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Truth beyond gender

| Thursday, March 27, 2014

With contemporary culture constantly fixated on the concept of equality, it can be all too easy to strive for this principle at the expense of some deeper truths. Equality is, for the most part, a positive ideal in society, but taken to its extreme it can deny the fundamental truth that people are, by nature, different. These differences, like the difference between men and women, are beautiful because they complement each other and allow society to flourish. The fact that women are not allowed to enter the priesthood does not indicate Church doctrine denies equality.

It is necessary to remember that priests are supposed to be successors of the apostles and representative of the person of Jesus Himself. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus and all of His apostles were male. Therefore, it follows that those carrying on the work of the apostles should also be male.

A common response to this argument is that Jesus could not choose women to be his apostles due to the historical context of His time.  However, Jesus was in no way bound to the times; in fact, He often blatantly opposed the customs of His day.  For example, on several instances He disregarded the fact that the Sabbath was a day of rest in order to cure people. Jesus had friends who were women and treated them with equal dignity despite the fact that He did not choose them to be His apostles.

As the Son of God, Jesus is omnipotent and omniscient. If Jesus had wanted to make women His apostles, He would have done so regardless of the societal norms of the time, because He has the power to do anything.  Because Jesus is omniscient, we must assume, in His infinite wisdom, He had some greater reason for making only men His apostles, even if we cannot understand that reason today.

It has been Church doctrine for centuries that not even the Pope has the authority to change the Sacraments. It does not matter what we deem the most fundamental aspects of a Sacrament — no one has the power to alter them. This is not a matter of personal preference, but of the truth of age-old Church doctrine.

Some argue that the Church changed its teaching on the Assumption and should therefore be able to modify the Sacrament of Holy Orders. First, the Church never changed its teaching on the Assumption; it simply proclaimed the truth that Mary was taken body and soul into Heaven. The Church never denied the fact of the Assumption — it simply was not made explicit Church doctrine. Second, the teaching of the Assumption is not a Sacrament and therefore not analogous to Holy Orders.

The Church teaching on the priesthood has its roots in the fundamental difference between men and women. Jesus created a role for women — a role not lesser than that of men, but simply different. Women have always played an important role in the Church — it was the women who found the empty tomb of the Risen Christ, and many women have become important saints. Jesus granted women the role of spreading the Truth, just not through teaching at Mass but rather through action and prayer. Women can become sisters and be a tremendous force for good in the name of Jesus through either service or living the cloistered, prayerful life.

God has granted women special privileges He has not granted to men, most notably the ability to bring new life into the world. This role is extremely influential in the Church because women are charged with the primary task of nurturing children in the light of Church doctrine. As St. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12:5-29, we are all members of the Body of Christ, the Church, but as parts of this Body, we each have different roles.

Men are not dominating women simply because they hold leadership roles in the hierarchical Church. Through these roles, men are called to proclaim the truth of God. In this way, men attest to the pre-existing truth of the Risen Christ. As Catholics, we believe the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the bishops and cardinals are merely proclaiming the Truth. They themselves are not deciding the course of the Church and therefore not dominating women in any way.

Common arguments for allowing women to enter the priesthood cite personal “feeling” as important in deciding a vocation. Some women may feel they want to enter the priesthood, but are not permitted to do so because of Church doctrine. However, this idea of vocation is flawed. As Catholics, we believe we are called by God to a vocation that will bring us to our ultimate flourishing. In this view, vocation is not about personal feeling, but more about an obligation to serve God in the way He is calling us.

No one, man or woman, is entitled to the priesthood. Rather, it is a gift and calling bestowed on some by God. If you really listen to what God is calling you to do, it is easy to realize vocation is not a matter of feeling, but rather of truth. We are each called to be witnesses to the truth through our vocations, and the best way to obtain this truth is by following the teachings of the Church.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Julia

    You are wrong on almost every point. 1) Women are called apostles in the New Testament, the same exact word used for the 12. 2) They are commissioned after Jesus’ miracles and encounters with him. 3) They were the first witnesses of his resurrection.

    You are right that Jesus as divine being could do whatever he wanted. Yet he is not a godzilla monster, he is also a human being challenging societal norms and demanding his apostles do the same. The biggest controversy in Paul’s letters is whether or not male converts need to be circumcised to be considered Christian. Jesus said nothing on this matter central to Jewish identity. Why not? He could have settled this matter rather than let it divide the church so thoroughly as it eventually did.

    Remember that the gospels were written by men living in the Roman world which did not grant much authority to women in political and religious matters. Women leadership in religion looked crazy to outsiders.

    You write, “He had some greater reason for making only men His apostles, even if we cannot understand that reason today.” Such a fundamentalist approach to scripture is not Catholic at all.

    You mention sacraments, but you do not note that their form and number changed over centuries. That sacraments were part of the church is certain, but how many and who could perform them was in dispute for centuries.

    Even your mention of the Assumption reflects the great assumptions you make with history. That doctrine was not the majority opinion in the Latin churches. In the Eastern churches they tended to celebrate her death, not her assumption into heaven. This was a giant gray area which the church finally decided on 1900 years after Mary’s earthly end. And it was based upon popular devotion and opinion.

    I am so glad that you understand the difference between the Assumption and the sacrament of Holy Orders. Now go and do some research on the shaky doctrinal history of the assumption and the even shakier history of sacraments and holy orders.

    Speaking of Holy Orders, women were ordained as deacons in the early church. They even had leadership roles. It was men who were faithful to Roman culture more than the message of the gospel who prevented women from performing priestly ministry. This has nothing to do with the gospel.

    I urge you to read Paul, who frequently mentioned women in prophetic roles and leadership roles. He wrote in his letter to the Galatians “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    And he meant it. All secondary, societal constructions of gender and power have been erased.

    Once you realize this then every made up theological argument falls away as dead and irrelevant, i.e. that women and men are different, that only men can act in persona Christi, etc.

    As for personal feelings, many saints and popes (John Paul II) spoke of the “personal feelings” they had when drawn to the priesthood. Do not discount these “feelings.” They are part of one’s experience of God. It is the role of the individual to discern these feelings, and it is also the role of the church to discern along with them. Unfortunately, the church is failing to properly discern and pray over this.

    One of the first steps in becoming a real Catholic is discerning what belongs to Tradition and what is merely tradition that can be dropped or reformed. Top theologians and scripture scholars all over the world have discovered the truth that nothing in our tradition prohibits women from ordination. I pray that the author of this viewpoint article grows up in faith and chooses to open their eyes to the evidence rather than repeating the impotent arguments of men who ignore the primary sources.

    • Thomas

      To your point that some Tradition is Tradition and some tradition can be dropped – Pope John Paul II declared ex cathedra in Ordinatio sacerdotalis that the Church had no power to ordain women, and never will. In terms of the Church’s theological position this definitely closed the debate… to deny the Pope’s infallibility on this issue is to put oneself outside of the Roman Catholic Church, which is not necessarily a bad thing if one wishes not to be within it, but is definitive either way. The idea that the Church might “evolve” on this issue, as you say it has on other issues, is simply not a defensible position in light of the positions that the Church has staked in plain language. I would further offer that, contrary to what you say, one of the first steps in becoming a real Catholic is learning to accept a moral authority beyond oneself. What the Church teaches, its faithful must accept. Truth is objective, whether you can fully comprehend it or not.

    • Tom

      Your disdainful and belligerent tone toward the author and the Church do little to help your case. You remain insulting and demeaning throughout making biased claims unsubstantiated by evidence. Your perspective is far more characteristic of someone raised in a ubiquitously androgynous and obsessively egalitarian western consumerist society, than a Catholic one.

  • Sean

    Yeah this viewpoint is pretty dumb and Julia does a pretty good job of dismantling it. Anyone who thinks that catholic doctrine is unchanging is dumb, brainwashed and needs a history lesson. Of course, if catholic school really did its job and taught you about how often and with such ephemeral ease that the church does 180s regarding its teaching, then it would likely undermine the teaching of the catholic faith as a whole, hence why there is so much ignorance regarding the church changing

    • Anonymous

      Alright, Sean. We are all ears. Please tell us how the Church has done “180s regarding its teaching.” I would love to hear you make up some things, throw in a few dates, and make false, extrapolated statements about Catholic ignorance.

      • Julia

        To name a handful: it was not until Vatican II that the bishops united with the Pope condemned slavery (the usual question before was not whether slavery was right, but when and in what cases it was); in 1930, Pope Pius re-affirmed “the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience to” her husband (now, marriage is viewed as a union between two equal people); it was not until Vatican II that the “unitive” aspect of “unitive and procreative” fame was added to the definition of marriage; the list goes on. It would be ignorant to claim that the Church has never done a 180 on any of its teachings.

        • Tom

          Which of those Ex Cathedra pronunciations qualify as “180s”?

  • rory


  • Judah


    • judah

      Wow where to begin? Julia, I have to agree with you at least on one point-that Jesus isn’t “a godzilla monster”. This was actually your best and most accurate point, and you really shouldn’t have continued further. Let’s use that great theological truth as an issue that we orthodox Catholics and the other dissidents, heretics, and schismatics can agree-unless of course you meant a male godzilla monster. Why don’t you just accept that there will never and can never be a women priest in the Catholic Church. Even Pope Francis who has engendered many good “feelings” from those like yourself, who routinely disobey the Church and want to remake her in your own modern, misconceived, uber-tolerant, politically correct, diverse, multi-cultural, feminist image, said in Evangeliim Guadium that: “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” The Pope said end of discussion-yet somehow you believe your enlightened “feelings” and your “discernment” somehow count for something. The Church doesn’t care about your modernist discernment or your misguided feelings, and she’s not a democracy-I only wish I cared as little, for I wouldn’t have responded. If you base your positions on so-called scripture scholars and top theologians, then good luck with that, and bring plenty of sunscreen-many of them deny the miracles and divinity of Jesus.

      Getting to your false claims and erroneous statements, at least the major ones, since it’s late, 1)women were never called apostles in the New Testament, unless you have one of those translations that refers to God as “mother”. Apostles means “one’s sent” as the 12 male apostles were clothed with His authority and sent out on the Great Commission to preach, teach, and baptize the world-check out the end of Matthew’s gospel. Women were “disciples” which meant “student”, but never apostles, and never “sent” either the 12, or the 72. If I’m wrong, please provide the Chapter/verse. 2)They are commissioned after Jesus miracles-no that’s wrong again-unless “go and sin no more” is a commission. Who and when were any women sent to go out in Jesus name like the apostles? There were women present in the Upper Room at Pentecost, but only the apostles and those they ordained were priests and bishops. Why can’t you admire, as I do, the first, greatest and most faithful disciple, who’s initial and final fiat (at Calvary) made the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection possible. And if Jesus didn’t send His own sinless mother, but instead chose 12 salty, uneducated men who didn’t always get it and betrayed or abandoned him save one, then there must have been a reason, beyond the “cultural sensitivities of the Jewish or Roman culture. And it wasn’t unusual at the time to have women priests-in fact Israel was one of the few ancient peoples without priestess-and do you know why-because that’s how God Himself set up the Old Testament priesthood. If you feel a strong call to be a priestess, maybe you should consider Wicca.

      The circumcision controversy was over in a comparative instant at the first Council of Jerusalem, and was nothing compared to the numerous ongoing heresies afterward that divided the Church for nearly 5 centuries. And the reason why Jesus never spoke about it (although really He did-Mark 7:15-18 ), was it was divinely revealed to the first Pope, which was exactly how He intended it to be. And none of the 265 Popes since have done anything to change the status of the male priesthood-not even the mythical Pope Joan.

      Sacraments-never a controversy-either in number or who could administer. Doctrines and practices develop over time-that is a Catholic concept-and the priesthood and sacraments didn’t look 1900 years ago, exactly as they do now, but your statement again is false. The only time their was a change in the number of sacraments was when the protestants ditched 5 of them in the 16th century, but then again, that’s not the Church’s issue.

      Were there women deacons-the evidence is scant and inconclusive. Two references (Romans 16:1 & 1 Timothy 3:8-12) are often translated as ministers, for they did assist and played a role in the early church, but they likely didn’t receive the same ordination as men, which is why they’ll never be priests. This cannot and will not change. If you want a “catholic” service presided over by a woman priestess, I’m sure there are a lot of near vacant convents of heretical formerly habited 80 year old nuns in polyester pants suits who have moved beyond Jesus, and worship mother earth, who play dress up on Sundays where you can receive a crunchy counterfeit communion cracker-gluten-free of course. But if you want to see the beauty and power and genius of authentic feminism, and the incredible things women can and are accomplishing in the Church and in the world, then visit the Missionaries of Charity, or the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist. In Christ.

  • John S.

    I encourage all Catholics (and those non-Catholics who wish to learn more about this doctrine) to read the following FAQ put forth by the USCCB, the Church’s official teaching body in the United States: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/priesthood/ten-frequently-asked-questions-about-the-reservation-of-priestly-ordination-to-men.cfm