Media ordains female priests

Woman with Clerical Collar

Time has an interesting story. Here’s how it begins:

Alta Jacko is the mother of eight children. She is also a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. Jacko says that playing baseball is what she was born to do.

Just kidding.

Here’s how it actually begins:

Alta Jacko is the mother of eight children. She is also an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Jacko, 81, who earned her master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, a Jesuit Catholic school, says that being a priest is what she was called to do.

Really. That’s REALLY how the article “Efforts Rising to Ordain Women as Roman Catholic Priests” by Dawn Reiss begins. I could not make that up.

What to say other than … this is not true. There is no mother of eight children who is an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. How do I know this? Because I know that the church doesn’t ordain any female, whether they’ve gotten a degree from a Catholic university or not. Whether or not you are an “ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church” is similar to whether or not you are a starting pitcher for the Yankees. It’s not about what you feel called to do. It’s not about feelings at all. And a journalist can check out this fact just as easily as she can check out the roster for a baseball team.

Even the caption is a joke:

Alta Jacko’s (third from left) ordination to be a deaconate on Nov. 1, 2008. She would later be ordained as a priest in 2009.

Time managed to not just misuse the word diaconate but misspell it, too.

Unfortunately, the story is just a complete train wreck. The reader who submitted the story described it as “the usual thread of ‘These women are priests already, regardless of Vatican policy. Speaking of which, why doesn’t the Vatican change its policy?’” And that’s an understatement.

Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver addressed religion news writers at their conference there. Among other things, he said:

[T]he Christian story now told in mainstream media often seems to be a narrative of decline or fundamentalism, or houses divided against themselves along predictable lines of sex and authority. It’s a narrative of institutions and individuals that — insofar as they stay true to their historic beliefs — act as a backward social force and a menace to the liberty of their fellow citizens.

I imagine that if Chaput attempted to satirize the way the media write up stories about female ordination and Catholicism, he could not have done better than the actual story Time published.

After the horrible lede and problematic caption, we learn that there is “a movement against the no-women rule.” We hear from a variety of people opposed to the rule. We hear from no one who can articulate, much less support the reason for not having female priests. Instead we get a quote from a priest whose previous opposition to female priests was based, apparently, on nothing more than emotion. But now his views are “complicated” and he helps her learn how to say the liturgy. He is presented as a hero facing the loss of his job, his pension and his home. And then we get this, which shows the combined problem of too little understanding of doctrine and a complete mangling of doctrine:

It is a question that more and more members of the flock are asking. Many have begun to publicly challenge the church’s stance, especially after the Vatican decreed in July that ordaining female priests was a “grave” crime, on par with pedophilia. Biblical passages refer to female clergy, including an apostle named Junia in Romans 16:7. On Sunday, Sept. 26, thousands of Catholics around the world plan to protest, either by boycotting Mass or by showing up wearing green armbands that say “Ordain Women.” “Women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens in the church,” says Jennifer Sleeman, an Irish Catholic who turns 81 on Sunday and is helping champion the Sunday Without Women demonstration organized by Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW).

It’s like the reporter was engaged in a contest to see how much she could fill a paragraph with weasel words, unsourced claims and other silliness. For starters, the use of “more and more” and “many” to quantify the movement is a bit much. I know journalists are always trying to suggest a trend — but at least attempt to provide some data. Assuming you’re not writing a press release, that is. And I’ll skip the obligatory reference to the Vatican statement in July. But what’s this about the Bible referring to female clergy including an apostle named Junia?

OK, that is certainly one view, a view espoused by the folks trying to get the Vatican to change traditional Christian teaching. They say that Junia/Junias was a female apostle in the Early Church but that male clergy conspired to cover up her legacy and the legacy of other female ministers. The argument goes that since Junia/Junias was a female apostle, women should be ordained as pastors. The verse, for those who are interested, reads:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

The view espoused by those who support female ordination is not shared by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox or confessional Lutherans, to name a few. To begin with, there is some debate about whether Junia is being called an apostle, and even whether Junia is a male or female name (to be fair, even the early church fathers took opposing sides on just that issue). But keep in mind that this “smoking gun” passage is in Romans. The book written by none other than St. Paul. It’s not like his views against female ordination aren’t known. Normally he’s getting in trouble for the many passages he wrote about the roles for men and women.

Anyway, the issue has adherents on varying sides. Unless reporters are confused about their job or have an inflated view of their understanding of Scriptural controversies, they probably should not come down on one side or another. That’s not good reporting. The Sleeman quote above is followed by another quote from someone identified as “Chicago’s first ordained Catholic female priest.” She says that “many” male priests are all for the movement.

Then we learn of a documentary about women’s ordination called “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” followed by dramatic quotes from people who refuse to give their names. But the worst part is that it keeps going — there are many more quotes from people, all from one side, all saying horrible things about the Catholic Church.

Perhaps the story is so laughably bad, so unbelievably silly, because the reporter failed to speak with anyone she disagreed with. That’s bad enough in a story that quotes only one or two people. But in a story of this length, in this high profile of a publication, it’s an embarrassment. It’s as if Time is going after the Newsweek demographic.

Also, these stories are so routinely and increasingly bad that I’m almost beginning to wonder if there’s some kind of Bulwer-Lytton-type contest for who can come up with the worst.

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  • R.S.Newark

    Cross reference today’s NYTimes item by (you guessed it)Laurie Goodstein which replaces faith with intelligence. Is if a blind autistic child couldn’t have faith.

  • Chris Walton

    I won’t defend this story, but on one point I think you’re stretching. The debate about Junia’s gender isn’t one cooked up by advocates of women’s ordination. Junia was a woman’s name in the ancient world, as biblical scholars who aren’t partisans of the ordination fight have concluded; the only “instance” of it as a male name is in the later commentaries that tried to explain away the references to a woman “of note among the apostles.” The error in the story is that it treats the biblical text as self-explanatory, when different groups (with different agendas) have interpreted it in different ways.

  • Susan Kehoe

    Chris Walton,

    Yes Junia was a woman, but the fact that St.Paul refers to her as an apostle does not mean that she was a bishop. An apostle is anyone “who is sent” to spread the Gospel. In that sense all Christians are apostles. She was not one of the Twelve Apostles, and she was not ordained by one of them.

  • Mollie

    Susan Kehoe writes: “An apostle is anyone “who is sent” to spread the Gospel.”

    Well, this was another issue that bothered me — the term apostle is used differently in different contexts. So there’s the issue of Junia’s gender, whether Junia was an apostle and what “apostle” means in the context given.

    When you consider what all of St. Paul says about the ministry, the idea that we’d pick that one contested thing out and place it above all these many other things he wrote . . . it’s just kind of silly. Frankly there are much better arguments for female ordination than that.

  • Mollie


    I didn’t say the view that Junia is female was “cooked up” by advocates of women’s ordination. I even noted that the early church father’s disagreed on that point. Origen referred to Junia as a man. Later, Chrysostom referred to Junia as a woman.

  • Dave

    dramatic quotes from people who refuse to give their names

    A general journalistic syndrome, not just this part of the god-beat.

  • MattK

    Walter Wenchell said there was a reason Time’s cover is red. Now, it seems, time has earned a black cover.

  • Fr Nicholas

    This whole discussion over female apostles” and ordained holy women is mystifying to us Eastern/Oriental Orthodox. In the East things change very slowly and had there been a female episcopate,or rather it’s suppression, we’d know about it. After all,we are still wrangling over the decision to only ordain monastics (i.e. celibates)to the episcopacy and that decision took place in the 5th century! Our calendars are full of female (and male) saints classified as “Equal to the Apostles”, Junia being a case in point. Certain of the women, the Holy Myrhhbearers, such as Mary Magdalene and Johanna, have their own place and actually rank not only equal to but even a bit higher. None of them were “ordained” as we understand such things today, nor is there a single reputable reference of them (conspiracy theories of patriarch suppression aside) celebrating the Eucharist. To this day we call the wife of deacon a”deaconesses (diakonissa), a priest’s wife a “priestesses” (presvetera)and if ever we returned to a married episcopate his wife would be “episkopessa”. They are ordained in as much as “the two are one flesh” and what affects their husband also affects them, and share his priesthood, but they do not serve the Holy Liturgy.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    That editors would pass on an article so egregiously off the wall is just more sad commentary on how both writers and editors in much of the big mainstream media are digging their own graves. They could be so incompetent or biased before the internet, before talk radio, before Fox News. But now people have other choices—and they are making them.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Isn’t there a term for Christians who reject the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church in favor of their own personal interpretation of Scripture?Wait a sec – that sounds a lot like my church! (Except that we don’t ordain women, either.)

    Were there any follow-up articles about the “thousands of women who plan to protest” on Sept. 26? “Thousands” seems like a pretty small number, considering the very large number of Catholics worldwide (1 billion, give or take).

  • Martha

    Mollie, you are so right! Why do the stars of women’s football not get the chance to play in the men’s leagues? That’s just blatant discrimination and not acceptable in this day and age!

    I would love with the fervour of a thousand fiery suns to see this kind of campaign for, say, the Arsenal Ladies’ Team to be folded into the men’s team (nothing against Arsenal, this is just an example). I would particularly love to see the newspapers running the same kind of articles on this. Somehow I doubt the sportswriters of America (or Europe) would take the same view as their brethren and sistren on the religion pages, should some group of ladies declare that they’re entering a team in the (name league of sport of your choice) and that FIFA have no business telling them where they can and can’t play.

  • Jon in the Nati, non-Catholic

    This just in from the Jon in the Nati Newsroom: My cat, Rocky, is now an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He says it is what he was born to do.

  • Jon in the Nati, non-Catholic

    This just in from the Jon in the Nati Newsroom: My cat, Rocky, is now an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He says it is what he was born to do. By the way, he doesn’t think female cats should be allowed to be priests; that would just be silly.

  • Passing By

    Jacko approached Father Bob Bossie, who preaches at St. Harold’s Catholic Community in Uptown

    “Preaches at”?

    I think these two words do a lot to explain how such foolishness can be written. Clearly, Dawn Reiss is familiar with a religious viewpoint that’s not Catholic, but which she applies to a Catholic situation.

    I’ll call that viewpoint “Baptist” because that’s where I learned it in my youth, and I’ve most often heard it from Baptists. However, not all Baptists would hold it, and other protestant/evangelical types would hold it as well. There, I’ve made my disclaimers.

    A central tenet of Baptist theology is “the authority of the believer”, which places ultimate authority in the individual to determine truth and denies effective authority to the community – the Church. As one Baptist friend said: the church has no business telling people what to do. So if a writer steeped in this theology hears someone declare they are a Roman Catholic priest, how can they argue? The bad old institutional church has it’s rules, but they don’t stand against the noble individual who feels called (and therefore is called) by God.

    I’m not defending the journalism, which is reprehensible, but it is understandable.

    If I’m right, of course. :-)

  • Martha

    I’m appalled by the story, and not just because of the “women Roman Catholic priests” angle. Never mind the accuracy of the reporting, isn’t there such a beast as a sub-editor anymore?

    “The ordination… to be a deaconate”? (You’ve already pointed out the error there). “Say reconciliation and say a homily”? (I think she means “preach a homily” and “offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation”). “a male priest would have been excommunicated for ordaining a woman”? (A male priest can’t ordain anyone, man or woman; only a bishop may do that) “serve Communion”? (This particular one had me gibbering and foaming at the mouth. Did she pass the consecrated hosts around on a cake stand decorated with doilies while she was at it?)

    This is about as good an effort as me writing about the international commodities market would be (“Well, there are all these blokes standing around yelling and they make a lot of money but you can’t quite tell if it’s in yeroubles or dolluan.”)

    I’m beginning to think this article’s emphasis on the women being real actual Roman Catholic priests is down less to deliberate opposition to the traditional teaching of the Church and more to plain old-fashioned ignorance, as evidenced by the mangling of the terms involved.

  • Jon in the Nati, non-Catholic

    I decided to look up the ‘St. Harold’s Catholic Community’ referenced in the article; I can find no reference to it anywhere on the interwebs, save for the article itself and blog posts or other articles referencing the article.

    I wanted to see if this was an actual Roman Catholic community; but there is no listing of it in either the Dioceses of Chicago or Joliet. Methinks this may be a case of the MSM, either wilfully or ignorantly, presenting a schismatic/independent Catholic community as part of the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Mike Hickerson

    As Passing By wrote,

    A central tenet of Baptist theology is “the authority of the believer”, which places ultimate authority in the individual to determine truth and denies effective authority to the community – the Church.

    I think this would pretty well describe most Americans’ view of religious authority, regardless of their religion or denomination.

  • Norman

    Jon in the Nati:

    I get a lot of hits for “St. Harold’s Church Community”, which has no website that I can find but is fairly active in political advocacy. I can find no evidence of them being big-C Catholic. It probably gets down to the old argument about what “catholic” means, but they are not in communion with Rome as far as I can tell.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Mollie: “I even noted that the early church father’s disagreed on that point. Origen referred to Junia as a man. Later, Chrysostom referred to Junia as a woman.”

    Can you please provide supporting documentation showing that Origen (and any other Early Church Father) referred to Junia as a man?


  • bob

    If they can keep saying someone is an RC priest who *isn’t*, can I start writing things I think that may or may not be true and say I work for the NY Times? I mean, it doesn’t matter if I do does it? Not a religious issue really. It’s just like saying someone is a General or Admiral (who may just dress like one) who isn’t.

  • Francis X. Maier

    Thanks for this great piece, Mollie. And you’re right, much of what Archbishop Chaput talked about in his RNA speech last week is embodied in the cheesy, incompetent awfulness of Time’s article. It’s a poster boy (or girl) for the Chaput critique. The sobering thing is: As a former editor, I can remember when Time’s religion coverage was actually pretty intelligent and articulate. Now it’s just, well, “disappointing.”

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Would these women priests hold themselves out as being Roman Catholic priests?

    If they wouldn’t, then why would the journalists write that they were?

  • Julia

    It sells magazines and gets hits on-line.

  • Norman

    “Would these women priests hold themselves out as being Roman Catholic priests?”

    They do.

    “why would the journalists write that they were?”

    Takin’ it to The Man, man.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Passingby—In my opinion you are right about the Baptist-Protestant culture we live in wherein each person is her or
    his own pope and the Bible means what one takes it to mean. Individual interpretation of Scripture supposedly guided by the Holy Spirit is very much the Protestant way (that is why we have thousands of P. denominations in this country). It has always reminded me of the Cheshire cat in Alice In Wonderland –or maybe the Holy Spirit speaking with forked tongue. Sorry if that sounds rather unecumenical, but that is how the Protestantism my Methodist mother tried to convince me of struck me as I was growing up–and still does.
    That might very much explain why some media editors and writers are so willing to publish stories about Catholics (and Orthodox) that includes religious fantasy based on a lot of personal self-fabrication. That, after all, is the Protestant “American Way” of religion that even many American Catholics are unwittingly adopting.

  • tioedong

    the error behind this is the modern heresy that men and women are the same and interchangable. From this error comes many fruits, the main ones being a confusion in what marriage and our God given sexuality means.

    In medical school, I found all the “women and men are the same” was not true on a biological level and neurobiological/psychiatric level (and some theologans like Edith Stein would say on a spiritual level).

    But until you bring in nuances you are left with soundbites like “equality” that stop all further conversation.

  • Oengus

    Mollie: “these stories are so routinely and increasingly bad that I’m almost beginning to wonder if there’s some kind of Bulwer-Lytton-type contest for who can come up with the worst.”

    It was a dark and stormy night on the religion beat. Clark Kent, a greenhorn reporter for the Daily Planet, and the low man on the totem pole, suddenly heard a loud bleep his cell phone as it spat out a text message from the editor Perry White: “NEED a religion piece. Plug gap below obit page, NEED NOW!” Clark, whom everyone though of as the mild mannered reporter newly arrived in Metropolis from some hick town in Flyover Country, now sensed his super opportunity to rise to the top, if he could just think of something that would light up the page in Perry’s estimation. “It’s gotta be controversial somehow…something that’ll grab the reader’s attention,” Clark mused to himself. What could he write about? He asked himself as he scanned the voluptous Lois Lane a few desks away from where he sat. Being an honorable gentlemen, he forbade himself using his enhanced visionary powers. Then it came to him. Slapping his desk (while restraining his man-of-steel superstrength otherwise the desk would have split in two), Clark said “Yes, I’ve got it! Women priests! That’ll grab Mr. White’s attention. I’ll dig up something on women priests.” Off went Clark Kent to find his story, not as fast as a speeding bullet lest he garner unwanted attention but nonetheless with speed and diligence guaranteed to win Perry White’s approval.

    [The above is my first entry for the contest. In any case, you had a great article Mollie, and funny too.]

  • joye

    Deaconate? DEACONATE? How did that even get past spell check?

  • Dan

    It would be asking way too much of the press, but the next time there is an article about women who want to be Catholic priests it would be interesting and, to me at least, informative, to learn why they feel they must be priests rather than ordained sisters. I once felt that I had a vocation to the priesthood. However, it had nothing to do with leading the liturgy or being in charge of a parish; it was, rather, a desire to devote my life to God. I would think that had I been a woman sisterhood would have served the same desire. What makes a woman who believes she has a vocation think that sisterhood is inadequate?

  • Passing By

    So St. Harold’s isn’t a parish of the Archdiocese of Chicago? These aren’t Roman Catholics in rebellion? Shades of Nancy Corran, that Presbyterian “ordained” a “Catholic priest” out in San Diego.

  • Brendan

    I agree it’s a horrible article for Time, but I expect it.

    Constructive criticism for you: No credible church fathers – nor practically any credible church leader writing in the first millennium – denied that Junia was a woman apostle. Origen was declared a heretic and Epiphanius called Prisca (aka Priscilla) a man. Using a heretic (or a man with a history of turning women into men) as evidence of “debate among church fathers” when all the rest were of one mind is, well, not convincing.

    Your reference to the so-called “debate” among church fathers looks cut and pasted from which doesn’t even address many of Epp’s arguments in his masterful study, “Junia: The First Woman Apostle.” (A thorough, even-handed analysis also at As for debating if Junia (and poor Andronicus) were apostles, why isn’t there a similar debate on the apostleship of Silvanus, Timothy, Barnabas, Apollos, and Epaphroditus? Because they’re not women’s names.

    The only explicable reason Junia’s apostleship and gender is even debated today is because certain people don’t want to give up ANY theological points to the dreaded Egalitarians, nor risk Paul apparently contradicting himself (even though church fathers who ALSO were against women ordination had no problem saying Junia was an apostle). And frankly, you put yourself squarely in that camp when you stated that St. Paul’s “views against female ordination” are clearly “known.”

    But this begs the question: are Paul’s anti-women ordination views really “known,” or is that merely one side in the debate that needs to be balanced by reporting the other side too? Which gets up back to good reporting. The problem is how one decides what’s worthy of “two sides” reporting and what’s not. Like people who deny global warming: is that just one of two sides in a “debate”? For my part, I think it’s beyond reasonable doubt that all credible church fathers in the first millennium who wrote anything on the topic thought Junia was both woman and apostle, including many who disparaged women in church leadership, like Chrysostom! The press issue for me is not how “debatable” Junia’s apostleship is, but why certain church members insist on debating it. So while I would have liked to see more in the Time article on this, I found nothing wrong with their decision to decline the “debate” about Junia’s gender and apostleship.

    In addition, your claim that Paul is against women ordination is not in the Biblical text; it’s an inference from I Timothy 2:12, which meaning is debated in a much more meaningful sense than is Junia’s gender. Likewise with I Corinthians 14:34-35, I Timothy 3 and Titus 3. In Timothy 2:12, the linchpin in whether Paul means “exercise authority” or “assume authority,” since the word used here is rare and unique to Paul’s writing, not at all a common word to signify the mere exercise of authority. I could go on, but I think that gets the point across. Just a last reference to Phil Payne’s extremely thorough Man and Woman: One in Christ, which deals with the Junia debate on pp. 65-67 and the rest of which refutes many assumptions about Paul’s stance towards women.

  • Brendan

    sorry, the godswordtowomen link is messed up because it puts the ending parenthesis as part of the link. This one will work:

  • Brendan

    tioedong, I totally agree that there is a heresy out there that man and woman are exactly the same that kills healthy, Biblically based sexuality. That said, Christian egalitarianism is not that heresy, since it upholds male-female complementarity and “does not imply that women and men are identical or undifferentiated”
    So, let’s be careful not to conflate support for women’s ordination with radical feminism.

    I would like to see a good article that fairly captures the various sides in the debate over sexuality/gender roles.

  • Norman

    The debate on Junia has no applicability in the Catholic context unless apostleship in this instance is taken to mean one of the twelve selected by Christ, which clearly is not the case. Therefore, its inclusion in this article is puzzling.

  • Mike Hickerson


    This debate over Origen is way off-topic, I’m sure, but Origen was no heretic. Like Levar Burton says, don’t take my word for it:

    Origen of Alexandria truly was a figure crucial to the whole development of Christian thought…He was a true “maestro”, and so it was that his pupils remembered him with nostalgia and emotion: he was not only a brilliant theologian but also an exemplary witness of the doctrine he passed on…[W]elcome into your hearts the teaching of this great master of faith.

    Source: Benedict XVI, April 25, 2007

  • Maureen

    To be precise, Origen floated a lot of ideas that, after he was dead, turned out not to be in line with Catholic doctrine as it developed. He himself was okay with the Church vetting his work (and therefore, not a heretic).

    But many of those who came after him and thought of themselves as Origenists were not so pliable. (And they pretty much came up with all kinds of crup that Origen apparently didn’t even teach or float, but claimed him as authority for it.) So Origen became the dead punching bag of a lot of the fighting between the more-or-less literalist Bible interp guys from the Middle East, and the more-or-less metaphorical guys from Egypt, and a lot of anathemas (anathemata?) were slung around about his views on the soul, prayer, ecclesiology, etc.

    However, Origen both taught and converted St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, who was one of the founders of the literalist school (IIRC). (His speech thanking Origen is a wonderful tribute to a darned good teacher.) The Cappadocian guys who were the literalist stars made a whole anthology of Cool Things Origen Wrote. So it just wasn’t that simple; and Benedict is someone who is trying to get Origen appreciated as himself, a founder of Christian theology and a Father of the Church, and not as some weird creepy heretic. Maybe not an undoubted great saint of Heaven, but a good Christian teacher.

  • Will

    For one thing, Dan, there is no such thing as an “ordained sister:. Nuns are not “ordained”.

  • The young fogey

    Whether or not you are an “ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church” is similar to whether or not you are a starting pitcher for the Yankees. It’s not about what you feel called to do. It’s not about feelings at all. And a journalist can check out this fact just as easily as she can check out the roster for a baseball team.

    Been saying a version of that for years. Thank you!

  • Brendan

    On Origen being a heretic, he was declared anathema by the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, under The Capitula of the Council, XI:

    IF anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema.

  • Brendan

    Mike Hickerson and Maureen:
    That said about Origen, I think he did a lot of great work for the Church and I may well meet him in heaven. But officially, according to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, he is anathema and therefore a heretic. However, there is some debate as to whether that “counted” as a council: some contextual study here and the council text there.

  • Brendan

    Mike: The heresy of Origen is on-topic, because Mollie was making a press issue of the exclusion of one side in the Junia “debate”; if in fact there is no credible debate on the issue by church fathers, and all credible church fathers took the side that Junia was a woman and apostle, then the argument can be made that there’s really no debate to report. Yet, as Mollie wrote,

    Unless reporters are confused about their job or have an inflated view of their understanding of Scriptural controversies, they probably should not come down on one side or another.

    And this gets back to the media issue. When should the media decide to not report an issue as controversial? So while the reporter in question probably excluded the other side of the debate in ignorance, having looked at the issue more in depth, I really don’t think factually speaking there is much left to debate on Junia.

    One of the greatest virtues of a free press is setting folks straight on some facts, such as Obama being born in Hawai’i. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who looks at the data with the desire to find truth and not just support an ideological position will come to the conviction that Junia is a woman apostle. Sure, the press shouldn’t make up folks’ minds for them, but some facts are just facts. Maybe I have “an inflated view of [my] understanding of Scriptural controversies,” but when there is simply NO full rebuttal to the arguments of a given side (i.e., Epp’s book on the subject), how is that an equal debate? So ideally the press should report both sides on a given issue, but how one reports those issues should be based on good judgment. That said, I agree the Time reporter probably didn’t know squat about the issue and should have reported differently.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Does the term “apostle” have multiple meanings?

    Might this be why the Early Church Fathers could be against Women’s Ordination while still upholding and afffirming that Junia was an “apostle”?

  • Brendan

    Mollie: (with much thanks to Truth Unites… and Divides)
    I hate to beat a dead horse here, but the claim that Origen took Junia to be a man’s name is false: This thoroughly researched article states that the ironclad complementarian Douglas Moo, in his New International Commentary on the New Testament, pg. 922, said there is unanimous support for the female apostle Junia until the 13th century, while Stanley Grentz (in Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology, pg. 95) stated

    the gender of Junia was not an issue in the patristic era … Origen assumed that Paul’s friend was a women…Chrysostom, who was no supporter of women bishops, expressed high regard for Junia

    In short, the whole argument over Origen’s heresy is moot, since even he, according to even strong complementarians like Moo, agreed Junia was a woman.

    Yet, Lightfoot’s claim that Junia is “probably a man’s name” is still tossed around by a few extreme holdouts on cites like this, and even they admit many complementarians agreed Junia was a woman apostle. In short, there is really no controversy, it’s outrageous that respectable reporters such as Mollie have been hoodwinked by these extremist claims of apostolic debate on Junia’s gender, and the record ought to be set straight by honest media: there is no controversy here.

    I should have checked my own sources instead of going off about Origen, but that’s all the more reason for the press to clamp down on baseless claims.

  • Brendan

    Mollie: all that to say, since you are a responsible reporter and this page is currently #4 on the google search for “origen on junia”, I respectfully ask that you correct your article and remove the false claim that “the early church fathers took opposing sides on just that issue”, since many complementarian scholars, including Doug Moo, state that there was unanimous support for Junia as woman apostle until the 13th century (again, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, pg. 922). To fail to correct this error would be to propagate the equivalent of a scholarly lie.

    Thank you.

  • John Pack Lambert

    “Of note among the apostles” can easily mean that the Apostles knew who these people Paul was mentioning were, and they did much good. It does not have to be read to mean that the mentioned people were apostles.

  • Mollie

    There’s no question that there’s debate about this one line of Scripture. Not just in terms of whether Junia is female, but also in terms of what it’s saying about Junia as apostle — there are different uses of the term, obviously and also the phrasing is somewhat vague.

    But as for whether Origen viewed Junia as male, I checked into it and heard that while many have said that Origen thought Junia was male, it might be that a translator mistook what he said. I was hoping to have something more firm on this issue and don’t have anything yet — it seems like all of the online sites are advocacy one way or the other — but have been surprised to find out how so much of the case for female priests is made based on this one line in Scripture. So I’ve learned a lot from my research — although I am still searching.

  • tmatt

    Of course, the Orthodox also have a title that has been bestowed on several women — “equal to the apostles” — for their work as evangelists, especially when their charism reaches a whole nation or culture.

    See St. Nina of Georgia, equal to the apostles:

  • WJ

    I’m interested in hearing Brendan’s response to those who (1) grant that Junia is a woman (and that there was never any real debate about this) and yet (2) maintain that the phrase “of note among the apostles” (I don’t have my Greek handy) is too ambiguous to determine anything more than that Paul highly respected Junia. As my Eastern brothers have already pointed out, there is an ancient tradition in the East of referring to women as “equal to the Apostles”–and indeed, any good reading of John’s Gospel will show that some women–Mary, Martha, Mary–are clearly superior to the apostles in terms of their holiness and response to our Lord. But none of this constitutes an argument for women’s ordination; and none of it gives us reason to think that Junia being “of note among the apostles” is to be read as “one of the 12 chosen and ordained by Christ.” I’m sure Brendan has a response to this line of argument, and I’d like to hear it.

  • Brendan

    Mollie, thank you for your prompt response. I didn’t want to sound like a guy banging his shoe on the table, but my POV aside, getting the facts straight is a big freakin’ deal. While I agree there is certainly newsworthy discussion on many parts of the Junia debate, I’d still come down hard on anyone saying Origen said something when he didn’t. I’m not an Origen expert, but I’ll ask a friend who is familiar with the texts in question, and I’ll get back to you ASAP. I really appreciate that you’re still researching this and trust you to make the right decision here.

    tmatt, thanks for the info.

    WJ, well, I’m no Greek expert, but in response to the suggestion above: the text states “en tois apostolois”, or “in/on/among the apostles”. The Greek word “en” seems to connote inclusion more than the English word “among” does, so it looks like Andronicus and Junia here are among the apostles. Second, the only textual variant for Junia is Julia, an even more common female name! Third, when one looks at the Chrysostom (ca. AD 344-407) quote about Junia (In ep. ad Romanas 31, 2 [PG 60:669-70], from Epp’s Junia, 79) the case is closed in my book:

    Even to be an apostle is great, but also to be prominent among them – consider how wonderful a song of honor that is. For they were prominent because of their works, because of their successes. Glory be! How great the wisdom of this woman that she was even deemed worthy of the apostle’s title.

    Again, let’s keep in mind Chrysostom was dead-set against women ordination and – to be fair after all that cyberink I spilt on Origen – that Chrysostom was at times out of favor with the imperial court, but never anathematized.

    Now, obviously Paul is not referring to her as one of the 12, but neither did Paul ever refer to himself as one of the 12, and his place is so high that he even reprimanded Peter, greatest of the 12 (Galatians 2:11-21)! Paul also writes that “God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then fights of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” (I Cor. 12:28, TNIV). So Paul seems to place apostles (and prophets) above teachers, including one outstanding among the apostles (Junia). Moreover, in the context of I Corinthians, Paul urges the believers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” such as prophecy – which he says women certainly can do (11:5ff) – over tongues (chs. 11-14).

    And how does that affect ordination? Well, it affects the logic of authority, since apostles and prophets are ordinally first and second in the church, and from this the logic of ordination springs. Since Paul tells us about Junia the outstanding female apostle, he’s suggesting women can enter the ordinally first spiritual gifting, just as in I Corinthians 11 he tells how women can exercise the ordinally second gift of spiritual gifting, prophecy. Since apostles derive their authority directly from Christ (including Paul, in his road to Damascus experience) and prophets communicate the words of God to the community, their authority comes directly from God and is logically superior to those who get authority through other mere humans, even from the apostles. That said, false “apostolic” and “prophetic” teachings can be checked against the true apostolic and prophetic teachings – one reason for the superiority of the Scriptures (as direct apostolic teaching) over Church traditions (as a sort of secondary, derived authority).

    The idea is that Christ Himself did and must have ordained Junia in some meaningful sense, because she was an apostle! And if ordination is not so much the conference of authority by the Church as the Church’s recognition of authority and gifting already granted by God, then there is certainly a powerful argument from Junia’s apostleship that God gives women gifts, and it is the Church’s responsibility to recognize the authority already given, and ordain some of them. (We could discuss the meaning of “authority over man” in I Timothy 2:12, but suffice it to say the word for “authority” in that passage in 1st century Greek suggests assuming authority, not regular authority, and so there is no passage in the Bible that prohibits women from exercising authority over men per se). Barring any passage that prohibits women from any ordained position per se, the fitness of women for apostleship inherently implies that women are fit for every other ordinally lower spiritual gifting in the church.

    I hope that helps.

    And hey, we’re up to #3 on the Google search for “origen on junia”!

  • Brendan

    (correction: in above paragraph starting “Now, obviously”, I Cor. 12:28 says “gifts” of healing, not “fights”)

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Here’s an article that some might find of interest: Junia Among the Apostles: The Story Behind a New Testament Saint & the Egalitarian Agenda.


    “The Fathers whom Epp and Belleville list as regarding Junia as an apostle do not seem—despite the fact that “something of a women’s liberation movement [was] at work . . . at the turn of the millennium” but disappeared “in succeeding centuries”—to have been in the least worried by her and her status. I know of no suggestion that she was regarded as one of the New Patriarchy of Twelve upon which the Lord founded his New People, nor that Tradition assigned to a female Junia a role of founding apostle-bishop of one of the churches.

    If it had, it is not easy to see how St. Ignatius could have so easily assumed and asserted that the episkopos was the tupos tou patros, Image of the Father. In an age (we are told) of growing misogyny, in which sacerdotium was confined to men, nobody, as Gaventa admits, seems to have been either aware of, or in the least disconcerted by, any reflection that Junia subverts this restriction.

    But there are no reasons for seeing Junia and her status as having any relevance to the question of the admission of women to the presbyteral or episcopal priesthood of the ancient churches, in which the sacerdos images the Father and is the Bridegroom of his church. Whether it has or has not any bearing upon the admission of women to the non-sacerdotal ministries of the Reformation tradition, I would not presume to discuss.

    We are clearly in a new age of rich mythopoeia, worthy to compete with the most imaginative that the medieval cultus of the saints could offer. The fertile need of modern feminism to provide justification and aetiology for its novel dogmas has surpassed the inventiveness even of the hagiographers whose trade it was to promote pilgrimages, shrines, and relics.”

  • WJ

    Thanks, Brendan. I follow your argument up to a point, but then no more. As the latter article makes clear, there is a distinction to be made between women having recognized authority in the Church and women being part of Christ’s plan of ordination. (For example, Mary, Jesus’ Mother, as well as Martha and Mary clearly are given spiritual authority in John–authority to testify to Christ in a way that surpasses the disciples; but this is simply a *different* issue than that of ordination.)

    I also think there are lots of questions to be posed about your ecclesiology, which to my mind falsely bifurcates the Church’s role into one of either (1) conferring authority or (2) recognizing authority, and your confidence that Scripture more adequately reflects direct apostolic teachings *as opposed to* Church traditions. (I would say that the practice of apostolic traditions determines from the outset our canon of Scripture…but this is a long argument.)

    I do think that there should be room in the Catholic Church–the Church to which I count myself as a member–for the greater recognition and development of roles of authority for women; but I think this question is different from the one of ordination.

    Thanks. This has been instructive.
    Peace to you.