"When women stand up and challenge the current rules, then the iron curtain in the Catholic Church will crumble."

-Janice Sevre Duszynska

A lone woman stands up during a Catholic ordination service, asking the bishop to ordain her; she says she has been called . The bishop asked her to sit down, for only men were called to the priesthood . This woman was not ordained during that service, and if she is ever to be ordained, she is going to have to face staunch opposition from the leaders of the Catholic Church. (Duszynska) Many people have written her, supporting her, as well as opposing her. The question at hand is, why, when this woman feels that she has been called to the priesthood, is she not allowed to be ordained? The answer to that question lies in years of Church doctrines and tradition, but the debate continues over more recent decisions, like those made in the Second Vatican Council and in the 1990’s by Pope John Paul II. Women are recognized in these documents, but their ordination is still prohibited.

While Pope John Paul II recognized the role of women in society, he did not recognize that role as extending to the priesthood. In his Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis , which was written in 1994, he "declared that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women." Kenneth L. Woodward stated that "Popes have a motto: Roma Locuta, causa finita —‘Rome has spoken, the case is closed." This statement was reaffirmed in Ratzinger’s Responsum ad Dubium , which looked at the infallibility of the doctrine. This document talks about the reaffirmation (by the Second Vatican Council and the teachings of the Church today) of " in persona propria ," which refers to how the priest is truly working in the place of Christ. It also states that this "natural resemblance" between Christ and the priest must exist through a man, because Christ was a man. Although society has changed, the Church’s stand on this issue has not. People question the infallibility of the doctrine. In 1994, John Paul II declared that, on the question of the ordination of women, the prohibition "is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful" ( Ordinatio Sacerdotalis ). In essence, he was restating the infallibility of the doctrine.

To support its position, the Church draws upon Biblical and traditional references. In his book, Women and Orders , Robert J. Heyer points out 1 Corinthians 14: 33-35, "… For it is shameful for woman to speak in church," which is a reference to the subordinate role women play in the Catholic Church (48). He also makes reference to Genesis and the fall from grace. Another argument the Church uses is the fact that Jesus chose twelve men to be his Apostles. Leaders in the Church believe that because Jesus gave the power to consecrate and heal to only men, Jesus wanted only men to serve as priests. This has been the tradition in the Catholic Church. There is no clear Biblical evidence of women ever being ordained during the time of Christ, and so the Church has continued the tradition of ordaining only men.

While the debate over the ordination of women was going on before the Second Vatican Council, there was a strong resurgence of interest in the debate after the Council. Questions began to arise over the reasoning behind the doctrine, and the fact that the Church considered it to be infallible. According to Women in the Priesthood? by Manfred Hawke, the Dutch Pastoral Council was in favor of ordaining women as priests in 1970. Canadian bishops also were in favor of ordaining women in 1971 (62). Although there was support for their ordination, women’s voices were not heard, because in 1990, Pope John Paul II said that the possibilities of ordaining women "are not to be taken into consideration" (Sweeney).

The pope declared that the doctrine was final and binding to all Catholics. Theologians questioned if that statement would also apply to future popes as well. For if it is, perhaps we may once again see the phenomenon Terrence Sweeney spoke about in his book, A Church Divided , where 100,000 priests and 300,000 nuns left the Church after the Second Vatican Council. (133) For there are those, in the Church as well as outside of the Church, that strongly support the ordination of women. Their voices are not being heard because of Rome’s refusal to confront the issue.

These voices may not be heard now by the pope, but other people are listening. Between 1920-1970, the leading proponents of women’s organizations were members of seminary faculties and members of official committees. After 1970, the leaders were organized women with an agenda. The Women’s Ordination Conference brought this issue to the public eye in the United States. In 1997, at the national meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, a resolution to keep the debate open passed 10-1. This was decided based upon a paper entitled, "Tradition and the Ordination of Women." This paper looks at John Paul II’s stance on the ordination of women and his reasoning behind it. The resolution is not meant to encourage the ordination of women, but it is a step closer to it.

Other groups that support the ordination of women are: Catholics Speak Out, Call to Action, the National Assembly of Women Religious, and Las Hermanas. These organizations are strong grassroots groups that aim for the same goal as the Women’s Ordination Conference. Although their names are not heard as much, their support of the movement is crucial to keeping the debate open and to putting pressure on the Church.

Essentially, these groups are responding to the reasoning behind the tradition of prohibiting the ordination of women. In Women and Orders , Robert J. Heyer states that one reason that women are prohibited from being ordained is because Christ was male. His response to that argument is that God should not be viewed in the terms of sex. God is not a human being, and does not have the human quality of sexuality. Terrance Sweeney also points out that over 40% of parishes worldwide do not have a resident pastor. The importance of that fact is that there are women, who feel they have been called to the priesthood, that are willing to fill some of that 40% gap.

The Second Vatican Council called for the overcoming of all "forms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights, including unjust treatment ‘on the grounds of sex’." In Women in the Priesthood? , Manfred Hawke makes reference to this statement, and refers to an accusation Mary Daly put to Pope John Paul II. Mary Daly is a prominent feminist theologian who finds that the lack of clarification about the above statement was "not specific about the implications of this ‘equality’ in rights between the sexes" (58). Hawke also quotes the Lumen gentium , which states that there is "…no inequality arising from race or nationality, social condition or sex" (58). The Church states that there is to be no discrimination based on sex, but the ban against the ordination of women is obviously an inequality between the roles of men and women in the Church.

In 1997, the Catholic Theological Society of America did more than encourage the debate to be kept open. The resolution written stated that, although Jesus "ordained" only men, "they the authors of the resolution doubt that his intention was to exclude women." They believe that Jesus appointed only men based upon the cultural beliefs of His time. Also, nowhere in the Bible can a passage be found where Jesus prohibits the ordination of women.

According to a UK-based group, "A Discipleship of Equals," women should be ordained for many reasons. The main reasons they state are: scripture, theology, tradition, and justice. They stress the fact that God calls these women to be priests. These women do not call themselves to serve God.

There are many examples of men and women in leadership roles in the Bible, but no examples of the ordination of men or women to the priesthood. Ordination came later in history. The Discipleship of Equals also provides Biblical references for why women should be ordained. In Genesis 1:27, it states that "…male and female God created them." God created them in His own image, man and woman. Also, in Galatians 3:28, it says that "…there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This provides a background for the equality of men and women. This quote is key in the debate for women’s ordination. A key argument against the ordination of women is that women are not created in the image of Christ, because they are not male. This quote supports the fact that women are created in the image of God. The doctrine states that Christ can work through the priest, who is made in the image of Christ , as a male. Yet if women are also created in the image of Christ, that doctrine should hold in the case of female priests as well.

When looking at the tradition of the Catholic Church, it is easy to see that change is not embraced by Church leaders. Aquinas believed that women were "slave(s) by nature (by nature of subjection)." Still today, it can be seen that women are in a subordinate position. No positions of authority are held by women in the Church, although 80% of pastoral workers are women. The need for more people in positions of authority is apparent. The willingness of women to fill those positions is known yet the Church still staunchly opposes their ordination.

Although the Pope is openly opposed to the ordination of women, it is interesting to note that some feminists view it in a dark light as well. Mary E. Hunt, the co-director of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual) presented a paper stating her beliefs on the ordination of women at a meeting of the American Academy of Religion in New Orleans. She states that although the ordination of women is inevitable, women will still be subordinate even within the realm of the clergy. She believes that the Church will see that ordaining women will be a way of maintaining "kyriarchy," and therefore continuing the subordination of women. Hunt is convinced that "the combination of long hours, low pay, low prestige and endless nurture makes priesthood a recipe for a woman’s job in a patriarchal society, similar to what happened with teaching and nursing." This is a very stark opinion of what the ordination of women could do to the Catholic Church, and to the public’s opinion of female priests (if they are allowed to be ordained in the future). She supports the ordination of women for the symbolic and political importance, but instead pushes for new models for the Church that reflect a post-modern society.

There are many arguments from both sides and many questions continue to go unanswered. Vatican II cannot fully defend why women who feel they have been called cannot become priests. Jesus never prohibited the ordination of women. He chose his twelve apostles in a time that has long been lost to people today. It is in the best interest of the Church to recognize the changes in society, acknowledge the fact that women play a large role in the modern world, and they should be recognized as leaders in the Church as well.


Discipleship of Equals. http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/justitia/ Internet Source.

Duszynska, Janice Sevre. "Ordination season brings on big dreams: hope for an inclusive priesthood lives on." National Catholic Reporter. May 15, 1998, v34, n28, p19. Magazine Index.

Hauke, Manfred. Women in the Priesthood? Ignatius Press: 1988.

Heyer, Robert J. Women and Orders. The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle: 1974.

Howe, E. Margaret. Women & Church Leadership. The Zondervan Corporation: 1982.

Hunt, Mary E. "It’s inevitable: women will be ordained: Rome reversal would maintain ‘kyriarchy,’ postpone real reform." National Catholic Reporter. Fe 21, 1997, v33, n16, p25. Magazine Index.

John Paul II. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. http://www.microweb.com/burnside/html/ordvat2.htm Internet Source.

McClory, Robert. "Women strongest advocates of own ordination." National Catholic Reporter. March 6, 1998, v34, n18, p6.

Responsum ad Dubium. http://www.knight.org/advent/docs/df95os.htm Internet Source.

Schaeffer, Pamela. "Theologians opt for diplomacy in dispute: wary scholars urge more study, debate on women priests." National Catholic Reporter. June 20, 1997, v33, n32, p3. Magazine Index.

Sweeney, Terrance. A Church Divided. Prometheus Books: 1992.

Woodward, Kenneth L. "Was the pope wrong? Catholic theologians second- guess the Vatican on the question of ordaining women priests." Newsweek. June 16, 1997, v129, n24, p48. Magazine Index.

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