power to change the nature of the ordained priesthood; he is at the service of the truth, just as we lay people in the Church are. In other words, we are all servants of Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and who speaks through the Church He founded. It is hardly possible to understand this from the outside.

There are also some women in the Catholic Church who believe as many Anglicans do, that women in the Church should be ordained priests. I always think that in taking this position they are unwittingly sidelining Our Lady, Mother of the Church, who never sought or was given the role of a priest, even though of all people she was the most worthy. Speaking for myself, it is because of the silent, faithful and strong role of Our Lady in the life of the Church that I have never felt remotely tempted to a “feminist” position on the priesthood.

At the Towards Advent festival last Saturday, as well as stopping by the ordinariate stall as I mentioned in my last blog, I visited a stall run by the Friends of the English College in Rome, the historic seminary for young Englishmen. This is only the second year that they have come along to this event, to draw attention to the young men training for the priesthood from this country. They gave me a newsletter, “Venerabile View” which gives news of the College as well as the activities of the Friends. It says that 11 new students have started at the college this October; this makes the total number of seminarians 46. This seems a small number for the immense work of evangelisation that awaits these young men in England after ordination, even allowing for those studying in the few seminaries we have left over here.

The Friends manning the stall gave me a prayer card with the following prayer:

“Lord Jesus Christ, eternal High Priest, Send young men to become labourers for your harvest. Bless those preparing for the Priesthood; make them good shepherds in Your Church; and give them love and joy in following you. Bless Lord, the Bishops, Priests and Deacons who have studied at the College and help them in their ministry. Bless Lord, the Venerable English College and all its Friends and Benefactors. Inspire us by the prayers and example of its Martyrs to love the Priesthood and the Church in our country.”

This sums up a Catholic view of the priesthood. It is worth sharing and praying because, as Christ himself said, the harvest is ripe and the labourers few – and fewer today than in the past. Those who would like to share in the work of the Friends should get in touch with the Membership Secretary, 22, Kingsley Avenue, Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire SN4 8LF.

  • KT Bosse-Foy

    The Towards Advent festival was great – I had a good chat with the one of the volunteers at the stall you mentioned as well, The Friends sounds like a really worthwhile cause :)

  • Arden Forester

    About women priests – “some women in the Catholic Church who believe as many Anglicans do”. A goodly number of American nuns, for a start. Some men included, such as Charles Kennedy, freelance Scottish Catholic, who promoted female ordination on BBC Question Time. Iain Duncan Smith was on the same panel and failed to explain Catholic thinking.

    The truth is that secularism is pervading Christian churches like a creature that is a cross between a trojan horse and a cuckoo. Then it is dressed up as “what Jesus would do”, as if those promoting change have been to a heavenly briefing.

  • Kevin

    it is because of the silent, faithful and strong role of Our Lady in the life of the Church that I have never felt remotely tempted to a “feminist” position on the priesthood

    You mean there are “Catholic” women who think they can judge Revelation? Who knew?

    Funnily enough, Catholic men are not tempted to take a Mafioso position on being wronged by their neighbours simply because God said: Don’t do it!

    So we suck it up and “get with the programme”, as David Cameron would say.

  • NewMeena

    ” he [the Pope] is at the service of the truth”

    But how does he KNOW it is the truth?

    Are you saying that “belief” IS “truth” – (if you say the matter is part of your faith)?

  • Charles Martel

     Iain Duncan Smith has turned into a major disappointment. Why is it that Catholics in positions of power always get that Kennedy syndrome and leave their Faith at the door? Duncan Smith openly backs homosexual ‘marriages’, in complete defiance of the teaching of his Church, and yet what happens? No public opposition to him from our bishops, no demands for public retractions, no excommunications. Shame on Duncan Smith, and shame on Archbishop Nichols!  This is an appalling scandal which we should never cease to denounce.

  • Benedict Carter

    Very good point about Our Lady.

    The foaming at the mouth “Catholic” feminists (a contradiction in terms) of course not only sideline Our Lady, they hate her. 

    Nothing more required to prove that feminism, like all the other “progressive” – isms are from the devil.

  • Robin L

    In fact the movement for priestesses (women priests is still a minority position among Anglican laity
    and its most numerous opponents are women. 
    The major Abrahmic religions have male priesthoods and the sectarian movement for priestesses
    is an ethnocentric phenomenon having its origins in Anglo-American modernizing ideologies during late Modernity. 
    Women are of equal worth and value to men in the sight of God. However during Modernity equality has been reconceived as equality in the sight of  Society, the State and so it has become a self-contradiction. If women are equal to men as human beings, then as beings they can only be understood in their relationship to a Being (or with Heidegger, Being) God.
    Our sexuality is an essential part of our being and differentiates men and women and even though we all have masculine and feminine sides to our nature, and these need integrating as Carl Jung wisely recommended we still retain our basic sexuality as men or women.
    difference and complementarity most accurately express the relationship between men and women, not sameness and equality!
    However, this difference between men and women is not negotiable as feminists argue as between
    nature and culture, and in my view such an experimental approach is dangerously close to  both genetic manipulation and social engineering. There are already dangerous and catastrophic
    consequences arising from an amoral populist feminism, viz. the decline of the father-figure, the increasing permissiveness in interpersonal and sociam morality, a phenomenon symptomatic of 
    matriarchal societies (early democratic societies such as Sumeria were matriarchal and
    I am not denying that considerable advances in understanding have been made by early feminist thinking, but the freedom of women is bound up with the freedom of men and vice versa.
    The Apostolate and its succession through time as embodied in tradition cannot simply be changed
    to accommodate a modernizing ideology that has no precedent nor Biblical roots!

  • Benedict Carter

    I would just take issue with your choice of animal: it’s neither a horse nor a cuckoo, it’s a roaring lion that goes about seeking to devour any prey it can find, and it’s called Lucifer. 

  • Nesbyth

    “In fact the movement for priestesses (women priests) is still a minority position among Anglican laity” says Robin L in one of these posts.

    But it’s growing rapidly. One third of Anglican priests are now women. The “priesthood” in the C of E is being feminised and when it gets to 50% will men actually want to become Anglican priests?

    There was a photograph on one of the Telegraph blogs of the first female Bishop in Australia, one Kay Goldsworthy, consecrated this year, who was bedecked with pearls and make-up and a fancy hair-do. How should women be-sport themselves on the altar? Her get-up didn’t seem appropriate at all.
    But then I don’t think women as priests is right (By the way I am a woman)

     I think Dawn French had it about right in her TV series.

  • Nesbyth

    I so agree about the tag “What would Jesus do?”
    It’s become synonomous with being “kind and loving” but has nothing to do with Truth.

    And Iain Duncan Smith is, strangely, a weaker man than I thought who isn’t going to rock any political boat unless it’s to do with welfare in which case he can be seen as “stong and fair” more-or-less.

  • Chris Thompson

    ” I always think that in taking this position they are unwittingly sidelining Our Lady, Mother of the Church, who never sought or was given the role of a priest, even though of all people she was the most worthy.”
    Well – neither were the disciples given the role of ‘priest’.  If the central role of a priest is to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus’ command and the Last Supper to ‘Do this in memory of me’ could equally apply to the female disciples present (as well as his Mother, if she too was there…)

  • AnthonyPatrick

     Hear, hear!
    It was not generally known (reported?) that IDS was a Catholic leader of the Conservative Party, either, was it?  Accident or design? (Just asking.)

  • gmseed

    The Christian Dark Ages Lot are always citing their “sacred” text so let’s refer to it for guidance:

    “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”; Exodus 22:18

    Based on this single line an estimated 200,000+ people were murdered by the Christian lot for a period of more than 300 years that started in the 1450s.

    Their sick “sacred” text is packed full of obscenities and “teachings” that have no place in today’s world and are the result of a 2,000 year old cult. For example, a few of their sick “sacred” text on the burning of people:

    “If a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.” — Leviticus 20:14″And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.” — Leviticus 21:9″Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.” — Genesis 38:24″He that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath. … And Joshua … took Achan … and his sons, and his daughters … And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire.” — Joshua 7:15, 24-25″And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” — Numbers 11:1″And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.” — Numbers 16:35″They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God … For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. … They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.” — Deuteronomy 32:21-24″Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.” — Psalm 21:9″Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” — Isaiah 24:6″And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.” — Isaiah 33:12″I will cause an alarm of war to be heard in Rabbah of the Ammonites; and it shall be a desolate heap, and her daughters shall be burned with fire.” — Jeremiah 49:2″If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” — John 15:6″The Lord Jesus … in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God … who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” — 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9″The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God …he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” — Revelation 14:10-11″The fearful, and unbelieving … shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” — Revelation 21:8

  • Jonathan West

    If the Pope were to decide that the church after all does have the power to change the nature of the priesthood, or alternatively were to decide that women priests do not constitute a fundamental change in the nature of the priesthood, who would be in a position to say the Pope is wrong?

  • Dorotheus

    Clearly Christ did not just happen to be a man, but what is there about his priesthood and priesthood derived from it that makes it inherently masculine or inherently celibate for that matter? If we conclude there is nothing, then ordaining women would not be to change the nature of priesthood, merely to extend the range of those who can be ordained. The bishops (not just the Pope on his own) could of course authorise this any time, as many of them would. More and more Catholics are coming to see the propriety of women’s ordination. Maybe some time the leaders of the Church will catch up with them and with the so-called secular world, which often shows the Church how it is not being true to its own Gospel. (The Holy Spirit is not confined to the corridors of the Vatican). Until then we will no doubt continue to hear the same old specious arguments about the alleged impossibility of ordaining women.

  • Enid Ecumaniac

    Oh Dorotheus, you are so right syster. The continuance of a patriarchal system dating from the Bronze Age when sky fairies were invented to control us wymmin has to be confronted and we at the St. Martin Luther Institute of Advanced Heresy are planning our own attack on the vestiges of myopia sorry I meant mysogeny by holding an ecumenical “event” whilst being chained to the railings outside the Tescos in G ——. 

    Do you ecumenate? You are very welcome to join us. I have some lovely handcuffs Deirdre bought for an ecumenical “event” held some time ago which I’d love to try on you. 

  • Benedict Carter


  • Benedict Carter

    Tradition, that’s what, backed up by Saints, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. To oppose a Pope who did such a thing would be not only the right of every Catholic, but his bounden duty. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Estimated by whom?

    It was the proddies who burned some witches and only for a short period in the 17th century. 

    In England, the very extensive Court Records from the period you mention show almost no cases whatever.

    Another set of statistical boll@cks from the militant atheist mob, who don’t appear to have a brain cell between them. 

  • Veuster

    > Friendly commentators on the question of women’s role in the Church but who are not members of the Catholic Church sometimes pity us because (as they see it) we are subject to authoritarian edicts from Rome, devised by elderly celibate men who are determined to suppress our right to free debate and a free vote on this matter

    This is also what large numbers of Catholics believe! Better catechesis is required, in this as in many other areas.

  • David Lindsay

    The 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords are always going to be men. The dear old C of E would plump for disestablishment rather than compromise on that. Its theological composition is not what it was 20 years ago. When Forward in Faith and Reform between them can muster more than one third of the vote in the House of Laity, as is demonstrably now the case, then the legislation for women presbyters would undeniably not have passed, and the legislation for women deacons would also probably, almost certainly, have been lost.

    This should come as no surprise to anyone, any more than does the fact that half the lay votes against women bishops were cast by women, or that no legislation providing for women bishops is ever, ever, ever going to attain a two-thirds majority in that House. Anyone who does not know the latter either does not understand the admittedly fairly complicated workings of the synodical system, or else simply cannot count. They are like people who thought that Gordon Brown might not have succeeded Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party in 2007, or that Hillary Clinton might have been nominated instead of Barack Obama in 2008, or that David Cameron might have secured an overall majority in 2010, or that Mitt Romney might have won the Presidency in 2012.

    As for those threatening to decamp to the Methodists or the URC in disgust, not only do I suspect that they would have to be reordained as surely as if they had crossed the Tiber, but they also largely come from parts of the country with little in the way of an established culture of Nonconformity. Those of us who know it from close up know that people seeking to recreate some liberal Anglican never never land within either of those bodies would be in for the shock of their sweet little lives.

    Many laypeople, not to say many ministers, still expect to hear and to deliver regular preaching of substitutionary Atonement, of entire sanctification in the Methodist case, and of fully formed “Calvinist” soteriology in much of the URC. Even more so, they expect to sing of such things. And sing of them they do. Attitudes to alcohol, to gambling, and to Lord’s Day observance routinely remain utterly unreconstructed on the ground, and are almost, if almost, always written into the covenant deeds of chapels, halls, and so forth. Then there is the class thing.

    But most of all, there is the fact that the trend towards what they would describe as “conservative” or even, absurdly, “fundamentalist” Biblical exegesis (but which is in fact truly radical, and the wellspring of numerous great radical movements in this and other countries’ pasts and presents) is as much on the rise, especially within the URC but also among the Methodists, as it is in the Church of England. Look at how much younger, not to say more female, were the laypeople who had voted against women bishops compared with the bishops put up to whinge about it on radio and television.

    By the middle of this century, the Church of England will not be ordaining women beyond the diaconate, if at all; it will certainly never permit same-sex “marriages” to be solemnised on its premises or by its clergy, and it will discipline most severely any transgressors, of whom within 20, possibly even 10, years there will in any case be none. There will be no more Methodist or URC same-sex “marriages”, if there are ever any of the former, by the middle of this century, and no more ordinations of women by the end. Or else there will probably be no more, as Americans might put it, “mainline” Methodists and no more URC by that middle, and certainly none by that end.

    The ordination of women now ranks alongside the Open Table Communion Policy as a mark of a denomination in terminal decline. The Open Table Communion Policy was therefore opposed most vigorously, first by the Ejected Puritans and their successors, and then by the early Methodists. Are their main inheritor-bodies now in terminal decline? The Church of England no longer appears to be so.

  • Dorotheus

    How charitable of you! I did ask what is intended to be a serious question which remains open. Your leaden attempt at humour is no answer

  • Jonathan West

    I doubt that the saints are going to say anything in particular on the subject, being dead. Same goes for the Fathers. That just leaves the Doctors of the church. Tradition is what people agree it is, so I suspect that this is not nearly as nailed down an issue as you think.

  • Jon Brownridge

     But what if he invoked that old chestnut – infallibility? An ex-cathedra pronouncement supporting the ordination of women would force us all to re-think some of our traditional beliefs that stand on very shaky ground.

  • Alan

    I thought IDS opposes gay marriage; where is your evidence that he supports it? Even if he supports it, you seem to be implying that the Archbishop should publicly rebuke him.  The Archbishop has made his own position perfectly clear.
    As for Charles Kennedy, he did not “promote female ordination”.  He briefly replied to an interjection from David Dimbleby, to say he doesn’t agree with the Church on this issue; hardly “promoting” anything. And the question was about the CofE, so the Catholic position was irrelevant on this occasion.

  • Jeannine

    Not allowing women to ever become Catholic priests is a very difficult concept for many people of today, including Catholics, to understand. I believe the basic answer lies in the bible & by some reasoning.

    First, one has to believe that the Holy Spirit plays a very active role in human events. He inspires all of us to do good by planting seeds of ideas in our minds, gently moves our inclined  will to help others, & sometimes directly interacts with us through private &/or public appariations from heavenly persons.

    The inspired author of Revelations made it clear that the Roman Catholic Church is Jesus’ bride & He(Jesus) is the groom. (I don’t memorize bible passages but I seem to remember that Jesus made this same connection in the Gospels & also St Paul in 1 or 2 of his letters.) At the author’s time, the bride was always a woman & the groom was always a man. Jesus assigned men to be priests to keep distinguished the very clear notion of the man-woman relationship that exists between the Church-bride & the Christ-groom.

    If the Holy Spirit, who is all-knowing & wise, did not want us to understand this relationship as bride-groom then he would have inspired the author to use another established relationship such as a mother-child which then can incorporate a woman priesthood. It seems to me that no person, woman or man, is qualified to overrule God’s directives.

    BTW: He choose this same type of male-female affinity which interestingly reflects life-procreating & sustainment in Nature.

  • Sharon

    If the “Holy Father” du jour isn’t able to change the nature of the ordained priesthood, then why did the Holy Father du jour change the nature of the ordained priesthood from including married men to celibate men only back in the day? And why did the Holy Father du jour permit married Anglicans to become Catholic priests recently? And why do some bishops interpret the CCC to mean that these married Anglicans must now remain celibate, denying their wives the privileges of marriage and children? And if a man is married first to his wife and then becomes a Catholic priest, then he’s denying his original vocation of marriage…and so on…and so on…and so on. 

    Sorry, but it seems like the “Holy Father” can do, say and think whatever he pleases as suits him in the moment, and as serves the institution in a material way. 

  • Nesbyth

    That’s all Old Testament stuff.

    We Christians are guided by the NEW Testament for our Doctrine… while the number of witches burnt (200,000 you say)  is a number out of a hat….the witches burnt in this country were burnt by the Protestant Reformers who also hanged, drew and quartered rather a lot of Catholics during the same period

  • Benedict Carter

    Hint: married or unmarried, they are all men. This doesn’t affect the nature of the priesthood one jot. 

  • Sweetjae

    He think he’s being funny. What a loser.

  • Sweetjae

    He think he’s being funny. What a loser.

  • Sharon

    It sure does — isn’t celibacy part of the “nature” of the priesthood?

  • Sharon

    It sure does — isn’t celibacy part of the “nature” of the priesthood?

  • Sharon

    And have you noticed how creeps like this always answer in a sexually revolting and violent way towards women who don’t capitulate to them? Quite telling, that…

  • Mikethelionheart

    Sweetjae and sharon
    Your revolting ad hominems only weaken your ‘argument’.

  • Sharon

    Um, what argument is that…and for “revolting ad  hominems”, that’s exactly what we’re addressing. 

  • Mikethelionheart

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
    Not very knowledgeable on history are you?
    The 200 000 witches burnt nonsense is a lie spread by atheists. As Benedict pointed out it was very much a Protestant thing. 
    Nought out of ten. 

  • Mikethelionheart

    Your post showed a real ignorance of the church. Are you actually a Catholic?

  • Sharon

    What’s it to you?

  • scary goat

     No, Sharon, celibacy isn’t part of the “nature” of the priesthood.  It’s a discipline.  That could actually be changed tomorrow morning with a stroke of a pen.  As it is not “built in” exceptions can be made.  It is a “legality” of the Catholic Church for many good reasons, but it is not an absolute.  This is not in the same category as the fact that priests must be male.  Married priests is open to question, female priests isn’t.

  • Sharon

    Well…not really. Because the Church itself explains the celibacy requirement by claiming that priests act in persona Christi, that their lives conform to the life of Christ, a celibate male. The celibacy requirement by that reasoning is indeed part of the “nature” of priesthood. 

    It’s the waffling that’s sending mixed messages. The Church wants to have it both ways, as it suits their purposes in the moment. And that’s why folks think the door remains open for ordination for women. 

  • scary goat

     Sharon, Enid’s response is in his/her usual style of posting. It is “taking the mick” out of some of the dafter aspects of “current thinking” that are around these days.  It is not intended as you imagined it.  For those of us who have been around here for some time, we are used to his/her sense of humour, and that is all that comment was. No need to take it personally.

  • Sharon

    It’s disgusting. Period. And totally hypocritical. And counterproductive. He/she/it does it to be cruel and mean, not to foster conversation or change hearts or minds. It’s selfish and stupid and plain old ill-bred.

  • cullenD

    “We within the Church know the question of rightful authority – not authoritarianism – is not like this at all.”
    Sounds to me like a house slave, trying to explain to an uppity field slave, why “massa” is superior and has a god given right to deny the field slave his freedom.

  • cullenD

    Sorry, but you are both wrong. It was Clyde from the Clint Eastwood movies. I never trusted that satanic smile on an orang-utan . Lucifer has enlisted that cunning, but charming primate to lead us astray.

    The proof is in the movies!!! Satan says “right turn Clyde”, and people are injured. Surely a satanic beast and his master at work!  

  • Denis Jackson

    Everyone should listen to what you have said Alan; well said !

  • Kieren

    Sharon, I generally do not comment here, but do enjoy reading the comments. It seems to me that Mikethelionheart is simply responding to what you post. The Church nowhere implies that celibacy is intrinsic to the nature of priesthood, to do so would imply a lesser form of priesthood as exercised by married Catholic priests in the Eastern Rite (married priests are not new in the Catholic Church). However, the Church does state that a priest must be male. Unfortunately, your suggestion that celibacy refers to the nature of priesthood does show an ignorance, although probably unintentional, of the faith.

  • Dorotheus

    The present pope as head of the CDF did invoke that chestnut – and he did so ultra vires when he said that Pope John Paul’s statement on the impossibility of women’s ordination should be regarded as infallible even though it did not come within the Church’s own criteria of infallibility.

  • Jonathan West

    I wonder if you are projecting a modern idea of marriage as partnership on past times  where marriage was a quite different institution, where the wife was for all practical purposes the chattel of the husband.
    If you adopt that understanding, that text starts to offer a quite different meaning of the metaphor of the bride-groom relationship, less to do with gender and more to do with ownership and subservience. After all, he was suggesting that we are all brides relative to Christ – even the men! So it seems that gender roles aren’t what St Paul was mainly concerned with when offering that metaphor, but rather people’s subservience to God.

  • scary goat

    Well…..yes really.  I explained above “how it is” and that’s how it is.  There is no “not really” about it.  There is no waffling….it is clear to Catholic understanding.  There is a difference between “preferred” and “must”.  A little study of the subject is helpful to forming an opinion. (and that applies to Catholics too)….on-going catechesis.