Excellent article on women priests

PIC Mary Queen of Heaven and Earth “Help, help, I’m being oppressed just because I’m a woman!”

Women Priests — No Chance by the redoubtable Joanna Bogle.  This came out in 1997, after John Paul II reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that it ain’t gonna (can’t) happen, ever. Despite the abrupt title, this article goes beyond pointing to the long, unbroken tradition of the male priesthood, and draws out (or at least introduces us to) some of the reasons why Christ wanted men to do this particular work on earth.

Just a solid, accessible read, something to keep on hand if someone asks you why!  As my four-year-old did the other day, when we had this conversation:

Irene: Why can’t the Church make women priests?
Me (before coffee): Because men are women are different.
Irene: HOW?
Me: Ohhh, lots of ways.
Irene: Oh, like boys take really short showers!
Me: Yes, like that.


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  • Ryan Herr

    I also like this interview: “Sister Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity, is a theologian who in the 1960s and 1970s was one of the leading proponents for women’s ordination. But she now embraces and defends the teachings of the Church on the priesthood.” http://catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=159

    Here’s a transcript of a talk she gave in 2007 at St Joseph’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York: http://www.laici.va/content/dam/laici/documenti/donna/teologia/english/womens-ordination-still-an-issue.pdf

    • Bill Burns

      Sr. Butler’s book on the subject is very good. I’ve loaned it (on request) to some of the local clergy who were still considering it a possibility. I don’t know if it changed their minds, but it did give them a broader understanding of the issue.

  • richard

    Yeah. It will not happen. The current and previous Popes have been emphatic about this.

  • Carolyn

    I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. I know a woman who, after a long period of discernment, truly feels called to the priesthood. There is such a thing as continuing revelation…and maybe we all need to allow some room for the Holy Spirit to work. You don’t have to agree with me, but I hope you will pray for the openness of the Church to the Holy Spirit and for the women who struggle with this issue. It is so profoundly sad when other Catholics dismiss them unequivocally and often with cruel humor.

    • simchafisher

      What is it that you don’t agree with, Carolyn? Did you read the article? I’m wondering how you or your friend would respond to the points that Bogle made.

      I do have sympathy for women who struggle with this issue, just as I do for people who struggle with all sorts of Church teachings whch don’t seem true to them. But it’s possible to have sympathy for someone, while at the same time reaffirming that what they desperately want can never be.

      The other thing is, can you imagine a Church where doctrine was determined according to what people truly feel? What would be the point of belonging to a church at all, if the ultimate authority resides in your own desires?

    • Nan

      To be Catholic is to profess and believe that which the Church teaches. Including that the priesthood is limited to men. Blessed John Paul II told us that man can’t change what Christ decided; He went up the mount and prayed with His father, then called the twelve to him, naming them Apostles. Two reasons priests must be men are 1. they stand in persona christi, so must be the same type of person; 2. the Church is their bride.

      I will pray that women who feel called to the priesthood will be able to discern what it is to which the Holy Spirit truly calls them. I have an idea who it is calling your friend and I don’t think it’s Christ.

    • anna lisa

      Carolyn, this morning at mass, before holy communion the words from the bible, calling all men and women “a royal priesthood” were read. I think that what your friend discerns is true, However, the *form* that a woman’s priesthood takes is what people have trouble with, and what your friend needs to discern with prayer to the Holy spirit. Simply saying: “women can’t be priests” is not correct. It has the effect of a slamming door. Women can’t act “in persona Christi”,confecting and imparting the sacraments, as the male priesthood does.

      When you think about it, God could have created human beings in such a way that they could be either sex, Shrimp do that, right? That He created us “male and female” overflows with beauty and points toward the deeper mystery of *relationship*. Our uniquely different gifts***complete*** the gifts of the other. There should be no jealousy or competition in this celebration of “oneness”.

    • wineinthewater


      There is no such thing as continuing public revelation in Catholicism. Public Revelation ended with the Apostles. There is continuing private revelation, but private revelation cannot bind all the faithful nor *alter* the Deposit of Faith, which a repudiation of Catholic teaching about the priesthood must.

      That being said, I think the Church needs to do much more to foster the calls that women hear. You don’t have to be a priest to be a leader, don’t have to be a priest to fill most of the roles in the Church. I think the Church needs to be much better about fostering the vocations of women to non-clergy roles in the Church. I think doing so would go a long way to help women who feel stymied in the call they hear from God.

  • KarenJo12

    Every single article which relies on the church = bride, husband/ priest = bridegroom has one fatal flaw. The church is human, the bridegroom is Jesus who is also God. So, male=Jesus=god; women=church=human. God > human, ergo male > female. There is no way around this. You have to believe than women are all inferior to all men to accept her argument.

    • james asher

      If it were as you say, that’d be a more fundamental problem than who can become a priest – you’re deriving the idea that men are as gods relative to women from the bride/bridegroom symbolism that’s too deeply rooted in the Bible and Christian tradition to get rid of by simply ordaining women to the priesthood.

      That said, there’s such a thing as stretching an analogy too far. That the relationship of husband and wife is used as a symbol for the relationship of Christ and the Church does not mean that the two relationships should exactly match in all particulars. You can use the symbolism to deduce that all women are inferior to all men if you want, just as you could use it to deduce that all wives should regard their husbands as infallible and containing the perfection of every virtue; or that wives should routinely wave censers full of incense in the general direction of their husbands while addressing them in a liturgically-scripted form involving a 3-year cycle of readings from their love-letters, which is how the Church acts towards Christ. But at some point you have to say, well, this is absurd. There are things the symbolism is intended for and things it isn’t. Deriving female inferiority from the imagery of the Church as bride of Christ may provide you a convenient argument, but that doesn’t make it a sensible way of interpreting the symbolism: any symbol, metaphor, simile etc. can be stretched to provide unwelcome or silly conclusions if you try.

      (At which point it’s reasonable to ask, if that’s the wrong way of treating the symbolism, what’s the right way? Well, a good start is to look at it in the context of Christian tradition, the Scriptures, and the words and actions of Christ. The linked article attempts to do this, and should be criticised as such.)

      • KarenJo12

        What other reasonable way can you interpret such a symbol? In all these passages and usages men = Jesus, who IS God. There is something in having a penis that makes the person who has one more like God than people who don’t. Being more like God is clearly the desirable, superior state. This is THE basic meaning of symbol. The specifics you state are absurd, but the intent of the symbol is that something about being male is always and everywhere better than being female.

        • wineinthewater

          There is something about having a penis that makes men more like God *incarnate*. To deny that is to deny the Incarnation. But that does not give men more of the transcendent qualities of God. Scripture tells us that we are created in the image of God, male *and* female. Not that men are created in the image of God and women are created less in the image of God. Your point requires putting a strained interpretation of a symbol above revelation.

          I think it is more reasonable to let the one who created the symbol to speak about its intent. The Church has said that the intent of the symbol is to teach us about the relationship of Jesus to His Church. This is the reason that Jesus spends as much time as he does correcting the distortions of marriage that had crept into Israel. The Bridegroom waits anxiously, give of himself totally, reserves nothing, will die for His spouse. The Church has never said that the intent of the symbol is to teach the inferiority of women or the “less in the image of God” of women.

        • james asher

          What WitW said. Also:

          “…the intent of the symbol is that something about being male is always and everywhere better than being female.”

          You state this as if it is obvious and beyond contradiction. To me it seems a very dubious assertion. I do not accept that the first and only question one may ever ask of an idea or symbol is “can this be used to prove the inferiority of one person to another?”

          “What other reasonable way can you interpret such a symbol?”

          This is how the symbol appears to me: by being likened to marriage, the relationship of God to humanity can be regarded as a form of romance. (Christian writings and poetry down the ages contain any amount of love songs to God.) By the fact that marriage is between two entities of the same nature (humans do not marry angels, nor beasts) the symbolism points to how salvation includes becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). As to why the sexes are this way round (rather than Christ being the bride and the Church being the bridegroom), that’s largely because Christ became incarnate as a man instead of as a woman, a matter which you’d have to take up with Him; though I note that it gives the useful metaphor (mentioned in the article) of the Church as mother, with Christians as her daughters and sons. Also in most times and places the paradigm of courtship is that of a man pursuing a woman, calling up the image of Christ wooing a feminine (and initially indifferent) humanity; although gender roles in courting vary across cultures (and individuals), so this may not always have much resonance.

          And as WitW noted, both man and woman were made in the image of God, so one sees reflections of divine attributes both ways round, in how a men love women and how women love men. Similarly I am aware of no reason a man should not see parallels in how he loves (or should love) a woman and how he loves (or should love) God. The symbolism may be important but is not (nor supposed to be) exhaustive.

          • KarenJo12

            If the purpose of the symbol is NOT to enforce the inferiority of women, why then make being male the one necessary requirement for the priesthood? Priests can be ignorant criminals and keep their jobs, but no woman, no matter how saintly, can ever act “in Persona Christi.” God’s image, in Catholic doctrine, is a penis.

  • a girl with frozen ovaries

    In a freezing winter cold, I was going to church wearing pants. The priest said that girls/women are not allowed to wear pants because we may tempt men.
    My ovaries were burning in pain because of the cold. I did not have $$$ for medication. The gynecologist told me to stay warm, in order to protect my ovaries.
    I felt embarrassed to tell the priest what the doctor said.
    I started to miss church because of the unbearable pain. Later, I heard the priest saying :”…women staff …”.
    A woman priest … would she have handled it differently ?

    • simchafisher

      Well, girl, I will pay you $20 to make a recording of the conversation where you tell the priest “My gynecologist said I have frozen ovaries, which can only be relieved with pants,” and you can spend that money either on cab fare to a different parish where the priest is sane and the ladies wear pants in winter; or you can get some thick tights. Deal?