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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/catholicchurch.org.uk)

The Venerable English College in Rome (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

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.

  • mikethelionheart

    “What’s it to you?” ???

    What a ridiculous post.
    Do you actually have anything intelligent to say?

  • mikethelionheart

    No, that’s exactly how you’re being.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Many people assume that celibacy is intrinsic to the priesthood. They are confusing priesthood with Religious Life. Members of Religious Orders- nuns, monks, brothers and some priests- make the religious vow of poverty, chastity and obedience so of course celibacy is intrinsic to their state of life. Most priests are part of the secular clergy. They do not have religious vows. As things stand, only single males are eligible for ordination. Like all single people they are expected to live celibate lives – unless of course they happen to be married.

  • Jeannine

    If God wanted women to be chattel he would not have elevated His Mother to be Queen of Heaven, queen over the angels too who are far superior creatures compared to all persons.

    We are all made in the likeness & image of God, so we all; ie men & women, have equal worth & dignity. God sets the standards; please reread Jesus’ words. It is sin that prevents us from reaching our own perfectness in this life which includes treating others with God-defined dignity & respect.

  • Sharon

    So it is because you say it is and you say it is because you’re “Catholic” and have to say so because you were told to say so.

    Okay. That’s what I figured. 

    I can see that you, too, are not interested in anything but being “right” and being a bully. 

    Clearly I cannot possibly be “Catholic” or whatever it is you are. Thanks for letting me know. Have a great life being right on teh interwebs. Seems like it’s a full time job for people like you and Mikethecowardlylion and that cross-dressing pervert, Enid Whoever. 

    I can see why, uh, “men” like you wouldn’t want any real women intruding on your special little club. 

  • Sharon

    Whatever. Fine. You’re right. Of course. About everything in the history of the world. Good for you. I’m sure you have a whole trophy case of being the mostest rightest person evah in cyberspace. Your mommy must be so proud. 

    Enjoy this thing the Catholic Church has morphed into, this political party, this dictatorship, this pack of ejits that think they can broker God, this hate-filled, snark-filled club for a pack of douche-bags on the internet. 
    And knock yourself out with the pretzel logic. 

    If priests have to be single males, they can’t be married. If they’re married they can’t be priests. Oh, wait…

  • Sharon

    Kieren — if the nature of the priesthood requires single males — men who are acting in persona Christi, whose lives are to conform to the life of Christ — that’s fine. I get that. That makes sense. If the Church teaches that  only single males may be priests because allowing married men to be priests, or single priests to marry one day would mean these men are serving two vocations, I get that too. 

    It’s when the Church tries to have it both ways that everything falls apart. The logic doesn’t hold up. The “nature” of the priesthood doesn’t mean anything more than what the Church wants or needs it to mean in the moment. 

    Also, it’s quite telling that the few women who’ve dared to intrude on your big circle jerk are condesceded to, have had filthy sexual comments thrown at them, and are basically called stupid and told to run along. 
    That’s your Church? You can keep it. Bye. 

  • Sharon

    Like how the “moderator” only “edits” this comment and lets it stand, but removes anything that basically tells this creep point blank to cut it out. Right. That’s the thing about you Catholics — you can always tell who you are by your sexual creepiness and your hate. Great Church. Raped a kid lately? Stolen children from the poor or people you disagree with politically and given them to “good” Catholic families lately? Maybe if you stop with the vile human rights violations and stop with the sexual creepiness, people would give a shit about you anymore. You’ve sure shown me what a fucking waste of time even CONSIDERING returning to the Church is. Same old same old. Stil the same sick creeps running the show. Nice work. At least the rest of us know who and what you all are and keep our children away from you. 

  • Kieren

    Sharon, I don’t believe in filthy comments. What I am trying to explain is that celibacy (which is only a discipline) is not essential to the nature of the ordained priesthood, and it never has been, nor will be. In this the Church is not trying to have it both ways, it is just the constant teaching of the Church. In other words, tomorrow the discipline of celibacy could be revoked in the Latin Rite and its revocation would not have any effect on the nature of priesthood. I have to admit that I am struggling to understand why you believe celibacy and the nature of the priesthood are linked.

  • Arden Forester

     “No public opposition to him from our bishops” may be why Damian Thompson is so keen on the Ordinariate. He sees Anglican Catholics as doing things properly and hopes they may show the bishops up. Of course, that’s his view of things. I couldn’t possibly comment.

  • WG Grace

    We down here in Gloucestershire Cricket Club are aware that the Popes – recent Popes – have done just that. The matter of priestesses in the Catholic Church has been decided upon.

    Why are you, presumably a Catholic, still discussing it Mr. Brownridge?

  • WG Grace

    Why do you comment on this blog when you clearly haven’t a clue about Catholic teaching, or if you do, you clearly reject it. 

    Haven’t you got something better to do? I find a good game of cricket often helps. 

  • WG Grace

    Nothing falls apart as far as Christ and His Church is concerned dear lady. 

    However, we hope the same is not true of the Australians’ batting at Lord’s. 

  • Jon Brownridge

     Actually, Jonathan West has a profound understanding of Catholic teaching and expresses himself with clarity and impeccable logic. I have found him to be far more intellectually honest than any other contributor on this site.

  • David

    As an Anglican priest in the Catholic tradition, I whole-heartedly endorse this article. Truth is, by its very nature, unchangeable. Those who, either in the Anglican or Roman communions, who wish to conform the priesthood to the secular world through the ‘ordination’ of women undermine the whole Christian edifice. The ‘married’/’celibate’ status of the priest is a matter of discipline, not of doctrine and can be altered in any way, at any time. The ontological nature of the priesthood cannot be so altered.

  • David

    You will note that the Eastern Church, whether Roman or Orthodox, permits married priests. This is thus clearly only a matter of discipline. As a married priest, I can see many of the pastoral advantages for a congregation in having a celibate priest! They have the time that we cannot, by virtue of our married status, to give to their pastoral needs.

  • scary goat

     Sharon, I am a woman too. No one here is being condescending to women.  Also the “filthy sexual comments” you refer to were not intended as you imagine. You are reading things into that (one) comment that weren’t there.

  • Jon Brownridge

     The last time a Pope made an infallible pronouncement was in 1950 when Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary. Incidentally, two previous Popes had declared (infallibly) that belief in the Assumption was heresy.

  • JabbaPapa

    1) Pope Benedict XVI came *very* close to making an infallible statement concerning the male nature of the priesthood, at this year’s Chrism Mass, when he declared the doctrine to be “irrevocable” — except that Pope John Paul II’s earlier teaching on the question had already been declared as infallible by the CDF (otherwise, it would have formally constituted an ex cathedra statement of infallibility — whereas its current infallibility is instead derived from the Magisterium, not the Pope himself)

    2) But please, not *every* written opinion of every Pope is infallible !!! /roll-eyes/

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m sorry, but Mr West is VERY frequently mistaken in his presentations of what he believes to be Catholic doctrine, but all too often constitutes no more than personal opinion, opposed either implicitly or explicitly to that selfsame doctrine.

    The fact that he seems to succeed in actually persuading people of the truth of these opinions of his is more suggestive of a heresy than an orthodoxy.

  • JabbaPapa

    early democratic societies such as Sumeria

    ???????

    There is no evidence whatsoever that the hieratic, priestly, astrology-focused society in Ancient Sumeria could have been “democratic”, let alone “matriarchal” — and a hieratic society is about as opposite to permissiveness as can be conceived.

    Have you mistaken some sort of contemporary wimmin’s revisionism for a History book, or something ? Or were you just lied to by someone at your University ?

  • Tridentinus

     If you are not against it then you are for it.

  • Tridentinus

    Secular values have been entering the Church since ‘someone
    opened the windows’ 50 years ago.  In 1972
    the Pope himself [Paul VI] said he felt that ‘the smoke of Satan had entered
    the Temple of God through a crack’.

    ‘The ordination of women’ is just just one of a welter of secular values to
    have become commonplace in the Temple of God. Over the years we have had more and more Catholics
    making up their own minds regarding Mass attendance, the necessity of Confession, Papal Authority, contraception, abortion, masturbation,
    fornication, divorce, homosexuality, ‘same-sex marriage’, the priestly ordination of
    females and a host of other matters contrary to the Church’s Teaching and
    generally coming down upon the side  of
    the secular opinion.

    Vatican II, it is claimed, took Catholics out of the ghetto
    in this country but where has it deposited them? In no-man’s-land: despised by
    atheists and agnostics and even criticised by our so-called co-Christians,
    Protestants, if the comments on on-line newspapers are anything to go by.  Maybe it did but Catholics are definitely back
    in it these days along with anyone who happens to express Christian beliefs.

     The law of the land now
    specifically outlaws the profession and practice of the Christian Faith
    whenever it comes in conflict with the, so-called ‘Human Rights Act‘ legislated
    by the last Labour Government (a fact that has not yet dawned on many including
    the Archbishop of Westminster). It is likely that in the not too distant future,
    Catholic clergy will have to choose between committing sacrilege and
    desecrating their churches or being sued, fined and even imprisoned.

  • Tridentinus

    Secular values have been entering the Church since ‘someone
    opened the windows’ 50 years ago.  In 1972
    the Pope himself [Paul VI] said he felt that ‘the smoke of Satan had entered
    the Temple of God through a crack’.

    ‘The ordination of women’ is just just one of a welter of secular values to
    have become commonplace in the Temple of God. Over the years we have had more and more Catholics
    making up their own minds regarding Mass attendance, the necessity of Confession, Papal Authority, contraception, abortion, masturbation,
    fornication, divorce, homosexuality, ‘same-sex marriage’, the priestly ordination of
    females and a host of other matters contrary to the Church’s Teaching and
    generally coming down upon the side  of
    the secular opinion.

    Vatican II, it is claimed, took Catholics out of the ghetto
    in this country but where has it deposited them? In no-man’s-land: despised by
    atheists and agnostics and even criticised by our so-called co-Christians,
    Protestants, if the comments on on-line newspapers are anything to go by.  Maybe it did but Catholics are definitely back
    in it these days along with anyone who happens to express Christian beliefs.

     The law of the land now
    specifically outlaws the profession and practice of the Christian Faith
    whenever it comes in conflict with the, so-called ‘Human Rights Act‘ legislated
    by the last Labour Government (a fact that has not yet dawned on many including
    the Archbishop of Westminster). It is likely that in the not too distant future,
    Catholic clergy will have to choose between committing sacrilege and
    desecrating their churches or being sued, fined and even imprisoned.

  • Tridentinus

     The Holy Father has not changed the nature of the priesthood. Some of the Apostles Peter and Philip certainly were married. There is no firm evidence that they ceased marital relations after committing to follow Jesus. Nor is there any evidence that clerical marriage was absolutely forbidden until the 2nd Lateran Council. Neither is there any firm evidence that married clergy were forbidden to have sexual relations with their wives.
    Eastern Rite Churches in union with Rome have the same discipline as most Eastern Orthodox Churches: married men may be ordained as sub-deacons (abolished in the Latin Church by Paul VI but still an order in the Latin Church which follows the Tridentine Rite), deacons and priests: unmarried sub-deacons, deacons and priests are forbidden to marry: no one who is married may be consecrated bishop nor is a bishop permitted to marry.
    The Council of Trent decreed, “If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the
    state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more
    blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in
    matrimony; let him be anathema.” This decree bolstered the marital state declaring that celibate clerics and monks and nuns who have taken a vow of chastity are to be considered more worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
    Thus, there is no absolute or general proscription on married clergy in the Catholic Church. Thus, former Anglican clergy who are married can be canonically ordained without a proviso that they restrain from sexual relations if the Roman Catholic Church deems them worthy of ordination.

  • Amie

    The comment that “Our Lady, Mother of the Church, who never sought or was given the role of a priest” is a little anachronistic, methinks.

  • Therese Koturbash

    Dear Francis,

    May the peace of Christ
    be with you! Your interesting article misses some important
    theological and historical facts.

    You say that those who
    advocate the ordination of women 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.’

    In fact, it is our
    Church’s history of Our Lady and priesthood that has helped me to
    remain Catholic and embrace the work needed to transform our Church
    culture so that it rejects the prejudice against women which at root
    is the only reason that women are not permitted in priesthood.

    I come from a fairly
    traditional Catholic family such that when I first began to struggle
    with the question of women’s place in the Church, I felt there was
    something wrong with me. It was almost as though I received
    reassurance from Our Lady about my questioning as I began to learn
    about the centuries old latent tradition of devotion to her as model
    priest. She still stands today as model for priesthood.

    Historical records show
    clearly that this devotion was part of the prayer lives of Popes,
    Cardinals, Bishops, priests, theologians, and the faithful throughout
    the ages. During certain parts of Church history, indulgences were
    granted for particular prayers to Mary as priest.

    If you are interested
    in learning more, historical material about the devotion and
    theological underpinnings for it can be found here:
    http://www.womenpriests.org/mrpriest/mpr_ovr.asp

    Excerpts of writings of
    popes, cardinals, etc who maintained the devotion can be found here:
    http://www.womenpriests.org/mrpriest/mpr_list.asp

    The devotion to Mary as
    Priest began to be suppressed by the Vatican only at the beginning of
    the 20th century. Historically, Pius X (papacy 1903-1914)
    was the last Pope to officially endorse the devotion. For some
    reason, a turn of heart against Mary as Priest on the part of the
    Vatican began to happen during the reign of Pope Benedict (1914-1922)
    when images of her as priest were officially forbidden. Nonetheless,
    existing images o her as priest from throughout the ages could not be
    eradicated. Pius XI then forbade the devotion completely during his
    reign (1922-1939).

    Interestingly or
    ironically – depending on how you see it – discussion about the
    devotion to Mary as priest began to rise during the papacy of Pope
    John Paul II when he taught about the theology of Mary as
    co-redeemer.

    Despite what the
    Vatican has forbidden about her, Mary is still today held out to be
    the exemplary role model for priests. She is after all the first
    human mediator of Christ for the world. Though I don’t know enough
    about the theology of co-redemptrix, it will be interesting to see
    where and whether the Vatican goes anywhere with this.

    In any event, this
    ancient conviction about Mary’s priestly status has consequences for
    the ordination o women. The devotion which has lived throughout the
    centuries makes clear that the faithful have understood her as
    priest. Since Jesus himself never ordained anyone, God’s choice of
    first mediator of Christ does give pause for thought.

    Dear Francis, among
    others, Mary is one who sustains me in my work for transformation of
    our faith community so that one day we will see the ordination of
    women as priests.

    I close with a poem
    for your consideration.

    Did the Woman Say?

    By Frances Croake Frank

    Did the woman say, When she held
    him for the first time in the dark of a stable,After the pain and
    the bleeding and the crying, ‘This is my body, this is my
    blood’?

    Did the woman say, When she held
    him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop, After the
    pain and the bleeding and the dying, ‘This is my body, this is
    my blood’?

    Well that she said it to him then, For
    dry old men, brocaded robes belying barrenness Ordain that
    she not say it for him now.

    with my eyes fixed on Christ,
    Oremus pro invicem,

    Therese Koturbash, BA, LLB

    International Ambassador,
    womenpriests.org
    currently in Canada

  • 12Maria34

    Read The Catholic Priesthood and Women by Sara Butler, MSBT …

  • 12Maria34

    I might be wrong … in the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, married priest are permitted if they are married before ordination.  If they are celibate, they have to remain one.  Bishops are always celibate.

  • 12Maria34

    I might be wrong … in the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, married priest are permitted if they are married before ordination.  If they are celibate, they have to remain one.  Bishops are always celibate.

  • Carmel

    Francis
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They are an inaccuate understanding of the situation but at least they continue the process of debate. If you have a look at the early history of the followers of Jesus you will find that women often were the presisders at the eucharist in the home. Based on Jewish understandings of the time. It is after Constantine the dominance of men and the demise of women in these roles took place. Continue researching and writing as it is important to get to the “signs of the times” as Vatican II suggested.
    Carmel

  • Therese Koturbash

    well said Carmel.  To intelligently participate in the conversation, we must become informed about our history.   Therese Koturbash, http://www.womenpriests.org

  • ANNE_JMJ

    Read the “CATECHISM of the
    CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” from the Magisterium.

    “ The Catechism of the Catholic Church,
    which I approved … and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my
    Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic
    doctrine,attested to or
    illumined by Sacred Scripture,the Apostolic Tradition and the
    Church’s Magisterium.I
    declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and
    legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion. “– Pope John Paul II. (CCC pg 5)

    On the net search: “What
    Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”

    http://whatcatholicsreallybelieve.com

    Using the CCC and the Bible it is
    explained why women can not be Priests or Deacons in the Catholic Church.

    There is no room for heresy and or
    schism (as defined in the CCC 2089).

    The content of the CCC is
    NOT DEBATABLE.

    And on the site you will also see
    the statement from the Pope that the CCC is one of the most important friuits of
    Vatican II (Porta Fidei, Year of Faith).

    Women who pretend to be Catholic Priests
    have been and will continue to be excommunicated.

    There is nothing stopping these
    heretical and schismatic women from starting their own Church (not affiliated
    with Catholics), or joining a Protestant Faith that allows women ministers.

  • Tridentinus

     Well said! I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Tridentinus

    ..

  • Tridentinus

  • Tridentinus

     “If you have a look at the early history of the followers of Jesus you
    will find that women often were the presisders (sic) at the eucharist in the
    home. Based on Jewish understandings of the time.”

    Please, provide credible evidence for this.  I can’t find anything in Scripture or Tradition or in post -Scriptural history which backs this up.  Too many contributors post ‘facts’ on here without a shred of evidence to support them.

    Please, explain what you mean by the “Jewish understandings of the time”. Understandings of what?

  • T M Koturbash

    An excellent article!! Blood and water — birthing the world anew By Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers The Prairie Messenger | December 5, 2012
    “It is like this,” explained the priest in his homily at a funeral,
    “before we emerge from our mother’s womb, we cannot imagine that there
    is a world outside of it. Being born is a bit like dying — it’s hard
    work for both baby and mother without knowing the outcome. In the same
    way, dying is like being born into a new life, a life we cannot imagine
    other than what Jesus showed us.” There is an interesting
    thread throughout Christian history that likens Jesus’ death on the
    cross as a moment of giving birth; in other words, the Crucified One is
    seen as a woman in labour. In fact, on the night before he died, Jesus
    himself evoked the image of a woman in childbirth: “When a woman is in
    labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is
    born, she no longer remembers the anguish . . .” (Jn 16:21).
    This image of Jesus’ death as giving birth, and even Jesus as our
    mother, is particularly present among some medieval mystics, such as
    Julian of Norwich (d. 1416) and Marguerite d’Oingt (d. 1310). In her
    most famous spiritual work Revelations of Divine Love Julian writes:
    “(Christ) Our natural mother, our gracious mother, because he willed to
    become our mother in everything, took the ground for his work most
    humbly and most mildly in the maiden’s womb. . . . Our high God, the
    sovereign wisdom of all, arrayed himself in this low place and made
    himself entirely ready in our poor flesh in order to do the service and
    the office of motherhood himself in all things. “A mother can
    give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us
    with himself. He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the
    Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life. With all the
    sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously.” (Design Pics photo) Marguerite d’Oingt ponders the crucifixion as follows:
    “But when the time approached for you to be delivered, your labour
    pains were so great that . . . when the hour of your delivery came, you
    were placed on the hard bed of the cross . . . and your nerves and all
    your veins were broken. . . . veins burst when in one day you gave birth
    to the whole world.” More poignantly, Jesus died with a psalm
    on his lips which portrays God as midwife, Psalm 22. It begins with the
    piercing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” then moves into
    imaging God as midwife enabling the psalmist’s birth: “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; You kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, And since my mother bore me you have been my God” (Ps 22:9f).
    Thus the words on Jesus’ lips from Psalm 22 link death and birth in
    intriguing ways. This is further strengthened by the notion of blood and
    water flowing from Jesus’ side, much like the blood and water flowing
    from a woman in childbirth. Without realizing it, the priest
    quoted at the beginning of this article, tapped into potent female
    imagery present in the person of Jesus, images that have all but been
    reduced or even obscured from spiritual and religious vision, thanks to
    the predominantly male lens of the church’s theology and liturgical
    practice. As Julian and Marguerite’s words illustrate, women themselves
    have no trouble making the strong connections, for these run through
    their own bodies like electrical charges. The Incarnation
    itself revealed pregnancy and childbirth as holy work; a nursing infant
    is a potent reflection of God’s tender and constant care for us. The
    female pregnant body is a radiant reflection of God enfolding all life.
    The cross is an unavoidable and integral part of the larger mystery of
    pain and life, of the struggle for a new creation so vividly experienced
    by women in the rhythms of menstruation and pregnancy, delivery and
    birth. Some things are hidden in plain view, dulled as we can
    be to the revolutionary shift Jesus’ witness caused in the entire
    universe, a shift that was intended to alter dramatically gender
    relations, rescuing them from the consequences of the Fall. An
    increasing number of Catholic women, as they learn and grow into adult
    faith, realize with great pain and heartache that the Catholic
    imagination remains firmly controlled by a male hierarchy despite all
    its praise for the “feminine genius.” Women apostles like Mary Magdalene
    and leaders in the early church (such as Phoebe & Junia, Prisca
    & Lydia) are conveniently overlooked in official statements claiming
    the constant tradition of the church. Devotion to Mary, while
    encouraged, is characterized primarily by her virginal and motherly
    qualities and less by her strength and courage as a woman in direct
    relationship with God without the mediation of a man. A huge area of
    faithful and sound theology is carefully and systematically shut out
    from church doctrine because it is done by women. A profound liturgical
    and sacramental experience is walled off because women, according to
    church teaching, cannot act in persona Christi. As a result the
    church fails to breathe with both lungs, an expression used by Pope
    John Paul II when he referred to the Eastern and Western Christian
    traditions, but profoundly fitting in this context as well. Breathing
    with one lung is possible, but it can hardly lead to breathing in the
    fullness and richness of the Gospel. The church calls for dialogue with
    other Christians and other faith traditions, but seems impotent and
    fearful of dialogue with its own Catholic women. Male and
    female were created in God’s image and likeness, equal yet different. It
    is the “equal yet different” which necessitates the female embodiment
    in ecclesial leadership and theology. Jesus was quite aware of this, and
    so was the early church. Jesus, in his bodily maleness, radically
    assumed the feminine bodily gifts of giving birth, both in the way he
    lived and in the way he died. Jesus revealed in his total personhood
    that the capacity of women’s bodies to bear, deliver and nourish new
    life belong to God’s very nature. If this were not so, why else
    would the Son of God choose to take human form in a woman’s womb? Why
    else would Jesus break social and religious barriers by carrying on a
    profoundly theological discussion with a Samaritan woman and reveal his
    true identity to her, something that greatly unsettled his male
    disciples? Why else would the risen Jesus commission a woman, Mary
    Magdalene, as the first apostle to spread the Good News of his
    resurrection? Why else does the apostle Paul praise women disciples as
    leaders in their house churches? Why else does St. Paul stress so
    frequently in his letters that we are “a new creation in Christ” and
    that “everything old has passed away”? If this means nothing, then why
    baptize women “in Christ” at all? Something tragic has happened
    in our 2,000-year history. Female leadership in the early church lost
    its prominence once worship moved from the private to the public sphere,
    now suffering from historical amnesia. The current ecclesial gender
    imbalance, in which women’s ways of knowing, understanding and
    witnessing have been relegated to the margins of ecclesial vision or are
    primarily perceived through male eyes, seals off a rich and much-needed
    resource for theology, spirituality and liturgy. Women’s fundamental
    human experience and her ways of knowing and living are seldom consulted
    in the church, let alone reflected in official church statements. Even
    in today’s time of ecclesial crisis and decline, women’s ways of
    mediating, perceiving and resolving remain largely untapped at higher
    levels of church governance. And so, church leaders stumble through mea
    culpas and feeble attempts to fix and to re-energize the spirit of the
    Gospel, wondering why it is not working. In the meantime the spiritual
    health of both men and women continues to suffer from breathing with
    only one gender-lung. The Lineamenta (preparatory document) for
    the 2012 Synod on New Evangelization urges the church to take a hard
    look at its own means of proclaiming the Gospel, asking how to tap into
    the religious experiences of especially those Catholics who no longer
    feel at home in our faith family. This invitation to ecclesial
    self-examination could offer a prime opportunity to re-evaluate the
    church’s relationship to its own women and to listen deeply to their
    ecclesial pain. The bIood and water flowing from every woman
    commingles with the blood and water flowing from Jesus on the cross in
    one great act of birthing a new world, recalled vividly in every
    eucharist when water is mixed with the wine/blood of our Lord. Jesus was
    flesh of Mary’s flesh and blood of her blood, having grown in her womb
    for nine months; as his Blessed Mother, at the Lord’s crucifixion it was
    equally Mary’s flesh that was tortured and her blood that was spilt for
    our salvation. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “What has not been
    assumed, has not been redeemed.” Every woman knows intimately, even if
    she is not a biological mother, her God-given vocation to transform
    ordinary food and drink into the body and blood of a new human being. In
    every conception and birth God’s great incarnational and eucharistic
    work is revealed in and through a woman. Why then is it
    considered heretical to claim that God could well call a woman to stand
    at the altar and act in persona Christi — my Body, my Blood? And if God
    indeed calls her, how is she to respond? If, and only if, it is not
    God’s will (all other criteria and claims are subject to this one) that
    women serve as priests, then how can the church’s bishops open wide the
    tap of wisdom and gifts in half of God’s image and likeness? For the
    sake of the Gospel, the need for the new evangelization, the spiritual
    wholeness of all God’s people and the overall future of the church, we
    have little choice but to engage such questions.
    Ternier-Gommers, married and mother of three adult children, is an
    award-winning author and retreat leader. She is active with an
    ecumenical network of women in ministry, works in pastoral ministry at
    St. Augustine Parish in Humboldt, and is a freelance writer.

  • Stephen Smythe-Jones

    Forget the non Catholics. It is hard for Catholics to understand according to most opinion surveys. Be that it may, the ignorance of the laity on this issue is not surprising. Scratch a Catholic almost anywhere in the world and a theological and doctrinal  illiterate will usually bleed.

  • savvy

    It’s the arrogance of ignorance.  The issue is that Catholic women already do everything a Protestant minister does, i.e. teach, works of charity, counselling, mentoring and may other things.  They are just not priests.  The proponents of women ordination, are confusing an ordained priest with a Protestant minister. Why do they even want a priest, or do they even know why we have a priesthood.

  • Tridentinus

     Absolutely, spot on!!

  • Tridentinus

     I’m sorry and I do not wish to be disrespectful but your contribution in some of its assertions in my opinion, verge upon the blasphemous and the obscene.

  • savvy

    There are several reasons why people do not understand this issue.

    1. They are confusing the ordained priesthood in Catholic/Orthodox churches with a Protestant minister

    2. A sacrament is a sign that points to something else. There is a deep post-modern fear of what is physically real, because we spend too much time with technology and fictional people, than we do with real people

    3. Pastoral roles have taken precedent over sacramental role of the priest, making it hard to tell what we need a priest for.

  • savvy

    It reflects a binary system, that prevents the faith from slipping into dualism, where opposites are the same. Christ and the church are distinct, yet equal, The persons in the Trinity are distinct, yet equal.

  • savvy

    A good question is what do you want a priest for? 

  • savvy

    The church has no authority to change the substantial nature of the sacraments. The substance is taken from the natural world and in not manufactured by the church.

  • savvy

    Theresa, you are confused. Mary was not a priest. There is only one priest Jesus Christ.

    The question what do you want a priest for?

  • savvy

    You just don’t get it. In the Mass, Christ is both priest and victim. The one offering has to correspond to the one being offered. 

  • savvy

    I pray for you to come out of your confusion.

  • savvy

    Yes, someone brought up the fact that in the East, married priests have to be continent, 24 hours before the liturgy, because of the nuptial character of the liturgy. The Western practise of daily liturgy, would require a priest to be perpetually continent. But, this is just a theory.