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Monday, January 17, 2011

Why can't women be priests?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why can't women be priests?

Short answer: because women can't be fathers.

Long answer
 In the course of discussions on the priesthood I often hear comments like, "A woman can be a counselor, right?  She can manage a parish, right? She can have some good things to say while preaching, right?  She can even do the same things a man does in order to confect the sacraments!  So what's the big deal?"

These comments, in my opinion, show an impoverished understanding of the priesthood.

The priesthood is not a job. It's not what he does (for, to be sure, a woman can "do" all those things a priest does rather nicely!)  It's who he is.  At his very essence.

I heard on Catholic radio a priest, Fr. Vincent Serpa, say, regarding Baptism (paraphrasing): If we could see the change that occurs in the soul of the newly baptized, nuclear fission would appear as child's play.  A sublime, profound change occurs, at our very essence, at the very moment we are baptized An indelible (unchangeable, immortal) mark has been placed on our soul--more powerful than any mere nuclear fission!

Similarly, at the ordination of a priest a profound change occurs.  What existed 30 seconds prior to his consecration does not exist anymore.  He is a new creation:  a priest, configured to Christ.  Ontologically (that is, at one's very essence), there is a change in his being.  He may look like the same man, but what has just occurred is earth-shatteringly sublime!  Just like in our sacrament of the Eucharist "to observe that after bread becomes the Sacred Body of Christ, it still tastes like bread and feels like bread, but is now the Body of Christ? There has been an ontological change. A cup of wine still smells like wine and tastes like it, but it is now the Blood of Christ. At ordination an ontological change takes place."  source.

So ordination is not the "deputizing" of someone to perform an assignment; it is NOT the admission of someone to a profession such medicine or law. 

Thus, just as at our essence we women can never be fathers, no matter what functions we perform better than men , we can never be a father to our children.  When we women throw a baseball with our sons, go hiking with our daughters, teach our children to light a campfire, we are doing the same things men often do, but it's always as mothers. 

So, even if a woman were "ordained" to the priesthood, still she would not be, at her essence, a priest.  It's just not ontologically possible. That is, no amount of ontological change can transform a woman into a priest--at her essence she always remains a woman. And a woman can never be a father.

This teaching that women cannot be ordained has been defined, infallibly, by Pope JPII (bold mine):

"Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful" (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).

(Note:  the existence of a celibate priesthood, often linked in discussions to women's ordination, is a discipline of the Church, and thus could change.  In fact, we do have married priests in the Catholic Church.)

Finally, the objection is often made that when Jesus called only men to be apostles (i.e. priests and bishops) it was merely because he was subject to his culture.

My response:  ridiculous!

"To bind Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, with cultural constraints is historically and theologically inept. As the 1977
Declaration points out, Jesus often broke with religious and societal convention: He converses with a Samaritan woman (John 4:27), pardons a woman caught in adultery and indicates that a man is equally guilty in sins of lust (John 8:11), and departs from the "unbreakable" Mosaic law concerning the rights and duties of both sexes in marriage (Mark 10:2-11). Jesus surrounds himself with women in his ministry and even appears first to women after his Resurrection.

Despite these and other examples of breaking with prejudices and discriminations of his own time concerning women,
Jesus appoints only males to serve as the twelve apostles in his ministry. This was a freely made decision on Christ's part, as he was not constrained by culture or convention. The Declaration recalls Pope Innocent III's thirteenth-century teaching: "Although the Blessed Virgin Mary surpassed in dignity and in excellence all the apostles, nevertheless it was not to her but to them that the Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven." source

Lest anyone criticize the Church as having "no place for women", read these beautiful words from our late, great pope, JPII:

"The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable." -Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15


  1. You may be an amateur but you are speaking with the voice of the Church.
    Thank you!