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Women Priests: A Mini-Debate

Women Priests: A Mini-Debate November 12, 2014

Here is a debate between Mary and Jerry about women priests. Mary and Jerry are not real people.

MARY: I don’t see why the church forbids women from being priests. Women have entered every other profession. We have women doctors, lawyers, politicians, soldiers and entrepreneurs. Why not a woman priest?

JERRY: Being a priest is different than those other jobs.

MARY: I don’t see it.

JERRY: Those jobs are something a person chooses. The priesthood is the other way around. Instead of choosing the priest is chosen and called.

MARY: But what about the women who insist that they have been called to the priesthood?

JERRY: Everybody–man or woman–has to submit their sense of calling to the authority of the church. The individual’s sense of being called has to be validated by the church.

MARY: And the church rejects women?

JERRY: The church doesn’t reject women. It’s the Catholic Church that elevates a woman above every other created being. The Blessed Virgin is hardly an example of the church rejecting women.

MARY: Oh, the old patriarchal narrative in which women are either Virgin, Mother or Whore….

JERRY: That’s crap. Not only does the Catholic Church honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, but look at all the great female saints down through the ages. Its arguable that it was only the Catholic Church that historically recognized and celebrated the genius of women. Read history. The first institution to celebrate women as equals and to celebrate the feminine genius was the Catholic Church.

MARY: You’re getting off track. We were talking about women’s ordination. If the Catholic Church celebrates women’s genius, as you put it, why reject women for ordination? It’s a power thing isn’t it? Keep the little ladies out of the engine room fellas. They might mess things up.

JERRY: I can see that it looks that way. I think you’ve revealed a different problem, and that is clericalism. You’re right that the decision making is often in the hands of a few select men, but is the problem that they are men or that the decision making is done by the select few?

MARY:  What do you mean?

JERRY: It’s true that priests and bishops make most of the decisions in the administrative sphere, but maybe we should turn things on their head and see that the real work of the church takes place at the grass roots level, in the streets, homes, schools and parishes. That’s where the work that really matters takes place and there are plenty of women and men who have complete freedom to get on and do that work. The work of the church is not all liturgy and church meetings you know.

MARY: OK, but still, wouldn’t the church be better off with women priests?

JERRY: How so?

MARY: They bring their feminine gifts to the priesthood.

JERRY: They already bring their feminine gifts to the whole family of the church. I don’t see that confusing gender roles would help either the priesthood, the whole church or women for that matter.

MARY: Why do gender roles have to be so defined?

JERRY: Because the vast majority of people are clearly male or female and they function most effectively and happily when their gender roles are clear and comfortable.

MARY: That’s debatable.

JERRY: This is about women’s ordination right? What support do you find in the Scriptures for this?

MARY: The Bible doesn’t have all the answers, and I admit on face value that the New Testament forbids women from having authority over men in church, but it also tells women to keep their heads covered in church and we don’t go around telling women they have to wear hats.

JERRY: You would look good in a hat.

MARY: Are you flirting with me?

JERRY: I was thinking one of those winter woolen hats you can cover your whole face with. Like those Muslim  women where you can only see their eyes.

MARY: Very funny. While the New Testament says women should keep quiet it also says that in Christ there is no male or female and Peter’s vision in Acts 10 tells us that sometimes something new comes to the church which seems contrary to everything we know, but it is a development by the Holy Spirit.

JERRY: I hear you. However, did you see what Peter did with his personal vision? He took that idea straight back to the apostles to have it tested–validated or rejected. It was the apostolic church that had the final call and validated Peter’s personal vision. Same thing with women’s ordination. Some Catholics think this is a development of the Holy Spirit. It was taken to the apostolic church and the successors of the apostles rejected the innovation. That’s how the Catholic Church works.  As for Paul’s principle that in Christ there is no male or female, he certainly sets up an ideal that had never been heard of before: the intrinsic equality of the sexes, but equality doesn’t demand interchangeability.

MARY: There were female ordinations in the early church.

JERRY: They were conducted by heretical sects. Not mainstream.

MARY: That’s what is so maddening. Who said they were heretical sects? The male dominated church!

JERRY: Hold on. Male dominated? Remember Pentecost when the apostolic church was founded? Who was there in the center of the action?

MARY: Peter?

JERRY: The Blessed Virgin.

MARY: So?

JERRY: The message is that Mary at the heart of the church keeps her from being totally masculine and that’s why we call her “Mother Church”. The masculine and feminine are in balance.

MARY: This is far out. You really believe that?

JERRY: Don’t you?

MARY: We’re getting off track.

JERRY: I don’t think we are. Theology matters.

MARY: So women can’t be priests just because the Church says “Jesus was a man. The priest represents Jesus. Therefore the priest has to be a man.” If that’s the case why doesn’t every priest have to be a Jew with long hair and a beard?

JERRY: We’re talking about the essence of the sacrament?

MARY: What?

JERRY: In the church’s teaching on this matter in a document going back to 1976 she says that the masculinity of the priest is linked with him representing Christ. He is an icon of Christ in the sacrament. They are referring not only to the sacrament of the Eucharist, but the sacrament of ordination. It’s like this: a man is the matter of the sacrament of ordination and the church does not have the authority to change the matter of the sacrament without affecting its validity.

MARY: Help me out here. You’re saying if a person does not have a penis they can’t be a priest.

JERRY: Well yes. That’s what it comes down to. Catholicism’s rather specific sometimes.

MARY: That’s hogwash

JERRY: Why is it any more hogwash than saying a person does not have a uterus they cannot be a mother?

MARY: What about adoptive mothers?

JERRY: Uh huh. Okay. We’re saying the physical details matter. Let me explain by asking a question. If you were a missionary to a primitive tribe of people who had never heard of wheat, grapes, bread and wine what would you do for Eucharist? Let’s say their staple foods were manioc root paste made into tortillas and fermented cocoanut milk. Could you use the manioc tortillas and cocoanut juice for communion?

MARY: I guess so. It’s interesting.

JERRY: The answer is, no you can’t. Even for a good cultural reason you can’t change the stuff or the “matter” of the sacrament. Jesus gave us bread and wine. It has to be bread and wine. In fact it has to be pure grape wine and bread made from wheat. You can’t use rye bread and wine with blackberry flavoring. The church says she does not have the authority to make such a change. She simply can’t change what Jesus established. He did not give her the authority to do so.

MARY: And a priest being a man is like that.

JERRY: Yes. Jesus chose men to be ordained. It has to be men. Church can’t change it even if she wants to for good cultural reasons.

MARY: So continuing this campaign is pointless.

JERRY: ‘fraid so.

MARY: So we’re stuck with the male dominated church?

JERRY: I think the key word there is “dominated” not “male”. We should move away from clericalism and towards more collaboration–the priests empowering all of God’s people–men and women like to fulfill their true vocations and calling.

MARY: I gotta go. This was interesting.

JERRY: Hey, sweetheart could you make me a sandwich?

MARY: Sure. How ’bout a knuckle sandwich?


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