Women And The Priesthood


On May 30, 2008 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared, through the Vatican daily newspaper ‘L’Osservatore Romano’, that any women who attempted ‘ordination’ or any bishops who attempted to ‘ordain’ women are automatically excommunicated by their actions. This decree came in the wake of a number of women attempting to be ‘ordained’.

The most recent attempt was on May 4 of that same year when Kathy Redig, of Winona, Minnesota, participated in an ordination ceremony. Six months earlier in St Louis, Missouri, German woman Particia Fresen conducted a would-be ordination ceremony at a local synagogue. Using the Catholic rite of ordination, Fresen ‘ordained’ two St Louis locals, Rose Hudson and Elsie McGrath. The bishops of these two dioceses were deeply saddened by the actions of these women and had no choice but to excommunicate them from the Church.

This begs the question then, why is it that women cannot be ordained as priests? Perhaps the best place to start is with where the idea of women priests actually originated and it seems to be a modern initiative. Having discussed in some detail in previous articles, the effect of feminism is ensuring the equality of women, we won’t dwell on that in this article. Suffice to say that feminism made women more determined, and perhaps well equipped, to take charge of their own lives and find their own place in the world in whichever occupation they desire.

They now also have the courage and fortitude to stand up against any situation or organization that they believe is guilty of discriminating against women. Thus the Catholic Church, who does not ordain female priests, appears to be discriminating against women on the basis of their gender.

Indeed there are a number of arguments based on theological speculation as to why women should be ordained as priests by the Catholic Church. One such argument is the reference to deaconesses Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe in the early Church in the New Testament. However, the exact nature of women’s diaconate remains unclear. There are two doctrinal principles that we will refer to here.

These principles are set forward by Fr John A. Hardon SJ in his document ‘The Ordination of Women to the Catholic Priesthood’. The first is in relation to the nature of the priesthood. ‘To so stress the ministerial or service function as to minimize the cultic and ritual is to reduce the priesthood to a functional ministry,’ he says. ‘Most proponents of ordination of women in the Catholic Church concentrate on the ministerial or pastoral benefits to be derived. They are remarkably silent about the advantages of a women (and not only a man) pronouncing the words of consecration or the formula of absolution!’

In essence, those arguments in favour of the ordination of women priests tend to miss the bigger picture as to the very nature of the priesthood and argue in favour only of partial benefits such as pastoral or ministerial advantages.

The second point Fr Hardon raises is in regard to the relationship between the priesthood and the Church. There are claims, from those in support of the ordination of women, that the priesthood is a later development of the Church by the Church and as such can be altered to include women.

However, faith tells us that Christ himself instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders at the Last Supper, ordaining the apostles as priests. Additionally, he selected only men on which to confer priestly powers. As such, the Catholic Church, from its earliest origins has continued this unbroken tradition which excludes women from the priesthood. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states this plainly (cf. CCC 1577).

Priest Standing in Front of Church

Women however, need not feel discriminated against as a result. God has chosen men for priesthood, just as he has chosen women for other vocations, for instance that of motherhood and maternity.

Perhaps Fr Hardon explains it best when he says: ‘It is for us to stand in awe, and not in judgment, on the ways of God who chose a woman and not a man by whom to enter the world. If this was selectivity, and it was, it was not discrimination. God never does things without good reasons, even when these reasons escape or elude us who – would you believe – sometimes want to instruct God.’


Filed Under: FaithFeaturedSacraments

About the Author: Emily is a former ACPA award winning editor and journalist turned stay at home mum and blogger. She lives on a farm in regional NSW with her husband and their five children where she spends the time she should be doing housework reading books and writing posts.

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