The Myth of Held-back Catholic Women

New Monastery Going Up Through the Efforts of Five Women

Politics is opportunistic; in the wake of the last three weeks unending coverage of the decades-old scandals in the Catholic church, Lisa Miller of Newsweek has decided that this is the time to push for the feminist interests.

The chasm between the church’s stated principles and its functional reality yawns wide. In the U.S., 60 percent of Sunday massgoers are women; thus most of the contributions to the collection plate—$6 billion a year—are made by women. And yet the presence of women anywhere within the institutional power structure is virtually nil. The number of women who hold top-tier positions in any of the dicasteries, or committees, that make up the Vatican structure can be counted on one hand. Few women retain high-profile management jobs, such as chancellor, within dioceses. And though nuns dramatically outnumber priests worldwide, they are mostly so invisible that when a group of them speaks up, as they did recently on health-care reform, everyone takes notice.

That is staggering nonsense on several levels, but I am most offended by the absurd last sentence; it apparently does not occur to Miller that the only reason the dissenting religious sisters were “noticed” for their opinion on the health care bill is because they were in alignment with the sentiments of the press; those thousands of sisters who spoke up against the health care bill (pdf) and sided with the Catholic Bishops? They were still quite ignored, quite invisible. Everyone didn’t take notice, after all.

Writing in the Media Blog for the USCCB, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh addressed Miller’s piece:

Lisa Miller’s accompanying cover essay about women in the church doesn’t go in this direction, however. In fact, it is somewhat off-base, like facile cocktail party conversation. Observations get tossed about without scrutiny. For example, she states, wrongly, that “few women retain high-profile management jobs, such as chancellor, within dioceses.” Fact-checking proves that wrong. If you take the requirement for ordination off the table, data shows that the number of women in leadership positions in Catholic dioceses is comparable to that of the women in the U.S. workforce as a whole. (pdf) One quarter of diocesan positions at the highest level, such as chancellor or chief financial officer, are held by women. You don’t find similar numbers among U.S. corporations.

Influence in the church does not depend upon ordination, though there is no doubt that it helps. . . . Historically, some women even have overshadowed popes. Most educated people have heard of Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena. Does anyone, even the highly educated, know who the popes were when these women lived?

In fact, I’ll take that a bit further:

The fact is, for all of the talk about how oppressive the church has been for women, there has been no other institution in history which has given women such free reign to create, explore, discover, serve, manage, build, expand, usually with very little help from the coffers of the diocese in which they worked, and often with little to no intrusion on the part of the male hierarchy.

And these have not been mealy mouthed “sheeplike” women, but educated, accomplished women who have chosen their lives because they could do nothing greater with their gifts. Rose Hawthorne, daughter of Nathanial Hawthorne, founded the Hawthorne Dominicans, an order of nuns who take care of cancer patients – free of charge – and who subsist entirely on donations. The Grand Duchess, Elizabeth left her royal privilege behind to serve the poorest of the poor and suffered a 20th century martyrdom. The daughter of General Patton joined forces with a nun, Mother Benedict, in France after WWII to come to America and form the Abbey of Regina Laudis, an abbey that is still attracting educated women, sculptors, writers, linguists, musicians – creative women – to use their gifts in the praise of God and for the good of us all. Did I mention that Mother Benedicta, before she became a nun, was a medical doctor who helped to hide and treat Jews who were being hunted by the Nazis?

I can go on…Mother Theresa built an international order of women which thrives, doing work no one wants to do, wouldn’t do in a million years. For that matter, she might seem quite mad – she probably is – but there is in Alabama an extraordinary and strange woman named Mother Angelica, the media-mogul you never heard of, who founded a Franciscan monastery and church in (of all places) the hottest bible belt in the deep South, and then – with two hundred dollars ($200.00) and no help from her bishop – was inspired to build a television station (and a radio station), which has become EWTN, a global Catholic network – also founding an order of friars – while hobbling around on crutches, yet.

Extraordinary, mad women, all of them! And I cannot think of a single institution on the face of the earth other than the Catholic Church which would have allowed them to run with their madness, BE who they were and accomplish great things.

The church gets a bad rap in this area. She has fostered literally thousands of great, great women, whose accomplishments are unjustly overlooked because they were done in a habit and a wimple. Compare them with the ‘ideal’ of today’s “smart, educated, successful” woman, like . . . Maureen Dowd, who only yesterday was whimpering about how difficult it is to be a celebrated woman in a position of prestige and power because – you know – men are so mean! The contrast could not be more stark.

The urge to serve the church and its people is a calling, one that starts not with a “give me” but with a “please take.” The expressed resentment over ordination seems less about an offer of service being refused than an acquisition of power being denied. If modern women desire ministry within the church, there is nothing stopping them from serving, and there never has been. Teresa of Avila managed to reform an order and build dozens of monasteries for both men and women, without waiting around for someone to tell her she could, without so much as a certification, or a humble degree from a state college, and -most importantly- without insisting that her own terms be met before she could give her all.

Sometimes I wish modern women would man-up and go do great things – like these women from centuries ago and from the last few decades – who managed to get so much done without all the bellyaching. The church could use their help.

Mary’s Aggies

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Rick

    If you look at the number of schools, colleges and hospitals built and administered by sisters it is truly amazing. I wonder if there were many other groups of women who did that?

  • Western Chauvinist

    The Left is great at destroying. The one thing it is good at creating is narcissists.

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  • Bender

    “the institutional power structure” . . . an acquisition of power being denied

    That’s it entirely. Power. Not equality, not dignity, not freedom, and certainly not service. Power.

    Power — the fruit of The Tree.

    Miller wants power? OK, but know this — that “power” in the Church consists of stripping off your outer garments, getting down on your knees, and washing the dirty, nasty, and scummy feet of those “below” you. That is where it begins, by denying and emptying yourself. That is the power of the Church: the power of the servant.

    Conversely, she who would be first will be last. The demand or thirst for power is itself a disqualification.

    Power. That is what this current onslaught against the Church and her shepherd is all about.

    Viva il Papa, the servant of the servants of Christ.

  • Nancy

    Out here in Tonopah, Arizona, where the nuns are building, it’s not “man up”, it’s “cowgirl up” which is exactly what those inspiring women are doing.

  • Bender’s Cheerleader

    I get very nostalgic for the nuns of my youth when I read stuff like this. There was a Benedictine convent just 3 blocks from where I grew up – the sight of the sisters out walking about town and working in the hospital they built and ran – in full habit- is one I will never forget. In fact, when I was little I felt very strongly that I wanted to join them – I loved those habits! Obviously, a husband 7 kids later, that wasn’t meant to be.

    My kids hardly know what nuns look like, and to tell you the truth, in today’s climate, that doesn’t really bother me. I wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea about what being a nun is truly all about. So, I can encourage my sons to consider the priesthood, but talk to my daughters about being a nun? They have no example.

    The only nun they’ve know was one we had here – she was of the skirt and jacket variety. She was a nice lady, but there was nothing ‘identifying’ about her. She was just the one that helped Father out.

  • Shawn

    I agree that women have been able to serve the Church in nothing less than heroic measures. But I find your demonizing of Feminists as infantile and reductionist, with all due respect, Elizabeth. As a Catholic man, I find it astounding when a fellow Catholic can whitewash issues of power and equality in the Church, and claim that all is well because women are serving the Church in X, Y and Z capacities. Answer this simple question: why are women not invited to serve the Church in other capacities, such as clerical, episcopal, etc? I think your statement, ‘If modern women desire ministry within the church, there is nothing stopping them from serving” as condescending… building churches and monasteries is certainly a form of ministry, but being a priest or a bishop or a cardinal is ALSO ministry. As a devout, male Catholic, I offer this prayer that Catholic women will one day soon be invited to minister within our Church at all levels… be it building churches, starting up a television network, or presiding over a Sunday Mass as a Priest! Jesus walked alongside men and women alike, and I can’t imagine for one second that he would discriminate on the basis of gender. AMEN!

    ["Discrimination" is one view. "Different roles" is another. The first is an easy, kneejerk view that doesn't require much thought. The second, actually does. I hardly have "demonized" feminists. I appreciate much that the feminist culture has done for us -including the very real fact that were it not for feminism, things like child sexual abuse might perhaps still be considered "family" shame and not criminal activity. But it seems to me that feminism (and I used to count myself a feminist) has become something crabbed, entitled and unthinking. Also, since the Clarence Thomas case -which was a perspective-changer for me- they've struck me as political opportunists who surrender their identities as strong individuals and join a collective mindset, when it is politically expedient. Thus, a racy joke in the workplace became the "equivalent of rape" but Bill Clinton, a lecher who was "so good on abortion" should be allowed "one free feel." The same women who complained about the treatment of women under the Taliban, suddenly went silent when "the wrong president" helped liberate truly oppressed women, and they still don't have much to say about honor killings, 12 year old brides bleeding to death from their wedding nights, and so forth. They're too busy whining because they cannot find a foothold in the "boys club" of the Catholic church, which historically gave women their heads -and their educations- when no other cultures would. As to Jesus "discriminating," he broke many conventions; he also kept many in place, and in some instances, as re divorce, he went against the convention in a way that surprised. I would not presume to declare his intentions with my own puny mind and my 21st century perspectives. Peace. -admin]

  • suzyq

    The older I get, the more I appreciate how dedicated the nuns were who taught me for 12 years – in habits that must have been very uncomfortable sometimes. The skirts and jackets don’t have the same impact. I think the lack of nuns is a terrible loss for the Church.

    At my church we pray for priests every Sunday. Why do I never hear prayers for women religious?

  • Carl Eppig

    Hey Cheerleader, bring your kids to Rochester, NH. Here on any given day you can see sisters in full habit with running shoes! Who do they run with? They run with the kids they care for; the most negected, abused, and destitute kids in our area. These sisters, most of whom are young enough to be my granddaughters, are an inspiration to the community.

  • Jeanne

    I love it when non Catholics assume that Catholic women are mealy mouthed wimps pining away for power. My neighbor (who is of a rather fundamentalist Protestant church) was surprised when during a discussion, she said “You really do think for yourself!” When I asked her what she meant, she blushed and said, “I assumed that Catholics don’t think for themselves – that you all just take everything the church says lock stock and barrel” She asked me if I ever wanted “equality” for women in the church. I said to her, “I am equal in the sight of God; I am equal in my church; I just have different roles to play as a wife, and on various ministries; no, I’ve never wanted to be a priest” It was an eye opener to be sure.

  • Soozer

    My life improved dramatically when I stopped reading MoDo.

  • Dan

    Some of the activist type in our diocese claim that women are oppressed by the church.

    When I see the oppressed, I see the poor, the refugee, the imprisoned…

    These activist come across as being self-absorbed and self-centered.

  • Joseph Calderone

    Bender, you are right on target! I don’t subscribe to Newspeak, opps… I mean Newsweek, and I don’t even know there web presence, (at least nobody links to them that I read). But I do pick them up in the doctors waiting room, I don’t know why they subscribe, most are Republican.

    Such nonsense you have to wonder what they do like about American Catholics, oh yea, there money, and it’s not supporting there leftist causes!

  • http://MDCW KM

    “puny mind”

    When, my dear, was last time that you had to belly up and pitch together proposals for the “men” of the church? There is nothing worse than having the parish tounge and groove telling the others to, “hush, now, girl child, it’s all about the priesthood, dear. Don’t steal the floor. We are trying to ride their robes to heaven.”

    Smart Catholic women TODAY?

    Please, do tell.

    [I don't know where you go to church, but I never hear anyone say "it's all about the priesthood." I don't agree with that sentiment, myself, obviously. The only ones for whom "it is all about the priesthood" seem to be the feminists. -admin]

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  • http://MDCW KM

    How nearly there of an answer. Again, consevatives are sometimes years away from current history. I must me in the wrong diocese at the wrong time. Tap, tap, tap…my shoes don’t work.

    [It was the best I could do with your "nearly there" of a question! ;-) admin]

  • Bender

    Answer this simple question: why are women not invited to serve the Church in other capacities, such as clerical, episcopal, etc?

    As a self-described “devout” Catholic, you no doubt already know the answer. Being devout, you already know the theology of Holy Orders, and have read the multiple Magisterial explanations on the subject. You already know why things are they way they are, and why, as a matter of truth and love and theology, as a matter of the nature of man and the nature of woman and the nature of the Church, things must necessarily be that way.

    So why are you asking here?

    Or is it that, despite an assertion of being “devout,” and despite knowing what the Church teaches and why it must teach that, you reject the teachings of the Church, not to mention the authority of the Church to teach it?

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    We have many mutual friends Elizabeth and I do respect you for you who are and for what you do.

    That said, we do seem to see through very different eyes. I always remind myself, it is a big Church.

    I am also one who tends to view through the eyes of ambiguity and paradox.

    As a result I see and am part of a church that has and been and does all of the things you say.

    And as a result, I also do think that women are oppressed in our church.

    I find that there is much more of Christ to be encountered in both/and rather than either/or.

    Peace be with you.

    [Wouldn't it be a terribly dull world if we all agreed on everything? :-) Thanks for writing! -admin]

  • cathyf

    That’s it entirely. Power. Not equality, not dignity, not freedom, and certainly not service. Power.

    Power — the fruit of The Tree.

    No, it’s not power. Power is what the apologists always change the subject to whenever some woman points to their failings.

    What it’s about, fundamentally, is mission. Our pope, who always seems to get right to the heart of things, has said it on multiple occasions: the central mission of the Church is to preach God’s love for men. Which you see carried out in Deus Caritas Est, from the very first sentence (“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”), through the whole encyclical. God loves men, men love God. Men love women, too — in sick perverted ways (temple prostitution) or in sacramental ways (marriage) — but in the encyclical women are merely objects, and any love which a man might have towards a woman is a tool applied towards his relationship with God. Whether God and a woman can have some relationship which has nothing to do with how it affects some man somewhere — the Church doesn’t say. Whether a woman might abide in love or God might abide in her is simply not mentioned. Perhaps the church believes that it’s not possible; perhaps the Church is merely uninterested, you know, not the mission.

    But, but, you say, that’s not what the pope meant in the encyclical, and not what the Church means in general when it uses language that way. Of course when the pope said “he” and “him” and “men” he meant also “she” and “her” and “women”. But you should know better than that — they are saying exactly what they mean. Consider the fiasco of the English translation of the Catechism. Finally, years late and way over budget, it was produced. With clear, unambiguous language throughout — the “vertical” relationships were all “men and women and God”, not “men and God.” This was totally unacceptable, so the translation was sent back, and all of the “vertical” relationships were changed to be “men and God.” This was obviously of great importance, since it made the translation even later and even more expensive. It’s one thing to argue (as I have on many occasions) that it is a waste of time, money and effort to change ambiguous language in past documents to be unambiguously inclusive, but this was about spending time money and effort to put the ambiguity back in — ambiguity in the premier teaching document of the Church.

    But that’s not the heart of the teaching. For that, I go to the same place as Bender:

    …“power” in the Church consists of stripping off your outer garments, getting down on your knees, and washing the dirty, nasty, and scummy feet of those “below” you. That is where it begins, by denying and emptying yourself. That is the power of the Church: the power of the servant.

    The instructions in the missal say that on Holy Thursday the priest washes the feet of “12 men.” And, has been so vigorously defended by those who have fought the “liturgical abuse” of having priests wash the feet of both their male and female parishioners, that means “men” means “human beings with Y-chromosomes.”

    As a symbolic act, the Holy Thursday refusal to wash non-male feet is complete unto itself. It states, in an extraordinarily powerful way, that the Church believes that the priesthood was established, by Christ, as ministry exclusively to males. When a priest hears a woman’s confession, or gives a woman last rites, or celebrates mass for an exclusively female congregation, he is at best freelancing, at worst, directly disobedient to the mandate Christ has given him.

    But it’s really only in context that the full import is seen. The stark simplicity of 12 men means 12 males strips aways the carefully preserved ambiguities all over the teachings of the Church. The “of course, dearie, we mean you, too, don’t be silly, honey,” is revealed as craven lie. Most recently we saw it explained in the address to women in Africa. Women can be flattered, condescended to — heck, boys, you better patronize them because while you could cook and clean for yourselves if you have to, you can’t bear babies — but you don’t preach the Good News to women, don’t tell them that they are loved by God, redeemed by Christ — because you know that would be overdoing things, right?

    It’s a skillful re-direction — women by nature take care of others and are ashamed to demand that others take care of them. So every time women let out the slightest hint of need for reassurance of God’s love and Christ’s redemption, you instantly attack their motives of service as not being pure enough.

  • Western Chauvinist

    My priest, who is an inspiring leader, would like to see women “promoted” to the priesthood. I explained to him (and I’m a former lefty feminist fallen away Catholic) that I don’t agree. Underlying the feminist agitation for women priests is the message that women are intrinsically of less value (to God and the communities they serve) unless and until they make their way into the clergy.

    I would also point out, when one is focused on grievances – real or imagined – it is hard to nurture the gratitude which inspires happiness and self-giving.

  • Bender

    No, it’s not power. . . . What it’s about, fundamentally, is mission.

    Just to clarify — when I said it was all about power, I meant, for those like Lisa Miller, it is all about power. Of course, for the Church, it is about love and truth, not power.

  • vitae

    “It states, in an extraordinarily powerful way, that the Church believes that the priesthood was established, by Christ, as ministry exclusively to males.”

    Rather, it states in an extraordinarily powerful way, that the Church teaches that the priesthood was established, by Christ, as ministry exclusively FOR males. We can’t change the fact that the 12 apostles whose feet Christ washed were male, and the “viri selecti” in the rubrics for Holy Thursday emphasize that.

  • Cynthia

    Always felt this way myself, and wondered what the stink was about. There are no Protestant equivalents I know for Theresa of Avila, Mother Therese of Lisieux, Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, Edith Stein, Bl. Annamaria Taigi, St. Faustina, & co. One of the biggest gripes the Protestants have about the Catholics is the “excessive” elevation of one woman — the Virgin Mary — who is given a much more circumscribed role in their denominations. So what gives?

    One correction, however: Elizabeth, the martyred Grand Duchess of Russia (and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), was an Orthodox nun.

    [Yes, I knew that, but I lumped her in b/c I love her! :-) -admin]

  • Gideon Ertner

    “Of course when the pope said “he” and “him” and “men” he meant also “she” and “her” and “women”. But you should know better than that — they are saying exactly what they mean.”

    cathyf, what supreme bollocks.

    The Latin word used throughout Scripture, the liturgy and Papal encyclicals is “homo” – meaning “man” as in “mankind”, that is both men and women generically, or “humans”.

    However, in the rubrics for Holy Thursday, the word used is “vir” – “man” as in “male”.

    Implying that the Church does not believe that women can have personal relationships with God, though she honours a woman (Mary) as the most perfect of all God’s creatures, frequently pleads for the intercession of a host of other holy women, freely admits women to all the Sacraments except one, and even REFERS TO HERSELF IN THE FEMININE GENDER is purely and utterly meaningless.

  • http://none merePEACE

    interesting this– not one comment has mentioned that the Church– is Always referred to as Female– “She- the Church- says”– or “She- the Church- does or does not” – ! — Wonder what the connection may be- in Light of the fact that- no Female Women are allowed to serve as ordained into a Priesthood- yet- the Church continues to be- “She”? Interesting ! PEACE in LOVE to you all-

  • A.A. Cunningham

    The connection, as explained throughout the New Testament, is that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride.

  • Carolyn

    I grew up Baptist in the 1950s and 60s because my father was a Baptist pastor. In 2006, when I started driving a disabled friend to the Catholic Church, I was amazed at how many women were in visible positions during the Mass – lectors, eucharistic ministers, choir director. I entered the Church at Easter 2007 and my vocation is the choir not being a priest although I would have tried for nun if I had known where my “home” was earlier in life. We serve as we are called and for the first time in my life, I am truly happy and blessed. I don’t feel a bit “oppressed.”

  • Bender

    Cathyf — normally you are quite sensible in your comments. But, now that I went back and read it, after reading the comments of others, this latest post of yours is simply bizarre. I thought for a moment that someone was impersonating you, then I googled and saw that you made the same point last year, to which my response was “Huh??????” A year later, that remains my response.

    every time women let out the slightest hint of need for reassurance of God’s love and Christ’s redemption . . .


    Your hang-up on the use of the words “men” and “man,” and the refusal of the Church to give in to the politics of “gender inclusive” language when it is not necessary, does not alter that fact.

    Whether God and a woman can have some relationship which has nothing to do with how it affects some man somewhere — the Church doesn’t say. Whether a woman might abide in love or God might abide in her is simply not mentioned.

    Again, such statements from one usually so sensible is bizarre and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the teachings of the Church and this Pope and the ones preceding him. Now, no one can make you believe it if you refuse to do so, but yes, women do abide in love with God, and such is mentioned in Deus Caritas Est and every other teaching of the Church.

    Now, as to whether “God and a woman can have some relationship which has nothing to do with how it affects some man somewhere” — let me tell you plainly — the answer is NO. Woman cannot have a relationship with God or, to be more precise, a full relationship with God, that is separate from “some man.”

    But let me also tell you this plainly, a man cannot have a relationship with God or, to be more precise, a full relationship with God, that is separate from “some woman.”

    “God made man, male and female, in His image.” This original unity of man and woman teaches us that man and woman are specifically made for each other. Neither is intended to exist in solitude, separate from the other. Both relate to God together, not in isolation. Woman does not relate in love to God in isolation, and man (male) does not relate in love to God in isolation. They each exist together, in communion. (Besides, men, that is, males, would not even exist were it not for women.)

    Indeed, each of us is meant to exist in relation with God, not in isolation, but with every other human being created by Him. When the Church speaks of “man,” this is what she means. Man, male and female.

    Please do not allow yourself to get taken in by the lie — you speak of lies, well this is the lie — that when the Church speaks of the salvation of “man,” that she means only males. That is the lie. Or that women are somehow inferior in the Church because only males can receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. That too is a lie. The truth is that the Church and her Bridegroom Jesus Christ, and those who act as an alter Christus, give the entirety of their lives, the entirety of their One Body, to the salvation of women and men, who are all equal in dignity and love and truth before God.

  • JMJ2in1

    Great article! Even greater responses to naysayers! Thanks for speaking for me and a gazillion other faithful Catholic women!

  • Kamilla


    “Sometimes I wish modern women would man-up and go do great things. . .”

    Love that line – the women who whine about being excluded sound more like they are suited for the fainting couch than the boardroom.


  • E. L. Smith

    As a old lady who once was a NOW member, the problem is that too many old ladies are still waving their bras and spouting the same old, same old. If they would look around they would see women doing amazing things. I discovered a long time ago if there were barriers then I would go my own way and do what needed to be done. If I hadn’t adopted that attitude I’d still be living in the 70′s and banging my head on the wall.

  • Brian

    Thank you for posting the picture of the new monastery. It is inspiring to know that new monasteries such as this one are being built. I think also of the Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma and the monastery in Wyoming, as well as the recent interview with the sisters on the Oprah show, and remember the voice from the crucifix to St. Francis, “Rebuild my Church.” Perhaps we are seeing budding signs of the springtime to which Pope John Paul II referred.

  • Shawn

    Bender: you’re a bit of a theological bully, I must admit. If somebody doesn’t agree with your opinion, they must surely be ill-informed, disobedient… This authority and truth that you summon is an authority and a truth that has been framed by the thoughts and pens of men. Just because you write somebody out of the canon does not necessarily mean that they did not exist… what are you afraid of? You obliquely dance around the main question: why NOT women as clergy? by summoning abstract notions of ‘authority’ and ‘truth’. And while you question my credibility as a devout Catholic, I refuse to stoop to your level of rhetoric, and will continue to accept and embrace you as a fellow Catholic, even though I disagree with your position.

  • Shawn

    Thanks ‘admin’ for your quick response. But your turn of phrase, ‘different roles’, is how ‘discrimination’ is ‘naturalised’… if we all naturally have ‘different roles’ to play, then it’s end of discussion, right? Spend some time in Poland, and see what ‘different roles’ have been allotted to women in the Catholic Church… cooking for Priests, cleaning up after them… do you really believe this is your lot in life? Is this your natural role as a woman? You use rhetorical turns to run away from my real question: why NOT the priesthood for women? Of course Feminists call for this! (I’m a Catholic, male Feminist, by the way)… nothing less would be unacceptable. In what terms is a woman not ‘naturally’ equipped to serve in the Church as a Priest… as a Bishop… as a Cardinal… dare I say, as a Pope? If women were part of the Church’s Mission while Jesus was physically with us 2000 years ago, why not now? If a person seeks equality, you write it off as ‘whining’. Just address the central issue here: as a Catholic/Christian, do you support anything less than full equality (ie. woman could be Priests if they so desire it, and men could certainly cook and wash laundry for female priests if they so desire it) in our Church. I love our Church dearly, and believe that anything short of this is contrary to our Christian values, including absolute equality. Let’s leave our political stripes behind (I’m not sure why the ‘wrong president’ was brought into this discussion) and address the real question I’m asking (and many Catholics ask alongside me). God Bless You! Shawn

  • Bender

    This authority and truth that you summon is an authority and a truth that has been framed by the thoughts and pens of men.

    No, Shawn, it is not authority framed by the thoughts and pens of men, but the authority directly framed by He who is the Word, Jesus Christ, as any devout Catholic knows, and as further explained by the Magisterium, which any devout Catholic knows, does not assert opinions or policies or positions, but truth, as guided by the Holy Spirit.

    For example, if you really care to know the authoritative answer to your question, which you say I am obliquely dancing around, then you may find it here — Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994).

    And, while you are at it, get off your high horse of smarmy condescension and morally superior attitude.

  • L J

    -why NOT the priesthood for women? – Shawn

    That is precisely the question that led others to suggest that you may not accept the Church’s authority to teach. The issue is settled, has been settled and will be settled. The Church has unequivocally stated she does not have the authority to change that doctrine. That is why. For further explication study the voluminous encyclicals on the subject.

    -Written by the pens of men- Shawn

    Indeed, as was the Holy Scripture too. Can we trust it? If not, then we have eliminated all of the pillars of the Holy Catholic Church and the only question left is why in the world would we want to be Catholic? Or Christian either for that matter. Presumably we can trust nothing that has been handed to us from the 2000 year old beginnings, including any evidence that there were women involved in Christ’s ministry from the start, because we know that those reports are suspect, having been written by men.

    By the way, describing oneself as a “devout” Catholic is not a great recommendation anymore when discussing issues with orthodox Catholics. These days it is usually the prelude to a huge “but” which often includes support of abortion (Pelosi, et. al.) or some other form or species of dissent from Church teaching.

  • L J

    Also, I am a male who has done a lot of cooking, cleaning and laundry over the years besides working often over sixty hours a week and if it was required would gladly do so for the Franciscan priests of my parish.

    I don’t see how that has anything to do with gender. It’s a matter of who can and who’s available among us ordinary working poor folk that make up most of the parishes across the nation and around the world. Often those volunteers are women, and will God bless them because they serve Jesus Christ and his Church with no thought of personal recognition alongside of a whole lot of men who serve with the same love in their heart.

    Those people are light-years ahead of the ones with too much time on their hands who would try to drive a wedge between them and Holy Mother Church. As Jesus said, Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom.

  • Shawn

    Bender, you really are intolerant of other’s opinions, especially when they aren’t aligned along your personal ‘bent’. Stop hiding behind “Ordinatios” and “Magisteriums”… and behind your insults. You call ME condescending? How about your vitriolic tirade against CathyF, who (as you so generously point out) is “normally quite sensible”. You go out of your way to point out how stupid or ill-informed others are. Everything is so self-evident to you, especially when it comes to how men and women are ‘meant’ to behave. But your anger (perhaps intolerance or even hatred) betrays something quite troubling. From the words that I have read attributed to Jesus, he NEVER mentioned any of your notions of “inequality” anywhere… and he trusted women enough to reveal FIRST to a woman his glorious resurrection! Time in, time out, Jesus’ fellow brothers denied him, while time in, time out, his fellow sisters believed in him, and stayed with him. Would Jesus really sign his name to an Ordinatio decreeing inequality? Where women are NOT invited to preside at the table of his Paschal Meal alongside their male counterparts? And while YOU will likely answer me with insults and condescension, I will continue to pray for you, Brother: may you one day listen to the Word of God through a tender and open heart… and may we all one day sit at the same table, celebrating the Word of our Lord, Jesus Christ… and at that table, may we all engage in a loving, respectful dialogue, and not descend into fisticuffs. Amen. Your Brother in Christ, shawn

  • cathyf

    Bender, if I may start with the most personal of comments,


    Thanks for writing it, and thanks for writing it in all capital letters. I’ve pretty much decided that the fear that God does not want me is pretty much the only fear worth having…

    I suppose it comes from being an engineer, but I can’t help seeing the Teachings of the Catholic Church as that which the Catholic Church teaches. And that it is self-evidently not that the Church’s #1 mission is teaching the love of God. As you succinctly noted, it certainly comes in behind “the refusal of the Church to give in to the politics of ‘gender inclusive’ language” for one. Not to mention “faithfulness to the original French.” (C’mon, you gotta admit that the Catechism fiasco was freaking bizarre. …faithfulness to Catholic belief? …faithfulness to the original French? …faithfulness to Catholic belief? …faithfulness to the original French? …faithfulness to Catholic belief? …faithfulness to the original French? Which do we choose?!?!? “Faithful to the French” has got to be the most bizarre lamest excuse anybody has ever come up for anything!) It may be called the catechism, but catechesis is far from its only goal.

    But, you know, there is something else. Quite frankly, I find it kind of weird that when I complain that priests are deficient in their exercise of ministry towards women I always get some long involved lecture about why only men can be priests. As if this is remotely responsive to my complaint! (When my son comes home and tells us stories about the incompetence and obnoxiousness of his high school chemistry teacher, I don’t respond by telling him why high school students are ineligible for teacher certification.) This is a general rule, not having to do with the priesthood in particular: if someone tells you that you suck at something that is your job, this is generally not a secret code for “you are wonderful at everything you do in your job and I want to do your job just exactly as you do.”

    As for the language, where we disagree is just what the politics are. The rest of the English-speaking world gave up the battle over what the words mean years ago. When they want to make themselves clear and avoid confusion, they use the language as their audience does. When churchmen insist on using language in a way that they know it will be misunderstood, I accuse them of a) meaning exactly what they say, or b) completely shirking their God-given duty to teach for some self-indulgent chest-thumping power play.

    For me personally, it’s the sheer relentlessness of it that wears me down. Man and mankind this, he and him that, brethren here and brothers there and all sons of men. When I pray with the words of the Church I hear that drumbeat, “not you not you not you not you…” I tell myself that this is the voice of the slanderer and the snare of the fowler. On good days, I almost believe it.

  • cathyf

    Whoa, Shawn, “vitriolic tirade”?!?! Bender did no such thing! He’s trying to convince me that I’m wrong, and is engaging in honest and honorable argumentation towards that end. Since I’m also trying to convince me that I’m wrong, I welcome and am thankful for the effort…

  • By the Sea

    Well, as far as cooking for priests and cleaning up after them, there is no reason why this should be looked at in a menial way, and it is certainly an important job. Holiness can be achieved in any walk of life (just look at the lives of those such as St. Therese, The Little Flower, and Venerable Pierre Toussaint, a hairdresser. St. Benedict the Black was a cook in the friary, became elevated to novice master, but still wanted to return to being a humble cook, which he eventually did. And how many holy people have we read about who were doorkeepers? Fr. Solanus Casey comes to mind. Doorkeeper seems like a good job for gaining access to Heaven. And then there are those that want all the power and the glory, get the power and glory, and clumsily tromple everything in their path. We can take a lesson from those who did little things with great love and humility.

    [A very fine answer. Do you know that most people do not even realize that St. Franics if Assisi was not a priest, and only became a Deacon out of obedience to his Bishop; he had no appetite for titles or "power." Also, Catherine of Siena was a Dominican Tertiary (Third Order) not even a professed nun, and she influenced popes, kings and queens in a way few have. One of the classics in spiritual literature is Bro. Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God, and really, Bro. Lawrence was a "nobody." People don't like to stop and think about it, but "somebody" has to wash the dishes. Those men and women who are content to do the "lowly" work demonstrate the great secret -that our "work" is meant to be secondary to our basic human dignity, which we possess first, and that all of our work is meant to be the continual assent, or fiat, that brings about the work of God. To suggest that the dishwasher is somehow less important is to neglect the truth that without her or him, the bigshots might be getting dysentery! :-) Our society has a very screwed up notion of constitutes value in a person. We've come to think of "doing" as being more important, and more impressive thing than "being." The first question people are asked is "what do you do?" The better question is "what/who are you." It is much easier to "do" than to "be." -admin]

  • Nellie

    The priesthood is primarily about spiritual fatherhood. Yes, every baptized Christian is a “priest, prophet and king” but in this sense the priest is one who intercedes with God for others, who makes an offering to God – a sacrifice of praise, gives blessings – actions which all clearly pertain to both men and women alike. The man who is an ordained priest, however, is one who must model and incarnate fatherhood in a radical, self-giving way.

    Fatherhood, it must be noted, is distinctly and uniquely male. It cannot be otherwise. A woman simply cannot under any circumstances be a father, either physically or spiritually. And just as a woman cannot be a father, a man cannot be a mother. So too in the spiritual realm, which is just as real. As a person’s physical incarnation as male or female cannot be rightly confused or swapped, the same is true in the spiritual realities.

    I’m baffled that no one else seems to have brought this up, but to me it seems central and is the most rational and rich with meaning explanation as to why the priesthood is a calling that is not possible for women. It rather disgusts me that some women are angry that they are not “allowed” to be priests. They do not understand the core of what being a priest is about to begin with, which is spiritual fatherhood.

  • N.W. Clerk

    Sister Sarah Butler, PhD, who was appointed by John Paul II to the International Theological Commission (hardly a “menial” role), was in the process of researching a book arguing FOR the ordination of women – she chaired the Task Force of the Catholic Theological Society of America (again, not washing dishes!) which concluded that there was no obstacle to women priests….but in the course of that research she became convinced she was wrong. Her book, The Catholic Priesthood and Women is a must-read. This is a brilliant and highly educated scholar, and some scholarly insight is just what this thread needs.

    [Link added - sounds interesting, admin]

  • Klaire

    MerePeace good point about the “she” Church.

    Being that the CC is the “Bride of Christ”, to allow women priesst would be non other than spiritual lesbianism of sorts. Perhaps that’s an easier way for some to understand why women cannot and will never be Catholic priests.

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  • Shawn

    By the Sea… I never suggested that cooking or cleaning is menial. It looks like many of you here are not open to a dialogue… you never really address my question directly… it’s either, ‘follow this link’ or it’s the old argument, ‘we’re naturally fathers or mothers’. Pah… I’m a stay-at-home-Dad, the primary caregiver of my son, what’s normally perceived as the ‘natural’ role of a woman. My wife is the main breadwinner, what’s normally perceived as the ‘natural’ role of a man.

    CathyF… “He’s trying to convince me that I’m wrong.”??? Uhh, is that a respectful DIALOGUE or a condescending BERATING? As stated earlier, Bender is a theological bully.

    Nellie: you seem to really have everything neatly compartmentalized. The priesthood is ‘spiritual fatherhood’ because men have said it is so. Everyday roles in life are not so perfectly boxed, as you would like it to be. Just by you merely stating that you see the priesthood as X doesn’t mean that somebody else is wrong by perceiving it as Y… or how about AB? Would it be amiss to state that the priesthood is spiritual parenthood? Nah, too democratic, right?

    Admin: I never placed any kind of hierarchical framework upon tasks such as cooking and laundry. You seemed to have done so on your own, which really speaks to how we all perceive these jobs, in general.

    I know it’s very important for you all to judge to what degree a person is Catholic or not-Catholic… these systems of classification simplify things in the end, and permit you to stand in judgement of others. At some point, you’ve got to leave the playground, and really ask, Who’s willing to cast the first stone? God Bless You All!

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  • Gideon Ertner

    “When I pray with the words of the Church I hear that drumbeat, “not you not you not you not you…” I tell myself that this is the voice of the slanderer and the snare of the fowler.”

    Ok, hadn’t quite realized that was where you were, cathyf – sorry if I sounded a bit derogatory in my post. Well, it is the voice of the slanderer – I can appreciate why, in our day and age, you feel excluded when the priest says “brothers” and not “brothers and sisters”, but please remember that the liturgy was written over 1,000 years ago when it was commonly accepted that the male gender was the generic and nobody had any problem with this because it was just a convention of speech.

    In languages such as Spanish and French, the 3rd person plural pronoun is still in the masculine form if the group spoken of is of mixed sex – ellos/ellas; ils/elles. I haven’t heard any Spanish- and French-speakers complain that Spanish and French are therefore inherently discriminatory languages.

    There are a number of quaint archaisms in the liturgy – think of the stole, which was once a deacon’s hand-towel but has since become the ultimate symbol of priestly status. Catholics didn’t stop praying for the Holy Roman Emperor until 40 years ago. Could you not, perhaps, accept the gender issue in the liturgy as such a thing; an expression of former mores which is perhaps a bit out of touch with contemporary ones but doesn’t have any bearing on the lived Faith?

    Always remember that the most perfect creature God created is a woman and the Church is her mystical extension. The Church is not this priest or that Bishop. She is the Bride of Christ and our mother. St. Hildegard writes:

    et ideo est summa benedictio
    in feminea forma
    pre omni creatura

    and thus the highest blessing
    is found in female form
    rather than in any other creature.

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