If only women could be priests…

If only women could be priests… November 21, 2013

A reader writes:

We hear that if women were in leadership position within the Church that the sex abuse crisis would have been handled very differently with children as the first priority.

Here’s a Bay Area case that brings into question that argument:

Get a search warrant, Mt. Diablo district attorney told Concord detective investigating suspected child molester

“Detective Tamra Roberts reminded Deputy District Counsel Deborah Cooksey that the district was required by law to report child abuse suspicions and the names of potential victims. Only then did the district hand over the unredacted report.”

The school principal and attorney are both females.

A year ago, a female principal in Silicon Valley was convicted for failing to report a sex abuse incident

In a country were 1.4 million women kill their children each year, the notion that there is something magical about the infallibility of feminine love for children is a tough sell. Using that myth as a basis for demanding the Church ignore the teaching of Christ regarding the sacrament of ordination is… inadvisable.

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  • Steve

    Because everyone knows that women never keep secrets…

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    At the risk of touching the third rail for priests on social media, it is worth pointing out that the great majority of abuse, sexual or physical, occurs in the home and in the family. The mere presence of a woman on the scene is not, alas, sufficient for the detection, prevention, and punishment of child abusers. It is simply ridiculous and contrary to all known facts to argue that women priests would end the problem of abuse within the Church.

    • Slocum Moe

      So, you think women can’t be priests because they are no better than men? Bzzzzt! Wrong answer! Now tell us about teh Gays. Not your kind. I mean the out ones. You Guys really don’t get it.

      • Matthew

        You are reading Mark backwards. The argument has been made that women in the priesthood would have stopped the abuse crisis from happening. Therefore we should ordain women. Mark’s point is that women are (surprise) as sinful as men so one cannot use a supposed superiority of women as an argument for women’s ordination.I think that is all he is saying

        • chezami

          Yup. Some folks are irony-impaired.

          • Fr. Denis Lemieux

            Not to mention reading-comprehension impaired. I think your point and mine were both pretty clear and straight-forward.

      • Noah Doyle

        No, women cannot be priests because the Church has no power to ordain women. It’s impossible.

    • All due respect, Father, but your point is a bit incomplete. The children who are at the lowest risk for child sexual abuse are children who live with both of their own biological married parents. Children with only one parent in the home are at higher risk, and children living with neither parent (e.g., foster children) are at a still higher risk. The highest risk factor for a child is living in a home with one biological parent and that parent’s sex partner who is biologically unrelated to the child. According to one source, children in that setting are 20 times more likely to be sexually abused than children living with their own married biological parents.

      So when we say that abuse occurs “in the home and in the family” we should be clear: an intact home and a family headed by a man and a woman who are married to each other and raising their own biological children is actually a family at very low risk of child sexual abuse.

      This, by the way, is another reason to defend traditional marriage and the traditional family, as the rates of child sexual abuse rise greatly for all other family types and configurations.

      • Fr. Denis Lemieux

        Oh, absolutely! I was simply making the point that the argument that ‘the Church should ordain women because the presence of a woman in a situation will automatically prevent or address sexual abuse’ is a patently false argument which is not borne out in away way by any fact in evidence. Of course intact families with a mom and a dad provide the best and safest environment for children to grow up in – if anything, that is a strong argument for the importance of fathers, who (alas!) are usually the ‘missing person’ in the non-intact family.

      • Obpoet

        To be “complete”, wouldn’t you need to compare the rate of abuse in the home to the rate of abuse in the church? I do not see that comparison in your comment.

        • Obpoet, I’m not sure such a comparison would be possible. After all, clergy sex abusers rarely abused kids in the church itself, and some of them did just what non-clergy sex abusers do: befriend a single parent and spend time in their home with their kids, eventually gaining opportunities to abuse those kids. So how would you count such a situation where a clergy member abused a child in the child’s own house: as abuse in the home or abuse in the church?

          If you’re talking about how many clergy sexually abuse children vs. how many lay people do, I believe there are studies out there. Still, the thing Catholics should be saying is: even one Catholic child abuser, clergy or lay, is one Catholic child abuser too many.

  • kenofken

    Ordaining women might well impact the problem because women generally abuse at lower rates then men. The real problem though is the handling of abuse allegations. That won’t be solved on a gender basis, though it should be noted that women were often the ones raising the alarm about abusive priests, only to be squelched by bishops or their hush men. What needs to happen are laws making bishops mandatory reporters with felony penalties for failing to do so. When coverups are systematic, RICO statues should be used. There should also be bulletproof whistleblower protection laws and six-figure rewards for diocese or parish employees whose information to police leads to a conviction. Create a situation where corrupt bishops could count on zero loyalty in the course of a cover up. They would literally be gambling with the rest of their lives every time a “say nothing” memo crosses the desk of an underling.

    • said she

      What you say has some merit, but we must be careful of two things: 1. big, monetary incentives might lead to false reports/false convictions (innocent priests have already been framed: we don’t want that!), and 2. it is not only a legal matter, and I really don’t know that handing it all over to secular authorities is wise.

    • Kathleen L.

      kenofken, would you support this policy in regard to child abuse in the public schools?

      • Marion (Mael Muire)

        Kathleen L.: “kenofken, would you support this policy in regard to child abuse in the public schools?

        Kenofken: Uh, I think not.

        Kathleen L.: Oh? Why not?

        Kenofken: Because yadda-yadda-yadda. And that’s my stand and I won’t back down from it.

        Just you watch.

      • kenofken

        Without reservation.

        • Marion (Mael Muire)

          “Without reservation”, my pajamas!.

          Dig: in response to a main story about the misconduct by public school teachers and the cover-up, Kenofken’s first comment to a main article about public school teachers’ abuse was:

          “The real problem though is the handling of abuse allegations. . . it should be noted that women were
          often the ones raising the alarm about abusive priests, only to be
          squelched by bishops or their hush men. What needs to happen are laws
          making bishops mandatory reporters with felony penalties for failing to
          do so. . . . There
          should also be bulletproof whistleblower protection laws and six-figure
          rewards for diocese or parish employees whose information to police
          leads to a conviction. Create a situation where corrupt bishops could
          count on zero loyalty in the course of a cover up. . . ”

          At no point does Kenofken include a mention of public school teachers or administrators whose misconduct the initial article was about! Nor is there any mention of clergy of other faiths who harm children and young teens in disgraceful ways. Not a nod, not a hint of a nod to any of these.

          Not interested, evidently.

          Note that all Kenofken’s recommendations – line after line after line of recommendations for surveilling and punishing abusers – specify Catholic clergy, and Catholic parish employees.

          Only when pressed, does Kenofken give cursory acknowledgement that his lengthy recommendations for methods of surveillance and punishment of abusers in the Catholic Church, ought to be applied to other abusers.

          But whereas Kenofken devoted line after line of ASCII to his recommendations for the surveillance and punishment of Catholic Church personnel, his enthusiasm for the topic seems to wane when presented with the question of equal time for non-Catholic perpetrators. A laconic “without reservation,” when asked if they did. Two words. Big deal. Compare the passion, the urgency of the words Kenofken produced about surveillance and punishment for Catholics, with the two words tossed off concerning the same for non-Catholics. And draw your own conclusions.

          I know what my conclusion is concerning Kenofken’s interest in seeing misconduct among public school teachers and non-Catholic clergy, compared with that of Catholic clergy.

          • kenofken

            You’re so invested in the idea that I’m just some evil anti-Catholic liberal that you’ve crafted your own internal dialogue in which you have just re-written me as a character in your own head. You held a debate with a fictional character in your own head and won. The energy probably would have been better spent throwing pencils into the ceiling tiles, but if it amuses you, by all means…

            I wrote primarily about Catholic perpetrators and enablers of abuse because that’s what the original post concerns. It addressed the issue of whether women priests would alleviate the problem of abuse within the Church. You know what your conclusion is regarding my position because you made sure it was cast in concrete before the debate even began and armored it against any inconvenient facts.

            If you’re determined to believe that I only oppose Catholic child abuse, nothing I can say or do will intrude on that preconception. Those who have read my work over the years will see that I have consistently advocated for passage and strong enforcement of laws against ALL abusers and most especially those who obstruct investigation and prosecution of abusers.

            • Marion (Mael Muire)

              Hey! I have an idea, Kenofken!

              From now on, when you rev up to make verbal assaults on Bad Things (TM) about the Catholic Church, including actions or non-actions of her members, clergy, sacraments, teachings thereof, why not at least try to present yourself as disinterested, and be an Equal Opportunity attacker?

              You’ll get a more sympathetic hearing.

              From some.

            • SteveP

              Perhaps there is no projection and you really are a jerk. However, you’re psychologically safe because you do not self-identify as a jerk.

    • SteveP

      “If only there had been a woman in the house, these three women would not have been slaves!” (http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/women-held-captive-three-decades-highly-traumatised-5721411)

      You’ve had better propagandistic statements; your comment above just shows your anti-Catholicism with a dose of self-loathing misandry.

    • Dee

      Clergy are already mandated reporters. Failure to report is generally a misdemeanor, in some states a second failure to report is a felony now. Are you suggesting the law single out Catholic bishops and make their failure to report a felony?

      My goodness, you have lots of ideas for penalizing Catholic people and institutions more than others. What about public universities? Football coaches? Mom’s boyfriends? We all know that child sexual abuse is not in any manner limited to Catholic clergy.

      • kenofken

        No, we shouldn’t craft special laws that mete out extra punishment for bishops, but it’s also well past time that we end the decades-long “let bygones be bygone” and “mistakes were made” deference that let them off the hook for aiding and abetting abuse.

        • Dee

          I’ve been a child abuse prosecutor for 23 years. When I started in 1990 the view of sexual abuse was very different than it is today. Before then, it was generally believed that some counseling could cure the sexual attraction to children. It was just starting to change when I entered the field, but fathers and stepfathers who sexually abused their children were still frequently sent to counseling, declared “rehabilitated” and allowed to return home to live with those same children. I just finished a trial this week where a bio dad molested his daughter for 5 years. He forcibly raped his 12 year old niece in 1996, went to prison, completed counseling and the child protection court allowed him to return home and live with the daughter he then molested.

          The Church sex abuse scandal sickened and infuriated me, but the truth is that the way the bishops responded is exactly the way our culture as a whole responded to sexual abuse 20 to 30 years ago. The Sandusky scandal and that TV celebrity in England also reflect how society turned its head and ignored the sexual abuse of children in the past. You are singling out the Catholic Church and judging its behavior of 30 years ago by 21st century standards.

          • kenofken

            I’m not at all talking about the behavior of 30 years ago. I’m talking about the atrocities that have happened within the last 3 years – St. Paul, Kansas City. The bishops and others in these cases can’t evade responsibility for their evil by claiming “we just didn’t know any better in those times.”

            They knew full well the dimensions and costs and warning signs of abuse and the poisonous effects of secrecy and cover-up. They had the benefit of modern policies and laws which leave no ambiguity about what constitutes “doing the right thing.” They knew the stakes and chose to do the wrong thing because they are part of a culture of leadership which has learned nothing from the tragedies of the past 20 and 30 years you mention.

            Cases like this will continue to arise until secular authorities start imprisoning bishops and until the laity of the Church stops making excuses for their evil and stops trying to fob off responsibility for their acts on everyone and everything else in the world.

            • Marion (Mael Muire)

              Sorry to disappoint, Kenofken, but cases like this have arisen and continue to arise in public school settings, in religious settings of non-Catholic congregations, and in private family settings, and they continue at times to be hushed up and to go unpunished. All at rates significantly more notable than have has been happening in Catholic environments in recent years, which is, thank God, way down.

              However, those who are interested in pointing fingers only at the Catholic Church will continue to ignore the instances of gross misconduct outside of Catholic settings, and will refuse to discuss them.

              As we see unfolding here.

              • Marion (Mael Muire)


                Where is the outrage? Where is the concern for the damage to innocent children? Where is the righteous indignation toward those who fail to protect them and who cover up? I’m referring of course to situations taking place in non-Catholic settings.

                Why is there so robust and enduring an interest in discussing such offenses taking place in Catholic settings, but virtually zero in devoting anywhere near the attention to non-Catholic ones?

                Why is that? It’s remarkably odd, and I’m at quite a loss to explain it. Please do so.

                • Marion (Mael Muire)

                  It’s really as if Monsanto were found to have cleaned up to some extent its toxic dumping, but to have been still recently dumping x amount of toxic waste into certain waterways, and also that Dow Chemical, Union Carbide, American PetroChemical, DuPont, American Engineering, and PPG Industries were also all dumping toxic waste at rates equal to or greater than Monsanto’s.

                  And there were folks out there on the internet, in journalism, and at our family dinner tables, who denounced with much eloquence and passion, and with many facts and figures and at great length this dumping, but always making their subject Monsanto, Monsanto, Monsanto, . . . and the dumping by Dow Chemical, Union Carbide, American PetroChemical, DuPont, American Engineering, and PPG Industries was simply overlooked . . . ignored.

                  I don’t know about all you all, but I would conclude after a while, that this individual wasn’t so much concerned with toxic waste dumping at all. That this individual had a problem with Monsanto, instead. Toxic waste dumping was just a convenient excuse to bash Monsanto.

                • kenofken

                  Well, let’s look at the forum. It’s a Catholic forum. Mark writes about Catholic stuff, or stuff in the world as it impacts the Church. Unless I’ve very much misread his meaning, Mark clearly seems to think abuse in the Church sucks, for many of the same reasons I do. In fact, he and many other Catholics are even more outraged about this than I am because it damages the witness of the faith they believe in.

                  I can’t properly address your assertion that zero attention is devoted to non-Catholic abuse because I don’t know what metric or evidence you’re using to assert that. I can say that in the dozen or so years in my last job as a journalist, I helped bring many abuse cases to light. Most of them were secular perpetrators – teachers, gymnastics instructors etc. A handful were priests. I can’t say what I don’t know about cases successfully covered up, but I can say that all of the secular cases I handled were reported to police within days, if not hours of an allegation. Very often, the suspect was taken off the job in irons the afternoon of the same day. That was true in none of the incidents involving priests. Most had been transferred to numerous posts and evaded justice until they had run down the statute of limitations or died.

                  I’m not sure what would satisfy your criteria to demonstrate that I’m “outraged enough” about secular abuse. I’ve spoken against it when it involved Roman Polanski, Jerry Sandusky, scouting programs, public schools etc. I’ve denounced pagan leaders who have used their position to groom and abuse minors, and even non-minors because I feel it’s an unethical abuse of position. My own group has adopted a statement and policies condemning abuse and calling for cooperation with law enforcement when allegations arise. If there’s some other manifesto floating around that condemns abuse in all its forms, I’d be happy to put my name to that too.

                  • Marion (Mael Muire)

                    Well, let’s look at the forum.

                    I do look at this forum, and on this forum to date, on the posting about an article concerning sexual abuse of children in public schools, you have managed to initiate the dragging of the topic back to sexual abuse of children in Catholic Church settings on at least two occasions.

                    I call that bloody uncalled-for.

                    (Remember, folks, the Church’s enemies will do or say anything, using distortions and half-truths, to try to make the Church look thoroughly evil and corrupt. It isn’t that we as Catholics should not vigorously oppose the evil and corruption which exists in certain corners with the Church – as well we should; however, we should not allow those who hate the Church for personal reasons of their own, to use these deplorable instances to get away with attempting utterly to defame the Church.

                    Marion. Out.

                • kenofken

                  So here’s an example of how things go wrong in a secular setting. I’m glad to see such aggressive prosecution. This sort of investigation and these sorts of charges are what should have happened in the Kansas City case as well.


              • kenofken

                Yes, abuse and coverup happens in all settings, and has not always been properly investigated and prosecuted. I’m happy to acknowledge that and denounce it and speak of it in detail when it’s the topic at hand. As you and many others raise it, it’s just an argument from moral relativism. “It’s not that bad. Everyone else is doing it”. The clear implication is that no one has the standing to complain about Church abuse until secular abuse is eradicated from the world.

                That’s the sort of line I would expect from the Setians and Satanists and nihilists I’ve met over the years, but kind of an odd tack for a Church which, on paper, aspires to a much higher standard than the lowest common denominator of society. I don’t recall any passage in the Gosepels in which Jesus commanded his followers “don’t do anything Rome wouldn’t do”! In fact, child abuse was the ONE crime for which he prescribed summary execution – this from a guy who was not a big eye-for-eye retributive justice man.

                • Marion (Mael Muire)

                  You have it exactly 180 degrees wrong, Kenofken.

                  It isn’t “It’s not that bad; Everyone else is doing it.”

                  I agree with the medieval writers, who direct that Catholic clergy who molest children and young people should be imprisoned in remote monasteries for the remainder of their days, to live in penance. Only I agree that in our own day, they should go to secular prison.

                  Just as public school teachers, Protestant and non-denominational, Jewish, and Muslim clergy, as well as fathers, and step-fathers, boyfriends of mothers, other family members, neighbors, and strangers who harm children and teens in any way, shape, or form should go to jail for a long, long time.

                  And the mothers or other guardians, who know about the abuse and fail to stop it or report it, should go to jail for a very long time.

                  My attitude: such instances of abuse are deplorable – so much so, that if I were serving on the jury at the trial of a parent who had physically attacked the perp, and even injured him severely, I would be hard pressed to do anything but acquit. However, these instances of abuse should be addressed and eradicated everywhere that they occur. But with virtually all publicity and all public discussions focussed on only one theater of operations for these predators, i.e., the Catholic Church, the public perception becomes that the Catholic Church in particular stand out among all other institutions in our society for being chockablock with predators functioning as clergy and with compliant bishops covering up for them.

                  This perception simply isn’t true, and it further damages the Church’s reputation, and unfairly so.

                  I’ll accept fair damage to the Church’s reputation, or to my own. Unfair, however, I won’t accept for myself or for my Church, and neither should anyone else.

                  And fair-minded men and women of good will, if they think about it for awhile, will certainly understand this distinction and will accept it.

  • Kristen inDallas

    not to mention the countless number of men who abuse their children/step-children right under the nose of those children’s mothers…

  • Eve Fisher

    In a country where 1 out of every 3 women are beaten and/or sexually abused and/or raped in her lifetime (that’s 60 million women in this country), sure, let’s let the men rule all the way. They always do the right thing. (60 million abused women, not to mention children – what does that hint about the number of abusers?)
    And our Lord Jesus Christ never mentioned, anywhere in the Gospels, that all priests (a word he never used about his disciples and followers), forever, have to be male. Oh, and if you’re going to quote Matthew 16:18 “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” please remember – Peter was married.

    • Noah Doyle

      1 out of every 3 women are beaten and/or sexually abused and/or raped in her lifetime

      Could you please cite your source for this number? I’m curious as to where this ‘1 in 3’ or ‘1 in 4’ number (more often seen on college campus posters) comes from, because it’s orders of magnitude higher than all violent crimes in the USA, combined.

      • Eve Fisher

        WHO statistics: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/violence_against_women_20130620/en/
        36.1% in Americas.

        National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence website:

        UN statistics – 35%

        Clark County Prosecutor, quoting CDC and AMA statistics:

        And there are many more. The statistics are repeated across all sorts of studies, investigations, data collections. Sad, horrific, but true.

        • chezami

          Are you seriously suggesting that somehow not ordaining women leads to rape?

          As to your appeal to the argument about Jesus ordaining men meaning nothing, you are relying on that old standby the Protestant Semi-Permeable Membrane of Biblical Prooftexting:

          Some time ago I wrote piece about the Semi-Permeable Membranes of the Various Protestantisms. The point of the piece was that there is a peculiar game played in order to maintain rejection of Catholic teaching in Protestant circles [and, I might add, dissenting Catholic circles on both sides of the aisle]. It goes like this:

          1. If a thing is condemned by the Church, but permitted by the Protestant (say, gay marriage) the demand is for an explicit text forbidding it (“Show me where Jesus said one word about not allowing gay marriage! That’s just the Church imposing its purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.”).

          2. Conversely, if a thing is allowed by the Church but condemned by the Protestant, the demand is for an explicit text commanding it. So, for instance, we get demands like, “Where in the Bible do you find anyone asking us to pray to dead people? That’s just the Church imposing it’s purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.”

          Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/pre-emptive-war-and-the-protestant-semi-permeable-membrane#ixzz2lP8BFLKW

          • Eve Fisher

            Not at all – I was simply responding to Mr. Shea’s reductio ad absurdum, that because 1.4 million women have had abortions, all women are capable of evil and as such, unqualified for the priesthood. So I thought I’d point out that quite a few men are capable of evil, too. Sustained, systemic evil. The evil in the human heart, the evil that men do, is only a good argument if you use it against any human being a priest, not just females.

            • chezami

              You’ve totally missed my point if you think that women can’t be priests because they are sinners. My point, for those that really need it spelled out, is that people who chalk up the priest abuse scandal to the fact that priesthood is a male-only thing never pay attention to the fact that men don’t have a corner on abuse and that celibacy (by the way) has nothing do with it either. The limitation of the priesthood to men has nothing whatsoever to do with the sinfulness of women, since men are (obviously) sinners as well.

              • Eve Fisher

                Well, you missed my point, too, so we’re even.

                • chezami

                  No. Your point was to rebut something I never said in order to agitate for women priests on the basis of something Jesus never said, or did.

                  • Eve Fisher

                    Your interpretation of my views (agitator?) is interesting. I rebutted “In a country were 1.4 million women kill their children each year, the notion that there is something magical about the infallibility of feminine love for children is a tough sell. Using that myth as a basis for demanding the Church ignore the teaching of Christ regarding the sacrament of ordination is… inadvisable” with the plain statement of fact that 60 million women are abused by men each year, which does not make men good poster children for the priesthood. You tarred women with one big brush, I did the same for men. Perhaps we should both now retreat to our mutual corners and put away our brushes. I certainly will.

                    • Mark did no tarring, and you’ve given away the game here. His claim was simple: the idea that sex abuse crises would not have taken place if women were allowed to be priests is undercut by the evidence he provided. To say ‘women are human, just as men, and they make mistakes too’ is to say ‘women priests wouldn’t have stopped anything with regards to sexual abuse’.

                      Regardless of what you think of women, men, or the female priests issue, the idea that sexual abuse wouldn’t be covered up if there were women priests is ludicrous, and the incident he reports helps to indicate as much. Saying ‘well men are as bad!’ won’t help you, because that just means the status quo would be maintained in the event of a change.

                    • Eve Fisher

                      I don’t see the direct correlation between some women having abortions and the hiding of sexual abuse of children by priests. In fact, I believe that the preponderance of male on female violence – and its often cavalier dismissal as the women’s/children’s fault – throughout history indicates a slight possibility that women might be less apt to do or cover up violence/abuse if they were in similar seats of powers. Then again, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

                      I apologize to Mark for misinterpreting his words in a way that he found hurtful and/or offensive. I will try to be more careful in my reading, interpretation, and comments in the future.

      • Whenever you see a claim about 1 out of every 3 women being ‘beaten and/or sexually abused and/or raped’, start asking for definitions to be very clear about what you’re talking about. Calling someone a foul name (no physical contact) is, by some measures, ‘sexual abuse’. You’re better off knowing exactly what’s being alleged, and how it’s supported.

    • entonces_99

      Peter had a mother-in-law, which means that he had been married. We are not told that his wife was still living at the time he left everything to follow Our Lord.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Don’t even chase that red herring. Peter’s marital status might be relevant to the discipline of priestly celibacy (though no one claims Christ instituted a celibate priesthood; that was established by the wisdom of the Church over time, though it is possible to change).

        The doctrine of the male priesthood, however, is irrelevant to Peter’s being married or not.

        • entonces_99

          I agree that Peter’s marital status has nothing to do with the doctrine of the exclusively male priesthood. But if you object to the red herring being brought up, make your objection to Eve Fisher, who for unknown reasons seemed to think it was relevant.

  • Benjamin2.0

    It’s a veritable hornets’ nest of feminists and priest abuse scandaliers down here. You certainly released the Kraken with this one, Mr. Shea. If you had mentioned traditionalists, the result would have been visible from space. If homosexual marriage, too, the cataclysm would’ve been world-ending.