Why not Women Priests

Why can't the Catholic Church be mistaken on women priests?

Because the Church's constant tradition has always excluded women from the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This rule is not the Church's own disciplinary regulation; it was established by Jesus, the Founder of the Church [Sheehan, p. 576-578]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes canon law 1024 to confirm that only a baptised male validly receives ordination. Christ's Church could not have been so mistaken for so long.

On what grounds does the Church justify a male-only priesthood?

Paragraph 1577 of the Catechism says: 'The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognises herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself.' For this reason, the ordination of women is not possible. And, as this directive is effective 'until Christ's return,' the ordination of women will never be possible in the Catholic Church. A male-only priesthood is God's idea, not man's.

Is there any evidence in the Bible that says that women cannot be ordained?

A case is established by reasons FOR, and not by the absence of reasons against. Conclusions can be drawn only from positive reasons that are identifiable. Since there are no positive indications from Scripture that women should be ordained, the absence of reasons for women priests is reason enough to question their validity. [CEO, p. 75]

What has been the most recent Church declaration on the ordination of women?

In 1994, Pope John Paul II made an unequivocal statement, "which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself … we declare that the Church has no faculty whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and that this judgement is to be held definitively by all the faithful" [Ordinatio Sacerdotalis]. As Saint Augustine of Hippo once said, "Rome has spoken, the case is closed" [Keating, p. 217].

Up to the 5th century, women were ordained priests according to Prof G Otranto

Just because some women claimed to be priests in the early centuries of the Church, as some women claim to be priests today, does not mean that they were truly ordained to the Catholic priesthood. A few heretical sects in the first centuries entrusted priestly functions to women, or had priestesses, and were condemned by the Fathers. In fact, no Church Father or Doctor (a small group of exalted Saints that includes women) of the Church has ever advocated women priests. From the Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) we read: 'A virgin is not ordained for we have no command from the Lord.'

The Early Church had deaconesses exercising a priestly function (Rom 16:1-2).

The rank of deaconess was a Church role that was never part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c. 215 AD) says: 'A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of priests or deacons, but is only to keep the doors, and to minister to the priests in the baptising of women, for the sake of decency.' The priest anointed the head of a woman after Baptism, but for decency's sake, the deaconess used to perform the additional anointings that followed [Sheehan, p. 579]. In the disciplinary canons of the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), Canon 19 says that although deaconesses have been enrolled in the register of the clergy, they have not been "in any way ordained," and "they are … to be numbered among the laity" [Drummey, p. 217]. Deaconesses were denied priestly functions. Their principal duties were to assist the Baptism of women and to care for the poor and sick [Ott, p. 459].

Jesus was culturally conditioned by the male-dominated society of his time.

Christ's attitude to women differed markedly from that of other Jews of His time and He appeared first to women when risen from the dead. Being God, Christ was not bound by His culture and His times in His decision to choose only men as priests. In fact, this was a counter-cultural decision, since the pagan religions of His time regularly had priestesses. If any woman was a worthy candidate for the priesthood then Mary, in whom the Lord dwelt, would surely have been called. In fact, Jesus founded a Church on Earth that regards the Blessed Virgin Mary (a woman) as the greatest honour of our race, but not by being a priest, by being a mother, the mother of God. Outside of the Godhead, the Catholic Church honours a woman (Mary) more than any other person.

Could not the Church's teaching on this issue develop further?

Yes, but never in the direction of ordaining women priests. Over the past 2,000 years, the Church's understanding on many matters has grown, but the call of the 12 male Apostles by Jesus was deliberate and this has been the constant understanding of the Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church throughout its history. All the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper (the first Mass) attest to the fact that only the 12 Apostles (all male) were present when Christ instituted the priesthood. "Do this in memory of me," was said to the all-male priesthood of the New Covenant (Lk 22:14, Matt 26: 20, Mk 14:17).

Did Jesus see women as inferior?

No, and neither does His Church (CCC 369). From the beginning of the Bible, whilst creating males and females different from each other, He made them with equal dignity. Remember, Jesus is the God of the Bible; He is the Second Person of the Trinity who is all Love. He did not see assigning priestly functions to males as making women inferior. From the Old Covenant to the New, priests were only ever men. God only ever chose males to offer sacrifice. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, when God made His Covenant with Abraham, men only were called to be priests. Ever since Melchizedech and the Sinai Covenant, all priests have been male, as was the Passover lamb. And before Abraham, Cain, Abel and Noah offered sacrifice " all were male.

Is not the denial of the priesthood to women an injustice?

The priesthood is a calling, not a right. The Church has recognised that only those who have received a calling to serve by acting in the person of Christ can be ordained. The priest, therefore, must be a man because he represents a man, the God-Man: Jesus Christ. By his ordination, a priest acts in the very person of Christ the Head, who is the Bridegroom of His Bride, the Church. This is why not even the Blessed Virgin could be a priest; she represents the Church as Bride, not the Church's Head and Groom. The ultimate reason for ordination of men only to represent Christ as Head, lies, therefore, in the fact that God the Son became a man and not a woman. Jesus became a man in order to be the Husband of the Church and the image of the Fatherhood of God. A woman cannot be ordained a priest, because she cannot be a husband and father.

If God is a spirit, and hence genderless, why give him masculine names?

Because God wants us to give Him masculine names. Certainly, God is neither male nor female. But when He incarnates He chooses to be male. His decision to be male is one of the most central doctrines of Christianity. The Holy Spirit overshadowed a female in order to conceive Jesus. And Jesus Himself teaches the Apostles to call God "Father."

Catholic Education Office, Western Australia, 1995, Yr 11 text, To Love And To Do Good; Sheehan, 2001, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine

* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.