Pope Benedict XVI and Women in Ministry

The Pope does not agree with many of us. He has recently taken a firm stand against ordaining women. A fuller report can be found here.

Pope Benedict has restated the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. Benedict, who for decades before his 2005 election was the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer, delivered an unusually direct denunciation of disobedient priests in a sermon at a morning Mass on Holy Thursday, when the Church commemorates the day Christ instituted the priesthood.

The pope responded specifically to a call to disobedience by a group of Austrian priests and laity, who last year boldly and openly challenged Church teaching on taboo topics such as priestly celibacy and women’s ordination. “Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?,” he asked rhetorically in the sermon of a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day Catholic priests around the world renew their vows.

In his response to the Austrian group, his first in public, Benedict noted that, in its “call to disobedience”, it had challenged “definitive decisions of the Church’s magisterium (teaching authority) such as the question of women’s ordination …”

The Austrian group that has demanded sweeping changes is led by the Reverend Helmut Schueller, a former deputy to Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. The group, which says it represents about 10 percent of the Austrian clergy, has broad public backing in opinion polls and has said it will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and divorced Catholics who remarry.

Schueller told Reuters on Thursday he remained hopeful for reform despite the pope’s views. “We believe Church teaching can change. It has changed time and again over the centuries. It is our hope that that can happen again in future,” he said.


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  • David

    Here is the address given by the Pope last Thursday.


  • Mark Edward

    Women in ministry is considered a ‘fundamental’?

  • Mark Z.

    While I understand that His Holiness has a lot of disobedience to denounce, it would be really nice if His Holiness could find a few minutes to say something on the subject of priests who rape children.

  • David

    It must be said that the word “fundamental” is not used as it relates to women’s ordination by the Pope in his address.

  • David

    Mark Z – He has spoken on many occasions about the abuse of children by some priests. You may wish to read the many texts on the following site:


  • Jeremy

    How exactly does one fight against real or percieved injustices in an authoritarian institution without disobedience? The very act of disagreeing is disobedience.

  • Amos Paul

    The Austrians sound cool.

  • JAG

    If it were not for their treatment of women, I’d join the RCC. I don’t think God intended there to be 1000 different protestant denominations, but I don’t think God intended women to be subordinate to men either.

  • David

    Jeremey – What did Jesus do?

  • David

    JAG – Why would you join the Catholic Church?

  • David

    If there is anyone on here living in the UK or Ireland, you should check out the first episode of the three part series called “Divine Women” on the role of women in religion throughout history presented by the historian Bettany Hughes on BBC2 at 9pm tonight. Of course, I disagree with her central claim as it relates to early Christianity, which she will tackle in either the second or third episode, but I will still watch it. Enjoy.


    There are already a few reactions to the claims of Mrs Hughes online.


  • Robert A

    I don’t think the Pope sees this as a “fundamental” (which conjures many deep seated theological issues in America) so much as he sees this issue as important doctrinally. Given the RCC’s theological positions on the nature of the priesthood, and the 1700 years of theological tradition backing it up, it would be difficult to see the RCC changing.

    And I don’t think they should. This is certainly not a popular position on this blog, but I support a complimentarian approach to ministry leadership. While I don’t agree completely with the RCC position on the nature and theology of the priesthood, I can appreciate their desire to remain faithful to the tradition that has guided them for this significant period of time.

    One of the issues I take in these conversations is that it appears many of us desire to assert what RCC theology/doctrine on this matter is but forget the multi-faceted nature of how the priesthood functions in their system. We take our, mostly Protestant, perspective on the nature of ministry and import it into the conversation without remembering how significant apostolic succession and authority is to the overall ecclesilogical picture.

    The nature of women in ministry isn’t an essential for me in my theology and I continue to happily partner with ministers and ministries that differ in my view. One of the things that is interesting is that I’ve never walked into a church and told them they need to change their leadership structure (for a church that has a female pastor) but I’ve had plenty walk into mine.

  • Wow, /em scratching my head that horrid firstthings.com article… …equating championing egalitarianism and Jesus modeling of it in NT with Marcionsim? What?

  • Joshua

    “Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?”

    Well. Yeah. For protestants, the answer is yes.

  • Val

    LOL Joshua. Good point.

  • tom r

    The title of this post shows a misunderstanding of the Catholic position. Its not an issue of women in ministry but women as priests. If you think that priests are the same as ministers then you don’t understand the Catholic position. It has more to do with sacraments and traditions which Protestants do not accept.

  • Joshua

    Tom, when you said, “Its not an issue of women in ministry but women as priests,” one has to wonder what difference that really makes. In a related issue (concerning complentarianism), many complementarians preface their views of female submission by saying something to the effect, “It’s not female submission to men, but wives submitting to husbands.” In doing so, they overlook the fact that this doesn’t actually help make their view any more palatable. Not even a little. (Not to mention, it’s just not true. The fact that females are barred from pastoral roles indicates that it’s not just wives submitting to husbands, but that’s not relevant here).

    In the end, it’s really not misleading – when people hear “ministry,” they think pastors, priests – clergy. They do, whether one likes it or not, this is almost always the case.

  • Adam Hildebrandt

    Is Mother Teresa not a RCC woman in ministry?

  • Tom R has made a good point. You can disagree with or be deeply perplexed by (that is where I fall) the teaching of the Catholic Church but it is still important to be fair to it. It is not a question of ministry, it is a question of priesthood. Does not make it right, just makes it what it actually is. And I would also add that his holiness has said quite a bit about the ghastly sin of priests raping others.

  • Yes, Mark Z, as others have noted, the Pope has spoken about priests’ sins vs. children. In fact, in one notable address within the last 12-18 months, he conflated the sins of priests vs children with the ordination of women.

    Being in Italy while Berlusconi was treating women & teenaged girls as objects for his pleasure at the same time that Benedict was ardently denouncing the very idea of women as reflecting God-in-Christ in ministry… They cannot perceive how often they reflect & buttress one another’s positions.

  • C

    Interesting…I just realized I have a glaring double standard in this area. I thing of protestants who bar women from ministry as sexist and oppressive. But with Catholics, I just think, “Eh…it’s their tradition…whatever.”

    I suppose I tend to find myself least charitable with those most like me. Perhaps it’s just that I’m less comfortable passing judgement about things I know less about, but I don’t think so. I assume the worst about those closest to me and the best about those farthest away.

    Thoughts? Does anyone else think similarly?

  • tom r

    Joshua #17 sorry if I wasn’t clear. I tend to like short comments so I did not explain the difference. The term itself does not matter that much. You could use priest,presbyter, elder or minister. What is important is what they do. The idea of priesthood as a christian ministry developed from a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist and OT ideas of priesthood. The RC priest is offering a sacrifice which changes bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. Women have many types of ministry RC Church they just can’t offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, which Protestants don’t accept anyway, so why all the fuss.

  • Diane

    tom r,

    Part of the fuss is that the priests are the ministers in the Catholic Church with power. They make the decisions, and they have the ability to move up the hierarchy to have ever more power. To do anything, Mother Teresa had to beg a monsignor (always male) for permission. Also, as I understand it, priests can deliver the eucharist–the body and blood of Christ that atones for our sins–because they are “stands in” for Christ (God). Women can’t represent God, because, in Catholic (and some Protestant denominations) God is envisioned as exclusively male. That is a. wrong, b. a big deal.

  • David

    Ann F-R – “In fact, in one notable address within the last 12-18 months, he conflated the sins of priests vs children with the ordination of women.”

    No, that was a summary document released by the CDF headed by Cardinal Levada. There’s nothing at all wrong with including in one document what the Church is against and modifications to procedural norms.


  • TJJ

    Can women preach (give the homily) and teach adult men in the Catholic Church? Can they be appointed/elected to leadership positions in a parish.

  • CGC

    I’m surprised no one has said anything concerning the Austrian group who are giving communion to both protestants and divorced catholics. I think that issue is huge!

  • Amos Paul


    I said the Austrians sound cool. That was one of my reasons.

    For the record, I don’t necessarily think that the RCC should change their ordination practices either. Not because I think they have it *right*, but because that’s their perspective and has been codified as such for a very long time. This is one of the reasons that I *like* denominations. They make room for a variety of Christian perspectives, reflecting the variety of personal perspectives that people have.

    That being said. Opening the Eucharist up and ordaining women is still an awesome move for the Austrians. Go Austrians.

  • tom r

    Diane, thanks for the reply now I understand what the fuss is about. It’s about power. Also when God became incarnate it was as Jesus, a male. Your free to “envision” God any way you want but it is a historical fact that Jesus was a male. I am not interested in defending Rome’s position on WO (I don’t have a dog in that fight). It just struck me kind of funny that evangelicals would be so interested in this fight and make comments that reflect a lack of understanding of Catholic Theology. I think part of this is due to Rome looking more Protestant and down playing its own theology in order to be more ecumenical after Vatican II.

  • TJJ–Definitely woman can preach and teach men. And they have many positions in Catholic parishes, schools, retreat centers, etc. And there are “doctors of the church” who were women. They are involved in every aspect of ministry except priestly. That is not to say the should be excluded, but just to say that “ministry” is defined very differently by Protestants and Catholics.
    Tom r–Vatcian II ecumenism does not down play theology but rather develops doctrine in ways that are more ecumenical. The reality is that these developments have been resisted heartily in recent decades. This makes non Catholics rightly feeling more connection to Catholic brothers and sisters and wanting to understand it more.

  • tom r

    Gregmetzger, I think we agree about women in ministry and the priesthood in the RC Church. I also agree that it is good for non Catholics to have more connection with Catholics. It just seemed to me that some commenters did not understand the Catholic idea of the priesthood, but viewed the same as a Protestant minister. I thought that if the Catholics were stressing the ecumenical it would be understandable that the commenters would think of priests as the same as ministers.