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Responding to Jimmy Carter’s Criticism of the All-Male Priesthood

April 3, 2014

800px-Priesterweihe_in_Schwyz_2When St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the female sex is an impediment to receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders, i.e., becoming a priest or deacon, he cited the First Letter of Paul to Timothy, wherein the inspired author wrote that, in the gatherings of the faithful, women should learn in silence and with all submissiveness, never teaching or having authority over men.  Aquinas added, “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” By and large, you won’t today hear apologists for the all-male priesthood follow Aquinas’s lead when trying to explain Catholic doctrine to a hostile audience.  To our ears, his reasoning rings of sexism, sounding exactly like the sort of arguments historically (and still today) used to defend the mistreatment and degradation of women.  Nowadays the church’s most common refrain is that it hasn’t the authority to ordain women because Jesus Christ didn’t give it that authority: it’s not the limits of women, but the limits of the ordained men that prevent women serving as priests. This line of reasoning works to maintain the exclusiveness of its priesthood while evading the charge of sexism.

No surprise, critics of the all-male priesthood disagree. President Jimmy Carter, for one.  He’s on tour for a new book, A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, about the abuse of women around the world. Women today suffer inequality, enslavement, murder, legalized rape, torture, and other atrocities enabled by religious beliefs, practices, and structures of power.  In interviews, Carter has included the Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood among the causes of abuse and mistreatment, saying that it influences people to think of women as inferior to men–the kind of thinking that precipitates abuse.

The National Catholic Register has an article quoting prominent Catholic laywomen responding to President Carter, but their criticism of his statements doesn’t really address the key issue he’s raised. They accuse Carter of misunderstanding Catholicism and God: God didn’t make women inferior and the church doesn’t teach that they are inferior. Maybe Carter doesn’t understand the doctrine of the all-male priesthood, but whether he’s exactly right about the doctrine isn’t the question.  The issue is whether he’s right or wrong about the real world consequences of the doctrine and the institution. He could be wrong about the teaching but be right about its influence on thought and behavior. Proving that the priesthood as such is free of sexism doesn’t prove that it in effect contributes nothing to sexism.

And the charge of sexism isn’t going to go away. If the door is closed to women priests, as Pope Francis and pontiffs before him have said, then the all-male priesthood is going to receive more condemnation as society becomes more respectful of women’s equality.  Accusing critics of being ignorant of Catholicism won’t do the job. Nor will framing the priesthood as an institution of service instead of power, as Ashley McGuire does. “As Pope Francis continues to remind us,” she says, “it is service to others that is the primary aim of Catholics, not authority or power.” Yeah, okay. So what?  Service requires power. An organized ministry such as the priesthood necessitates a complex power structure.  Women, being women, are excluded from exercising the power to serve the church in important and consequential ways: administering certain sacraments, celebrating the Mass, preaching from the pulpit, leading a diocese, and defining doctrine, for example. Is such a power structure of no consequence because its aim is service?  Would excluding women from running for public office be defensible by saying that public office is really about public service and not authority or power?  Obviously not.

If President Carter is correct that the institution of the all-male priesthood contributes to sexism and the abuse of women, then it behooves the church, if not to change its doctrine on the priesthood, at least to acknowledge this unintended effect and work diligently to counter it.

Kyle Cupp is an author and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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48 Comments
  1. Tragh permalink
    April 3, 2014 11:31 am

    Yes, this is a pickle.

    On the one hand, as you point out, there’s nothing inherently oppressive about excluding certain people from something no one has a right to in the first place.

    At the same time, there are messages sent. The question is how much we can walk on eggshells to prevent the wrong message. If someone is using the limitation to men in this one rather rare and special office to justify whole attitudes about women even in other spheres where the Church is fine with women…at what point does that become our fault as opposed to just their totally erroneous over-extension or fig-leaf cynicism?

    The Church has a sacramental/typological system in which bodies and sex are not irrelevant. The husband is the head, the bride is the body. It’s a very nuanced and beautiful symbolism that isn’t supposed to lead to women’s oppression. But it’s largely symbolic; is limiting Mall Santa Clauses to male actors oppressive too??

    One thing the church could do is give women and lay people in general a lot more control over the “purse strings.” Instead of having our donations go directly to the parish or diocese (and hence giving the bishop ultimate theoretical control), things could be set up canonically so that they go to a lay board first (ie, we as laity sort of “pool” our donations first) and then they vote on how much to give (or threaten to withhold) and with what stipulations on its use. Parish finance boards already do this. Lay control could be given to pretty much any secular administrative decisions.

    I also think it’s helpful to think of it like this: 100% of Catholic women are not priests, sure, but 99.99% of Catholic men aren’t either. At that point, are the 500 billion catholic males in general really privileged above women just because 400,000 of them (who mostly have to be celibate, mind you) get to be clergy.

    This is always what bugs me about calls for token representation of minority groups. There are 100 US Senators only. Even if 50 were women, do these 50 women really somehow bring privilege to the 200 million women in America. Are these 50 likely to have more in common with those 200 million? Or with their male counterparts in the elite?? My guess is the fact that they’re senators would be much more relevant to their decisions than the fact that they’re women.

    I’ll ask again: does anyone believe giving women the vote radically changed the course of American history? Would we have had radically different men as president or policy decisions in the past 50 years? What is the concrete effect?

    If jimmy carter wants women bishops in the Catholic Church, fine. I can find 60 conservative catholic women to be cardinals…who would promptly vote against their own creation as cardinals and then resign! But then this is the problem with all tokenism: calls for this or that group to be included among the elite means nothing, because you can always just filter in such a way that the tokens you are picking are co-opted members of that group who really will just support the status quo.

    The logic of democracy simply doesn’t work in aristocracies. And that’s as true about the us government as it is about the Church.

    • April 5, 2014 8:17 am

      “This is always what bugs me about calls for token representation of minority groups. There are 100 US Senators only. Even if 50 were women, do these 50 women really somehow bring privilege to the 200 million women in America. Are these 50 likely to have more in common with those 200 million? Or with their male counterparts in the elite?? My guess is the fact that they’re senators would be much more relevant to their decisions than the fact that they’re women.”

      I’m glad you pointed this out. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Pakistan has had a woman president. However, that hasn’t stopped the honor killing rape victims or shooting fifteen year old girls who advocate for equal access to education.

      On the other hand, I think this also means that the status of the Virgin Mary is meaningless to the status of women within the Catholic Church. Giving one woman an elite role within an organization does not mean that the average woman will be respected or treated as an equal.

      • Polpog permalink
        April 9, 2014 7:50 am

        “If jimmy carter wants women bishops in the Catholic Church, fine. I can find 60 conservative catholic women to be cardinals…who would promptly vote against their own creation as cardinals and then resign! But then this is the problem with all tokenism: calls for this or that group to be included among the elite means nothing, because you can always just filter in such a way that the tokens you are picking are co-opted members of that group who really will just support the status quo.”

        A fascinating point. Yes, make Peggy Noonan and Simcha Fisher cardinals and see if that pleases Jimmy Carter one bit!

        It would almost be like the question “Would liberals really be happy with a black or woman or gay president…who was a conservative Republican?” There are members of those groups who are conservatives after all. Is what they’re asking for really representation of those groups, then? Or do they care only because they assume those groups will bring liberalism with them?

  2. dismasdolben permalink
    April 3, 2014 12:51 pm

    Please explain why women are restricted from “preaching from the pulpit” or “defining doctrine.” Isn’t Teresa of Avila a Doctor of the Church, and weren’t several of Christ’s most important disciples women, and didn’t Jesus appear first to women after His Resurrection? isn’t the sacerdotal role simply to forgive sins, transmit apostolic orders and transform the Eucharist into the Body of Christ? Aren’t there many, many other positions of considerable responsibility in the Catholic Church that women could be fulfilling–including “preaching” and “defining doctrine”?

    • hydrochloriawk permalink
      April 3, 2014 1:28 pm

      As a Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila merely presented doctrine in a remarkable way. Doctors of the Church don’t define doctrine (in theory – although apparently there is an exception for Aquinas and Augustine, whose theological opinions have become doctrine for us). As for “preaching from the pulpit”, women can neither proclaim the Gospel at liturgy (though women were the first to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection), nor offer preaching or teaching in the context of liturgy. Women can offer prayers of the faithful from the pulpit and read non gospel readings.

      • April 3, 2014 3:50 pm

        It’s worth pointing out that all of these roles for women only exist in the post Vatican II Church.

        I also think it’s worth pointing out that St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Sienna were only named Doctors of the Church in 1970. There had been petitions to have St. Teresa of Avila (and St. Therese of Lisieux) named Doctors of the Church decades before, but these petitions were refused by the popes at the time.

        It is only in 1970, seven years after The Feminine Mystique was published, that the Church named St. Teresa of Avila a Doctor of the Church.

        I’m not saying that Betty Friedan is directly responsible for the Church’s formal recognition of St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Sienna. However, I point this out because I think it speaks to something that many conservative Catholics like to deny. G.K. Chesterton once said that being a Catholic frees a man from being a slave to the age. This is not the case.

        • Kurt permalink
          April 4, 2014 8:22 am

          Please explain why women are restricted from “preaching from the pulpit”

          They are not. They used to be but (as I have taken some glee in explaining to some of my conservative friends who mistakenly thing Bl. JP2 was firmly a conservative partisan), Blessed John Paul changed canon law to permit women to preach from the pulpit. While there has been no change in the discipline of only deacons and priests preaching at Mass, prior to John Paul 2, laymen could but laywoman could not preach in a church outside of Mass (i.e. at Vespers, Liturgy of the Word, etc).

  3. Chris Sullivan permalink
    April 3, 2014 2:51 pm

    Aquinas’ “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection” is blatantly in contrast to Catholic respect for Mary as Queen of Heaven and Mediatrix of all graces. One even could say it’s a heretical statement. If heresy is used to justify a particular teaching, and the SCDF documents readily admit that on this issue the arguments historically advanced to justify not ordaining women are wrong and today scandalously wrong, then the teaching derived from this faulty theology must be questioned.

    A deeper focus on Mary’s role as mediatrix in all the graces conferred by the priesthood would be very helpful to this discussion. If all the graces priests dispense are already dispensed to them via a woman, then we essentially have a woman already in effect ordained.

    There are strong theological arguments for Mary as Priest, effectively transubstantiating in her womb, and offering priestly sacrifice at Calvary. There was once a tradition of Mary as priest (suppressed by Rome in the 1920’s).

    A prominent priest theologian in our diocese recently wrote that the Church is sexist. Sometimes one just has to call a sin the sin that it is.

    One recalls that the Church was sometimes very racist, the first U.S. Black priest, for example, had to be trained in Rome as no U.S. seminary would admit him. We supported slavery and used to racially segregate Catholic schools. History shows that the church composed of sinful people has fallen into pretty much every form of sin society suffers from.

    God Bless

    • April 3, 2014 4:45 pm

      “A deeper focus on Mary’s role as mediatrix in all the graces conferred by the priesthood would be very helpful to this discussion. If all the graces priests dispense are already dispensed to them via a woman, then we essentially have a woman already in effect ordained.”

      I’ve never considered this interpretation.

  4. Magdalena permalink
    April 3, 2014 2:52 pm

    As a woman, let me say that arguments like Mr Carter’s are tiresome. And comparing priesthood to public service is exactly what’s wrong with it. I’ve never confused my lack of qualification to absolve sins with my right to be elected dog catcher.

    Things Jesus didn’t say: “I came so that they might have power, and be empowered abundantly.”

  5. Stuart permalink
    April 3, 2014 2:56 pm

    I think it would be interesting to experiment with churches where women were the parish administrators and priests were their employees. The woman would be in charge of the church with the priest her assistant, sent out to do what she needs him to do, under her direction. The woman could be the “front person” for the liturgy as well.The priest could play a “background” role limited to consecrating the Host. The woman would lead the prayers and give the sermon (there’s probably some way around the “rules” so a woman could do that in some arcane emergency capacity), distribute the Host, and offer the blessing. With a woman being in charge (like Lydia’s home church), giving direction (like Mary at Cana), giving sermons (like Phoebe, who read Paul’s letter to the church at Rome), and giving out the Eucharist (as Mary Magdalene was first to distribute the news of the Resurrection), and the male priest serving quietly in the background, we could offer a new, woman-centered model of the church–without breaking any rules! :)

    • April 3, 2014 4:23 pm

      In this vein, I would love to hear a woman chant the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil. Considering that women were the first to receive word of the Resurrection, I think that it would be far more significant for women to proclaim the Exsultet.

      • April 4, 2014 9:42 am

        Actually, in the parish I was attending in late 90’s, a women cantor did chant the Exsultet. I could tell she was a bit nervous, and she wasn’t projecting her voice as well as she could have; but it was not bad overall.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        April 6, 2014 7:26 am

        I have been in two parishes in which a woman sung the Exultet. In both cases the priest could not carry a tune and he happily delegated the duty to the music director. At least in the old text there were specific instructions for which parts to omit if it was not sung by a priest.

    • Jordan permalink
      April 3, 2014 6:06 pm

      Emma’s comment reminds me of a particular memory. I remember the first time I heard the dialogue and preface of the Mass sung by an [Anglican woman] priest in soprano. The Roman tones were used, which all the more accentuated what I found to be a pleasantly shocking experience. Hearing the Mass sung in a voice other than tenor, baritone, or bass opened a door into my religious mind which I had until then never considered. I was still in my fundamentalist phase then, so I never returned to that church again. I was quite immature not to do so.

      The Exsultet contains liturgical dialogue (i.e. dominus vobiscum), so it would be difficult for a layperson to chant the Exsultet without the omission of the greeting and preface dialogue in the middle of the chant. Still, I agree with Emma’s sentiments. The victimae paschale laudes is from the perspective of Mary Magdalene; should not a woman sing this sequence as well?

    • Kurt permalink
      April 4, 2014 8:24 am

      Somewhat like the Jewish practice of the Cantor being the chief liturgist but the Rabbi the preaching, teaching, leadership and administrative authority of the congregation.

  6. jordan permalink
    April 3, 2014 4:01 pm

    Kyle writes,

    Maybe Carter doesn’t understand the doctrine of the all-male priesthood, but whether he’s exactly right about the doctrine isn’t the question. The issue is whether he’s right or wrong about the real world consequences of the doctrine and the institution. He could be wrong about the teaching but be right about its influence on thought and behavior.

    Your point is spot-on. Indeed, Jimmy Carter said almost this in an interview with Diane Rehm on her NPR show. During the interview, Carter stated his belief that institutions which allow only men to hold leadership positions influence the actions of the non-leaders or laity. For Carter, religions where men lead invarably inculcate an almost subliminial misogynistic attitude in believers.

    I have not read Carter’s book yet, so I will refrain from making broad assumptions about his position. Still, I would say that maybe he might want to look at other aspects of religious practice for evidence of misogyny. All religions contain a fundamentalist streak. Both Carter’s Southern Baptist faith and my Catholic faith certainly contain misogynistic attitudes within these fundamentalist offshoots. An important reason why I have stopped self-identifying as a Catholic traditionalist is the not-so-subtle misogyny I have encountered frequently in that movement. Forcing women to dress a certain way for Mass through peer pressure and the tacit disapproval of clergy, for example, is a definite example of misogyny. Carter might cite the refusal of the Church to ordain women as a proximate reason for the previous example. I would say that the example I have given is misogyny based on artificial and anachronistic gender roles enforced by a small number of men and women for the discrimination against women believers in general.

    Carter’s reductionistic understanding of the debate over women’s ordination in Roman Catholicism is lamentable, as he is a brilliant man who is capable of a finer dissection of misogyny and gender conflict in Catholic belief and practice. Still, his thoughts have Catholics forthrightly wrestling with other aspects of women’s ordination. This struggle is only for our benefit.

    • Mikey permalink
      April 3, 2014 8:41 pm

      Carter isn’t a brilliant man because a brilliant man would not be capable of such sophomoric reductionism. It’s amazing the slack you get cut when you are NO LONGER president..getting to say things that would get you HAMMERED as ridiculous if you still were.

      • Kurt permalink
        April 4, 2014 8:28 am

        I think the matter with Carter is that most of the public defenses of the all male priesthood are what cases of sophomoric reasoning. His views are right on the mark as a commentary on what any but a Catholic theologian would hear about the all male priesthood.

  7. Stuart permalink
    April 3, 2014 6:45 pm

    Just so Mr. Carter is aware, the Catholic Church is open to offering the priesthood to anyone the Holy Spirit calls. If the Holy Spirit calls a woman to the priesthood, then we will have no choice but to obey. Until that happens, our hands are tied. So, don’t blame us for the lack of women called to the priesthood–blame God. :)

    For some reason, God doesn’t seem to think that the priesthood is anything that special, or He would happily give it to everyone. Perhaps God thinks that priests are akin to the garbage collectors of the Kingdom, the slaves of the slaves, so maybe He wants women to aspire to greater things.

    One might argue that the ability to give flesh to immortal souls is a higher calling than the priesthood, but we all know how sexist that line of thinking is. :)

    • Kurt permalink
      April 4, 2014 10:00 am

      Just so Mr. Carter is aware, the Catholic Church is open to offering the priesthood to anyone the Holy Spirit calls.

      This is bad 19th century theology that I had hoped we had moved beyond. The priesthood is not an individual call (as monastic life might be). The priesthood exists to serve the community. There are places today and have been in the past (obviously not today in the USA) where the number of priestly candidates has exceeded the Church’s need. Candidates were not accepted because there was no need, not because it was discerned they did not have an authentic call.

    • April 4, 2014 11:20 am

      “For some reason, God doesn’t seem to think that the priesthood is anything that special, or He would happily give it to everyone. Perhaps God thinks that priests are akin to the garbage collectors of the Kingdom, the slaves of the slaves, so maybe He wants women to aspire to greater things.”

      I’m curious if this is what you would tell a young man who feels called to the priesthood. “Why be a garbage collector? Aspire to greater things.”

      There is a whole phenomenon that tries to argue against women being ordained to the priesthood by denigrating the priesthood, in stark contrast to Christian history. Previous generations would tell stories of angels kneeling before priests, because priests had the power to consecrate the Host, a privilege not granted to the angels. Unless a woman wants to be a priest. Then a priest is simply a garbage collector.

    • Amy permalink
      April 4, 2014 12:31 pm

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to do with the excessive smileys but they kind of make your reply seem suspicious.

    • April 4, 2014 12:32 pm

      “One might argue that the ability to give flesh to immortal souls is a higher calling than the priesthood, but we all know how sexist that line of thinking is. :)”

      It is not sexist to talk about motherhood as an amazing thing. However, a woman’s status as a mother has been used throughout Western history to deny that she has an intellectual life. That is sexist.

  8. Agellius permalink
    April 4, 2014 3:40 pm

    “Carter has included the Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood among the causes of abuse and mistreatment, saying that it influences people to think of women as inferior to men–the kind of thinking that precipitates abuse.”

    The argument doesn’t hold water. The Church teaches that only men can be priests. Carter (and apparently Kyle) argues that when people hear that the Church doesn’t allow women to be priests, they will assume that therefore women are inferior and proceed to abuse them. (I realize that I’m oversimplifying a bit.)

    But the Church also teaches that violence against women, including “enslavement, murder, legalized rape, torture, and other atrocities” are mortal sins.

    I’m skeptical that people are going to eagerly absorb and believe the first teaching, like good, devout Catholics, while completely ignoring the second.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      April 6, 2014 7:25 am

      Agellius,

      I have looked at enough websites for Catholic men’s groups, particularly the groups urging men to “reclaim” their God given roles as fathers and husbands, to see no contradiction at all. These men would never condone violence against women, but that does not mean they see women as their social, intellectual or spiritual equals. They apply the same (or similar) logic used to defend that women should not be priests and apply it much more broadly; the rest is a broad defense of patriarchy, or at least of the mythical golden age of social harmony which only existed in episodes of “Leave It To Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.”

      • Agellius permalink
        April 6, 2014 2:36 pm

        “I have looked at enough websites for Catholic men’s groups, particularly the groups urging men to “reclaim” their God given roles as fathers and husbands, to see no contradiction at all.”

        Not only is there no contradiction, it simply doesn’t follow. Our society forbids children from drinking alcohol and denies them the privileges of driving and voting. Using Carter’s logic, should we not abolish those laws lest we as a society be tempted to enslave, beat and rape our children?

        • April 9, 2014 6:48 pm

          I think that “not enslaving, beating, and raping,” is a very low status for equality. A man would never put up with such a standard.

          In terms of the men David Cruz describes, there is a rather infamous post on Catholicity telling women that they should allow their husbands and fathers to pick out their clothes.

          Worse, I remember visiting a Traditionalist blog where a woman was recounting a terrible story. She had attended a Latin Mass and afterwards, a young man came up to her and started shaming her for the way she was dressed. She had never even met that young man before.

  9. trellis smith permalink
    April 4, 2014 5:33 pm

    A good and devout Catholic should question the reasons for the Church’s policies which as President Carter observes if not informed by bigotry certainly is expressed by it. Apply the duck criteria and all the objections to reductionism and nuance falls away.

    • Agellius permalink
      April 5, 2014 1:31 am

      “Policies”? I think you’re assuming the point that you’re arguing.

      • trellis smith permalink
        April 8, 2014 8:45 pm

        As are you.

  10. April 4, 2014 6:37 pm

    On the other hand, I read a blog once about a man who had converted from Evangelicalism to Catholicism and then returned to Evangelicalism. One of the reasons he gave? The women ran the Catholic parishes. He complained about the fact that, despite the all male priesthood, women ruled the parish. Everywhere he turned, he saw another woman doing something and making decisions. He had to leave.

    This probably says more about him than it does about the Catholic Church.

    • Melody permalink
      April 5, 2014 1:09 pm

      “He complained about the fact that, despite the all male priesthood, women ruled the parish.” Yeah. I’ve heard that whine before. Some call it “the feminization of the Church”. And it’s always a bad thing. Apparently women lectors and women EMHCs just drive all the testosterone out of the church. That has been used as an argument against girl altar servers, too. Who knew male sensibilities were so delicate.

      • Agellius permalink
        April 5, 2014 10:19 pm

        Now that you know it, what then?

        • April 9, 2014 6:37 pm

          I’m assuming you realize that Melody was being sarcastic.

          However, it does bring up a good point. When a man complains about the situation, the general consensus is that there is something wrong with the situation. When a woman complains about a situation, the general consensus is there is something wrong with the woman.

  11. w8kwses permalink
    April 4, 2014 7:58 pm

    Jesus used the parable to introduce ideas the outright statement of which would close ears. He was alert to societal prejudices and preconceptions, and used the parable to get an idea across that would be rejected by many in his audience if baldly stated.
    A female apostle as one of the 12 would have closed the mind of Jewish misogynist society of the day. Instead, Jesus used the living parable, Mary Magdelene, and the role of the two Marys when Jesus was crucified adds to that parable.
    The Church leadership of today shies away from a female in the priesthood possibly because the Church is present in misogynist cultures that would react poorly. National Church option is the closest we could ever hope for until well after anyone reading this is deceased.

  12. Ronald King permalink
    April 5, 2014 7:31 am

    If God’s will is to “…be done on earth as it is in heaven…”; if there are no husbands and wives or Jews and Greeks in heaven; and, if we are living in the spirit and not in the flesh, then what are the implications for an all male priesthood? My answer is that the priesthood is still under the influence of gravity and all of the belief systems which keep the world functioning in fear and violence in support of a system which appears predictable and gives the illusion of stability. It is violent for a person to be marginalized and unknown due to the ignorant beliefs of those in power.

  13. April 5, 2014 10:22 am

    One thing we haven’t considered is that ordaining women to the priesthood may not change how Catholics view women, simply how we view priests.

    There was a post on WordPress back in December talking about doctors in Russia. The article states that while doctors in Russia undergo the same kind of training in the United States, they are one of the lowest paid professions in the country. One reason for this, according to some, is that doctor has traditionally been a “women’s profession,” and women’s professions were less valuable under the Soviet Union. I also read recently that the teller position at the bank used to be much more of an entrance level position, the first step on the ladder to a high paying job. This started to change in the 1950’s, when women started becoming bank tellers. In time, a bank teller became a much more dead end job.

    My point is that having women as priests may not cause Catholics to value women. It may cause Catholics to devalue priests

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      April 6, 2014 7:19 am

      Given the sexism of the over-arching culture, I think you may be correct.

    • Agellius permalink
      April 6, 2014 7:08 pm

      “My point is that having women as priests may not cause Catholics to value women. It may cause Catholics to devalue priests”

      You may be on to something. Suppose the Church not only ordained women as priests, but also allowed priests to marry. And then allowed them to marry persons of the same sex. When combined with the low salaries paid to priests, I think the priesthood certainly would lose much of its appeal.

      But suppose we stopped making the priesthood a profession, and let priests pursue other careers to support themselves and their families. And let people elect their own pastors and bishops, as many progressives also advocate. Eventually we might have the CEO of Apple as pope. Imagine what Steve Jobs could have done for the Church’s image!

      I’m not quite sure what my point is, but the Church would become quite a different thing under the progressive vision. I’m not sure it would be pretty.

  14. Stuart permalink
    April 6, 2014 10:33 am

    The point is still this–the Church can’t ordain anyone God hasn’t called. As far as the Church has been able to tell, God has never called a woman to the priesthood. God must be willing to live with the accusations of sexism in order to build the kind of Church He wants.

    • brian martin permalink
      April 7, 2014 12:28 pm

      The problem with this claim is that it ignores free will. We as humans can choose not to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Clearly there have been times in which the Church, despite the presence of the Holy Spirit, has acted in ways that were not as God intended. In fact, if I recall correctly, Pope John Paul II actually issued an apology for the poor treatment of the Church’s female members. Sorry the precise document escapes me.

  15. Mark VA permalink
    April 6, 2014 6:26 pm

    Kyle:

    Let’s indulge in a thought experiment, if you will:

    Let us pretend that later this year the pope will surprise us all, and announce that he has decided that the Catholic Church is ready, as you put it, to “… change its doctrine on the priesthood”, and allow female ordination, worldwide.

    All women who feel called to the priesthood, regardless of their particular situation (single, married, with or without children, etc) can now apply to a seminary of their choice, graduate, be ordained, and then assigned as head of a parish. Their official title will be “Priestess”, “Pastor”, “Reverend”, or something analogous.

    Disregarding the psychological and sociological adjustments to this new situation (which are the less interesting questions, in my opinion), what any further “changes of the doctrine” will the Church be required to make, in consequence of this decision? In other words, would this be a one time event, or a part of a more comprehensive process?

    What do your knowledge, imagination, and powers of deduction suggest to you?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      April 7, 2014 1:07 pm

      The trouble with this thought experiment is that it goes substantially further than admitting the possibility of ordaining women. You have relaxed the rule for priestly celibacy; more importantly, you seem to be eliminating the mediating role of the Church in discerning vocations:

      “All women who feel called to the priesthood, can now apply to a seminary of their choice, graduate, be ordained, and then assigned as head of a parish.”

      Maybe this was just a slip of the keyboard, but you seem to be equating any change with a near anarchic process.

      • Mark VA permalink
        April 7, 2014 3:35 pm

        Thank you, Mr. Cruz-Uribe, for your reply.

        It was no slip of the key board – I wanted to propose this scenario, for these reasons:

        (a) This is how the “wind is blowing” in certain parts of the world outside the Church – the person who feels “a calling”, is considered the final arbiter of its validity (“primacy of conscience” sort of argument);

        (b) It will not be possible to conduct such an experiment in isolation from our wider cultural environment – these pressures will be (and to some extent, already are) applied inside, as well as outside, the local Church. Thus, the denial of such a calling would likely be viewed as the last gasp of the “Patriarchy”;

        Based on the above reasons, rather than quibble, parse, and nuance at some intermediate point (celibacy, mediating role of the Church), I proposed a “post-Patriarchy” scenario, to help us discern any additional implications of such a possible future.

        Finally, I don’t think that such changes, if enacted, will necessarily result in anarchy. There are other possibilities, and they circle around the questions of Church’s doctrine, the nature of this doctrine and its influence, earthly power and its scope. Hence the scenario.

  16. brian martin permalink
    April 7, 2014 12:33 pm

    Before we start seriously talking about women priests, we need to be able to talk about discernment of call, and move that beyond just “priest, deacon or religious” to all of us asking what God has called us to do. (Oh yeah, and I mean beyond the facile answer of “married” or “single”) How does the Church discern and utilize gifts among it’s members. currently it seems to be just whoever signs up to serve this committee or that. There is little interest in call and gifts outside of the ordained.

    • Agellius permalink
      April 7, 2014 11:04 pm

      Brian:

      That’s because a “call” is a subjective thing. There’s no objective way to verify it. You can claim that God is calling you to something, and I may say he’s not. Or I may say that God told me he is calling you to something, and you may say he’s not. How can we prove it one way or the other?

      This is why the whole idea of a “call” to the priesthood sounds fishy to me. I agree with Kurt (gasp!) when he says, “The priesthood is not an individual call”. In fact I recall there being a response to dubium from the CDF or something, which I can’t find at the moment, but I believe someone had asked whether a call was necessary for becoming a priest, and the response was something like, “negative, you only have to want to be a priest and meet the other requirements for being a priest”.

      • brian martin permalink
        April 9, 2014 5:09 pm

        Given the number of different Saints and Popes etc. who have written about the need to discern the call of the spirit, I find it interesting that you would so easily dismiss it. “I believe someone had asked whether a call was necessary for becoming a priest, and the response was something like, “negative, you only have to want to be a priest and meet the other requirements for being a priest” If that was truly the response, I might suggest that this attitude could go a long ways toward explaining the abuse crisis. If discernment of call was not important, why does pretty much everything I can find about becoming a priest talk about “discerning the call” to priesthood?

        The Discernment of Vocations
        33.
        Potential candidates for the priesthood must be in prayerful
        dialogue with God and with the Church in the discernment of their
        vocation. The linkage of this divine and ecclesial dialogue is especially
        important because “in the present context there is . . . a certain tendency
        to view the bond between human beings and God in an individualistic
        and self-centered way, as if God’s call reached the individual by a direct
        route, without in any way passing through the community” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 37). Eventually, this dialogue, properly conducted, may bring candidates to the admissions process, completing this first phase of vocational discernment
        (from Program of Priestly Formation, pg 17 and 18, published by the USCCB) This clearly suggests that there is a role to be played by the Church to help in the discernment of a “Call” to the priesthood.

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