Why Women Can’t Be Priests

Many of the arguments Catholics and conservatives put forward on the issue of women’s ordination are insufficient.  The most common argument offered against the practice is that Jesus never chose women.  That is indeed true, and the argument is valid; however, it isn’t a particularly strong one.  It is an argument that seems to be incomplete, as if there were some other critical factors which need to be explained.

First of all, it is important for everyone to understand that the feminist argument is predicated on the notion of human dignity and equality being based on utility and function.  This underlying assumption is rarely discussed when the issue of women’s ordination and equality is raised.   However, it is critical to appreciate and acknowledge this point so the debate can advance intelligently.  Too often in these types of debates, obvious assumptions and presuppositions are not dealt with upfront which invariably means both sides waste too much time and effort talking past one another.

For the feminist, dignity and equality depends on allowing women to do the same things as men.  And only in doing the same things – or at least having the capability to do so – can the two genders be equal in dignity.  To deny a women the same function, under this rubric, would necessarily mean denying them equality and dignity.  The connection is indeed logical, but the foundation itself is erroneous.

Contrary to this, the Christian worldview does not attach dignity and equality with function or utility.  A human person is not any less dignified or equal to another person based on what they can or cannot do.  Performing a specific function does not make anyone more worthy or dignified than someone who cannot perform that function.  That is why the Church values all human life equally, independent of the supposed value that society attaches to a particular function or “quality of life” assessment.  The Church values all human life equally, including the disabled or those bedridden with a serious sickness.

The rise of euthanasia and related “quality of life” ethic is also predicated on this feminist principle.  One person decides that the utility and function of the disabled person does not meet the “quality of life” standard, and then proceeds to pull the plug or dehydrate the person to death.  Instead of treating the individual with dignity and respect because of the intrinsic dignity bestowed by God, the arbiters of “equality”, through their dark lenses of utility and function, objectify the human person for their own base aspirations.  Usually, this means unburdening themselves with the suffering of another human being.

In light of these different foundations, therefore, it is important to point out to our opponents that their very conception of equality is fundamentally different than our own.  There is a false assumption that both sides view equality in the same way.  As we can see, however, that is not a valid assumption at all.  It is no surprise, therefore, to find that there is a divergence of opinion on the issue of women’s ordination.   Feminists believe they don’t have equality in the Church because they are denied a function, but this is a distortion of what true equality is.  Catholics say women already have equality because of their intrinsic dignity as human persons.  Women complement men but are not the same as them.

But even if this were true and there was no more contention regarding women’s ordination, it still begs the question as to why only men can be priests.  First, it is important for our opponents to understand that the liturgical act in the Mass is an act of marriage.  That is why Jesus is called the bridegroom and the Church is considered His Bride. In fact, the Scriptures are replete with this imagery:

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean,  was given her to wear.” (Revelation 19:7-8)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)

The Blessed Virgin is sometimes called the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” because of her union with the Holy Spirit in conceiving the incarnation within her womb.  There is a type of marriage between these two persons.  Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, would then go on to describe Himself as the bridegroom for His beloved Church, his disciples. That is why the Church is always referred to in the feminine “she” and never “he”, precisely because of this marital covenant between Christ and His Church. So we can see a clear indication why there is an important symbolism and reality to retaining the masculine and feminine qualities of the Church’s faith tradition – not only in the language it uses but also in how it is lived out in its various ministries, not the least of which is the priesthood.

While the Church corporately can be described as “feminine”, even the physical sanctuary in the Church building retains this quality.  Within the sanctuary is the divine presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  The mirror of this, of course, is the Blessed Mother who carried Our Lord in her womb for nine months.  Christ was “enclosed” within the feminine person just like the liturgical act of the priest is “enclosed” within the femine sanctuary of the Church.  The unborn Christ and His Mother, therefore, were the prototype of the liturgical act which Catholics participate in every Sunday.

The priest stands in the person of Christ, “persona Christi“.  It is not the priest himself who acts principally, but the Person of Christ HIMSELF who acts through the performance of the movements, gestures, and pronouncements of the priest during the Mass.  And since Christ was male, the priest in whom Christ acts, must also be male in order to reflect the Incarnation in its fullness.  The Incarnation, which was realized through a woman and a man, was not only a redemption of men and women, but also a redemption (and reconciliation) between men and women.  At the altar, therefore, the male priest represents this incarnational reality of Jesus Christ within the womb of the sanctuary.

When the bread and wine are consecrated by the priest, the priest in persona Christi then comes down from the altar and presents the body and bloody of Christ to His betrothed, the people of God.  It is there that this one flesh union between the divine bridegroom, Jesus Christ, through the instrument of the priest, and His Bride, the Church, is consummated.  This supernatural union between the Lord and His people is the mystical and ultimate reflection of natural marriage between spouses.

As a corporate body, therefore, the Church as Bride will always be feminine just as a singular body the Priest in persona Christi must always be masculine.  It reflects the divine nuptial banquet between husband and wife.

In today’s society, however, the Catholic priesthood has been reduced to the last frontier of the feminist power-play, and it is hardly surprising or a coincidence that the push for female priests comes at the same time when same-sex “marriages” are all the rage.  Since the liturgical act mirrors the reality of marriage in society, a female priest with the Church as Bride would merely reflect the culture’s approval of homosexuality in general and same-sex “marriage” in particular. As we Latins say, lex orandi, lex credendi.

15 thoughts on “Why Women Can’t Be Priests

  1. Women are not supposed to lord their positions over their husbands. It is sad to see a husband quietly sitting in the back of a church as his wife preaches from the pulpit. The traditional family boosts the health, happiness and wealth of husbands, wives, children and society.

    Gender positions ought to protect and respect our women. Very few women in the military were killed in the great wars, but now in the post-christian west they are put in harms way. During the Vietnam War out of 58,000 US soldiers killed only 8 women all unarmed nurses were killed. Now with gender goals in recruiting women now make up large numbers of our military. Before three years in the military are completed, almost 50% of enlisted women have left the service, compared to 28% of men.
    Now that large numbers of women are brutally killed in combat alongside men it is a long awaited radical feminist dream.
    Army surveys have repeatedly found that 90% of female enlisted soldiers are opposed to combat roles. The military stopped asking women soldiers opinion about serving in combat in 2001.

  2. Whenever I hear the call for women priests from a Christian, I simply ask for a supporting biblical reference. “Please show me one example of a female priest in the bible”.

    There are none, so the “bible-believing” or “sola-scriptura” argument dies.

    The same goes for tradition.

    Case closed.

  3. Why we don’t allow women to be priests?

    Same reason we don’t hire actresses to play leading men in Hollywood movies.

    It’s that simple. A priest is not a sacramental bureaucrat. He is playing a role.

  4. In all the myriad posts I have seen about women priests (Catholic teaching concerning which I do not dispute) little beyond lip service is paid to women’s dignity. I see this in life also. Pious men are big on bragging about how they revere women’s special dignity, but in practice one would have to conclude that by reverence they are referring to that smirky tolerance they extend to women who are not actually disagreeing with them on any given subject. Cross that boundary, and one’s man – of whatever degree of association – be he ever so fond of one, will square his shoulders, lower his voice, and boom out the TRUTH over one’s weaker voice, and by corollary one’s less informed opinion. Or snipe at one behind one’s back. I rather think feminism started out as a misguided attempt to answer such biological original sin with earthly solutions – that as harmful a monster it has grown into, it was the child of the eternal pain of being so lightly disregarded. OK, so testosterone in a man is human and universal and not going anywhere in this life. So we deal. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel ashamed of yourselves every time you ‘ape’ the dominant male in order to best a woman in any kind of contest or debate. And as far as gracing us with your superior take on the whole gender-in-spirituality front? Best to avoid the subject. The fakey dignity schtick. Just. Rings. Hollow.

  5. Usually, people who append their credentials on their email addresses have ostentatious pretensions over things that are, quite obviously, over their heads.

    I see that Paula R. Robinson, M.D. has not betrayed that universal truth one little bit.

    Stick to medicine, Dr. Robinson.

    Leave. Theology. To. People. Who. Know. What. They. Are. Talking. About.

  6. I find I am largely in agreement with what you say about the ordination of women. But while I haven’t appended my qualifications to my e-mail address, I’ll spoil it all by signing myself:

    Pinko liberal and proud of it, DTh.

  7. Pacheco, your comment delineates a point that Paula made in terms of tolerating only those who agree with you. This is not a purely theological forum but an open internet forum and you chastise someone for displaying their opinion publicly. The manner in which you did it was not only patronizing but rude and did not address any of the points she made. It is a poor argumentative tactic designed to belittle the other person and force them into a spot of insecurity rather promote active and engaging dialogue. Next time try addressing what people say and not insulting them or treating them like children.

  8. Brian,

    Get yourself a reality check and re-read her response. She was not interested in dialoguing about THE ISSUE. She was interested in spouting the tired feminism tripe:

    “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel ashamed of yourselves every time you ‘ape’ the dominant male in order to best a woman in any kind of contest or debate. And as far as gracing us with your superior take on the whole gender-in-spirituality front? Best to avoid the subject. The fakey dignity schtick. Just. Rings. Hollow.”

  9. Pacheco,

    Interesting that you only comment on the comments with which you disagree, and that too in a most disrespectful manner.

    For the record, I disagree entirely with your views, but find the early part – about the value the Church places on all human life, regardless of function or utility – quite fascinating and worth pondering.

    The idea of the Eucharist being an act of marriage is simply a bit too breathless and airy – especially since Jesus was so down-to-earth and concerned primarily with how we treated “the least of these.”

    That’s why I perked up at the beginning of your essay when you talked about people with disability and the terminally ill. You were on to something there, but it all got lost in the abstractions of the nuptial banquet and Jesus as the Ultimate Male.

  10. I was very interested in everything this article had to say about the explanation about women’s role in the Catholic church, since I have not gotten a straight answer from any of the church leaders I have asked. While a lot of it made sense to me, especially regarding the value of human life, which I completely agree with, some parts still had me questioning this line of logic.
    I worry about the hierarchy, not just towards women, but anyone in need of guidance, money, help. While I greatly respect the good works of the Catholic church, I sometime think maybe in helping others and “respecting human dignity” we forget that often times we have an attitude of coming down to their level to acknowledge their humanity. This attitude implies a sense of hierarchy and “holier than thou”-ness that ironically destroys that person’s dignity. Are we really being good Samaritans or just feeding our own fragile egos? It is only when we respect the church (the female half of the marriage) as active, democratic members, that we actually see them as equals, as the whole, beautiful and capable beings that they are. Yes, men and women are inherently different, but nature shows us that diversity in ecosystems results in greater strength and resiliency. Wouldn’t we be a stronger church if we stopped employing the old attitude of separate but equal?
    If the Catholic Church was a democratic system in which the church had equal power as it’s leaders than gender equality wouldn’t be such a big deal. But since women can never be a part of the decision making process that the Bishops, Priests and Pope possess then we are still only subject to men’s condescension and can never lead for ourselves. This current system of hierarchy has nothing to do with Theology and Jesus and interpretation of the Bible. It is only a remnant of the culture in which the Catholic church was formed. The sooner we can recognize that the sooner we can stop taking all this women’s rights stuff so personally. It’s not about the “crazy feminists verses the misogynistic priests”. It’s about becoming aware of our dark sides so that they may longer control us and recognizing our own inner strength.

    P.S. Clinical studies have shown that strict gender roles in marriages (no room for flexibility or autonomy) leads to lesser marriage satisfaction, and greater depression and anxiety for both members. It is a common misconception that “things were better” when men and women knew their place.

  11. I think a main reason is the the Lord is a priest of the Order of Melchisedek. Melchisedek gave a blessing to Abraham by offering bread and wine. Abraham and his son son Isaac as well as Jacob and his sons picked up that form of offering. Melchisedek was also a king and as such had military duties to protect his land during war. In these ancient days women were very rarely called to military duty. This is the most ancient priesthood of the Old Testament predating the Order of Levi insituted during the Exodus and because of the military angle could not accept women. King David received the promises of the Messiah from the Almighty and one promise was that the Messiah would be a priest of the Order of Melchisedek. The institution of the Eucharist fullfilled that promise. And since Roman Catholic priests are also of the Order (which is not exclusive of other orders) they cannot be women. The Jews added this offering during the Passover meal. This is during one such meal that Christ instituted the Eucharist.

  12. This article is an excellent one. I commend the author for expressing the Church’s position with such clarity and depth. Unfortunately, I fear that the disagreeing commentators to this post are speaking from their passions and feelings, and do not actually address what was said by the author. Instead, they use the opportunity to voice their objections against a male-only hierarchy, and to affirm their status as victims in the Church: victims for the simple reason that they are female and do not therefore belong to the hierarchy.

    The article itself gives us the most excellent example of Our Lady. No one in the Church is venerated more than she is (no one who is not God, of course: thus, Our Lord being excluded). Mary was not a priest. And she in no way resented it. Mary’s attitude was one of simple, humble submission and service: complete obedience to the Will of God. I fear that if Our Lord Himself were to come back tomorrow and state categorically, “My Church cannot ordain women,” then many of the pro-women’s ordination crowd would still stand up in protest and say to Him, “You are being sexist. After all, don’t you know that your whole religion is about love. What an unloving thing to say!”

    My point is this: humility and obedience are the only answer. Pride is a terrible thing, and when that pride manifests itself as dissent from the Church’s authentic Magisterium and perennial Tradition, then it places the person who possesses it on a very dangerous path. Our salvation depends upon our fidelity to Christ and to His Mystical Body and Bride, the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

    If you do not wish to be a part of her, then fine. No one obliges you to be Catholic. But do not say, “I am Catholic, but….” Cafeteria Catholicism is not a legitimate option. One cannot pick and choose which teachings of the Church one wishes to follow and which teachings one rejects.

    Please, I hope that no will be accuse me of being harsh or rigid. I am merely trying to help some of the commentators here understand the Truths of Holy Mother Church, because those Truths are what lead us into Our Lord’s Kingdom. Let us all adopt as our model Our Blessed Mother, Mary. The Blessed Virgin shows us the right way to respond to the Will of God and to His Commandments. Humility is the right path.

    Ultimately, the Church cannot ordain women to the Priesthood for one reason: it goes against the Will of Christ. There is not one instance in the New Testament or in Sacred Tradition in which Christ’s Mystical Body ordained a woman to the Priesthood. Is this because women are inferior to men? No. Of course not. It is because the Church is the Body of Christ here on this earth, and therefore cannot contradict His Will.

    And one more thing to remember: the ministerial Priesthood is just that: ministerial. It is about service, not about power and domination. Those who support women’s ordination because it “empowers” women simply do not understand what the Catholic Priesthood is all about. It is not at all about power: it is about love. It is about placing oneself on the Cross with Jesus.

    Out of love for God, please, freely embrace the teachings of His Church. This is the only path to true fulfillment and joy. It was the path chosen by Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the path chosen by so many saints! Truth is liberating. But we must embrace that Truth freely, and submit ourselves humbly to God and to His Church. It was Satan who said, “Non serviam!” (I shall not serve). Mary, on the other hand, freely embraced the Divine Will with her beautiful “Fiat” (Let it be done to me according to thy Will). Let us therefore imitate Mary, not Satan. Humble obedience, not prideful dissent.

    I hope this helps.

    God bless you all.

    • By all that is holy, I can’t fathom how people are paid to write this stuff. I was a criminal defence lawyer once and realize you have to put up whatever argument to provide subtance to a ridiculous position. But on women’s issues and things involving sex, I doubt anyone not employed by the Catholic Church or its subsidiaries actually believe it. The Mormons believe crazy things too, and they and the Catholics are on this cultural lag. But at least the Mormons tell people to refrain from stuff like tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, which do real damage to real people.

  13. While acknowledging the status quo, Dr. Robinson has provided us males with a caution to lovingly respect our female half of Christianity by avoiding “lording it over” them. I just take it in good faith as a much needed caution. Thanks.

  14. Pingback: Latest Instalment of Women Priests - CATHOLIC FEAST - Sync your Soul

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